Friday, 12 July 2013

Mummy said

The presidency is an opportunity that fell unto us on a platter of gold.
                                                                                    Dame (Dr) Patience Jonathan

Everything seems to come back to Mummy, as in, ‘Mummy told me to support Wike and I have told Mr Speaker, otherwise I would have supported Oruwar.’ Thus the Honourable Evans Bipi, a member of the Rivers State House of Assembly, explaining the extraordinary scenes we recently witnessed when he physically assaulted a fellow Honourable with a fake mace, the original having been removed for safe-keeping by the embattled Governor, the ultimate object of this unseemly spectacle if we are to believe what we hear.
For a certain kind of Nigerian, educated, citified, probably been abroad, Dame Patience Jonathan is too bush – ‘an illiterate Okrika woman,’ as one commentator unkindly dubbed her – on account of her many grammatical gaffes: ‘My heart feels sorry for these children who have become widows by losing their parents for one reason or another’, ‘We should have love for our fellow Nigerians irrespective of their nationality’, ‘The people sitting before you here were once a children’, but there is no intrinsic reason why she should be able to speak the ‘Queen’s English’, this not being her first language. Nor, for that matter, is it the language of most Nigerians, for whom the snobbery of being able to speak through one’s nose, as the saying has it, can only endear her to them the more. She is of the people - she speaks their language – and is all the more dangerous for that, and not necessarily for any fault of hers, or at least not consciously so.
Dame Patience’s excesses are, of course, the stuff of legend. As everyone else has pointed out, she has taken the unconstitutional post of First Lady to new levels of ostentation and vulgarity. Where her predecessors concerned themselves with improving the lot of their rural sisters, she behaves as though she is the other half of the presidency. The most bizarre occasion was an official trip to New York to attend a UN meeting soon after ‘we’ took office when she charged out of the aircraft and was photographed shaking hands with the assembled dignitaries on the tarmac while the hapless husband was still negotiating the steps. She also consistently outdoes him on the domestic front. In the last month alone, she shut down Lagos for eight hours - on a working day – in order to attend a naming ceremony. Later, in her native Rivers State, she cordoned off the GRA for eleven days in order to campaign for her husband’s 2015 ambition, during the course of which she also found time to attend the wedding ceremony of her pugilistic ‘son’, Bipi, who was moved to call her ‘Jesus Christ on earth’. As Wole Soyinka put it in his own inimitable English: ‘This is getting to a state where an unelected person, a mere domestic appendage, can seize control of a place...and as a result of her presence, the governor of that state was told by policemen that you cannot pass here because the queen was there. What sort of jungle are we living in?’
‘A mere domestic appendage’ was perhaps not the wisest choice of words given the scandalous under-representation of women in the public sphere, to say nothing of the brutal facts of life endured by the non-English-speaking rural women to be gleaned from any number of UN reports. Besides, Dame Patience herself is assuredly no ‘mere domestic appendage’, the problem being that she is a particularly odious specimen of her tribe even as her husband is a particularly weak specimen of his – woman wrappa, as we tellingly like to taunt the backsliders whose wives have pocketed them – but then so, presumably, is the Honourable who was man enough to fight a fellow Honourable on the orders of ‘Mummy’. The level of infantilism is at odds with the swagger that reached its apotheosis – also, tellingly enough, under the military - when the First Lady syndrome made its initial appearance. Dame Jonathan – Mummy - has merely taken it a step further and in the process revealed the swagger for what it is, in itself another reason why she is so reviled by the educated scribblers in the pages of the newspapers.
Regarding Rivers State particularly, there is little doubt that Dr Patience – she also seems to have acquired a doctorate from somewhere or other - is the one calling the shots, but the real test of her power will be whether she can actually unseat a sitting governor she publicly upbraided two years ago. ‘Listen to me, you listen to me,’ she shouted him down before explaining why he mustn’t use the word ‘must’ in her presence. It had to do with some houses he was proposing to demolish in her hometown in order to make way for a school. The issue was clearly close to her heart although the governor might himself be faulted for inviting her to the flagging-off ceremony in the first place. It was also during this period, still flush with her husband’s recent victory, that she ‘stormed’ another state on a thanksgiving tour and was duly received by the entire State House of Assembly – of an opposition party at that - who shut down business for the day in order to stand under the sun and listen to a ‘mere domestic appendage’ who nobody ever voted for.
This time around in Rivers State she even went as far as to assure a delegation of chiefs – all 135 of them – that she had not come ‘to fight the Governor...because he is my brother,’ before discussing the issue of his replacement, given that Amaechi is serving out his second and final term, but perhaps the prospect of even his remaining two years is too much for Mummy. Whatever the case, the Governor ought to be a worried man and doubtless he is. What is certain, in any case, is that it will all end in tears, for us no less than for them.
© Adewale Maja-Pearce

Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,

and Dream Chasers.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's page:


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