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By NBF News
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First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, is in the eye of the storm. She is battling to save her international pet project; the proposed N4 billion Africa First Ladies' Peace Mission building. For now, she is battling a major hurdle that has been presented by the National Assembly. The lawmakers have given indication that she may not get the N4billion requested. GEORGE AGBA chronicles the contending issues.

First lady, Dame Patience Jonathan is sure facing a tough task convincing all that the proposed N4 billion African First Ladies' Peace Mission building project must see the light of day. The opposition against the project is fierce, particularly the objection of the National Assembly, which could culminate in none-appropriation of the N4billion requested to construct the building through the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) budget. However, she is not relenting in her effort to get the project on course.

The first lady came out last week Monday to declare that the project deserves to proceed, just as she urged the public and the legislature to cast an objective attention on the project and what its benefits would be.

Media Assistant to the first lady, Mr. Ayo Osinlu, spoke extensively on the gains of the project, describing it as an all-important continental attraction to the country. It appears the first lady's office has angrily vowed not to allow those they described as 'politicians' and other persons in the society, 'who always seek to make gains out of unfounded confusion to frustrate a benevolent international venture'. For Mrs. Jonathan, enough is enough. She must see to it that the good coming to her father land comes to pass; no sentiments attached.

The project which is still being scrutinized by the National Assembly, has variously received deadly knocks from critics, mostly from the opposition. The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and civil society groups argued that it was illegal just as it is a misplaced priority.

Similarly, the Trade Union Congress (TUC), joined the dissenting voices crying foul over the project. Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, have also joined scores of women activists to protest the N4 billion yet to be appropriated for the building of the African First Ladies Peace Mission complex, describing the decision as unconstitutional and illegal. Alongside civil society groups, Soyinka read a letter during a protest march organized by Women Arise for Change Initiative. Lagos based lawyer, Festus Keyamo; wife of late Beko Ransome-Kuti, Abosede; daughter of the late Afro beat king, Yeni Anikulapo among others were also part of the protest.

But the first lady media team said it was the FCT ministry which has already responded appropriately to its proposal and not the duty of the office of the first lady to defend the budget

Nonetheless, Osinlu told State House Correspondents that despite the pressure being mounted on the National Assembly to turn down the endorsement of the peace mission building, the project will see the light of day.

'What I want to do here is to sound a note of warning and to raise a public alert, to the effect that we must be very careful and very observant and not allow ourselves to be seen by certain persons as instruments to drive very private and very personal political objectives. If there are politicians and other persons in the society who desire to make gains out of this kind of unfounded confusion, we should be careful and not let them see and use us as instruments to drive such objectives.

'What I think here is that it is evident that there are certain persons out of view who are working very hard to bring dishonour to government, and to stain the name of the first lady as a strategy towards the original objective of embarrassing government and advancing their interests with an eye on 2015.

'It offends the original African culture of charity to obstruct any effort to promote peace and development such as the decision of all African First Ladies to rise up to the social responsibility as mothers and wives of leaders on the continent to save the women, children and the aged from the traumatic consequences of violent conflicts and wars'.

The Genesis
Recalling how the peace mission started, Osinlu said, 'The African First Ladies Peace Mission is a deliberate initiative of the first ladies of Africa to form themselves into a strong force with which they can intervene in crisis areas on the continent, in terms of preventing crisis in the first place from emerging and when they emerge, to stop them from escalating and ultimately, to prevent them from developing into a war situation.

'Where unavoidably, crisis erupts and goes further into, perhaps, a war situation, then they will like to see what they can do to intervene in those circumstances and at least, be able to provide succour, support and some level of assistance to those who will be unfortunate victims of the war. Now the truth again is that, like they say, when wars are going to start, it is the men who sit down and engage in activities that ultimately result to war. But when the war becomes full blown, it is the women, the children, the aged and other categories of the vulnerables who become the natural victims of this kind of development.

'Therefore, they formed themselves into a group to be able to offer help in terms of stopping the generation of crisis that may result in wars and violent conflicts and also to be able to intervene when there are wars and violent conflicts by helping and protecting women and children who are the natural victims of these circumstances. That is why they came together and formed this body. So, the question of legality, I don't know why it is suddenly an issue.

