As much as appointing the first lady is not legally wrong, the obvious message of sycophancy and political bias that the appointment sends is what worries me.
The news that our first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan had been appointed a permanent secretary by the Bayelsa State governor has been dissected and butchered in the news over the last couple of days. But while it all went on, comments that the first lady was not legally qualified to handle such a position caught my eye. I read one on social media, which said that if Patience Jonathan could be made permanent secretary, there was hope for their illiterate grandmother in the village to become UN secretary general.
The general impression that the first lady is illiterate is pretty disturbing but sadly not helped by the first lady herself who without a doubt, leaves even her staunchest believers in cringes, when she speaks from ‘her heart’. The fact is that she does have a degree in Biology from the University of Port Harcourt. She also apparently has a history working in the civil service of her home state. (Though, the facts of this service may be difficult to verify. Results of a fact check may be similar as those obtained when searching for her husband’s Ph.D. thesis.) Thus, she is deemed qualified enough to hold such a position.
That Dame Jonathan is perceived to be a ‘half-baked’ graduate is more a testament to Nigeria’s rotten educational system than to her inability to meet up to our expected ‘posh’ standards of her.
The one theory I refused to subscribe to though, was the one that the Kennedys and Johnson-Sirleafs were/are worse with regards to the practice of nepotism. That the Liberian President has her sons heading major institutions of government should not automatically be the standard here in Nigeria.
As much as appointing the first lady is not legally wrong, the obvious message of sycophancy and political bias that the appointment sends is what worries me. Yes, there is no legal ‘Office of the First Lady’ so her role as permanent secretary should not be disturbed. But we all know that very few offices in the land are more powerful than that of the wife of the Nigerian President. Just watch the NTA Network News at 9pm everyday and you can see how much power the occupant of that office wields from her ‘yellow chamber’ at Aso Rock. She has said it herself: There’s no way she’s about to relocate from Abuja to Yenagoa.
The open acceptance of nepotism in Nigeria, will just be the final nail in what is a ready-made coffin prepared a long time ago by tribalism. Like I stated earlier and must re-iterate, there is nothing legally wrong with appointing a relative or tribesman or relative of a godfather into a political position. But there is everything morally and ethically wrong with the kind of example and precedent it sets for those watching.
Tribalism is already a huge headache for Nigerians and most of our problems today, stem from the fact that certain tribes continue to feel ‘marginalized’ (yeah, I hate that word too) by others whether at the federal, state or local government levels. Tribalism is now basically a nationally accepted way of life here, which is why those, whom we call elder statesmen, can easily and openly push for “our turn” with political offices.
Last week, I got to hang out with a young man who has benefitted from the amnesty deal offered youths of the Niger Delta. The personable guy from Rivers State, who seemed pretty decent and ‘reformed’, spoke passionately about Nigeria until a bit of alcohol got to loosen his tongue. Then he started to complain about Mr. President and how people around him were manipulating him. He was pretty disappointed that Mr. President wasn’t doing enough for ‘his people’. As far as he was concerned, “If Goodluck comot there now, we nor know when this thing go reach us again o! Instead of the guy to dey help us for Niger Delta as a whole, na only Ijaw people dey benefit. E nor good na.” I thought it was very interesting that while most Nigerians felt like Niger Deltans had hijacked the Jonathan presidency, other Niger Deltans believed he cared only for his immediate Ijaw tribesmen. I’m almost certain that within that tribe, there would be complaints too about sectional preferences.
The point here is that the spillover effects of tribalism are obviously endless and mostly retrogressive. The complaints only continue to mount and the more disenchanted people are, the worse off the country is. Trying to start off a culture of nepotism on top of that will only leave us the worse for it. I know that there are many Bayelsans who are just as qualified as the first lady to handle that position. Making a political announcement, when you know that there’s no way she’s ever going to leave Aso Rock and actually occupy the office just to gain favour or as a political pay-back is the wrong way to go for the governor.
We have a very faulty constitution; one that doesn’t speak up against dire issues like tribalism. Which is why for the better part of our 13 years as a democratic nation, constitution review has been at the front burner. Thus, it will always be easy to hide behind our laws to set wrong precedents. In spite of the law, the day we realize that government isn’t our own SME, we would well be on our way to building a better Nigeria.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.