...New book chronicles her many fights, gaffes, troubles that alienated the North, made her husband look weak and ill-suited for the office of President
If all the people who worked for President Goodluck Jonathan were to be assessed for the roles they played prior to and during the last presidential election in 2015, his wife, Dame Patience, would certainly get a top prize for campaigning rigorously for her husband to emerge victorious.
She did not only criss-cross the length and breadth of Nigeria mobilising women and men to vote for Jonathan, but also spoke aggressively to win their hearts to do the needful.
However, a new book, “Against the Run of Play: How an incumbent President was defeated in Nigeria”, written by Segun Adeniyi, Editorial Board Chairman of Thisday Newspaper, which was unveiled in Lagos on Friday, faults the strident and deft roles played by the former First Lady, blaming her for unconsciously arming the opposition to defeat her husband.
According to Adeniyi, the President was hardly one year in office when the First Lady had an explosive encounter with the Speaker at the time, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, and the then Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi.
On a simmering note, Dame also had altercations with the then Senate President, David Mark and the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha among others, over suspicion they were eyeing the Presidency.
Adeniyi quotes Dame Jonathan as telling Tambuwal: “You this Hausa boy, you want to bring down the government of my husband; you want to disgrace him out of power? Una no fit! God no go allow you.”
As confirmed by David Mark, “Tambuwal and Ihedioha, who were actually working with him to promote the Jonathan Presidency, were seen as political enemies and in the war of attrition that ensued, the presidency unwittingly sowed the seeds of opposition in the National Assembly. Since the PDP was pushing Tambuwal away, the opposition began to embrace him”.
“The problem arose because the first lady kept alleging that Tambuwal had presidential ambitions and for that reason, could not be relied upon to support her husband.
“I guess she had the same fear about me even when she never said it to my face. She once accosted Senator Joy Emordi to say, ‘Joy, I hear you are the manager of David Mark Presidential Campaign Organisation’, which was a baseless accusation
“I had to meet the President to clarify issues with him, So, I would say it was President Jonathan and his wife, who radicalised Tambuwal and turned him into a political foe,” Mark pointed out in the book.
Recalling another potential political ally, which Dame Jonathan drove into the hands of the opposition and unconsciously helped to work against Jonathan, Adeniyi captured how the former first lady started attacking the then Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, over land matters in Okrika, where she hails from, embarrassing the governor before her natives. This was barely six months in August 2010 after Jonathan had been sworn in as President following the death of YarÁdua in February of that year.
The author says, “In the course of a two-day visit to Rivers State, Dame Patience Jonathan engaged then Governor Amaechi in an open altercation in Okrika, her home town. The governor was explaining why there would be some demolitions in the town to make way for new schools proposed by the state Government when Dame snatched the microphone from him and shouted, “Listen, you must listen to me!
“A clearly embarrassed Amaechi stood still while Dame Patience Jonathan railed at him, “I want you to get me clear. I am from Okrika, I know the problems of my people. So, I know what I am talking about. I do not want us to go into crisis. We are preaching peace and we must maintain peace at any time. But what I am telling you is that you always say you must demolish. That word ‘must’ you use is not good. It is by pleading. You appeal to the owners of the compound because they will not go into exile. Land is a serious issue”.
By the time the first lady was done, she had whipped up sentiments within the community against Amaechi’s plan.
“From that day, the battle-line was drawn between the two as Mrs. Jonathan made it clear she would not tolerate a governor from her state who would not bow to her. And it was not in Amaechi’s nature to be easily muzzled.
But President Jonathan tried to downplay the rift between him and Amaechi, contending that he did not have any trouble with Amaechi and that the disagreement was rather between his wife and the former governor.
Jonathan declares, “Amaechi’s problem was not with me but with my wife and at one point I tried to reconcile them”.
Amaechi retorted, “I am happy that President Jonathan told you about my problem with his wife but he apparently did not tell you the whole story. The question you should ask yourself is, why should a governor have problem with the wife of the president? The simple answer is that I could not surrender my mandate to a woman in Abuja, even if such a person was the wife of the president. Also, I could not possibly grant questionable demands that would make me betray my oath of office. I won’t say more than that for now since I am also writing my memoirs but that was basically my sin with Dame Patience Jonathan.
