I had a great laugh too watching the first lady’s video that went viral, especially the remix of the video featuring one former honourable member. Yes, it was funny and that was it! Then I read an article captioned ‘a forensic analysis of the first lady’s cry’, all aimed at castigating the first lady’s use of Pidgin English and the constitutionality of the office of the first lady. It is laughable that the writer still refers to her as the ‘first lady’ in his caption even while questioning her right to be addressed as that. The 1999 constitution does not recognize the office of the 1st lady and neither does the American constitution, however the term “first lady” is used by both countries and by many other countries we would want to model Nigeria after. This position is recognized as a de facto affiliation to the presidency and this simply means that it is founded upon common and general practice, created or developed and not contrary to any regulation. That is to say, that recognition of the office of the first lady would be a problem if it contradicted any law or legislation.
Michelle Obama who many name in contrast to Patience Jonathan is the forty-sixth official first lady of the United States which means that even the United States associate with this common practice. People like Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosalynn Carter and Hillary Clinton all wore the first lady tag during their husbands’ tenure in office. It might also be useful to mention that the office is funded from the presidency and this has been so in Nigeria with all past heads of state and Presidents from Azikiwe till date.
Dame Patience convening a meeting in that capacity then, should not be voided on the grounds that it is unconstitutional as the meeting is legitimate. In answer to the issue of legitimacy, two questions come to mind, who convened the meeting and who did the meeting reach out to? In response to both questions, I borrow the words of the critics to say that it was convened “for a set of ladies who call themselves first ladies”. Soyinka being knowledgeable can choose to call them an ‘association’. Having answered in that context, it is pertinent to emphasize that Nigeria by its enshrinement of the ‘Universal Declaration on Human Rights’ into the constitution upholds freedom of association. This is the right of people to join or leave groups as they choose, and for the group to take collective action to pursue the interests of its members. It is both an individual right and a collective right, guaranteed by all modern and democratic legal systems. Bearing this in mind, the first lady’s meeting obviously reached out to first ladies of states and these first ladies have neither complained about the association nor their meetings and have chosen of their own free will to be part of the group. In clear indication of a willingness to be part of this group, the first lady of Borno state who was unavoidably absent, sent a representative, showing an interest in the #bringbackourgirls campaign brought before them as an association.
A senior advocate who recently rejected the invitation to be part of the constitutional committee set up by the President was also quick to quote laws on the unconstitutionality of the panel set up by Dame Patience. With due respect to the learned silk, I find this a misconception, the situation at hand is one of national security were all citizens ought to give reasonable assistance to help address the menace of insecurity. Dame Patience did not approach the legislative arm of government to implement the recommendations of a fact finding committee nor did she order the deployment of military personnel to Borno, she only tried to contribute to the issue at hand.
On the issue of questions raised by the first lady, questions must be asked for problems to be solved. America in volunteering to help has mentioned the need for a forensic test where scientists will be deployed to capture biometric data, linking the biological parents to their children. Nobody has seen that as an indirect way of seeking information, right? But we quickly blame the first lady for asking questions.
We are in the digital age where twitter, facebook, mobile apps are available for us to make helpful opinions and suggestions in times like this. I did laugh at the video and will still laugh at its comic value but beyond that, we should see the deep desire and passion to bring back our girls. Even if the tears were fake as some people have said, we should still be moved. Majority of us have been emotionally affected merely watching paid actors and actresses in the past, why then can we not be moved by the first lady’s tears especially as we have no way of knowing certainly if they were real or not. We need to refocus on the core issue at hand which is to get our children back, the constitutionality of the first lady’s office and her expression or lack of is secondary to this.
We should continuously find out ways we can help, discover what roles to play or even simply pray for our nation. This isn’t a time to cast blames or even ridicule Dame Patience, these will not solve our problems. There really is God and he is the only exalter, who knows, YOU might be the next leader he exalts, (laughs) then Nigeria might become a better place and I won’t be writing this.