Patience Ibifaka Jonathan. Indigene of Oba Ama, Okirika community, Rivers state. Wedded to Goodluck Ebele Jonathan of Otuoke, Bayelsa state. Former first lady of Bayelsa state. Later day first lady of the federal republic of Nigeria, and all time lifter of the national mood is in the news again. This time for less than noble reasons. But truth be told, it is hard to remember a time when Madam Jonathan was in the spotlight for bringing on the sunshine.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) this year placed a freeze on some bank accounts belonging to Patience Jonathan, along with some 15 million USD embedded within. The anti-corruption body, headed by Ibrahim Magu suspecting that the monies are proceeds of criminal activity, traced the accounts to one Waripamowei Dudafa, a former Special Adviser to ex-President Jonathan on Domestic Affairs.
If the EFCC sought by this action to publicly embarrass or shame the former first lady into parting with monies the agency considered ill gotten, despite not having concluded investigations, the anti-corruption body got more than it bargained for as not one to shrink from a fight, Patience Jonathan claimed ownership of the monies. Every single dime.
In a strongly worded statement made available by her media aide, Yemi Akinbode, Jonathan attempted to set the records straight, describing the numerous accusations against her person as ‘’fallacious.’’ She denied ever owning the sum of 31.7 million USD as widely reported by the press, who cited EFCC officials as sources. She also denied owning the sums of 20 million and 5 million USD in any bank accounts in any country of the world.
But on the 15 million dollars, she maintained, “This is an irony. I was the one who went to court for the repatriation of my confiscated money when I realised that the EFCC and its co-travellers were playing politics with this issue after I had come out publicly to say that the said money belongs to me and that I have all evidence to prove the sources of my money.’’
And the evidence? Court documents from a suit, FHC/L/CS/1349/2016 filed by an obscure group, The Union of Niger Delta Youth Organisation for Equity, Justice and Good Governance, on behalf of the former first lady against Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), an organisation that has been vocal in calling for Mrs Jonathan’s prosecution, described the funds as ‘’legitimate gifts from her friends and well-wishers over the last 15 years.’’
According to the papers, Patience Jonathan has been saving these gifts judiciously over the years to upgrade family concerns rendered dormant due to the long period of her husband’s service as a public officer (Between the years 1999 to 2015, Goodluck Jonathan went from deputy governor to governor to vice president to president).
Ever since the EFCC first expressed interest in her matter, Patience Jonathan has fought back like a proper Nigerian, refusing to be intimidated and daring the EFCC, famous for its unpreparedness and dismal record in securing convictions in high profile cases to come get her. And she’s doing it with a wink, with the full knowledge that the joke is on all of us.
About 100 female supporters of the former first lady under the aegis of Voice of Niger Delta Women thronged the South-South zonal offices of the EFCC in Port Harcourt last week in protest, bearing placards that addressed their grievances loudly. ‘’Mr Chairman Sir, (EFCC) pls fight corruption with love”; and “Magu, unfreeze Mrs Patience Jonathan Account” they demanded. Their leader, High Chief Rita N. Onwunali Adandigbo made it clear that the women support the anti-corruption drive of President Buhari but worried sick, to the point of picking up placards, over the “deteriorating health situation of Mrs Patience Jonathan owing to the non-release of her money by the EFCC.”
It gets even stranger.
In a move straight out of the average Nigerian politician’s play book, Mrs Jonathan filed a counter suit against the EFCC praying for the court to discharge the freezing order on her bank accounts. She is also demanding $200 million from the Commission as damages for infringing on her rights. Another couple hundred women showed up at the Federal High Court in Lagos where the suit was heard, chanting songs in Ijaw and English languages. “Women must be heard,” some of their placards read.
In Port Harcourt, Rivers state, Chief Sunday Kalaowolo, flanked by 15 other chiefs representing the Okirika community where Patience Jonathan hails from, addressed a press conference urging the EFCC to respect the rule of law in its dealings with the Jonathans. They surmised, ‘’Having conceded that the Jonathans are not even under any criminal investigation, there is absolutely no justification for their constant harassment by our law enforcement agencies, more so outside the ambit of due process and the rule of law.’’
The Girl from Okirika
This willingness to play down and dirty, to take matters that concern the management of the commonwealth and shrink them within ethnic and religious fault lines is quite consistent with the average Nigerian. And Patience Jonathan despite attaining the peak of public service has not deviated from character for a minute. In world view, character and outlook, she remains the girl from Okirika, married to an Ijaw man, one who considers herself, first and foremost, a daughter of the Niger Delta, before any nationalistic aspirations.