As if this was not enough, Mrs. Jonathan stoked further fire of alienation against her husband in the North shortly after the 279 Chibok girls were seized by Boko Haram in April 2014. Contrary to the sympathy expressed by the world towards the kidnap of the school girls, Dame rather gave the impression that the event was stage-managed to embarrass Jonathan and his administration.
“After the kidnap of Chibok girls, Dame Jonathan also threw spanners into the works while the military was battling to find the missing girls and further drew opium for the Jonathan administration rather than add electoral value to him.
The book reports: “While the management of the crisis by the military had begun to put credibility in serious doubt, the bigger problem for Jonathan came from the home front.
“In what she framed as a plot to discredit her husband, Dame Patience Jonathan told a group of visiting women led by the PDP National Women Leader, Mrs. Kema Chikwe, “We the Nigerian women are saying no child is missing in Borno State. If any child is missing, let the governor go and look for them. There is nothing we can do again”.
“Holding court, the first lady denounced the wife of the Borno State Governor and she said the Borno authorities should be held accountable for what happened. She then launched into a monologue.
“I told the governor’s wife to call the parents of the abducted children; she did not honour it till today. The next thing I saw was women demonstrating on the streets. Now again, before Friday, my protocol officer called her and she gave 100 percent assurance that she will be here on Friday. Now again, she is not here. Because she is the mother of Borno, she is the mother of those children and I am the grandmother.
“She should feel more concerned. But she is not. I and the Nigerian women are calling her but she is not here. It is left for you. If you tell me you are not pained, why should I cry more than the bereaved? If I do so, the world will ask me questions.
“You people are playing games. This thing will not help us. After today, if these Borno people say we should not help them, you Nigerian women should not go out to demonstrate because they are playing games. You can keep it in Borno and let it end there. The police came with their own people; the army came with their own; WAEC came with their own people but the Borno government came with a few. No parent is here to tell us that a child is missing. They cannot produce whose child is missing…”
The author goes further: “The tirade climaxed in a bizarre mix of self-pity and contrition that had Mrs. Jonathan dabbing at her tears while uttering the infamous refrain that immediately went viral, “You want to kill my husband; you want to make me a widow before you go and rest. My God will never make me a widow. Diaris God o! Diaris God o!”
“Apart from Dame’s mangled attestation to the existence of God, she also widened the lexicon with a phrase that became an instant sensation, “Na only you wake come?
“Shortly after the tirade by Mrs. Jonathan, Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, released a video, admitting abducting the helpless girls.
“In this ‘stranger-than-fiction’ situation, the opposition didn’t have to do much to shape the narrative against the Jonathan administration.
Latching on the gaffes committed by the former first lady, the opposition party spokesman, Lai Mohammed and current Information Minister, descended heavily on the first family apparently to score some political points.
Mohammed said, “Apparently, the first lady believed, as she revealed on public television and as it has been insinuated in certain quarters, that the girls’ abduction was a ruse aimed at embarrassing her husband, hence neither she nor her husband took the whole tragedy seriously. That explained their delay in acting,” Lai Mohammed, APC spokesman at the time, said.
“Now that the Boko Haram terrorists have claimed responsibility for the abduction and even threatened to sell the girls, the nation hopes that the first lady and her husband now believe this is no politics,” Mohammed added.
Warning that the melodrama highlighted by the shedding of made-for-television tears would not bring back the girls to their parents, Mohammed cautioned that, by usurping the President’s constitutional role, Dame Patience Jonathan was making her husband look weak and ineffective in conducting the affairs of state, and also making Nigeria the butt of jokes in the international community.
The book also alluded to the defeat of Jonathan at the 2015 poll to the utterances to those close to the former president, chief among them being his wife, Patience.
It quotes the former Niger State Governor, Babangida Aliyu, as accusing the former first lady of insulting the North with incendiary language, thereby alienating them from Jonathan during the election.
According to the Chief Servant, Mrs. Jonathan made sneering remarks against the north, by saying “Our people no dey born children wey dem no dey count. Our men no dey born throw way for street; we no dey like people from the other side”, an apparent reference to the concept of Almajiri common in the region.