'If a group of the wives of Presidents in Africa come together and then take upon themselves the moral duty to make it impossible for violent conflicts on the continent and then, in the case when the conflict becomes inevitable, they try to see if they can provide support to victims, must there be a legal basis for anyone who has the capacity to be able to rise up and offer activities that come together to constitute social responsibility as mothers and wives of leaders on the continent? What is wrong if they impose upon themselves moral responsibilities to make sure that there is peace on the continent within which context, of course, there can be development, there can be progress and there can be advancement?'

Defending the First Lady
Faulting opposition contention that the project is one of the demonstration of the flamboyant life styles of the first lady and also, one of the exorbitant and extravagant ventures of wives of leaders in the country, Osinlu said, 'Let me distinguish effectively. We have done this in the past when there was a bit of controversy over the plot of land allocated to this secretariat between the former first lady, Turai Yar'Adua and the current first lady. We took enormous pains to explain to the public what the issues were.

'We went back to history and established very clearly, beyond ambiguity exactly what the issues were, sequence by sequence up to the point where we have come to the issue of building the secretariat. But let me again say here for the purpose of reinforcing these views and facts for the public. After the Beijing conference in 1995, a lot of attention was drawn to issues affecting women around the world; not in Nigeria and Africa alone but around the world.

'Women in positions of authority worldwide were required to return to their various parts of the world and marshal those initiatives and efforts that can help promote peace so that they would make stride around the world whereby people can express themselves more elaborately in terms of being able to realize their potentials, being able to fulfill their dreams and being able to set and pursue legitimate objectives and goals for themselves.

'So, African first ladies took a cue from that, returned, held a meeting in Zimbabwe in 1996 where they resolved to constitute themselves into the African First Ladies Peace Mission. Now, this organ continued to function in its own way until February 2008 when there was another meeting of the mission in Congo Brazzaville where Nigeria was elected president of the African First Ladies Peace Mission.

'That was during the tenure of Her Excellency, Turai Yar'Adua. But because of the unfortunate interruption of the government of her husband in 2010, she was unable to complete her tenure. Thereafter, the other African first ladies put pressure on Her Excellency, Dame Patience Jonathan to please assume that presidency and provide leadership for the peace mission so that it doesn't continue to drift aimlessly. And she took upon herself the responsibility to do that.

No Going Back:
Asked whether Dame Patience intends to chicken out of the project because of the growing opposition, Osinlu said, 'I can assure you, without any doubt that it is far from the desire of the first lady to have the project turned down. One, it will amount to an abdication of responsibility by Nigeria and that level of disappointment will be injurious for the leadership status of Nigeria in Africa. Certainly, the first lady will not expect Nigeria to behave in such a manner.

'Two, the first lady would not also want the project abandoned because it is an undertaking that the country has made to the continent. It means therefore that the credibility of Nigeria will drop significantly if it goes back on its deliberate and willing commitment to host such an organ for the continent and at the request of the continent. Africa First Ladies Peace Mission said give us a secretariat and you agreed that you will do it and then five years after, you wake up and say you don't want to do it again. I don't think that level of irresponsibility would be expected of Nigeria and the first lady won't encourage that at all'.

Gold Mine for Nigeria:
On the gains of the peace mission to Nigeria, he said, 'There are other several advantages that the peace mission will attract to the country for which the first lady would want the project to go on. For as long as that peace mission secretariat which is going to be a huge complex of international status is sited in Nigeria, it will continue to attract different kinds of international meetings and conferences, some continental and some global to the country. And then, of course, it promotes Nigeria's strive to open up job opportunities for its citizens.

'Apart from the prestige that this peace mission building will bring to the country, we could also see that there will be social and economic advantages accruing to Nigeria from that. Look at the United Nations building before it was attacked in Abuja. You can imagine the large number of young Nigerians who were engaged there as cleaners; security personnel and as maintenance workers around the structure. So, for this and many other reasons, of course, it is the first lady's desire that the project should continue as proposed'.

Now that the first lady has come strongly in defence of the proposed N4 billion peace mission building, the ball is in the National Assembly's court. But before the pendulum swings to any direction, it is expected that the lawmakers would have to weigh the contention of the two camps – the pro and the con before arriving at their decision'.