In my secondary school days there used to be this musical band known as Sweet Breeze, and one of their hit songs used to croon this way: “Miss Patience without patience, who gave you that name?” Mrs. Patience Jonathan, the ubiquitous wife of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, reminds me of that song. It is obvious that the First Lady takes no prisoners as her recent encounter with Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State embarrassingly illustrated. An Okrika woman to the core, Mrs Patience impatiently took on Governor Amaechi over the vexed issue of waterfront slums’ demolition in Rivers State. It was a very ugly scene indeed.
The fiery First Lady was on a scheduled two-day tour of Rivers State to flag off her pet project, “Women for Change Initiative”. The visit received so much coverage in the media with the state government taking out so much advert space to announce what amounted to a homecoming for the First Lady. Unfortunately, it was not a smiling Mrs Jonathan who made the visit as she publicly berated the state government for not dialoguing with Okrika people before the commencement of a model primary school that requires the demolition of some houses. Talk of fighting for one’s people!
This way, the much-advertised inspection tour turned sour before the very eyes of the gathered Riversmen and women. Governor Amaechi drew the ire of Mrs Jonathan immediately she told her at the site of the model primary school still under construction in Okrika that his government planned to acquire some of the houses around the area in order to create a conductive atmosphere for learning.
In Amaechi’s explanation, all the schools in Okrika happen to be surrounded by residential houses such that government did not want external interference where children are learning. According to the youthful Amaechi, “All the schools in Okrika are surrounded by houses and we don’t want the schools to be surrounded by residential houses where people cook, sell and distract the pupils. So we have to demolish them. We want to pay them compensation and demolish the houses.”
The governor got a hot reply he never bargained for. Mrs. Jonathan promptly retorted that the issue of land was a very crucial matter in Okrika. In her view, the government needed to dialogue with the chiefs and the people as far as the issue of demolition is concerned. Hear her: “Okrika has no land. Every little land that we have is very important. They don’t play with land. It’s a serious affair. So I want you to know that.”
The anger of the First Lady could not be disguised by any make of diplomacy. Poor Amaechi could not but chip in that the communities where such model schools are cited are usually the ones that donate the land as their own contribution to the project. Even so, in cases where the government had had to acquire land, compensation was paid.
It needs to be recalled here that the First Lady’s Okrika brethren are already in court with the Rivers State government over the issue of the demolition of the waterfront slums. Mrs Jonathan did not mince words in telling Governor Amaechi that she is a daughter of the soil and thus appreciates the problem of the people as it concerns land. Her words: “I want you to get me clear. I am from here and I know the problem of my people. I know what I am talking about. I don’t want us to go into crisis. We are preaching peace. So we must maintain peace at all levels.”
Mrs Jonathan takes pride in telling that she knows the terrain, pointing out that due to land constraint in Okrika, if a compound is demolished, it means that an entire family has been rendered homeless. It’s her insistence that there’s need for the state to dialogue extensively before acquiring any property to demolish. She explained her native Okrika people thusly: “We are a peculiar people. Land is always a problem when it comes to Okrika. The little we have we cherish it so much.”
Land hunger is real in Okrika, but the First Lady should have been a little bit more patient in delivering the message. She could have spoken to Governor Amaechi at close quarters. But her brusqueness ended up making her visit to Rivers State a very short one indeed. Mrs. Jonathan who was supposed to visit the Port Harcourt Prisons, where the Chief Judge of the state was scheduled to release some inmates to her, abruptly went straight to the airport and returned to Abuja.
As thriller writer, James Hadley Chase, would put it, that’ the way the cookie crumbles.

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