The Fury Of First Ladies

Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

scruples2006@yahoo.com


These are the most perilous and stressful times. As a nation, pitiably trapped in very excruciating contradictions, occasioned by abysmal failure of leadership and character on the part of those (mis)directing the affairs of this bankrupt and famished nation, the much the people should expect from First Spouses, First Concubines, First Children, and even First Uncles, Cousins, and Nieces, of these unprofitable rulers, is that as they wallow in flamboyant idleness and have all their unspeakable excesses serviced with state funds, they should at least allow some measure of humility and moderation to attend the way they flaunt their sudden and limitless privileges. It does seem that in these parts, we are most adept at creating grotesque legitimacy for the totally absurd, advertise it with indecent fanfare, and in the process provide delicious specimens for bellyful mirth for the civilized.

I would certainly not be bothered one bit if I never got to see the wife or concubines of any ruler until the expiration his tenure. I do not edit a society tabloid whose passion it usually is to discover the current colour of lipstick that adorns Madame's lips or the latest low neckline she wears to dimly-lit balls. My candid opinion is that we can do with one ruler at a time. Let the wives of our rulers spare us their intruding and unappetizing presence and retreat to their houses and be a good wives to their husbands and good mothers to their children. For the umpteenth time, they should please remove their over-bleached, over-made-up and over-dressed selves before our faces so we could find the presence of mind to bear the pain and anguish their husbands are unleashing on us.

We are almost forgetting that the Constitution has no provisions for the so-called office of the First Lady. I am not bothered, for instance, if President Obasanjo's wife has a battery of special assistants, senior special advisers, and even press secretaries attached to her "office", so long as their salaries and allowances are paid from the millions his spokesman, Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode, had told the world the president realizes monthly from his "newly improved" and now lucrative, multi-billion naira farm at Ota. The state can pay for her security, that is fair enough. But I am not aware of any statutory powers conferred on her "office" by any Constitutional provisions.

So when recently, Lagos lawyer, Mr. Festus Keyamo, issued a statement alerting the nation that the Publisher of Midwest Herald, Mr. Orobosa Omo-Ojo, whose paper had carried a story titled "Greedy Stella", had been arrested by detectives from the "D" Department of the Ondo State Police Command, on the orders of Mrs. Stella Obasanjo, I almost thought it was not happening in real life. Unfortunately, all my desire to obtain a copy of the Midwest Herald that week could not be gratified, but the real tragedy in the incident is that the mainstream media predictably proved themselves incapable of appreciating the dangerous signal the ugly development portended and had gone ahead to treat the report with scandalous levity. Well, let's wait until a "First Son" or "First Concubine" decides tomorrow to seal off the premises of a "national" newspaper, and then, our eyes will open to the street wisdom that every monster is the product of a gradual, undiscouraged evolution.

Incidentally, this new piece of scandal was treated with amazing seriousness by the foreign media, and I could imagine the well-remunerated 'experts' at the Image Laundering Project office submitting fresh, bulky requisitions to enable them adequately whitewash the stain the sorry event registered on the "model" regime in Abuja. Indeed, Mrs. Obasanjo, like every other Nigerian, was perfectly justified to feel pained if she felt unfairly represented in the media, but should an aggrieved person respond to a perceived wrong by perpetrating a more insidious wrong? Are the courts in perpetual recess in Nigeria, or are we just witnessing a raw exhibition of "my-husband-is-in-charge" mentality here? And the fact that the poor publisher is still in detention, nearly one month after his arrest, should alert us all to the devastating evil that is gradually phenomenon gradually taking root in the nation.

Now if the recent incident in Nigeria represents an unabridged baggage of shame, what happened in Nairobi, Kenya, during the same period, where this "my-husband-is-in-charge" mentality was raised to the level of outright madness by Mrs. Lucy Muthoni Kibaki, one of the wives of Kenyan President, Mwai Kibaki, has no counterpart within the boundaries of civilized behaviour.

Mrs. Kibaki, with her ferocious body guards, had invaded, the Muthaiga residence of the outgoing World Bank Country Representative, Mr. Makhtar Diop, where a private farewell party was being held in his honour, to complain that the music was too noisy and was robbing her of her sleep. Diop was a tenant of the Kibakis. They were still his neighbours, each time they stayed in their private residence, next door to the one rented by Diop. And Kibaki's children were equally guests at the riotous party that disturbed Madame's sleep.

