By Sabella Ogbobode Abidde
I am not, and no one I know, is sure of what to make of the recent appointment of Mrs. Patience Jonathan, Nigeria’s First Lady, as a Permanent Secretary in the Bayelsa State civil service. Hours earlier, I had received a call informing of the imminent announcement. Frankly, I dismissed it, not as a cruel joke, but as something that was so silly and so far out and so improbably that not even the nastiest of the most malevolent and sadistic politician anywhere in Nigeria would do, or attempt to do. And even for a cloak-and-dagger state like Bayelsa, stupidity and psychosis must surely have its limits. Or so I thought.
I was sure, so very sure of such an unlikely announcement that I quickly dismissed my caller. Not long thereafter, the second and third call came in. Minutes later, it was all over the Nigerian media and social network. The news and its immediate and future repercussions assaulted my senses and sensibility. As an indigene of the state — and as someone who has written extensively about the going-on in Bayelsa and Ijaw politics — I knew that many Ijaw politicians were capable of many reprehensible lows and stupidities. But this? This is something else: the vile and degenerate imagination, and the unguarded and runaway impulse of Governor Henry Seriake Dickson.
As we say in vernacular/broken English in my old neighborhood at Oseni Street Lawanson, “this man carry first…he carry first for stupidity and yeyerity.” Even Alamieyeseigha — that wasteful and pompous and semi-literate former governor — didn’t descend this low. And not even the most recent governor, Timpre Sylva, dreamed up and implemented such foolishness. It took the combined thinking and effort of Dickson and Jonathan and his wife, to come up with such a sordid and vile exercise. Really, why would you (even if you could), make such an appointment — an appointment that is fraught with many unanswerable questions and knotty scenarios.
From publicly available records, Mrs. Jonathan’s combined years of service in both the Rivers and Bayelsa states civil services are not enough to elevate her to the position of a Permanent Secretary. Generally speaking, the ministries are staffed by career civil servants; and each ministry is headed by a Permanent Secretary, who reports directly to the governor. Other than coordinating the activity of their respective ministry, Permanent secretaries are responsible for implementing government policy. Mrs. Jonathan was a low-level civil servant. We also know that since her days as the wife of the Deputy Governor, she has basically been a truant who collected her monthly salary for many, many years.
A few questions: Now that she has been appointed a Permanent Secretary, to whom would she be answerable? Henry Dickson? Who will have the balls or the audacity to reprimand her in the event of maladministration, infringements, or incompetence? Henry Dickson? What administrative skills does she have to function as a PermSec? What oral and written communication skills does she have to effectively perform her duties? And I mean all the aforelisted questions in practical terms. I guess she can always pay somebody to do her job when she and her husband are mindlessly globetrotting.
As the First Lady, she is no longer “an ordinary Nigerian.” As a result her presence is likely to distract from the daily reality of everyday civil servants in the state. This is a woman who travels with a dozen or more official and non-official personnel in her entourage and a motorcade that habitually contains a dozen or more cars and motorcycles — with sirens blazing. When she is in the air, the airspace is usually closed or restricted. For her personal safety and security, a dozen or so members of the security and intelligence community trail and watch over her. Now, how are Bayelsans, and her colleagues in whatever ministry she is assigned, going to cope with such personal-crowd, commotion and dislocation?
Considering the personality of Patience Jonathan, and considering also her sense of self, she is likely to dominate, and then have the government under her armpit. We saw a glimpse of her true color when her husband was the deputy governor. We saw her true color when her husband was the governor. As the First Lady, she has shown the nation and the world the stuff she is made of. And the stuff she is made of is not pretty. Not at all! Now, if Mr. Henry Dickson thinks he is a match for Mrs. Patience, well, he is mistaken. Virtually every Bayelsan knows this: they know who is truly in control of the state’s political appointments and its treasury. They know who control who and what? They know where the power lies.
While it is true that the problem between Governor Sylva and Mr. Goodluck Jonathan is complicated, it was this control — control of the treasury and the political space — that was at the heart of the several years of overt and covert fighting and animosity between both men. With Sylva out of the equation, Bayelsa State is being assaulted and taken over by the Goodluck Jonathan camp and from two fronts: On the one side is Jonathan’s henchman, Chief Amalate Johnny Turner. On the other end is Mrs. Jonathan, the one wearing the pant and the hat. Lady Macbeth! As the First Lady of Bayelsa state, she was said to have her own shadow cabinet with her own budgetary allocation. Today, as the First Lady of Nigeria, she is said to run a vetting agency that determines who gets what and when. Her raw ambition is boundless.
As Kaanayo Nwachukwu said, “Even the wives of Idi Amin, Eyadema, Omar Bongo, Mugabe, Charles Taylor, Jammeh, Mbasogo, Kerekou, Gbagbo, Ben-Ali, Mubarak, Ghaddafi, Olusegun Obasanjo, Abacha, Babangida, Rawlings, Dos Santos, Idris Deby, Paul Biya, Zenawi, Afewarki, Mobutu, Kabila, Bokassa and the rest of them who have ruled and ruined and continue to rule and ruin Africa are not half as ambitious as Patience Goodluck Jonathan.”
And President Goodluck Jonathan? Politically, he is what he is; and what he is, is an accretion of traits that many men and many leaders despise. This is a man who was better off in a zoology or hydrobiology laboratory in his hometown or in Port Harcourt. Frankly, he was not cut out for the series of political positions he has found himself in. In this instance, he should have known that allowing his wife to be appointed Permanent Secretary was a bad and lousy idea. He couldn’t tell, and he couldn’t sense it. A leader with a pouch of political sagacity and acumen would have known that this move, like many other moves that are associated with him and or his wife, was going to be controversial and dumb. But what did this President do or say? Nothing! And now, another mess! Oh what a mess!
• Sabella Abidde can be reached at: Sabidde@yahoo.com