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Overbearing First Ladies

By Julius Oweh

The news from Owerri, the capital of Imo State was most nauseating, oozing and constitutionally absurd as that could only occur in absolute monarchy. That, the wife of the state governor, Mrs Nkechi Okorocha was in control of four government ministries. The secretary of the Imo State Government, George Etche stated this when the correspondent chapel of Imo State NUJ honoured the governor`s spouse with the `Most Outstanding Governor's Wife Award`. Etche said that the ministries include; `Women Affairs, Works, Health, as well as the office of the secretary to the state Government. We should thank God Almighty for giving us Owelle Rochas Okorocha who has offered us free education at all levels. We should also thank God for giving us his wife, Nkechi Okorocha for putting smiles in the faces of less privileged in the state`.

This is certainly the height of sycophancy and political perfidy. The state government or the governor is yet to dispute the report at the time of writing this piece. In saner and civilized political clime, the secretary ought to resign but this is Nigeria where the abnormal is regarded as the norm. True that the governor`s wife through her pet project, `She Needs a Roof Project`, that more than two hundred widows have got houses built and furnished for them. On a moral ground, that is a good gesture. But the question is where is the governor wife getting the money to build these houses? Are the money budgeted for and approved by the State House of Assembly? If the money is got through private donations, are these people not contractors to the state government? The truth of the matter is that wives of president, governors or council chairmen meddling in the affairs of governance are strange elements to the constitution. And that if we all keep sealed lips, they would continue to do the wrong thing and the constitution is thrown to the dogs.

A lot of Nigerians with conscience have spoken against the idea of a state governor wife controlling four ministries. The secretary to the Imo State Government failed to tell us the official position of the wife. Is she a co-ordinating commissioner, a permanent secretary or general overseer of the ministries? The matter may look laughable but this is a serious breach of the constitution and that perhaps explains the level of development in the country. It is only hoped that APC would call Okorocha to order.

No one doubts the influence of the wife of the president or governor in the affairs of the state. It should be limited to lobby either for political appointments, contracts or employment. But today our First Ladies are competing with their husbands in the political space. Since Maryam Babangida introduced `Better Lives for Rural Women`, succeeding First Ladies at the national level have tried to outdo each other. During the era of President Goodluck Jonathan, Patience Jonathan was even more powerful than the vice president. Patience Jonathan was so powerful that for you to be a minister or a governorship candidate of the PDP, you must patronize her. If you are in doubt, you can ask the current Rivers State Governor. She was so powerful that her visit to any state was always a lockdown for such state. Governors and Ministers especially of the PDP extraction were gleefully doing her bidding and calling her the mother of the nation. These were obvious constitutional breaches, yet the national legislators looked the other way.

Agreed that the wife of Muhammadu Buhari is more homely, urbane, the truth of the matter is that she is also dispensing the political influence of the First Lady, even though she prefers being referred to as a wife of the president. She has a pet project `Future Assured`, through which money and materials are donated to internally displaced persons in the north. This is a noble idea but that does not make it constitutional. Where is the president`s wife getting the money? Who are those donating money and material to that project? Are they contractors to the Federal Government?

In all the states of the federation, the governors’ wives are carrying out one pet project or the other. And these women are using government money or influence to do just that. No one faults their good intention but the point that must be stressed again and again is that what they are doing is not constitutional and simply overbearing by invading the political space. The electorate did not vote for them. The electorate voted for their husbands and should not use that opportunity to exercise power and influence unknown to the letters and spirit of the constitution.

The fault of Okorocha`s wife is that the secretary to the Imo State Government talked out of season and the more reason Nigerians now know that she is controlling four ministries. Other governors’ wives could be more influential and piercing the provisions of the 1999 constitution. This is bad governance being advertised. First Ladies should be contented with their social roles to their husbands and giving them comfort at the home front. This brazen assault of First Ladies either at the national level or state level remains an aberration and great embarrassment to our constitution and nation. The tragedy of the situation is that the legislators who are supposed to check the excesses of these unelected and un-appointed `government officials` are also training their wives for similar functions. After all, the legislators’ wives are always on the convoy of governors` wives in the implementation of these unconstitutional pet projects.

Nigeria is a country where the absurd is seen as normal. In our clime, it is normal for unelected persons to spend government money. It is normal for the president`s wife to give orders to ministers. It is also right for the governor`s wife to tell a commissioner what to do. It is also traditional in our political setting that for you to retain any political office, you must worship the governor`s wife. This is absurdity taken to unknown heights. The overbearing First Ladies are turning our democracy into a monarchy and who is that foolish subject that would challenge the queen. Our democracy is simply in the gutters.

Julius Oweh, a journalist, Asaba, Delta State.

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