By Isiaka Aliagan
Dame Patience Faka Jonathan, Nigeria’s First Lady, is by far Nigeria’s most visible and influential First Lady, with news of her inspiring activities spanning local and international climes. She had learnt the ropes as chief hostess of the nation in the few years her husband was Vice President, then Acting President and later President on the death of President Yar’adua in 2010, up to 2011 when her husband won the Presidential election, and now.
Dame Patience Jonathan has occupied the position of the nation’s First Lady for over three years now. However, Nigerians do not appear to know their First Lady that much. Her real profile seems to have been dwarfed by some orchestrated media hypes built around her person. Is Patience Jonathan a controversial figure or is it that some people take delight in building controversy out of everything she says or does? Is her profile actually as painted in some sections of the media?
Having worked with the First Lady for some years now, I can conveniently say that I know her pretty well enough and that most of the things being bandied in the press and the social media about her are outright falsehoods designed to disparage her for certain political ends. For the benefit of unsuspecting Nigerians who may have taken hook, line and sinker the spurious tales by some of these overzealous writers about the person of Dame Patience Jonathan, I decided to take this trip round her personality.
From the illustrations I am going to make here, I can conveniently say that behind the facade of lies told about her person, Patience Jonathan is a totally different person; she is amiable, selfless, patriotic and a dutiful wife and mother. As a friend has said, the First Lady has been grossly misunderstood, unnecessarily vilified through some form of hate journalism spearheaded by certain people who hate her gut and courage to tread where many feared to show their faces and by those who have underrated her and have suddenly developed belly ache when confronted with her outstanding success in her chosen causes.
Contrary to the sing-song that have become popularised by some merchants of adulterated tales, Patience Jonathan is an enigmatic personality exuding strength of character, bravery and courage, compassion and love, go-getter spirit, resilience, zeal and passion, high intelligence, full of life, and of course, as every fallible human being, a bit of temper when faced with injustice or is irritated by dishonest persons. Above all, Patience Jonathan is a lovely human being, with good intentions but often time deliberately disparaged by her traducers.
The First Lady depicts a strong personality who is undaunted by the barrage of diluted stories built around her person in the media. It is clear from the often coordinated media attacks against her that some people, particularly from the opposition, take delight in vicious attacks on her simply to get at her husband, the president whose ascension to greatness still gnaws at the heart of some politicians in and out of office who think they own the country and must dictate its political pace. Thus, often when a matter is linked to her person, these traducers rush to the press pouring out their spleen, even without seeking and dissecting the facts. Some innocent ones also simply follow the bandwagon without pausing to think. Once it involves Patience Jonathan, it is time for a bazaar of deceit.
Some common sentiments being traded in the media by these group include the un-constitutionality of the Office of the First Lady, yet its seeming high visibility under Patience Jonathan though she was not the first to tread that path; condemnation of her pursuit of public causes which ordinarily should be applauded; ‘imaginary’ claims of her enjoying certain perks of ‘office’ meant for elected or appointed people only, even though these are traditional rights enjoyed by wives of presidents, governors (including wives of governors in the opposition camp) or their ilk.
For instance, they cite the use of official convoy for her movements (even when wives of leaders in opposition camp also drive in convoy and Patience Jonathan is not the first to enjoy that privilege); holding traffic for her convoy to pass (even for few minutes that it takes); use of podium with her office crest (ignoring the fact that even Michele Obama uses podium and crest, not to talk of local peers here in Nigeria); dabbling in affairs of state (though they know that the wife of president remains an unofficial adviser of the president working quietly behind the scene to support the president in discharging the huge responsibility of state affairs); and soliciting support for her husband’s administration or candidacy (as if they expect her, against the ideal of the wife being a chief supporter of her husband, to be raising enemies for her husband). These among others, are the sentiments that they parade.
