The former first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan obviously enjoys the glitz of life in the limelight, even if such publicity is negatively skewed against her. This past week has seen so much of that, but the glamorous and powerful woman of yesteryears appears unperturbed about her perception by many as a bad representative of that office.
And so it was that the ex-first lady, according to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) investigation, was said to have been linked to $22.3M dollar in five different accounts in one of the new generation banks, out of which $19M has been frozen by the EFCC and more likely to be confiscated.
According to The Nation’s report of last Sunday, besides the $22.3M in question, a fresh probe is ongoing over a N5B property in Abuja alleged to have been owned by the former first lady. The sleaze was perpetuated in collusion with 10 others among them, some bankers and domestic staff of the erstwhile first family.
The accounts according to the former first lady’s media office were opened to facilitate her access to fund while on medical trips abroad. An ailment that requires such an amount to treat could have claimed its victim. There is also a brewing controversy between Madam Patience’s media aide, Chima Osuji and Dr. Waripamo-Owei Dudafa, the former special adviser on Domestic Affairs to her husband, ex-president Goodluck Jonathan, on how the latter tried to shortchange the former first lady in the course of opening the accounts.
Over time, the EFCC has been accused of trying people in the media only for such people to get reprieve from the law courts. This time around, the former first lady took up the gauntlet: she has sued the EFCC demanding the release of $31M belonging to her.
Really, we live in interesting times. Mrs. Jonathan wants the courts to justify her claims to the money, because the accounts are in her name. No problem, as she herself would retort. Conversely, Nigerians also have the right to ask for the sources of her sudden wealth, since running to court ‘to repatriate her confiscated money’ in the first instance is an admission of culpability and ownership of all the companies involved in laundering the looted funds. Indeed the former first lady is walking on a tight rope. Four of the associate firms in the money laundering case have pleaded guilty. The two aides of the former first family are opening up on what was originally in the closet. How then can she wriggle herself out of the money mess? What was Mrs. Jonathan’s worth before becoming Nigeria’s first lady? Can her total emoluments in life, even as a permanent secretary match what she is currently worth?
Nigerians are conscious of the enormous goodwill and patronages that accrue to the office of the first lady, solicited and unsolicited. Nonetheless, no one would imagine the quantum of sleaze and stolen money stashed away by Mrs. Jonathan. With Dasukigate, we thought we had seen the end of primitive accumulation and acquisition of ill-gotten money, but with Mrs. Jonathan’s admission of guilt, associates and appointees who may be convicted in this case need some psychiatric examination, because it does not make sense to accumulate wealth that even two or three generations cannot exhaust.
$22.3 at the exchange rate of N400 per dollar is about N8.9B. To say the least, this is more than stealing and daylight robbery. It’s is madness of the highest order and shameful. It is impunity taken too far. Nigerians have always been circumspect about the power, perks and perquisites that go with that office. With these revelations, their suspicion is now heightened.
Over time the office of the first lady has been overwhelmingly powerful with the capacity to dispense appointments, goodwill and receive gratification in cash and kind in return. They take advantage of their Olympian height as spouses of presidents or governors to commandeer and corner resources and appointments which they share to their cronies. That must have accounted for Mrs. Jonathan’s stupendous wealth. But even at that, she is in a different class among Nigeria’s first ladies.
The former first lady will not bury her head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich. She is not in a hurry to leave the stage. In or out of office she loves to grab the headlines. She was lord when she reigned and won’t go down without a bang. If not, how would a woman, who should be sued on behalf of the IDPs, nursing mothers, pregnant women, school children, market women and the sick, all of who had suffered deprivation, on account of the activities of her husband’s government in which she was an active participant, have the effrontery to sue the EFCC for peeping into her closets of looted funds?
Time has come for us to rethink the office of the first lady, now that it has become an office for slush funds and for abuse by those who should protect and preserve its sanctity. That office should be sanitised, thoroughly over-sighted or scrapped since it does not even exist in our statutes books. Instead of the first ladies to support their husbands in office through input in policies, especially gender-based issues affecting women and children, they, through their aides and cronies, dip their hands in the till, yet they have no constitutional roles. Mrs. Jonathan, who in office was known for her drama and theatrics won’t go down without living an indelible mark. Her recent legal altercation with the EFCC is indeed legendry and classic display of crass penchant for the absurd.