Despite lamentations over the widespread impunity carried out by all manner of authorities, especially the law enforcement and security agencies, a new form of curious impunity has emerged in the overzealous actions of wives of political office holders. So embarrassing and tactless have the activities of these self-styled ‘‘First Ladies’’ been that they upset the smooth running of the state in some areas. While some tend to run the show in their states using state resources, others are influential power brokers, imposing their created offices as an appendage to the administration. This is unfortunate, for it is a constitutional aberration that must be curtailed, if not abolished outright. It portrays a very immature mentality to governance as well as an inelegant and imprudent management of the political office.
The other day, a non-government organisation (NGO) South-Westhire Health Trust embarrassed the wife of the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, when it linked the wife of the governor to its plan to remove mentally challenged people from the streets of Lagos. We recall the embarrassment caused the Ekiti State government too when the convoy and security detail of the wife of the Ekiti State governor were incriminated in the death of two students of Federal University of Ado-Ekiti, Oye-Ekiti. Reports indicated that Mrs. Bisi Fayemi’s convoy had collided with students protesting against the absence of basic amenities in the university.
There was also an unfortunate incident in Ondo State, which resulted in governor Rotimi Akeredolu sacking the Special Assistant on Political Matters over a birthday greeting addressing the wife of the deputy governor as “Acting First Lady.” This is another pointer to the arbitrary invocation of titles and the consequences it can generate. Did the governor act because he felt the title was a constitutional aberration? Did he or his wife feel slighted that a deputy governor’s wife was sharing such coveted title of ‘‘First Lady’’ with the wife of the governor? Nigerians may not know the deeper reason the governor’s aide was fired. But there is a correlation between the sacking and politics between the wives of governor and deputy governor in Ondo State.
Before then, Nigerians were witnesses to the brazen assault of constitutionality by the wife of the former governor of Imo State, Nkechi Okorocha, who, the then Secretary to the Government of Imo State said was in control of four ministries in the state. If this is shameful, the bigger shame is the silence and inaction of legislators who ought to investigate and check the alleged aberration. Alas, the politics of sycophancy and perfidy has arm-twisted these lawmakers in such a manner that, they are priming their wives to take on unofficial roles at state expense too.
Since the military regime of General Yakubu Gowon, Nigerians have witnessed First Ladies come and go. But it was the wife of General Ibrahim Babangida, Mariam Babangida, who openly glamourised the role of the First Lady as an official state position. Since then, the officialdom of the First Lady has attained notoriety to such a level that in the hands of Patience Jonathan, wife of former President Goodluck Jonathan, it assumed some national embarrassment.
Perhaps, it was for this reason that Muhammadu Buhari, as presidential aspirant during an interview in 2014 stated that he would not have an office of the First Lady should he emerge as president. He reportedly argued then that such an office was not provided for in the constitution and suggested that the Ministry for Women Affairs should be allowed to play its role unhindered. His wife, Aisha Buhari, following this statement, also gave her word that she would abide by whatever the constitution stipulates and said she would perform her traditional duties only as the wife of the president.
However, in July last year, the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration appointed several aides for the “Offices of the Wife of the President” and that of the Vice President’s wife, despite his promise to scrap the offices. In line with this action, Mrs Buhari, a few months ago, announced her decision to be addressed as the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, stating that her new title would take effect immediately and that she would also resolve the issue of the title of wives of governors. This does not speak well of the integrity index of Buhari, who only in 2015 said we could trust him on this First-Lady anomaly.
In a country, especially one practising a presidential system of democracy, there is only one person who bears the title of First Lady, and that person is the wife of the president. It is ridiculous that in this society of ours, where titles have become properties that confer essence on individuals’ worth, wives of state governors, local government chairmen and even councillors, use the title in an ostentatious manner. In some instances, offices of these ‘‘First Ladies’’ have been created and state resources deployed to service them. A report of the Jigawa State governor, who appointed special assistants for his three wives, is still confounding.
Such has been the vainglorious display of the ‘powers’ acquired by the use of these titles that certain state officials take directives from the wives of governors. Others have put themselves in obvious competition with their governor husbands in a manner that affects the progress of the state. Politicians’ wives, especially wives of governors and deputy governors, should be mindful of the fact that official roles coveted by them as spouses of politicians have no constitutional validity. Whatever privileges they enjoy subsist in virtue of their spousal relationship to the political office holder. Any attempt to appropriate such roles, or acquire undue authority, powers and privileges because of such spousal relationship is an aberration. It is unconstitutional.
Nigerian governors, especially the self-styled elitist and westernised governors, should take a cue from the countries they tend to emulate. They should observe the office of the governors of those countries and see whether the frivolities, ostentation and extravagant display of power and wealth that prevail in their states are obtainable in such places. Indeed, there are few places in the world where governors’ wives and the wives of local government chairmen carry on with the recklessness and impunity with which their Nigerian counterparts operate. Many of them have turned that office into an extension of their bedroom and kitchen, suffocating that official space with needless wrangling and acrimony and by so doing, affecting the smooth running of the government.
Let it be known that the wife of the president or the governor or any other political officer is not a public political office holder by virtue of spousal relationship. She is just a private citizen, one who may be a public office holder herself, or a professional in her own right; but whose professional standing or conduct may be instrumental in the progress of that state. She is supposed to be supportive of the role of her spouse by creating a conducive personal and domestic atmosphere for the political office holder to thrive, rather than stoking the embers of strife.
It is in this regard that this newspaper recognises the role which the wife of the president, or wife of the governor or wives of other political office holders can play in driving progress and development in society. As elsewhere outside the country and just like the Committee of Wives of Lagos State Officials (COWLSO) founded by the late Mrs Ireti Johnson, wife of the first military governor of Lagos State, Modupe Mobolaji-Johnson, and revived by Mrs Oluremi Tinubu, wives of political office holders could form an association or formidable apolitical non-governmental organisation that would be a bully pulpit for social development.
Many instances of exemplary management of this role abound in the country and elsewhere. We have witnessed governors’ wives and wives of political office holders privately channelling their talents and energies to lofty projects. A good number do so without pomp and publicity. This is commendable and worthy of emulation.
All told, the overzealous wives of our state actors who do not understand the illegality of their operations should note that they can be called upon tomorrow as accessories after the fact of official corruption of their husbands who have been allocating un-appropriated funds to them.