nerPostTitle">THE POWERFUL FIRST LADY Written by Prince General Mar 1, 2010

The powerful First Lady
By Eric Osagie
Monday, March 01, 2010
Everyone knows that women are ordinarily powerful individuals, whether in powerful positions or as just plain women.  Many men have toyed with this reality to their eternal regret. Eve.  Helen of Troy.  Catherine.  Queen Amina. Margaret  Thatcher. Imelda Marcos. The list is endless. Whether as religious or historical figures, some of these women have had profound influences on their societies. For good or for bad, you could never underestimate the power of these powerful women. And history books has a long list of women like men. Women  for whom the word powerful seems to have been coined.

The eccentric writer, Chinweizu,  in  his seminal work, The Anatomy of A Woman, put it succinctly when he pooh-poohed the idealistic supremacy of the male. The reality, he asserted, is that women rule the men who rule the world. Women are in charge, call the shots, dictate the pace only to wear the facade of the weaker sex, the vulnerable ones, the crumbling cookies, the lily-livered species.  Many men, I believe, are gradually waking up to the reality of women as their true bosses at home. Even in offices, the wife of the boss could in fact be your real boss, the one who could actually kick you out when you get on her wrong side.

Except in rare cases, powerful women have been quite discreet in flaunting their power.  The smart ones hide behind their men while throwing their weight around. This is common in scenarios where you find the men holding political positions, either as local government chairmen, commissioners,  governors, ministers,  president or any of such powerful positions. Women have actually proven to be the co-captains of the ship, if not the authentic captains or pilots.

In our political history, we haven't been lacking in producing powerful women who have had profound influences on their spouses.  Chief Obafemi Awolowo of blessed memory had his own Hannah as premier of the western region.  Gen. Ibrahim Babangida had his elegant  Maryam as president of Nigeria;  Gen.  Sani Abacha  also had his own Mariam as maximum ruler;  Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, despite his sanctimonious posturing, couldn't stop the irrepressible Stella.  Some of these powerful ladies  weren't  always rude or crude, or obstructive in wielding the levers of power. Some of them, like the sage's wife and the late Maryam, for example,   actually exercised their proximity to power, largely  for the common good.

Hajiya Turai Umaru Yar'Adua, the wife of the ailing Nigerian leader,  has been a powerful first lady, some insist the most powerful first lady the country has ever had. That assertion may be debatable. But I don't think there are many Nigerians who doubt the enormous powers of this self-effacing woman many, young and old alike, call 'mama' either   out of affection, affectation, deference or sycophancy. Not many, I also want to believe, would argue that she has been one first lady that has hugged the limelight the most in under three years of her husband being in power. Sadly,  for the wrong reasons.  Partly through her fault, partly through no fault of hers.

Before she hit the national stage, except for those who live and do business in Katsina, not much was known about her. Then, her husband, Umaru, became president through circumstances we may not bother to recount here. She automatically became first lady and set to assert the authority of that office.  She looked shy, quiet and self-effacing. I didn't picture her in the mould of an aggressive or showy first lady. If anything, I thought, I am sure like many Nigerians,  that in line with the temper of the administration that these first couple would demystify the excessiveness of power after the tempestuous reign of the Owu strong man.  But stories soon began to creep in of an all-powerful first lady who  actually called the shots, manipulated the processes and decided who got what. She was helped by the fact that the man who should do so was in no position to exercise the powers of that high office.  And since nature abhors a vacuum,  the closest people to the president  naturally filled in the void.

To be sure, she didn't ask her husband to be ill neither would she be happy at the ailment which has grounded him. But it is this unfortunate circumstance that has turned the woman into Nigeria's de facto president. The strong woman who has continued to awe and annoy many Nigerians with the way she has allegedly been deploying all manners of stratagems to keep power in the Yar'Adua clan.  Since the president became incommunicado, the petite woman has been reportedly  largely in charge. She's perceived to have combined both the powers of the first lady and that of the president / commander-in-chief.  Whether this is true or not isn't verifiable. What is obvious is that the woman is the only one who knows what games are being played;  who can tell what's happening  to the president, if he's truly alive or not; whether he's talking or lives mute in a gadget-filled ambulance.

