First ladies’ indecency in public office
Undignified conduct of two erstwhile first ladies in Anambra State the other day relives the significance of spouses in the leadership recruitment process. Though the Anambra show of shame has petered into a comic relief, the symbolism to recurring bad governance of the men folks should not be lost on all. Clearly, the women behind powers wield enormous influence than mere occupancy of the kitchen or the “other room”, and should no longer be ignored in the yardstick for measuring the standard of political aspirants.
Constitutionally, the office of the first lady is not recognised and technically, it is non-existent. But in a culture that identifies the imperative of family, the ceremonial relevance of female spouses has conceded unwritten recognition to the office of the first lady both at the federal and state levels. And since the military rule to date, wives of the Heads of State and Presidents have had more than superficial influence in successive administrations. Globally, the revered office finds relevance in ceremonial state functions, care for children, women and the vulnerable that could have been forgotten or downplayed by the exigencies of day-to-day governance. It is for that reason that the first lady is often referred to as the mother of the nation and the kindheartedness of an administration.
But the problem is the self-comportment that the privileged office demands than its holders are wont to reciprocate. Recent performances of our flamboyant first ladies are short of exemplarity. It was indeed an all-time low at the swearing-in ceremony of the new Anambra State governor, Charles Soludu, when the outgoing first lady, Ebelechukwu Obiano, and Nigeria’s former Ambassador to Spain, Bianca Ojukwu, went fisticuffs in public glare. The two combatants had to be separated to forestall total disruption of the State’s function. Irrespective of what led to what, the street brawl was a shameful act of disturbance of public peace that should have had the duo arrested by an effective police force. They behaved badly and below the status of dignity and diplomats. They are bad examples of role models and motherhood.
While the duo descended to gutter-level, their indecency is not any worse than the conduct recently shown by over a dozen of governors’ wives that reportedly travelled at state’s expense to Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, to present Aisha Buhari a birthday cake. Unwittingly, the Nigerian first lady has found her country unlivable and had quietly migrated to the comfort of Dubai, which is an affront to the collective sensibility of the country her husband superintends, though poorly. The first lady clearly prioritises self-comfort and self-centredness ahead of the supportive role expected of her as the president’s spouse. Most ludicrous is that first ladies of sub-nationals are tagging along the indecency with overseas jamborees and squandamania. A leaked memo from the office of the Secretary to the Government of Plateau State recently gave a fair idea of the cost of feeding a first lady’s vanity. The letter requested from the State’s coffers the sum of N73.68 million for the first lady and 10 officials on her entourage to attend some obscure investment summits in Dubai and the United States from March 27 to April 10. Multiplied across the 36 members of the Nigerian Governors’ Wives Forum (NGWF) invited for the jamboree, the cost fetches N2.65 billion of the funds the state governors claim not to have to fund basic health, education and settlement of pension arrears!
Clearly, the insensitive first ladies have demystified the elegance of the public office, especially that of the number one citizen. It is bad enough that the country is in a parlous socio-economic state; it is worse that the first ladies in high places have lost the sense of propriety to pull back and pitch tents with the vulnerable through social interventions. Nigerian first ladies are missing golden opportunities to showcase the stuff of Nigerian women at a time the global community is celebrating sterling qualities of womanhood.
Credible efforts that rallied behind the downtrodden and successfully bridge gaps between the haves and the have-nots in a distressed Nigeria should have been the selling point of Mrs. Buhari and all governors’ wives, including former first ladies. Such should have been the credential of what women could do if entrusted and empowered with political offices. Unfortunately, what the world could perceive are not frontline first ladies that are busy blazing the trail in chosen walks of life, but some freeloaders that are solely in power for its vanitas. That is grossly indecent and highly regrettable.
Suffice to state that street fights in official quarters and other scandalous outings are not new. But that modern first ladies continue to lack self-restraint registers a progressive general degradation of leadership qualities across the board. The worst of us that cannot manage their homes are taking the driver’s seat to lead the best of us and ruin the country. And the bad-mannered male folk in public offices are finding the Achilles heel in ill-tempered spouses that are undeserving of public recognition.
It is incumbent on the Nigerian public not to settle for less, but demand decency, good family values and etiquette from public office holders across the board. Respect is not what to demand but such that is bestowed on the grounds of sterling character and conduct. An aspirant that is not well brought up or has lost it at home and in good character should not be entrusted with public office.
The president and governors cannot but be held liable for the misdemeanor of their spouses. It is their sole responsibility to have their spouses and family members in check. The revered office of the number one citizen in the country or state should be kept unblemished at all times, and tailored to laid down protocols. Wives of all public office-holders are especially expected, like their husbands, to be good mannered, responsible, humble and to show self-restraint. As mothers of their people indeed, they should show more compassion, availability and solidarity with the masses. Their office and status are not meant for those lacking in etiquette or those that are ill-tempered; but to support their husbands to impact good governance on the greatest number of Nigerians.