Mrs. Kibaki had reportedly stormed Diop's house in pyjamas, with boundless rage, demanding that the music must stop. She charged ferociously at the man, as she attempted to unplug the electrical connections supplying power to the sound systems. According to The East African Standard of Monday, May 2, 2005, a day after the incident, "the party was graced by the top cream of the diplomatic, donor and private sector circuit."

As would be expected, the Kenyan press were unsparing of Lucy Kibaki in their reports the very next day after her disgraceful outing. The East African Standard (Nairobi), captioned its report on the incident, "The Shame of First Lady." The report in Daily Nation (Nairobi) was not less-scathing. Angered by these reports, Mrs. Kibaki dressed in a pink blouse and ill-fitting blue jeans trousers, jumped into her 4WD, a Toyota Prado, and raced down to Nation Centre, the corporate headquarters of Nation newspapers, accompanied by body guards and the Nairobi Provincial Police Chief, Mwangi King'ori. Her anger had received additional fuel with later reports that she had visited the Muthaiga Police Station to report the Diop's incident dressed in casual white shorts.

And so as she stormed Nation Centre by 11.30 pm, she was clutching a copy of the Standard where she had earned a front-page lead due to her embarrassing action. Her photograph on the front-page as she raged and raved must rank as one of the most scaring objects I have seen in recent times. Once she got to Nation Centre, she headed upstairs to the editorial department and disrupted operations for five hours. She announced that she had come to protest the unflattering reports about her in the press.

"You reported that I went to the police station wearing shorts, what is wrong with the First Lady wearing shorts? I put on skirts and even bikinis when I go swimming.We are a decent family, humble and Christian.You have tried to discredit me since I became the First Lady." Can you beat that? A wonder no one remembered to call the psychiatrist.

Complaining about how the media refer to her husband in their reports she charged: "In the news you call him Kibaki as you did when he was campaigning, when will you learn to call him the President, (and) start respecting him?"

Then she turned and yelled at the provincial police boss that came with her: "Does the Police Commissioner (equivalent of Nigeria's I.G.) know that I am here protesting? Call him. He should be here with us." And immediately, the officer went out, radioed his boss, and within some minutes, the Commissioner, Maj. Gen. Hussein Ali, was there with them. Indeed, Mrs. Kibaki was an unmitigated nuisance. She went from table to table, shouting, complaining, threatening, and occasionally laughing.

Suddenly, she noticed the award-winning KTN cameraman, Clifford Derrick, recording her moments of madness, and she went berserk. Said Derrick: "She just walked up to me and slapped me hard. I was terrified." Yes, she attacked him and attempted to take away the camera from him. As this went on, none of the police chiefs moved an inch. According to the Standard, the "Central Officer Commanding Police Division (OCPD), Julius Ndegwa, watched from a distance, as he communicated on his pocket radio." Welcome to Lucy Kibaki's Kenya!

Mrs. Kibaki's action has been greeted with unsparing condemnation. Derricks is considering legal action, especially, against the police, for failing to protect him from a raving woman. Lucy Oriang, Daily Nation's Managing Editor, who is fast becoming my favourite East African columnist, called on President Kibaki the following Friday to save Kenya's honour by checking his wife's excesses.

I agree totally with Ms. Oriang, because, till now, Kibaki is yet to make any comment about his wife's disgraceful outing. It does seem that for his government, what his wife had done is a non-issue. The only reaction I have read from the authorities in Nairobi was the one some days after the incident by Dr. Alfred Mutua, government's spokesman, who was quoted in Kenya Times as dismissively saying: "The Kenyan government and its people is known for many things and a particular incident cannot cost the country's image." If you ask me, this is the most unfortunate statement to come out of Kenya since the Mrs. Kibaki affair.

I also must add that as much as I condemn Mrs. Kibaki's crude behaviour, I must admit that I was thoroughly sickened by the nuisance constituted by Diop's party. They have no right to rob Mrs. Kibaki of her sleep. But her reaction to Diop's nuisance, has now overshadowed what was clearly unambiguous irresponsibility on the part of the World Bank staff. His action is as detestable as that of Mrs. Kibaki who has vowed to fight her own battles and confront those who disparage her and her family.

"Every day you write lies about me, I will come to the newsrooms and you will see me in my true colours. I'm annoyed beyond control," she bellowed at Nation Centre.

Somebody should please advise Mrs. Kibaki to rather deploy this energy to keep herself away from uncivilized behaviours that embarrass Kenya boundlessly.

What a shame.


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