An average person would have been cowed by the avalanche of attacks against her person by her ‘traditional enemies’ but Patience Jonathan is as a strong woman who would not be intimidated by any man or woman. Some of her friends describe her as an iroko tree that remains standing even in the face of a terrible storm. Her uncommon energy and nerve have seen her overcoming many undeserved attacks against her person. One of her friends said this of her “she does not lose sleep at all when these attacks come. She might get angry sometimes at this unjust treatment but that does not stop her from being who she is. And it does not prevent her from moving on.”
Patience Jonathan may qualify as the most criticised Nigeria’s First Lady. However, these criticisms are attracted because she is making an impact, as only someone who does not matter is not spoken of, as said in our local parlance. But her traducers are smart. They play their game well by ensuring that some of her good works are not heard or seen. In spite of all, Patience Jonathan is indeed a brave and courageous woman.
Where many are afraid to take a stand or make a move, Patience Jonathan would. She is never afraid to say her mind. And she could be frank to a fault. But that does not diminish her worth. It shows she is human and sincere about her feelings.
While many would want to deceive people about their true feelings, Patience Jonathan “talks from her heart.” Rather than this being seen as a fault in her character, it should be seen as a virtue, an attitude that many in our society lack. Many times the First Lady had attracted criticisms for saying her mind at a time many are lacking the courage to speak.
The First Lady’s go-getter spirit is also probably one trait that irks her opponents. When she sets her mind into doing something, there is no going back. She is a woman of strong character. Instances of this included during the mounting opposition to her husband in the wake of the 2011 election; she went round the country and mobilised Nigerian women to vote for her husband. It is acclaimed that her mobilization prowess contributed to the victory of her husband in that election. It is equally this feat that earned her the enmity of those opposed to her husband ascension to the presidential seat.
Through the Women for Change and Development Initiative which she founded in 2010, Patience Jonathan has launched a massive women movement never seen before in the history of Nigeria. It would be recalled that in spite of the seeming opposition by her attackers to the floating of the women organization at its inception, Patience Jonathan was not discouraged as she criss-crossed the length and breadth of Nigeria to launch the organization and she propelled the advocacy for the endorsement of the 35% affirmative action on women representation in appointive and elective positions.
The zeal and passion with which she has pursued the empowerment of Nigerian women are said to be unparalleled. She succeeded in encouraging the Jonathan administration to fulfil its pledge of rewarding the Nigerian women for their votes during the 2011 elections. Thus, until the last cabinet reshuffle, there were 13 women in the cabinet of President Goodluck Jonathan occupying sensitive portfolios such as aviation, petroleum resources, education, water resources, environment, works and housing, finance, among others.
Her admirers claim that her influence encouraged the appointment of several women into sensitive positions in the country. The nation, they claim, now has the first female Chief Justice of the Federation, possibly in deference to her campaigns. Through her campaign also, women are now more visible in all areas of the national life and across the states of Nigeria.
A friend once told me, “although all these gains for women may be directly attributed to Mr. President, the First Lady actually might have done the prodding. Those of us with her all the time, we see her countenance whenever an appointment is made. She would scan the list and exclaim if not satisfied. ‘Where are the women? Is this how they will reward us? No, we cannot accept this.’ And quietly she would go behind the scene to seek a redress or compensation in another round of appointment. You could see her passion for the women whenever a woman is appointed to a higher position. She would dance with joy and quickly direct a congratulatory message to be sent to her. She celebrates every woman who attains excellence.”
These zeal and passion could also be seen in her public speeches, whereby she admonishes Nigerian women not to sit on the fence; that they should go all out to demand for their rights as women. I believe her speeches have inspired many women who otherwise would have been passive onlookers to become active participants in politics. The gains from her advocacies on women empowerment are coming on gradually but the full impact may not be appreciated by many until she is out of the scene.
