I’m a great admirer of strong, confident and energetic women who cannot be bullied by the galaxy of male chauvinists that litter the political landscape of Africa. As someone who was brought up by my amazing mum, Omo Arotiwebiojo, an unlettered woman and petty trader, I knew what it took to survive in a particularly difficult terrain. Indeed, whilst some have impugned you for your so-called lack of command of the English language, I have remained partial to you because, like most of us, English is not your first language, and your contributions have enriched our home-grown lexicon! I can therefore imagine what you and our dear beloved President must have gone through together, in thunder, lightning, rain and sunshine. The hurly-burly of life must have thrown you hither and thither when there was no one else around to share in your secret pain and anguish. But it must have pleased God in His infinite mercy to raise you and your husband up, like Jesus did to a dead Lazarus, as original examples of uncommon transformation.
I must say, Ma, that I have a soft spot for you for other reasons. I was told on good authority that you were a more formidable politician and mobiliser of people and resources than your husband. A few of your friends often regale how you have been a solid pillar and a rock of Gibraltar behind the love of your life, Dr Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan. It is said that you’re willing to sacrifice your all for his sake and he has also reciprocated by according you humongous respect and granting you such vast powers that make onlookers see you as a de facto President in your own right. To God be the glory.
I vividly recollect your relationship with the former First Lady, Hajia Turai Yar’Adua. You gave her tremendous respect and your taciturnity was legendary. Not much was heard from you at that time and not many, except probably Bayelsans, ever suspected that you had so much buried inside your heart and that you were only waiting for the opportune time to vomit them. Even in the days of tribulations when the cabal held sway and grabbed our nation by the jugular, you and your husband handled the volatile situation with maturity and remarkable equanimity. Some of us were ready to fight your battle, and risked our lives, because we saw you as the underdogs who must be rescued from the fangs of the political hyenas. We were further emboldened by the facts of your husband’s man-in-the-street story, a fairy-tale of sorts about a man from the Otuoke manger who had no shoes. We were not just titillated but fascinated by such flashes of inspiration.
Against all odds, your husband became the substantive President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria after the demise of President Yar’Adua. Nigerians were happy about the smooth transition of power and they even boasted that for the first time we had not just another graduate but a PhD holder as President. Sooner than later, as time sped by, it was time for your husband to run his own race. Nigerians from all walks of life queued behind him and he won without much ado. The goodwill he garnered was awesomely massive and the people were very expectant about the “fresh air” promised by him. Of course, to whom much is given, much is expected.
It is nearly four years since that momentous occasion and it is time for a re-examination and re-election. But what should have been a simple walk-over for your sweetheart seems to have developed k-leg. While your husband and those close to him would want us to believe he is Nigeria’s best President ever, many Nigerians feel he has under-performed and would want to try someone else. I have seen you and your husband waka up and down this nation campaigning like no man’s business. Many have likened the exercise to a student engaging in last minute agberu (memorising) after failing to do so all along. This is the crux of my epistle to you today.
I have read and heard so much about you as a very powerful First Lady. I know that when you are at that level, not many people can tell you the gospel truth. No one wants to offend those in power. But I have decided to tell you the bitter reality once and for all. I’m not writing out of any malice, since none can exist between us. But for the sake of posterity, which I know beckons as always; the fact must be told to you. The summary of what I’m about to say is that you and your husband have frittered away most of your goodwill. Had you retained your humility in power, may be you could have avoided this commotion and conundrum of trying to achieve in two months what you couldn’t in about five years. You would probably have avoided the tragedy of trying to manipulate the electoral process, buying more time and doing a catch-up on lost grounds.
If the actuality must be told Ma, the whole trouble started the day you publicly ridiculed the Governor of your home state. It was reported that you yanked a microphone out of his hands and lambasted him like a recalcitrant school boy. In order not to cause mayhem right there, the Governor was said to have left you to your tantrums and went home quietly like a penitent student. That day, you sowed the seed of discord that would later germinate and snowball into a consuming fire. Though the Governor and your husband like true gentlemen chose to carry on their damaged relationship as if all was well, but the worst was on the way.
The battle for the soul and control of your state would later spread to Abuja where your husband began to see the Governor as an enemy who must be cut down to size. In the process of trying to achieve that dream, more Governors joined the fray and in a jiffy, the centre could no longer hold. I do not want to go into some obvious details as I’m sure you know about the intrigues of power more than me. But I must give one more example of how you laid the foundation for today’s grand alliance against your husband.
