By McPatrick Michael Linus
Since the Presidential candidate of the APC, General Muhammedu Buhari issued a statement during one of his pre-election press briefing that he would scrap the office of the first lady if elected president come 14th Feb. 2014. It has continued to generate heat across the country. It is nearly impossible these days to come across political chick chat in both formal and informal gathering without the topic on the front burner of discussion. It’s of course a controversial topic and the level of heated generated is expected and wouldn’t have been otherwise knowing how emotional Nigerians can be when anything that has to do with politics is concern. One would think that with the controversies that surrounds the office of the first lady over the years that the news of it abolishment would be unanimously and gladly be accepted by all and sundry, but on the contrary. It is even more surprising to see sponsored campaign of calumny going on both on social and main stream media by individual and groups for and against the issue. Women right groups are not left out as they have continued to vent their anger on the General; calling him all sort of names even when they know that the constitution never recognizes such illegality.
If we go back memory lane and have a nostalgic and panoramic view at what is now known as the office of the first lady, you would know that this position came into lime light during the regime of the former military president, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. His wife Maryam came up with a pet-project; tagged, ‘Better life program for rural women’ aim at empowering women out of poverty. Before this time little or nothing was heard of such office even though there had been wives of military and civilian head of state in the past. The successors of Maryam Babangida like Maryam Abacha were known for ‘family support program’ that was also a success and midwife the National Hospital we have today in Abuja.
It was originally built to carter for women and children but the opposite is the case today because it has been hijacked by the few elites who can’t travel abroad. Stella Obasanjo’s child care trust was established immediately her husband resumed office in 1999 to was supposed to care for indigent and physically challenge children. Despite all the resources pumped into that project, it has long been forgotten now a moribund. A visit to it headquarter somewhere behind the Nigeria law school, Bwari, Abuja left much to be desire though some skeletal services still goes on there. Even the wife of Atiku Abubakar a vice President wasn’t left out of the bandwagon as she also had a pet-project to her name. WOTCLEF. Hajia Turai Yar’adua’s didn’t do much during her time due to the ill state of her husband that cut their tenure short but not without her international cancer centre project she started and was supposed to bring succour to cancer patients across Africa located somewhere along the airport road, Abuja.
The controversy over the original owner of the land still remains an issue of contention between her and the current first lady. Lastly, Patience Jonathan’s Women for Change Initiative is gathering momentum everyday more so now with the re-election campaign of her husband in place. All first ladies who came after Mrs. IBB tooled her steps except for Mrs. Ernest Shonekan and Mrs. Abdulsalami Abubakar who both mind their individual businesses throughout the tenure of their spouses. No matter the criticism, the fact remain that women have been given a voice and chance in the present government as well as during the reign of those afore-mentioned first ladies and their programs has directly and indirectly impact the lives of many women though these functions could have been be carried out and maybe perform better by the women ministry already in place which has the backing if the law.
The questions that remain unanswered are; is there a budget or special fund allocated for the running of such office? If yes, who is responsible for such allocation, their spouse or the National assembly? We know very well that there is already a ministry designated to handle all issues that have to do with women and any duplication of such function is illegal. Even more annoying is the fact that these offices and their pet-projects turns them into bullies and extravagant. Spending state funds as if it’s their hard earn money and they’re philanthropies. Before I incur their rot by thinking I support the scrapping of the first lady’s office I ask, those countries where we copy this system of government (Democracy) like the United States of America, France, etc. do their first ladies act or behave this way? Do they also have pet-projects to their names and engage in similar frivolities? I ask again, do we really need any special program from a president’s spouse before women are empowered or given a voice? Aren’t women empowered in the afore-mention countries? If we must copy we should be bold enough to copy all and not what suits us.
McPatrick Michael Linus wrote in from Abuja