But if this has made her a polarizing figure across literate Nigeria, she remains a darling of the masses, one who has not let herself be changed by her 16 years in the harsh public glare. Indeed it is this trait that endeared Patience and her husband to millions of voting Nigerians when they first hit the national campaign trail in 2011. The humble gentleman with the first name given to him by God himself, and his forceful, colourful but utterly lovable wife.
Their public approval blew up with the ‘’I had no shoes’’ advert but before then, Nigerians saw in the Jonathans, something worthy to aspire to. Lacking any political establishment origins, Goodluck Jonathan and his wife from the nondescript town best known for supplying the nation with second hand clothes, for a brief spell, represented a sort of lofty Nigerian dream. One not driven by any tangible ideal but sailing along on a stroke of good fortune and the blessings of the almighty God.
It wasn’t meant to last. The same way the Jonathans weren’t meant to last.
Divide and rule
If in 2011, the Jonathans were unifying factors, pulling support from both North and South of the country, by 2015, they were deeply divisive figures, splintering the nation against religious and ethnic fault lines. While her husband had forgotten how to unite (some would say, he never real knew how to,) Patience Jonathan went on an ignorant and embarrassing offensive, going out of her way to sow seeds of hate and animosity.
In 2011, on the campaign trail, she was something of a foil to her husband’s aspirations, but an entertaining one to be tolerated. Her brash manner of speaking and unforced grammatical errors were second only to her refusal to be embarrassed by them. This endeared her to a lot of fans who felt that for once, this was a public figure they could relate to.
By 2015, something dark and desperate had taken over Mama Peace as she would later demand to be addressed. While campaigning in Akwa Ibom in March 2015, she dismissed the All Progressives Congress anti-corruption stance with this simplistic and misleading observation, “In abroad, if a young boy works so hard and buy a copter, we praise the boy. But in Nigeria, if a young boy works so hard and buy a copter, we say he’s corrupt. Why?’’
But this was just the tip of the iceberg that was to come as Patience Jonathan recommended physical violence to her supporters in Calabar, capital of Cross-Rivers state, against the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC). Hear her thunder, ‘’Anybody that come and tell you Change, stone that person.’’
While campaigning in Kogi, she diagnosed APC presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari with a brain condition, age shaming him in the process. “Wetin him (Buhari) dey find again? Him dey drag with him pickin mate. Old man wey no get brain, him brain don die pata pata,” she cursed in Pidgin English.
In Delta state, she engaged in her worst behaviour yet when she placed the plight of Almajiris deep in the campaign shredder. She observed, “We for the South we no get Almajiris. Because our men no dey born children wey dem no go remember their names. Our men no dey born children wey dem no go fit count. Our men no dey born children dem go throway give mama.’’
The Cable, an online newspaper reported that the International Criminal Court (ICC), having received a petition from the APC presidential campaign organisation promised to investigate the allegations of incitement levelled against Patience Jonathan. Nothing further was heard on the issue.
Knighted a Dame by the Anglican Church, Patience Jonathan was born in October 1957 in Port Harcourt. She earned her school leaving certificate in 1980 and proceeded to the Rivers State College of Arts and Sciences where she obtained her National Certificate of Education (NCE) in Mathematics and Biology in 1989. It was during this period that the young Patience first encountered Goodluck Jonathan whom despite being contemporaries – they were both born in 1957 – was her Biology instructor.
After completing her program, she moved to the University of Port Harcourt to pursue a B.Ed in Biology and Psychology. By this time, the former president was also studying in the same school for his doctorate degree. It was in the University of Port Harcourt that their relationship blossomed. She claims Goodluck took an interest in her because she was a ‘’brilliant and smart student’’ and she on her part was fascinated by this ‘’tall, dark, handsome, young man’’ who came from a Christian background similar to hers.
Before long they were married and Patience has from the get go, remained a constant and significant part of her hubby’s political life. As first lady of Bayelsa, Patience Jonathan was reported to be widely influential, reserving a say as to officers who served in her husband’s cabinet. She took this streak to the national stage when her hubby was elevated to the presidency. Patience Jonathan campaigned for increased women participation in politics and lobbied for the Goodluck administration’s implementation of the United Nations recommended 35 per cent affirmative action on women representation in governance.
A source close to the Jonathan administration supports this claim, ‘’Dame Patience is a very generous person. She knows where she is coming from and takes joy helping people but she appreciates loyalty. A lot of people benefitted from her tenure as first lady but the loyalty part was not negotiable. She demanded it.’’
Evans Bipi, a former lawmaker in the Rivers state legislature who had benefitted from Patience Jonathan’s political goodwill and mentorship, famously declared to a stunned nation in the aftermath of a 2013 violent debacle in the state House of Assembly, ‘’Why must he (Rotimi Amaechi) be insulting my mother, my Jesus Christ on earth?” He added, “I have no mother, I have no father. She (Mrs. Jonathan) is my mother.’’
