First Lady and All The Fuss! – Zainab Jaji

6 Min Read

‘Never lose sight of the fact that the most important yardstick of your success will be how you treat other people – your family, friends, and co-workers, and even strangers you meet along the way’. Barbara Bush

Now that we have a new first family firmly ensconsed in the villa, all eyes recently have been on the involvement or lack of, of Hajiya Aisha Buhari in the affairs of the country. Last week, the Presidential Villa went to great lengths to inform us that there will be no office of the first lady during the life of this administration as it was something the party campaigned on and also wanted to eradicate any vestiges of the horrors of the last administration.

Well, call it what you may, the office of the wife of the president or the office of the first lady is one and the same. There are far more important issues that ail Nigeria than this. We all remember the late Maryam Babangida and the glamour and exposure she brought to the position. She paved the way for women to engage in skills acquisition and different forms of entrepreneurship. Others followed where she left off, with each first lady trying to outdo her predecessor with various pet projects and axes to grind. It became an office that was literally as powerful as that of the president.

In Nigeria, the office of the First Lady evolved from the quiet days of Flora Azikwe to what we currently have. Are we protesting too much about the office of the first lady? There is actually nothing wrong in having such an office and giving it scope and boundaries of what its duties are. In the United States, the first lady is regarded as the person in charge of the social and ceremonial calendar of the White House and it is legally recognised by a statute and attached to the office of the president. This office can come with as many as 20 members of staff to as little as five. That depends on the needs of the first lady, and best of all, the office is officially funded by the state.

Of course, one understands why the term comes with many issues and baggage. The last administration led the way in how not to be a first lady. The gross abuse of priviledge in certain areas of our lives is what has brought us to this situation. History cannot repeat itself in this instance.

According to the presidential spokesman, Mallam Shehu Garba, the office shall be completely different from what obtained in the past, adding rather amusingly that the era of first ladies issuing oil wells and licenses was gone. He further stressed that there would be a clear difference between the role played by the current first lady and that played by many previous first ladies. “All that ostentation, ubiquitousness and arrogance we have come to expect from the office are over and done with. Change has come,” he firmly declared.

The world is now a global village so we cannot ignore the positives that can come with this office. We saw how the Sheikha Mozah of Qatar led the bidding committee of her country to the FIFA World Cup bid and helped clinch it for Qatar for the 2022 World Cup. We have seen how first ladies have brought visibility to social and health issues. Michelle Obama is waging war on childhood obesity with her ‘Let’s Move’ campaign whilst Rosalyn Carter is still going strong with her support for people suffering from mental illness. The point is that whoever we have as the first lady must have a face of compassion and make Nigerians see the humane side of them rather than the greedy and interfering side. We love the rumour mill, so any titbit of information whether true or false will send us into a frenzy.

Having this office is actually not a bad thing. We just need to ensure that their activities are streamlined and organised with the position used for the general good. It is time to recognise it as part of our constitution and fully fund it as it is something we cannot wish away. The attention we give it signifies that it is important. The bottom line is, we want first ladies who can inspire, set an example to others and be the beacon Nigerians can rely on when the going gets tough.

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