Let me put it this way. Never in the history of Nigeria have I read of a First Lady responding to criticisms in the frontal manner you attacked Professor Wole Soyinka over an issue that you could easily have ignored. That singular act of unrestrained combativeness was one of your worst public relations gaffes. Wole Soyinka is one of those global icons that you can’t take on and win. If for nothing, here was a man who at about 76 years of age trekked under the scorching sun of Abuja to defend the rights of your husband when many of the acolytes around you today were nowhere to be found. You were not supposed to repay such selfless gestures with verbal blows. That was when you finally lost me and I’m sure many others.
Let me remind you that virtually all Nigerian leaders have been disparaged at one time or the other. It is one of the heavy prices to pay in compensation for the privileges of leadership. Just imagine how much some of us attacked President Ibrahim Babangida, Chief Ernest Shonekan, General Sani Abacha and others over the June 12 crisis. None of their wives ever hit back at the critics no matter the degree of provocation. In fact, they acted perfectly normal and even tried to build bridges of friendship instead of bombing the castle. I remember with fond memories, Dr (Mrs) Maryam Ndidi Babangida, who remained graceful to the very end. Mrs Maryam Abacha endured the most blistering attacks against her husband in life and death. She has since reconciled with many of her husband’s vociferous enemies. Hajia Turai Yar’Adua was subjected to virulent criticism by many, and I confess I was one of her knockers in the dying throes of the cabal, but she wisely kept her own counsel and declined to join issues with anyone. When it dawn on her that the battle was lost and won, she packed her baggage out of Aso Rock without as much as a whimper.
If Justice Fati Abubakar was a selfish woman and a poor adviser to her husband, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, she would have insisted that they should not quit power within the one year he promised to hand over to a democratically-elected President. That government had more than enough resources to buy the ubiquitous array of mercenaries but General Abubakar chose to go in peace and not in pieces. It was such a rarity in Africa and till this day the General is still enjoying a standing ovation for his vision.
I must also mention specifically Mrs Stella Obasanjo, whose husband has always had a running battle with the media and yet she maintained steady media frenzy in her own kingdom. She was everyone’s friend and continues to be fondly remembered even in death. I recollect one occasion when we travelled to Beverley Hills, USA, with her, and her simplicity just wowed everyone. She made sure we jumped in the cars and buses and headed out to a night club owned by Don Cornelius. She was so down to earth. On her last trip to Ghana before her unfortunate death, I had gone to pay her a visit at M-Plaza hotel where she and President Obasanjo stayed. Despite my frosty relationship with her husband, we sat in one corner chatting away as the President attended to his own visitors. She never got involved in our endless battles with Baba. I have cited these examples to show that you and your husband are not alone in the barrage of criticisms and attacks. You must rise up way above such pedestal. But sadly, you have not been able to allow any comment pass you by, no matter how mundane.
I decided to write this open letter after the spate of vocal terror you deployed in the last few days against your husband’s opponents. In case some praise-singers told you lies that what you did was right, I wish to assure you that you’ve done almost irreparable damage to your husband’s presidential campaign. I will now proceed to paraphrase about three of those satanic verses that escaped from your tongue this week alone, but not in any particular order.
The first shocker was when you said before a crowd that those shouting the mantra of Change are not serious and that as a matter of fact they should be stoned anywhere they shout Change! I thought it was a joke until the video went viral. The next one was when you spoke dispassionately about how your husband should be praised and thanked for improving the welfare of the menacing Almajiri kids in Northern Nigeria but you then went astray by insensitively and inconsiderately saying that the Northerners are fond of bearing children with reckless abandon and throwing them on the streets to fend for themselves. You went further to say such things don’t happen in the part of Nigeria you come from. I think that wasn’t very nice or tactful.
The last straw for me was when you declared matter-of-factly that your husband’s main challenger, Major General Muhammadu Buhari should not be voted in because he is “brain dead”, according to you. That was extremely malevolent and sinister, to say the least. It is not an elegant language to be used by any lady not to mention the First Lady and certainly not about a former Head of State of the same country that you are governing and from whose citizens you are seeking a second term in office. However, I believe that this may have been an innocent quip. Whilst some may be willing to forgive such naivety, it is essential for you to quickly assure Nigerians that you meant no harm and that despite the ill-feeling and bitterness that politics and electioneering may engender you wish no evil to any man least of all your husband’s leading rival and contender. There is nothing wrong in admitting your mistake of commission or omission. It is actually a sign of strength.
In conclusion, I think you need to offer urgent apologies for those unguarded, unbecoming statements and try to be more circumspect in the future. One of your best appellations that I love most sincerely is that of Mama Peace. Please, don’t change it to Mama War …!
May God continue to bless you and yours.