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PRESIDENT TURAI YAR'ADUA?

The First Lady, Hajiya Turai Umaru Yar'Adua is perhaps the most written-about woman in Africa today. It is needless to say that the copious mention she receives has not been of a complimentary nature; in fact, she might be Africa's most maligned woman alive today. The notice to what was to be her today's mirror image was served at the inception of her husband's tenure in 2009, when the respected columnist, Mohammed Haruna, in one of his incisive columns in Daily Trust warned the nation about the stuff the new president's wife was made of. Haruna had warned the first lady not to persist in her alleged heavy-handed meddlesomeness in the affairs of governance. In summary, the respected and courageous columnist had warned Hajiya Turai to borrow a leaf from the likes of IBB's wife and gracefully distance herself from the affairs of state and allow her husband do the work for which he was elected.

It did not take long before that warning assumed a keen prophetic fulfilment, precisely as within the first six months of Yar'Adua governance, uncomplimentary stories of his wife's meddlesomeness had started to fill the nation's information airwaves as well as the flourishing rumour mill. The image of superlative exploits that have been built about her was such that nobody was surprised when the current impression was made public that since the return of the ailing president to Nigeria, the first lady, though unelected, had arbitrarily assumed the apex executive authority and power in Nigeria, having also been accused of dishing instructions to the acting president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.

Because nobody has claimed with any authority that all the stories of inordinate ambition being peddled about the first lady have become proven with verifiable evidence, most of it might, in fact, be products of the nation's busy rumour industry or of smear campaigns by political opponents of her husband. If that were so, it is unfortunate for two main reasons. In the first instance, in the conduct of public affairs, perception is the reality and the first lady's handlers have not done anything to correct these terrible impressions that have taken root about their principal. Under such a circumstance, an impression is further solidified that she hardly cares about what the rest of us think of her. In fact, because the first impression of her jumbo-size ambition created by the acclaimed columnist was not refuted, it became assumed that she is impervious to creating an acceptable image for herself.

Next is that her body language which seems to show that she might be in good company of the likes of Eva Peron of Argentina, Imelda Marcos of the Philippines, and even Queen Marie-Antoinette, the wife of King Louis XVI of France who was reputed for her insensitivity to the suffering of the people. When her aides came to her and complained that 'the people have no bread', she was reputed to have replied, 'then, let them eat cake'.

All the stories that have inundated the world media to the effect that it was the first lady who has ensured the blockage of every access to the president has further created an impression of imperviousness and lack of understanding of the delicacy of keeping a worried nation in the dark about its leadership for three months. If anything devastating had occurred to the nation in that testy period, history would have recorded Turai Yar'Adua as the culprit just as Marie-Antonette is being remembered as the agent-provocateur of the French Revolution.

But having said that, it is unfortunate that for all the sins she is being accused of, no one seems to have considered the humanity of these alleged acts of her omission and commission. For instance, how many family people have put themselves in the shoes of Hajiya Turai as a mere wife and mother to Umaru and their children, respectively? One of the stories making the rounds indicates that the woman had always tagged along her husband from the earliest days of their marriage. One of such claimed that she would never let him alone with any visitor, even in those days when the husband was a 'mere lecturer' at the polytechnic. If that were so, should that not probably suggest that she might have known the history of the husband's health and had believed that she should always be around to give him support and comfort. Should that also not suggest that her being so protective of her husband might have nothing to do with his current station in life?

Is it not true that for most of us husbands, our wives are our most intimate confidants and that while some of us men can routinely blab about our wives and families before others (even if we don't mean any harm), most wives would never divulge any information - especially of the health nature of their husbands to anybody, no matter how close to the family? Is it not possible that the excesses which the first lady is being accused of might be the result of her determination to stay by her man and ensure that he succeeds in his tasks? Is it not possible, too, that her attempts to protect her husband from the menace of sycophants and pretenders might have resulted in her being over-protective of him, and even of offering to help do his job, if necessary, as she knows that she is married to a man with a long history of frailty and poor health?

Once, in the solitude of my hospital bed recently after I had collapsed on climbing the stairs and was rushed to the hospital by my wife at the dead of the night, with the aid of a brother and a visiting friend, I started pondering on the fact that we men are really useless without our wives, especially for those who are weighed down by terminal or debilitating conditions. I publicly place my gratitude to my wife on record in the understanding that no one else on earth can endure or do what she has done for my health. I have watched my wife shrivel and wither anytime I take ill and I have also tried to put my wife in Turai's place.

I am certain that my wife would never allow anybody, not even my closest relatives and friends, to set their eyes on me if ever ill-health gets to me to a vegetative state in life. If the picture of the badly ailing president that was released by an Abuja newspaper before he left for Saudi Arabia had broken the heart of many, it is only left to imagination as to how his wife and children would be feeling, and on how understandable it is for them not to allow the public and tale bearers to see their man in a condition that was probably deteriorating progressively, his being the powerful president of Nigeria, notwithstanding.

I do not speak in defence of Hajiya Turai as I have no reason to do so, as I have been one of the strongest critics of the shenanigans that have taken place over the president's absence and had called for the proclamation of Jonathan for several weeks before it was eventually done.

There might even be reasons and some evidence that support some of the infractions and excesses on the part of the first lady. However, in judging her at this moment, we must take a lot of human angles into account. She might be ambitious - even ordinately so - but she cannot be that irrational as to believe that she can successfully navigate the political minefields of this complex country in such a suicidal quest. Nobody can so be blinded by ambitions as to become so foolhardy.

To that extent, my considered view is that Hajiya Turai might not be as guilty as being widely accused, at least on the allegation of scheming to assume apex national control. I rather believe that she is being used by the members of an evil and self-serving cabal who would want to adventure for as long as they can for personal aggrandisement and material gain, while convincing her that they are doing the best for her and her family. Her exposure must have convinced her that it would be an extremely futile and dangerous task to stray on the grounds which even angels feared. She must have read the recent history of what happened in Niger Republic, just a stone throw from her own Katsina State, in April 1974.

That year, a military junta led by Col. Seyni Kountche overthrew the democratic government of President Hamani Diori. They arrested and imprisoned the president but tied his over-bearing and much-maligned wife to the stake and executed her by a firing squad. The president was released six years later and live long enough to die of a brain tumour in 1987.

Every Nigerian should, for one second, place himself in Hajiya Turai's shoes in her grief and confusion over the intractable health condition of her husband. I am sure that if God asked her to choose between being the first lady and the good health of her husband, she would instantly throw the first-ladyship through the window. Let us allow her the respite and pray God to grant her a staid state of mind to look after her husband and our dear president. When the president recovers, we can all return to the trenches.