A Public Feud Between Nigeria’s First Lady and a Nobel Laureate

Nigeria's first lady and a lauded Nigerian writer are trading barbs over the role of the president's wife in a local political crisis.

The public spat between Nigeria’s First Lady Dame Patience Jonathan and Nobel Laureate in Literature Professor Wole Soyinka has its origin in a political crisis in Rivers State, Nigeria. The crisis had been simmering for some time, but it deepened with Dame Jonathan's visit to Rivers State late last month.

The crisis had been simmering for some time, stemming from that state's governor running for reelection as chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum and winning against his party's wishes. The crisis only deepened with Dame Jonathan's visit to Rivers State late last month.

According to this reports on AllAfrica:

The alleged move by the Presidency to remove the Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi took a dramatic turn yesterday as the first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, has decided to take the bull by the horn in the matter. LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered that the first lady's visit to Port Harcourt was a move to ensure that the State House of Assembly members are mobilised to ensure Governor Amaechi's impeachment from office.

The first lady moved into a newly-built mansion in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital. She is expected to spend 11 days in Port Harcourt. But our sources said that the first lady has vowed not to leave the Garden City until the governor is finally removed from office.

The first lady however refuted this allegation:

We have observed reports in some of today’s (Sunday’s) national dailies which are an obvious attempt by certain interests to link the current visit of the First Lady, Dame Patience  Jonathan, to Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, with a desire to unseat the governor of the state. For the purpose of protecting the innocent public from misinformation by these interests, it becomes important for us to state the facts of the First Lady’s presence in Port Harcourt as follows:

Her Excellence was the Special Guest of Honour at the official commissioning of the Yitzhak Rabin International School, Port Harcourt on Friday,  June 15, during which she also received an award from the Yitzhak Rabin Centre for African Development for her successful advocacy for women empowerment and the achievement of enduring peace in Nigeria and around the continent.

She also featured eminently as Mother of the Day at the wedding of her brother and member of the Rivers State Legislature, Evans Bipi, on Saturday. The First Lady will finally receive well wishers at the burial of her grandfather on Sunday, the 23rd.

It is difficult to see how any of the activities above is associated with the political circumstances of anyone. Perhaps we need to remind those who are crying wolf and are being harassed by their own ghost, that Rivers is the home state of the First Lady, which makes her a principal stakeholder with all the rights and privileges to visit the state as she considers needful.

Soyinka, had in a press conference, asserted that the first lady’s meddlesome actions had ignited the flame that has now engulfed the governance in Rivers State.

According to Soyinka [transcribed from the video]:

This is getting to a state where an unelected person, a mere domestic appendage, can seize control of a place for 11 days and as a result of her presence, the governor of that state was told by policemen that you cannot pass here because the queen was there. What sort of jungle are we living in?… A person with no constitutional position is able to enjoy the full security apparatus of the state which is being denied a governor…

The venerable Nigerian writer, poet, playwright and the 1986 Nobel Laureate in Literature had some advice for the first lady:

My worry for her is that she should be a lady first before being a first lady. You cannot be a first lady without first being a lady. That is the only advice I have for her.

Nigerian Nobel Laureate in Literature Wole Soyinka. Photo released by Flickr user Chidi Anthony Opara under Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Nigerian Nobel Laureate in Literature Wole Soyinka. Photo released by Flickr user Chidi Anthony Opara under Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0).

As would be expected, first lady Jonathan, replied. A statement signed by Ayo Osinlu, media assistant to the president’s wife, reads thus:

Unfortunately, Soyinka betrayed moral duty in his recent diatribe against Mrs. Patience Jonathan… The good, old Prof. reminds one of the truth that indeed, most of the giants on the street are men of like passions like everyone else. Worse still, most of them are actually standing on clay feet and would fail the test of a gentle push.

The president’s wife also had some advice for Soyinka:

It’s an embarrassment to his throng of admirers and followers, that a sage of Prof. Soyinka’s status, who used to be a gauge of public morality in this nation, would lend himself to a propaganda of high drive, to save a governor who elected to launch into a river without applicable survival skills.

Nigerian netizens have reacted to the public exchange of words between the two. The reactions are pitched thus: those in support of Professor Soyinka and those in support Mrs Jonathan, respectively.