From what we read in the newspapers, she must be truly all- powerful to keep the president of Africa's largest nation in hiding for a whole three months plus; stop the acting president from seeing the man with whom  he rode the same  joint ticket to power; keep northern leaders and other national leaders, including former heads of state from seeing the ailing leader.  And the game of chess continues, starring the amazing Amazon.  Worse still, the woman, an obviously adept power player, has maintained stone silence to the mountain of allegations against her. She has neither confirmed nor refuted them.  There's something of a cynical indifference to the litany of vituperations against her.

I don't know who her advisers her, but to me, no useful purpose is served when you become the butt of national outrage and you chose to keep mute. Anyone worried about her place in history would at least offer some kind of explanation, defence or whatever. To continue to shut your ears and mouth to public perception of ones perceived role in the unfolding  'Nigerian Roulette' is to shoot oneself in the foot, just as writing ones name in the hall of infamy.  Does she keep quiet because she's guilty as charged?  Does she believe she's being pilloried unjustly? Is she just power-obsessed?  I honestly believe it would be nice to hear her respond to public concern about her role in the whole saga.

I don't know about you, but the entire game is beginning to get sickening. I don't also know for how long this con game will go on. But I am sure it won't be forever.  We can't continue to treat the presidency of Africa's largest democracy as a family affair or some kind of traditional title which should reside in a family, clan or a section of the country.  Those who keep the president away from his people, deliberately or otherwise, must be made to realise that once you go into public office you become public property. You lose your privacy. You forfeit your freedom. Your health becomes subject of public inquisition, because the health of the leader translates to the health of the nation.  Those who have been angry at the inquiries into the health of the No. 1 citizen simply miss the point and misdirect their anger.

The president is no longer private property of Lady Turai or the Yar'Adua family. He's property of all Nigerians, the poor, the rich, Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Edo, Ibibio, kalabari, indeed all Nigerians who deserve to be kept abreast of the minute details of what's happening to their president. Now, six days after  his purported return to his country, not many people can say for certain if he's truly back or not, if he has been responding to treatment for all the time he's been away or not,  or when he will truly be fit to resume work.

When America's former president Bill Clinton had to undergo a minor surgery only recently, the whole world was kept in the complete picture of the progress of his treatment. Picture clips of the hospital, the doctors as well as official briefings were routinely released. But not the case with our president. He even had to be smuggled into the country under the cover of darkness.

When some people read my column, they get the erroneous impression that some of us dislike the president or don't wish him well because we demand that the right things be done, that due process and constitutionalism be followed. That when the president is sick because he's human , the next in line of authority be allowed to exercise full presidential  powers.  Like majority of Nigerians, some of us who write the way we do, truly love our president. I believe he's a decent man who, were he to be in the right physical and mental state, would have found the whole game nauseating. He was honest enough to admit that the process that brought him to power was flawed;  he was honest enough to propose a comprehensive package for the people of Niger-Delta; he has given the judiciary a reasonably free hand to operate since his ascendancy to power leading to the recovery of the electoral mandate of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State, Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo.

State and other elections subverted by criminal politicians. He has not exactly delivered on other projects like power and infrastructure.  May be if he was not infirm, he would have given his job his best shot and things would have been different. We can't tell now as all these possibilities remain in the realm of postulation. But the reality today is that he's ill and can't perform. We are sorry about it, but there's nothing we can do other than to continue to pray for his quick recovery.  Our dear first lady would do well to understand that we mean well for him and would want him to truly have a deserved rest away from the hassles and hurly burly of public office for his health sake.  Power belongs to God. I am sure Madam understands this.  Now, is the time to let go. In the interest of the president and the higher national interest.