Beyond the negative things she reportedly said about the North, Dame Jonathan is also quoted by the book to have done little to help the perception of her husband’s presidency through her activities and utterances.
It says, “Yet, the failure to control his household was not only a big negative for Jonathan, it was lending credence to the 2012 WikiLeads report that his wife has a more forceful personality than him and that he has little or no control over her.
It also pointed out that Jonathan did not rein in her wife despite knowing the limit of her educational and social standing.
“Despite being conscious of the educational and social deficits of his wife, Jonathan failed to insulate her from making a mockery of his position. For instance, in the course of a PDP rally in Calabar, Cross River State, on 2nd March 2015, Dame Patience Jonathan urged PDP members to stone anyone that promised change, which was the APC slogan.
“Anyone that come and tell you change, stone that person", the First Lady could be heard telling the crowd in a video clip that immediately went viral. “Anybody that tells you change, tell that person, carry your change and get away", she added.
To worsen matters politically for Jonathan, most of the provocative speeches by her wife were made a few weeks and months to the general election, which really offended voters, particularly in the North, where her husband needed support most to coast home to victory.
One of such provocative speeches, which did little or nothing to Jonathan’s support base, was delivered by Dame Jonathan at the PDP Women Presidential Campaign Rally in Kogi State, a northern town, a few days to the presidential election, when she described the then APC Presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, as being brain dead.
She said poignantly in Pidgin at the rally attended by thousands of people in Lokoja, the state capital, “Wetin him (Buhari) dey find again? Him dey drag with pikin mate. Old man wey no get brain, him brain don die pata pata” (What does Buhari want again? He is jostling for power with someone young enough to be his son. Old man whose brain is completely dead!).
Apart from that speech, which left some of the attendees at the rally confused, others felt bad and confused.
The author compares the provocative speech by Dame Jonathan to that given by Aisha Buhari, who, according to him, was persuaded to enter the political field to campaign for her husband and how her message resonated with everyone because of calmness, beauty and poise.
“While Dame Jonathan was provocative, Mrs. Aisha Buhari’s emergence on the campaign trail had won huge support for her husband. In a riposte to Dame Jonathan, she said, “The wife of the President is supposed to be a mother to all Nigerians, regardless of political affiliation. So, for her to say northerners are almajiris who beg for alms is sad. What is disturbing Patience is the large size of the north and we thank God for our population,” Aisha Buhari replied Dame Jonathan.
Summing up the feeling within Jonathan’s camp and the PDP just before they went into the crucial election in 2015, Adeniyi submits: “In hindsight, many PDP leaders believe Jonathan’s wife did incalculable damage to the aspiration of Jonathan through her utterances in the course of the campaigns. As the former Niger State Governor, Babangida Aliyu points out, “the way Dame Patience Jonathan kept insulting the North made it difficult for people to openly identify with the PDP for fear of being attacked. For instance, three weeks to the election, Dame Jonathan said people from the region usually dump children on the streets,” the former governor fumed.
In summing up, the author concluded that a combination of factors unconsciously orchestrated by both Jonathan and his wife, Dame, cost him the presidency.
Adeniyi says: “From the manner in which he handled his failed bid to install a Speaker of the House of Representatives in June 2011, to his inability to discern how much Nigerians detest leaders tainted with the brush of corruption, to futile attempt to dabble into the Nigerian Governors Forum Chairmanship election and how that eventually led to ill-will and a split within the ruling party, to the unfortunate Chibok ‘Waka-Come’ theatrics and several other gaffes by his wife, Jonathan gave ample ammunition to the opposition to define him in a manner that left many to conclude that he was ill-suited for the job of President and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces.
Azubuike Ishekwene, outstanding Nigerian journalist and one-time Editor of The Punch, who reviewed the book, had this to say about the defeat of Jonathan: “To make matters worse for Jonathan, his wife, Dame Patience, seemed to have a talent for courting controversies and behaved, almost from the beginning, as if she and her husband were on a joint ticket.
Would it have been possible for those close to the first family to avoid or better manage the actions and inactions of Dame Patience Jonathan to give the Jonathan government a better image and solid footing to complete its terms? Perhaps, history and time, the ultimate judge, will provide the answer in the near future.