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Who becomes Nigeria’s first lady: extrovert patience or introvert Aisha?

The Nigerian constitution does not recognise the office of the First Lady which is a title for the spouse of the head of state or preside...

The Nigerian constitution does not recognise the office of the First Lady which is a title for the spouse of the head of state or president of Nigeria. However, the office has remained one of the most funded and staffed since independence and the First Lady is addressed by the title Her Excellency. Nigeria has had several first ladies since independence but the late Maryam Babangida, wife of Nigeria’s military president from 1985 to 1993, General Ibrahim Babagida, began the trend. As first lady, she launched many programmes to improve the lives of women. The “Maryam Phenomenon” became a celebrity and “an icon of beauty, fashion and style,” a position she retained after her husband’s fall from power. When her husband became Head of State in 1985, Maryam Babangida moved into Dodan Barracks in Lagos. She was said to have arranged for considerable renovations to make the rooms more suitable for formal receptions. As First Lady of Nigeria between 1985 and 1993, she turned the ceremonial post into a champion for women’s rural development. She founded the Better Life Programme for Rural Women in 1987, which launched co-operatives, cottage industries, farms and gardens, shops and markets, women’s centres and social welfare programmes. The Maryam Babangida National Centre for Women Development was established in 1993 for research, training, and to mobilise women towards self-emancipation. She also established a glamorous persona. Talking about the opening of the seven-day Better Life Fair in 1990, one journalist said “She was like a Roman empress on a throne, regal and resplendent in a stone-studded flowing outfit that defied description…” Women responded to her as a role model, and her appeal lasted long after her husband fell from power. But the current First Lady in the person of Dame Patience Faka Jonathan is one woman who shares the political space equally with her husband, regardless of what the constitution says about her office. If her husband is re-elected, Nigerians may not see much difference from what Mrs. Jonathan has done as their First Lady for the past six years. But if General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress gains the upper hand, then Nigerians would then have a new experience with Mrs. Aisha Buhari as the First Lady. Dame Jonathan is reputed as a woman who holds court, summoning ministers, even governors for meetings. Dame Jonathan is not your regular first lady that is content with the glamour of office; she is as active, if not more, than her husband in the politics and politicking of the Peoples Democratic Party of Nigeria. With her influence, so many people have been appointed ministers, permanent secretaries, ambassadors, name it. In fact, through her, many governorship candidates have received endorsement to contest in their home states. Mr. Evans Bipi, a member representing Ogu Bolo State Constituency in the Rivers State House of Assembly, described the first lady as his Jesus Christ. When he was asked why he calls her mummy even when he was no way related to her nor come from her local government, he said, “Have you forgotten that she is from Okrika? So, whoever attains the position of the First Lady, what would you call the person? You call her mummy. She is the mother of the nation and she is the mouthpiece of Okrika people. She is the mother of Okrika people. So, every Okrika person calls her mummy. Ogu Bolo is Okrika. They are all Okrika people. It is like Ikwerre and Obio/Akpor; they are all Ikwerre. It is only the local government area that split them. So, as an Okrika woman, who has risen up to that position, everybody calls her mummy.” He also justified why he called her his Jesus Christ on earth, “Let me say this. Man is God to man; it is in the Bible. You must not see God; you will see God through somebody. God said, see me through Jesus Christ. That is why we are seeing God through Jesus Christ. This woman (Patience Jonathan) is everything in my life. She made me what I am today. Politically and otherwise; I can say it anywhere. I can say she is my Jesus Christ because she has made me who I am today. That is the truth and I can defend that anywhere.
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