Wednesday 8 August 2012

Nigeria: Roll Back These First Lady Red Carpets

A Brief History of First Ladies
The concept of First Lady and the aura of officialdom that it carries was invented in the United States of America where the spouse of the sitting President or a lady relative in the case of an unmarried or widowed President served as the hostess of the White House.
Whilst there is no constitutional provision for the First Lady, there are elements of protocol and dignities conferred on her by reason of the position her husband holds.
Lisa M. Burns in her book First Ladies and the Fourth Estate: Press Framing of Presidential Wives (2008) suggests the following themes in First Ladyship in the United States of America as public woman (1900–1929); as political celebrity (1932–1961); as political activist (1964–1977); and as political interloper (1980–2001).
A Vulgarity of First Ladies
The same idea seems to have taken hold around the world with cliques of regional First Ladies gathering for all sorts of projects spanning one, some or all of those themes and more.
Nowhere has this role become even more prominent to include another theme of political aggrandisement and abuse than in Nigeria.
Sadly, the more recent First Ladies in Nigeria have left the graces and comportment one would have expected of them to become vain as exemplified sadly in the death by misadventure of Mrs Stella Obasanjo after a botched cosmetic surgery procedure, greed as depicted in the Wikileaks exposés of Mrs Turai Yar’Adua and Mrs or rather Dame Patience Jonathan appears to combine vanity, greed and a lack of moderation that leaves one astounded beyond words.
A Truth Commission Bites
Whilst it is difficult not to catch a whiff of vendetta against the previous governor of Ogun State, the establishment of the Ogun State Truth Commission under the chairmanship of Hon. Justice Pius O. Aderemi JSC (Rtd.) has brought some focus that should hopefully start the discourse about the role of First Ladies in Nigeria, having recommended the prosecution of the wife of the erstwhile governor of Ogun State.
Justice Pius Aderemi as a former justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria I will presume is of the legal mind to properly assess these roles and even offer recommendations on how these roles should be undertaken.
Take Notice
A number of key statements in his recommendations are important to note and develop.
The proven excesses of Mrs. Olufunke Daniel arose from the widespread abuse of spouses of Governors and Presidents when there is no legal basis for the office of First Lady in Nigeria. The State and Federal Governments should evolve an administrative mechanism that ensures that wives of Governors and Presidents carry out what they perceive to be their duties unobtrusively.
It is the view of the Commission that the victim established a prima facie case of criminal offence against Mrs. Olufunke Daniel,” Justice Aderemi said. “Mrs. Olufunke Daniel undoubtedly held herself out as a Public Officer by moving to the Petitioner’s house with armed police escorts and ordering the policemen to beat Mr. Odunaya.
These two paragraphs are without doubt very lucid in the arguments that form the basis for putting the so-called First Ladies of any sitting official or even First Gentlemen, First Spouses or First Partners in their places.
The inference drawn here is that certain wives of Governors and Presidents have been given to both excess and abuse while answerable to no one, even though the immunity from prosecution their spouses have does not apply to them.
As We Stand
However the key points I want to make from these two paragraphs are the following.
  • There is no legal basis for the office of any First Lady in Nigeria.
  • An administrative mechanism that ensures that wives of Governors and Presidents carry out what they perceive to be their duties unobtrusively is need, more like a Code of Conduct and Ethics.
  • The wife of a Governor or President can be criminally liable and is not above the law if anyone might need to seek redress for their actions.
  • The wife of a Governor or President is not a Public Office, whilst they might have protective detail by reason of their status they do not have authority to use such detail to exact the law or forment activities that should be delegated and commanded by law enforcement officers.
  • Now for reasons of protocol, the First Lady with her spouse present should be accorded the status, respect and dignities commensurate with her spouse when accompanying him.

Diplomacy and Courtesies
There is however nothing in the Order of Precedence Act that identifies a Nigerian First Lady of any description in her own right, no wives of any public officials are accorded any relevance in the absence of their husbands.
The fact that the wife of a Public Official is NOT a Public Official just by reason of marriage means they are not covered by the Order of Precedence.
Husbands may however confer rights of representation to non-official functions on their wives to stand in their stead and officiate thereby but not in the substantive office of their spouses.
Any dignities, graces, courtesies and respect accorded the wife of a public official is by reason of the respect given to her husband, that respect does not automatically endow a right or status of superiority on the wife when her husband is absent.
Proscribe this anomaly
However, crude this may sound, the excesses and abuses of First Ladies in Nigeria now requires we roll back the red carpets, dispense with the nauseating obsequiousness and tone down on the unnecessary genuflection and fawning.
They should return to being hostesses of the Presidential villas and Governor’s houses to be sometimes invited to cut the tape at garden bazaars. The entourages and corteges of the sycophantic apparatchiks clogging up our streets to the inconvenience of the many should stop forthwith.
In fact, we should only see or hear of the those First ladies when their husbands are out and about, this whole charade has become nuisance that even the utterly uncultured can no more abide.
Away with the Marie Antoinettes of our age.

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