As one who works directly with her, I know that the First Lady’s intelligence level is extraordinary; her gift of insight and her reading of situations unparallel. Most of the things undertaken by her office are actually her original thoughts and initiatives. She is a perfectionist who takes the front row in directing her affairs, and she does not tolerate mediocrity or imperfection. To underrate her is to one’s detriment as she is quick-witted and could easily read through any antics. She is also extra-ordinary in recalling events and facts, so “you dare not lie to her.”
Patience Jonathan is very thorough and has photographic memory. She internalises any material given to her at rapid speed. She may not be a first class speaker but she is aware of her gift of intelligence and this gives her confidence and the push to excel. These are qualities, she demonstrates quite eloquently at international outings where she displays her wits and gifts.
The First Lady hates injustice and would fight with her life to protest or correct it. This, according to one of her siblings, was a trait of her mother. She was quoted to have told one of her close friends and confidant: “My mother taught us to be honest and to be hard-working. I found out that I developed these traits very early in life. I was a brave child and I hated cheating. I would go to any length to defend my right and I never gave up no matter how difficult a challenge could be. These traits have seen me along in the hard journey of life.”
Perhaps more than any First Lady before her, Patience Jonathan’s love for the needy, the physically challenged, women and children, is unequal. She demonstrates this love and care for them during her empowerment activities. Through her A.Aruera Reachout Foundation, she has trained over 4,000 women and youths in vocational skills such as tie and dye of fabrics, tailoring, candle making, etc. The people, upon their graduation, are provided with capital and starter packs to enable them start their businesses. In addition to this, she provides overseas medical treatment for children with heart ailments.
I can conveniently recall an incident during an empowerment scheme for women in Abuja sometimes in February 2013. The First Lady was there, as usual, to hand over empowerment items to the women. It was a programme for adults and for women with physical ability to cope, but in the group that came there were a few teenagers and one person with physical disability who was also nursing a child. The sight of the young physically challenged mother overwhelmed the First Lady, who instead of handing over the empowerment item to her simply told her to step aside. The young woman who did not understand the reason for her treatment as such began to brood and was crying inwardly.
Many people at that event did not know what the First Lady was up to. After telling the teenagers that what they needed was not job but education, she asked that their names be documented. She gave them a token and advised them to go and look for admission to further their education and then come back for financial assistance. After the teenagers and the other groups had left, the First Lady then called the physically challenged woman who was now visibly crying. She asked about the paternity of the child, and the woman replied that the father was at home. The First Lady was angry why a man without a means of livelihood would impregnate such a woman in her present condition.
Thereupon, she gave the woman a sum of N300,000 to go and establish a business of her choice, warning that she was not to give the man the money to spend but to trade so that she could fend for herself and her child. The young woman was moved to fresh tears. She was too overwhelmed and was shaking. Sensing that the woman might equally be tired and hungry, the First Lady ordered that biscuits and drinks be procured for her.
While the woman was eating, a debate began about providing a policeman to escort the woman home so that the money would not be snatched from her. The response of the First Lady surprised all those who were there that day as she said: “Leave her, let anyone who envies the woman in her present condition take this money from her and see if God who made her this way would not reward such a person with a greater affliction than she has.” It was a jolting statement that exposed the depth of her feelings and compassion for the weak woman. Thus, as she left that scene, many thought how considerate and caring Patience Jonathan could be.
This is just one instance of the numerous humanitarian efforts of the First Lady. Many are unknown to people except to those that benefited. And when she undertakes a public presentation of items to the needy, she would not only ensure that the right items are given out, she would sometimes sit all through to ensure that the people are given what she directs that they be given. She could sit for hours, even physically handing over these items to the people. Sometimes we wonder how she gets the strength to do all these.
Such is the nature and character of the First Lady, unfamiliar to some take who delight in attacking her person, simply because some others are doing same. Reflecting on all these, one can only come to a conclusion that the true worth of a person may not actually be known until an effort is made to unravel it. We are often too familiar with certain stories about a person that we never bother to cross-check or clarify. There is therefore, more to every story told, and this can be seen in the stories of Patience Jonathan.
Written By Isiaka Aliagan