Won’t back down
Patience Jonathan is credited as the political and moral force behind her husband’s unprecedented political rise but if she has helped his career immensely, she has also played a part in its eventual undoing. Her avoidable 2010 public confrontation with former Governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi proved one slight too many and was the prelude to Amaechi’s eventual radicalisation and subsequent union with the opposition.
In a spectacular public confrontation that arose when Amaechi was hosting Mrs Jonathan on a guided tour of her home town, Okirika, the former Governor was expressing his intentions of demolishing buildings around a proposed primary school when Jonathan grabbed the microphone and demanded that Amaechi listen to her. She thundered, “But what I am telling you is that you always say you must demolish. That word ‘must’, you use is not good. It is by pleading. You appeal to the owners of the compound, because they will not go into exile. Land is a serious issue,’’ and then reminded him who was boss, “I want you to get me clear. I am from here (Okrika). I know the problems of my people. So, I know what I am talking.’’
Suitably chastised, Amaechi left the venue amidst jeers from the crowd and their relationship has never recovered, despite interventions from royal fathers and religious leaders amongst others. The presidency refused to accept his victory as chairman of the independent Governor’s Forum and he eventually switched loyalties to the opposition party, serving as chairman of the Muhammadu Buhari presidential campaign that would unseat the Jonathans as first family.
Grab all you can
But what good is power if one isn’t brave enough to use it? Patience Jonathan, from her public appearances seemed to enjoy the trappings of high office a little too much. She walked with a spring in her step, smiled for the cameras and hobnobbed merrily with the high and mighty, at times going as far as subverting protocol and walking ahead of the president to receive visitors at official functions.
She never shied away from making speeches publicly, despite her less than stellar command of the English language and was known to elevate those around her whom she considered worthy. Her anointing of Governor Nyesom Wike as successor to Rotimi Amaechi was a project that was dear to heart and she took every opportunity to push his candidacy forward.
There are also reports of Nollywood actors suddenly being allowed access to the presidency because Mrs Jonathan loved watching them on screen. There was a sense of wide eyed wonder which she brought to the usually stoic presidency and she (and her husband) in many ways, opened up the presidency and made it relatable to the average Nigerian.
But there was usually hell to pay for those who got in her way. Jonathan’s relationship with her predecessor, Hajiya Turai Yar’Adua became increasingly frosty, especially as media reports cast Turai Yar’Adua as the power grabbing defender of her dying husband’s legacy.
In his behind the scenes book, Power, Politics & Death, former presidential spokesman Olusegun Adeniyi gave insight of Patience Jonathan scheming to be first lady as far back as 2007. In his account, while receiving a women group paying a courtesy visit, Mrs Jonathan, then the second lady of the federation responded to a simple question of ‘’How is oga?’’ thus, ‘’My husband is in the office reading newspapers. Abi no be newspaper Turai (Yar’Adua) say make im dey read?’’
Soon after she became first lady, Patience Jonathan and Turai Yar’Adua were in the courts, fighting for a prime Abuja piece of land that was initially allocated to Mrs Yar’Adua for the establishment of her Women and Youth Empowerment Foundation (WAYEF). The new FCT Minister at the time, Bala Mohammed re-allocated same property to Dame Patience for the construction of her African First Lady Peace Mission headquarters citing “overriding public interest.”
But an Abuja high court sitting in 2013 ruled that the initial letter of offer issued Yar’Adua’s organisation remains valid and subsisting as there was no overriding public interest.
Patience Jonathan’s tenure in public tenure is likely to be remembered for her frequent power grabs as it will be for her myriads of unchecked commentaries. Her visits to different cities in the federation were known to put entire states on lockdown. She politicised her status as wife of the president like no other first lady before her, even going as far as introducing her own seal of office, a move that was met with criticism as constitutionally the office of the first lady has no basis for existing.
After leaving the Bayelsa state education service in 1999 to become a public citizen, Patience Jonathan was, in a shocking move, in July 2012, appointed permanent secretary in Bayelsa state by Governor, Henry Seriake Dickson. She accepted the position. And the whole world watched her now viral implosion in 2014 while attempting to make sense of the matter of the missing Chibok girls. Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, exasperated by her shenanigans advised Mrs Jonathan to learn to ‘’be a lady first before being a first lady.’’
Over a year after leaving public office, and Patience Jonathan still manages to capture public attention. She has been through a lot, including surviving a mysterious nameless illness which she claims took her to the operating table 9 times within one month.
Patience Jonathan’s latest travails may linger a while but she remains a high profile citizen and if the past is prologue, Mama Peace will eventually emerge from the rubble unbent, unbowed and unbroken. This has been the Patience Jonathan way. It is also the Nigerian way.