Borno: How Not To Be a First Lady

Source: Emmanuel asiwe -

It should be crystal clear by now that Fatima Ali Sheriff, wife of Borno State Governor, obviously has her own ideas about the role of a First Lady. The problem is that those ideas are wrong and stupid. Both Governor Sheriff and his wife must be restrained from abusing the goodwill of the people of Borno. Accordingly, the Governor must reinstate the Deputy back in his office situated within Government House from where he has been evicted. The people of Borno should clip the wings of the first lady before sshe takes flight.

Media reports said the current deputy governor has been relocated to another office in Maiduguri to give room to the First Lady who now holds court directly behind her husband. In a grotesque display of political brigandage, Governor Sheriff, despite prior repeated denials, relocated the offices of his deputy outside the official Government House and then proceeded to install his wife in the offices of the Deputy Governor, oblivious of the fact that the first lady has no constitutional prerogatives to be assigned an office inside the official government house. This has upset the Borno political elite and opened a Pandora's Box, which sources close to the Governor fear might provoke a backlash against rumors that the stage is being set for the first lady to succeed her husband when he leaves office in 2011.

Although most state governors in Nigeria rule as if the state is their private property and see resources as belonging to their immediate family, surrogates, fronts and friends, the decision by the Governor to evict his deputy from the official Government House sets a new precedence, making Fatima Sheriff an ugly specimen of "How Not To Be a First Lady", and a bad advertisement for the Nigerian woman in the public arena. “Mrs. Fatima Ali Sheriff is an arrogant, class-conscious power-monger whose arrogance knows no limits. She needs to be told that Borno people voted for her husband as Governor, not her”, an embittered source close to Governor Sheriff, who elected anonymity told “When she speaks of "my government", the source added; “she betrays her obsession with power bordering on delusion. Who exactly is in charge of Borno? Is it Governor Sheriff or his wife”? has learnt that, two years ago, Governor Sheriff ordered the demolition of the former office of the deputy governor and a new structure was constructed. Despite repeated official denials, speculations were rife that the first lady was hell bent on relocating to the new deputy governor's office as she micro-managed the design and personally picked the furniture and blinds to reflect her flamboyant taste and elegance. Early last year as the new offices near completion, a spokesperson for the Governor and First Lady, Mrs. Nancy Mbaya dismissed the reports as mere speculation.

It was therefore not surprising that upon completion, the first lady relocated from her previous offices inside Government House and installed in the new deputy governor's office, located beside the governor's office that had been used by successive deputy governors in the last 30 years. Madame Governor has begun to entertain courtesy visits and guests in her new office, including a delegation from the National Council of Women Societies, who came calling recently.

In any case, many of the shenanigans of Mrs. Sheriff in Borno escape the attention of the mainstream Nigerian media, in part, because of the local journalists don't have the courage to say much about her farcical character, through a detailed, factual, reproduction of their encounter with her, informed by the well-advertised recklessness of the first lady's self-indulgent eccentricities. In the last six years, there have been stories about the First Lady organizing seminars, running personal courts of influence, and insisting on being addressed as "Her Excellency!" has been made to understand that even at the lower levels; wives of local government Chairmen in Borno State are just as unprepossessing. The First Lady, and the wives of Local Government Chairmen who, we understand are First Ladies in their own right, as well as the wives of senior public officials in positions of authority tend to misbehave. These First Ladies who order their husband's subordinates around are said to have a personal army of their own - bodyguards in official vehicles - who follow their instructions, including orders to arrest other women in their husbands' lives. Where a Governor has two or more wives as is often the case in Nigeria, there is always a bitter rivalry. And of course, in the event of a disagreement between the Governor and his Deputy, their wives also get into the squabble. We doubt if Mrs. Sheriff, and the first lady and the deputy First Lady are the best of friends.

As first lady in Borno, few doubt that Mrs. Sheriff already wields enormous political clout and has tremendous influence in the affairs of the state, especially political appointments. Whether her new office premises is intended to raise her visibility and expose her to the inner workings of government business in preparation for a Governorship run in 2011 remains to be seen. But Nigerians should be interested in the tragic-comical story of Mrs. Sheriff, in terms of what her example says about the position of a First Lady in the public sphere, and the dangers of excessive privilege amongst our ruling elite.