By Tony Ademiluyi
The office of the First Lady was given lots of glamour and hype by the late Maryam Babangida who re-enacted a Jacqueline Kennedy like style. Her pet project ‘Better Life for Rural Woman’ was given so much global prominence that she nearly got the opportunity to endow a chair in her honor at the world renowned Cambridge University. Maryam Abacha followed suit with her ‘Family Support Programme’ and the trend continued with the late Stella Obasanjo who had her ‘Child Care Trust’. Turai Yar’adua not only had a cancer trust that gulped millions of dollars in funding, she was the brain behind the throne when her husband was incapacitated due to his illness.
The most embarrassing in the nation’s history remains Patience Jonathan. Her command of the spoken English left so much to be desired. So bad was it that she became the butt of late night jokes globally with the social media having a field day in spewing out her bombshells. She lacked the finesse associated with such a sensitive position and her uncouth nature was partly responsible for her husband’s loss. Her speech during the campaign was laden with hate and it was so bad that Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka opined that she had to first be a lady before being a first lady. Her megalomania was nauseating as she was directly involved in the affairs of governance and the crisis in Rivers state allegedly had her imprimatur. There was a breath of fresh air when Jonathan lost and the nation was set for the ushering in of the dawn of a new era.
This joy was turned to sorrow during the inauguration of her husband when it was revealed that she wore an expensive designer wristwatch – Cartier Baignoire Folle valued at 34,500 pounds, the equivalent of 10,453,000 million naira. Some of her defenders came to her rescue opining that what she wore was an imitated version that couldn’t have been more than 100 dollars. Even if this was true, it is a crime to wear something which is counterfeit. In France which has zero tolerance for this could earn an offender an instant deportation if he or she is a visitor. It could have been a gift as some people posit. The question is how moral was it to receive such a gift in view of the scandal ridden Jonathan administration which her husband against all odds dislodged? It was such the receipt of such a gift – an expensive wrist watch that led not only to the sacking of the General Joseph Ankrah led government in Ghana but the deportation of Senator Francis Arthur Nzeribe who gave it.
President Buhari came to power riding on the wave of an anti-corruption posture. He regaled the nation with tales of how he doesn’t own any property outside the country, had never operated a foreign bank account, couldn’t boast of more than two properties in Nigeria and had to take a bank loan to purchase the Presidential nomination form that was pegged at the prohibitive price of twenty-seven million naira. For a man who was a former military governor of the North-Central State that comprised the states in the current north-east, former petroleum minister and Head of State, this was really amazing given the damage which the hydra-headed scourge of corruption had badly inflicted on the nation’s economy and polity.
The gift if at all it was raises grave moral concerns as it is an attempt by the same sycophants that ran down the Jonathan administration to surreptitiously ingratiate themselves to the new Lord of Manor using his ‘vulnerable’ wife as a point of contact. If it was original, could she have been ignorant of the true value? She is a London and Paris trained beauty therapist and she cannot be said to be ignorant of fashion matters. This is a gargantuan embarrassment in the so called anti-corruption crusade of her husband. There is no way his salary of a little above 14 million naira which hasn’t even been paid could have paid for the watch. Even his pension which is about 2.3 million every month is grossly inadequate to finance the bauble acquisition. It will be in the best interest of the new administration for the First Lady to clear the air on this so that the goodwill freely given to it by beleaguered Nigerians is not squandered too early in the day.
Buhari had earlier announced his disdain for the office of the First Lady but had to succumb to the pressures of the campaign to use his wife as a counter foil for the ill-mannered Dame Patience Jonathan. It was a deft strategy as it countered the opinion of his foes that he was a male chauvinist. Her role should have stopped after the campaign if we are to run the nation on a brand new slate. Her shutting down of her beauty parlour in Kaduna only points to the obvious – she is anxious to step into the shoes of her predecessors since the gory days of the Evil genius. The wrist watch saga throws up more questions.
One hopes Buhari is man enough to caution his spouse so that we witness the era of a hen pecked ‘leader’ in the person of Jonathan who allowed the Lady Macbeth like ambitions of his better half undermine his administration and cast a slur on his personality.
History should not repeat itself!