With the above wise saying by American Television personality, I recall that exactly a year ago on this day, July 12, the Bayelsa State Governor, Hon. Seriake Dickson, announced the appointment of the First Lady – Dame Patience Jonathan – as one of the seventeen new Permanent Secretaries in the state civil service to the astonishment of not a few Nigerians.
To justify her appointment, the government argued that the First Lady worked in the civil service of Rivers State before transferring her services to Bayelsa State when her husband became Deputy Governor of the state in 1999.
The government further posited that during her stint in the Bayelsa State Civil Service, Mrs. Jonathan rose through the ranks and was promoted into the directorate cadre as a level 15 officer in 2005. But by far the most plausible justification for the President’s wife’s appointment was the recourse to the constitutional power conferred on the state governor in section 203 sub-section 2c.
The purpose of this write-up is not to over-flog the issue but to take stock of ‘Her Excellency’s’ one year in office as a Perm Sec.
Based on my understanding, the Civil Service is hierarchical in nature with Permanent Secretaries reporting to Ministers (Commissioners, in the case of states), who in turn report to the President (state governors). Has the First Lady reported to anyone in the last one year? This is aside the fact that she was not even assigned a portfolio in the first place.
If the governor in his wisdom deemed her fit to be elevated to the rank of a Perm Sec., why didn’t he deem it fit to assign her a portfolio or is that also a matter of state secrecy? If the First Lady has not reported for duty once since her appointment, has she been sanctioned according to civil service rules (by the way, what happened to Abdulrasheed Maina?) or is she running her invisible office from the seat of power in Aso Rock?
While justififying her acceptance of the promotion to the office of a Permanent Secretary in the civil service, Mrs. Jonathan was quoted as saying, “When it suits them, they will say we don’t have office. Remember when I went to Lagos for peace advocacy, the Governor of Lagos State said that my husband should call me to order since my office is not in the constitution and that I have no office. Why now won’t I pursue my career that I am sure of?”
Really? In light of the above statement, one would have thought that Mrs. Jonathan would hit the ground running and leave the comfort of the Presidential Villa in Abuja for the mentally tasking and highly demanding job of Permanent Secretary in Bayelsa but alas, our dear ‘Mother of the Nation’ was speaking tongue-in-cheek as she prefers her more unconstitutional, yet powerful office of First Lady.
If she is not busy blocking most of the roads in Port Harcourt, Lagos and Asaba, she is either in Abuja trying to lobby billions for her African First Ladies Peace Mission (AFLPM) project or subtly leading campaigns for her husband’s rumoured second term bid.
But in all these show of absurdities, it is interesting to point out that at least, some women still have decorum, respect for the rule of law and would rather slowly but steadily climb the ladder of success based on hard work and dedication to duty not by political fiat or virtue of their powerful positions.
In this regard, Justice Fati Lami Abubakar readily comes to mind and stands in my opinion, heads and shoulders high above any of her predecessors and successors in office as First Lady. She was unassuming and rarely seen in public between 1998-1999 when her husband, General Abdulsalami Abubakar was Head of State, but that did not diminish her role as an efficient pillar of support and epitome of womanhood.
Justice Fati did not allow her temporary stint as First Lady to stand in the way of her career and this much was succinctly captured by the Liberian Orbit (May 28, 2001) which described her as “an erudite African female lawyer that had become First Lady of one of the most influential countries in the international system and did not fold her professional career into succulent retirement.”
Can this much be said of the present First Lady, who much is not known of her career as a civil servant but suddenly is catapulted to the enviable position of Permanent Secretary not because she is the most qualified but by virtue of her husband’s position?
While Justice Fati continued working 13-years after been Nigeria’s First Lady and only recently took oath of office as the first female Chief Judge of Niger state, one in a list of firsts (she is the first female lawyer, Solicitor General and Attorney General of Niger State respectively), Mrs. Jonathan’s busy racking-up the accolades and grabbing all in her path and I wonder, will she be such a force to reckon with let’s say, three-years after she must have forgotten what power tastes like? Will her name echo the sounds of greatness or will she just go the way of most of her predecessors, who faded into oblivion once the reins of power were no longer theirs to control?
After her husband’s tenure as President, which effectively brings her own tenure as First Lady to an end, will Dame Patience go back to the Bayelsa State civil service to work as a Permanent Secretary under a Commissioner and take instructions without bringing her larger than life attitude to bear?
The First Lady should realize that nothing lasts forever; that the power she wields now and the respect that comes with it will surely fade one day and with it comes the stark reality – that there is no joy and inner peace of mind in success that was not earned.
Therefore, Dame Patience should as a matter of honour and posterity, relinquish her undeserved post of Permanent Secretary till such a time that she can be physically present behind her desk to carry out the functions of that office or better yet, revert to her pre-2005 directorate cadre (level 15) as claimed and work her way to the top.
After all, nobody asked her to sacrifice her career on the altar of political exigencies.