Okrika used to be a euphemism for second hand clothes. That tag arose from the heavy trade in used clothes by traders from this area of Rivers State. A thriving waterfront in the Okrika area gave the community easy access to ships bringing goods from Europe and among the goods were used clothes bought cheaply from sailors who had picked them up at give away prices or simply picked them from disposal points. The mainstay of Okrika economy was the trade in used clothes until crude oil made nonsense of all of that.

Dame Patience Jonathan, wife of President Goodluck Jonathan is an Okrika indigene and she is very proud of it. Very correct. In my primary school days, we were forced to commit to memory Aggrey’s famous words ‘I am proud of my colour, he who is not proud of his colour is not fit to live; only the best is good for Africa’. At no time has Dame Jonathan worn the Okrika badge more proudly than at her recent tour of Rivers State, which turned into an embarrassment to both herself and Rotimi Amaechi, the governor of the state.

I do not know who conferred the title ‘Dame’ on her, but it is a respectable British honour conferred on women who have distinguished themselves in service and conduct and I believe she must have been deserving of the honour. A dame is the equivalent of a lady, not by conferment but by attributes. A lady is everything virtuous in a woman. Remember Fela Anikulapo in ‘Lady’. ‘If you call am woman African woman no go gree, she go saaaaaay, she go say I be lady o. She go say I no be woman, she go say market woman na woman…she go say I be laaaady…Call am to dance she go dance lady dance..African woman go dance she go dance the fire dance..’

So women recognise and cherish the values and honour of a dame or lady. A dame is an example of perfect womanhood, that woman of virtue that the Bible refers to in Proverbs 31. The Bible says her husband is respected at the city gates by the people because of the discipline and good behaviour of his wife. The test of these attributes of a dame came for Mrs Jonathan last week and she failed woefully.

The widely reported altercation she had with the governor of Rivers State at Okrika was totally unnecessary. The issue was the demolition of houses along the waterfront to make way for schools according to Amaechi. I am told that Amaechi himself might have used the building of schools as an excuse to clear the Okrika waterfront of militants the way the Port Harcourt waterfront was cleared. Deep issues of politics dating back to the days of Ada George as governor of Rivers State are said to be involved. Ada George is from Okrika and his political roots and heritage may be seriously threatened by the Amaechi exercise. It might also be a matter of land as said by Mrs Jonathan; because in a place with so much water and so little land, land matters will certainly be very emotive.

‘Listen, you must listen to me. I want you to get me clear. I am from here; I know the problem of my people, so I know what I am talking about. I do not want us to go into crisis…’ declared Mrs Jonathan. With the microphone snatched from him, the newspapers reported that the governor was speechless; he was totally unprepared for that kind of public confrontation. Thus came to an end a visit that had been planned to showcase Amaechi’s achievements and honour the president’s wife.

The only reason Dame Jonathan could do what she did to the Rivers State governor is because her husband is president of the country. Constitutionally she has no position or locus in the governance of the country. The office of First Lady is not in the Nigerian constitution, it is a creation of leaders of government. The late Mrs Maryam Babangida gave glamour and prominence to the office and since then the wives of governors and presidents have continued to increase in influence and power. The power they exercise is the power of the office of their husbands. I know the Bible says do not put asunder what God has joined together, but I doubt if the Holy Spirit had the executive offices of governance in Nigeria in mind when He influenced those words in the Bible.

President Jonathan himself suffered at the hands of Mrs Turai Yar’Adua when he was denied access to her sick husband for months. He complained publicly at the behaviour of the wife of the president and others in the cabal and Nigerians sided with Jonathan in the matter. Prominent Nigerians like Wole Soyinka condemned Turai’s actions making it clear that an elected government official like the then Vice-President Jonathan could not be subordinate to her in the affairs of the country. The point that Nigerians were making was that a wife is a wife and cannot exercise the political powers of her husband.

But many of our political actors are to blame for this political aberration that has taken firm root in Nigeria. In an attempt to curry favours with office holding husbands, they subjugate their offices to their wives. They fear the coercive power of the first ladies; ‘I will get my husband to deal with you’.

Governor Amaechi was the architect of his own embarrassment. What was his business conducting the wife of the president round his state? He should have left that for his own wife. Let wives relate to wives while the elected officials relate to themselves as laid down in the constitution. Many of our governors forget that they are heads of governments in a federation. The federating units have by consensus appointed or elected a federal government to coordinate the affairs of the country. That does not make any of them subservient to the federal government. You find governors representing the president at public events. That is not the spirit of federalism. The president has enough officials working for him to send on public errands, not the head of another government. The hang-over of the days of military government and the authoritarian posture of the Obasanjo government in those eight years, appear to have combined to undermine the psyche of a federation among our political leaders. Our democratic structures operate more like a dictatorship under the pretence of elections. These attributes promote arbitrariness, the aura of invincibility among political office holders, discourage accountability, make governance poorer and the nation stagnant.

Mrs Jonathan did not live up to the expectations of her ‘Dame’ title in Okrika last week. If she had issues with Governor Amaechi, disgracing the governor publicly was not the damely way to resolve it. Whatever the issues, Patience Jonathan was certainly impatient to make her point. If I were her husband I would scold her for misconduct, privately apologise to the Rivers state governor and punish her with confinement for the duration of politicking and election towards 2011. Many a flippant wife has cost her husband great political fortunes. If a man cannot control his wife, how can he be trusted to control the affairs of a nation? President Jonathan must reassure Nigerians that he is in firm control of his immediate personal constituency by ensuring that this kind of aberration from which he has suffered himself, does not happen again.

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