TURAI: SINNED AGAINST RATHER THAN SINNING?
She's yesterday's woman of power and influence, who now sojourns in a modest home in Katsina. She's one from whom we have recently learnt the enduring but oft neglected lesson that nothing lasts forever. Not the good, not the bad. Not power, nor acclaim. Even life itself does not last forever. Turai Yar'Adua, our immediate past first lady.
In a piece I did in May after the passing of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, I said I could return to Turai someday. Now the day has come. I believe we need to rigorously interrogate the woman's life as first lady, her style, her actions, and the inactions. And we must come to a conclusion. Is she Jezebel, that covetous, even murderous biblical figure? Or she's Ruth, the one who stuck with her mother-in-law, Naomi, to the end, though her husband was dead, and she could have taken a walk like Orphah, her colleague did. Is Turai another Lady Macbeth, or on the contrary a woman more sinned against rather than sinning? Did we demonise a poor woman who simply was being loyal to her husband to the hilt, or we had on our hands a power monger, who would even push the nation down the precipice, as long as her cravings, her appetite and longing for power were satiated?
I met someone recently, who knew the Yar'Adua family very intimately. And he gave me a piece of information that set me thinking, that made me ask whether we vilified Turai wrongly, whether instead of celebrating her, we excoriated her unjustly. Maybe. Maybe not. What was the information? Most times, President Yar'Adua, in his last days, was completely nude, as naked as the day he was born. His condition made it impossible for him to wear any dress, and his skin had even begun to peel. Therefore, in deference to all that was good and decent, only his wife should see him in that condition. It would have been unseemly for any other person to do so. I was told not even his ADC, or members of the so-called cabal, had access to him at that point. Only Turai, the one who had taken 'for better and for worse' vows with him, had access. At that time, it was truly 'for worse,' and she was sticking to her vow.
How we calumniated the woman. We denigrated and disparaged her. Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka (a hero and patriot any day) accused her of 'spousal abuse,' asking Nigerian women to 'tell one of their own to release the president she had kidnapped, so that he could talk to us.' And when eventually Yar'Adua died, the wordsmith said, 'the vampires, including those within his own family, turned him into mere inert resource for their diabolical schemes.' We knew who Soyinka was talking of. Turai. What of John Campbell, former American Ambassador to Nigeria? He said of Turai: 'This is indeed the person I think is calling the shots. The basis of her ability to do it is because she controls access to the president.'
There was so much animus, so much antipathy to Turai. In fact, one Chief G. O. Akinluyi granted The Sun an interview, and asked the Inspector-General of Police to arrest the then first lady. He simply reflected the opinion of most Nigerians then. Fair or foul?
But there were people who rose stoutly in Turai's defence. Her husband's spokesman, Olusegun Adeniyi, described her as a 'warm, caring, not-in-your-face woman, who wants her husband to succeed, and who is eager to ensure stability on the home front, and leverage her moral power for the greater good of the society.' True? False?
The Yoruba Ronu Leadership Forum (YRLF) even issued a statement, signed by Akin Malaolu, its General-Secretary, asking critics to leave Turai alone. 'She has more stakes in the good health of Umaru Yar'Adua, who is first and foremost her husband, besides being the president of Nigeria,' the group said. True? False?
And Chief Ralph Obioha, a former NADECO chieftain, toed the same line. His words: 'She did what a good wife should do. We must praise her for having really stood as a strong defender of her husband's rights. It's a natural behaviour for a good wife to focus directly on her husband's interest.'
But at what cost? At the expense of national interest? A poser for Chief Obioha.
Fidel Odum, a regular contributor to this newspaper, echoed the popular conviction, when he wrote that it was 'a morbid game for a woman to play with a supposedly cherished husband,' like Turai did. Bull's eye. We have seen many first ladies in this country, each with her predilections. Victoria Aguiyi-Ironsi, who's beloved 'Johnny' was killed only after six months in office. Pretty Victoria Gowon who held the office with dignity for nine years. Ajoke Muhammed was self-effacing, and also lasted about six months. In his first incarnation, Olusegun Obasanjo's domestic scene was too tempestuous for him to have any first lady. All free women, married or single, whom he could lay his hands on, played the role unofficially. Safinatu Buhari (God rest her soul) also minded just her business, and the home front. And then came Maryam Babangida (God rest her soul also). She brought colour and panache to the office. Margaret Shonekan minded her career, while her man pretended to rule us. He lasted only 84 days.
The Maryam who came next was also largely in the background, though she initiated the Family Support Programme, and her husband lasted five years. Fati Abubakar, a judge, equally minded her calling and career more. At Obasanjo's second incarnation, Stella was in her elements. A colourful first lady, she unfortunately overdid the fashion bit, and died in the process (God rest her soul too). And then Turai. Pretty in a pristine way. Simple. Homely. But ambitious and power hungry, some people say. True?
So great was the allure of Aso Rock that Turai, according to some people, felt it was only proper for her to live there as Queen for eight years minimum. Sadly, if she needs to visit today, she would need security clearance. Unless Dame Patience Jonathan endorsed it, she cannot even enter her former kitchen. How transient power is. How fleeting, evanescent, ephemeral.
But is Turai a sinner, or we were the ones that sinned against her, by accusing her wrongly? Did she truly want the best for her husband as some people claimed? Lady of Songs, Chief Christy Essien-Igbokwe, even said we owed her an apology for the unkind things we said about her. True?
I think Turai made one great mistake. When Yar'Adua was ferried home on February 24, in the dead of the night, she should have taken him straight to Katsina. Goodluck Jonathan had already been proclaimed Acting President, and spiriting an obviously dying man into the seat of power created unnecessary complications, confusion and complexity. It was an error of judgment. A grave one. Troops were even deployed as part of the welcome party. It tended to show her as a woman who saw power as do or die.
I'm sure Turai must have had opportunity to reflect deeply these past three months. She should be clear-headed enough now to know whether she sinned, or we sinned against her. If she was the sinner, we deserve an apology. If we're the sinners, then it may not be out of place for us to apologise to her, as Christy Essien-Igbokwe demanded. We should know the truth in the not-too-distant future. A book from her should not only be a bestseller, but would set things in proper perspective.