Mama Peace Woman of war By Femi Macaulay

Nigerians must be anxious to find out whether the country’s First Lady Patience Jonathan’s publicised change of name will make any difference not only to her public conduct but also to public perception of her personality. Perhaps under pressure from “social anxiety,” which is unsurprising in the light of her markedly unflattering public image, Mrs. Jonathan announced her new name to a probably bemused audience at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja. The occasion was the December 13 launch of the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme Maternal and Child Health (SURE –P MCH) otherwise known as MAMA Project.

According to her, “My name is no more Patience but now Mama Peace because I believe that without peace, there will be no more women, no more children and no more health sector. Without peace, the international community will be afraid to come and invest in our country.” It looks like Mrs. Jonathan recently experienced an awakening, or what is this unaccustomed sentimentality all about? This is not the old, familiar lady of battle, and it is difficult to recognise the change.

Ironically, in public consciousness Mrs. Jonathan’s background is linked with disturbance of the peace. Isn’t this the same lady who in July last year caused more than a stir upon her appointment as permanent secretary by Bayelsa State Governor Seriake Dickson, which was widely unpopular particularly by virtue of the fact that she had been on leave from the civil service for over 13 years while she played the role of a politician’s wife? Isn’t this the same lady who triggered public outrage following her moves to raise a whopping $26m (N1.4bn) for a planned “First Lady’s Mission Building” that would serve as a centre for meetings of African First Ladies?

If these were mild manifestations of disruptive tendencies, her obviously ongoing clash with Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi should provide a stronger standard for measuring her troublesomeness. Amaeachi, in an interview, defined the basis of the crisis as her overbearing attitude, saying, “She wants to have a say in the government. Just know that she wants to have a say. I don’t want to go beyond that; that will become too explicit. Just know that she wants to control the government of Rivers State, that’s all.”

It is disturbing that, to go by developments, the people of Rivers State are apparently paying a hard price for her alleged power-lust. In this matter, it is perhaps impossible to ignore the wisdom that the first lady’s enemy is necessarily the president’s foe. This is not to say that her husband is henpecked, although that may well be the case. Such tragically inappropriate personalisation of office is deserving of unreserved condemnation.

Interestingly, Amaechi painted a worrying picture of the people’s loss on account of the reality that he has his name written in the first family’s black book. In a recent interaction with a group of medical doctors at the Government House, Port Harcourt, the state capital, Amaeachi not only charged President Goodluck Jonathan with victimisation, he also gave distasteful details. Among other instances of Jonathan’s allegedly deliberate ill-treatment of the people arising from their frosty relationship, Amaechi highlighted the incredible case involving the provision of water. According to him, “I will start with water. We got African Development Bank (ADB) and World Bank to give us a loan, for which we will pay 0.4 per cent for 40 years, which is a wonderful loan and we planned to give Port Harcourt people water first. If everybody in Rivers State is drinking (potable) water that will reduce the number of patients that go to Briathwaite Memorial Hospital or any other hospital. World Bank agreed; ADB agreed. They said, ‘go and do due process ‘. We have finished due process. What is remaining is for the Minister of Finance to sign.” Then he dropped a bombshell, saying, “‘oh, you are quarreling with the President, we will not sign’. That is why they have not signed.”

It is instructive that this unreasonableness antedated Amaechi’s recent defection from the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to All Progressives Congress (APC), implying that the Jonathan administration rated personal animosity above official responsibility, even when it concerned a member of his party. In a fundamental sense, such conduct amounted to anti-party activity because it sent out an unhelpful signal to the people about the party’s delivery of essential services. A more people-friendly and politically adept leader would have taken advantage of the situation as a vote-winning opportunity. However, this revolting episode is not just about Amaechi, for it is logical to suppose that other governors possibly blacklisted by Jonathan will receive similar uncooperative reaction, probably to the detriment of society.

Plainly, therefore, whatever might be responsible for Mrs. Jonathan’s new-found song on “peace evangelism,” it appears that she will benefit from further education on the basics of the concept. As long as cases like Amaechi’s are unfairly sustained by official ill-will, she has nothing to teach anyone about peace. Let her learn from her own words, if they were not uttered hypocritically. According to her, “Peace is from the heart and not from the tongue or lips; not what you say but what is in you. We pray for genuine peace because peace is the key to our arriving at our desired destination as a nation. We are approaching the New Year which is a year of peace, progress and so many good things to come. 2014 is going to be a year of no militancy and no Boko Haram because God will shower peace and make us take a U-turn from disaster.”

It is unclear whether Mrs. Jonathan has formally effected her declared change of name, or whether she also has the inclination of a prophetess, which is how she sounded. While her good wishes are appreciated, they are also undeniably self-serving, betraying her concern about her husband’s political survival.

In this year-end season, which is traditionally a time for New Year resolutions, Mrs. Jonathan’s name-change suggests that she intends to turn over a new leaf. This is heartwarming because that is the meaning of changeability, after all. If that is the case, God bless her.

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