Reactions from Soyinka's supporters are as follows:

Chain Blinger, a commenter on Nairaland forum, wrote:

I pity her more! Imagine this stupid lady taking a swipe at the prof instead of her to hide her fat-face in shame she's even have the courage talk. Naija has gone to the dog’s family!

Mrakin, another commenter in Nairaland, criticized the first lady:

I am not happy with some of the comments here. Anyway, those are opinions. In the first place, nobody voted for the first lady. She therefore has no right to disturb the peace of ordinary citizens for ten days. There are ways she can conduct state visits without heavy fun-fair of security and road closure/barricade. UK's PM often walks from home to office without disturbing the public. All those talking back at prof are not sincerely speaking the truth about how things should be done. They should look for respectable elders in their families who will not compromise the truth.

Takedat wrote on the same forum:

Thanks for admitting that you are behind Amaechi's predicament. This is what happens when people exercise power without any sense of responsibility. Dame now believes she is larger than life.

Social commentator Henry Okelue (@4eyedmonk) made the following successive tweets in favour of Soyinka:

@4eyedmonk: Wole Soyinka hits the nail on d head, instead of us latching on to d issues he raised, spin doctors are instead changing the discussion

@4eyedmonk: Did Wole Soyinka raise valid points in his outburst? Are we supposed to allow the narrative move from the survival of our nation to isms?

@4eyedmonk: We are here arguing about isms, our constitution is getting raped with reckless abandon. Nobody said fight, just hail the guy who spoke up

@4eyedmonk: Professor Soyinka, u have spoken well. If d Wife is d President, then d husband should remain d domestic appendage that he is, and vice

@4eyedmonk: in the United States, Michelle Obama, the wife of Barrack Obama, has never, ever, been known to go to a State and insult its elected Governor

Nigeria's First Lady Madame Patience Jonathan. Photo released by Flickr user MDGovpics under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0).

Nigeria's First Lady Dame Patience Jonathan. Photo released by Flickr user MDGovpics under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0).

Netizens in support of Jonathan had this to say:

On Nairaland forum, commenter Maxymilliano asserts:

But truth be told, WS shouldn't have deployed some of the adjectives used in qualifying the person of PEJ [Patience Jonathan] in his earlier statement. Going ahead to condemn PEJ [Patience Jonathan] in strong words for a fracas that the remote cause is yet to be established by the authority concerned betray the position of WS as an ‘unbiased commentator’

 User BekeeBuAgbara wrote:

If not hearsay what other evidence does Prof. Soyinka have to criticize Patience Jonathan over River state conflict, you don't unnecessarily castigate others publicly and expect them to respect you and keep quiet because you are a noble prize winner. If he was not bias, he could have cautioned Amaechi for storming into the assembly's complex with his thugs. The Prof. should be held responsible for the consequences of his unwarranted provocation.

Writer and teacher Abigail Anaba (@Anabagil) tweeted in defence of the first lady:

@Anabagil: A statesman at this point shd seek to address the issue not try to further stoke it with inflammatory comments.

@Anabagil: Let's assume, that Dame is responsible for Rivers problems, does the Professors statement solve the problem?

@Anabagil: What practical steps has the professor taken to resolve the problem in Rivers? Did he tell us that in his statement?

@Anabagil: I know complex sentences are difficult to understand, so I really don't blame “Nigerian journalists and Bloggers”. But you too on Twitter?

@Anabagil: You the ones who see all the wrong things and try to correct them? Do you suddenly lose your analytical skills because it is Dame?

On Facebook, Kola Tubosun wrote that Soyinka's comments were sexist:

Prof Soyinka didn't say “the office of the first lady, a mere appendage of the presidency”. He said of the First Lady “a mere appendage of power”. I can't think of anything ruder or more sexist. It would be sexist if the roles were reversed and a woman commentator were to say the same thing, say in Britain, to the consort. No, the husband of the queen isn't “a mere appendage of power”. He wasn't awarded to the Queen on her ascension. Mrs. Jonathan isn't a perk of the office. Calling her “a mere appendage of power” means that she – as a person – is relevant only to the extent of her husband's position. This isn't true. She is a citizen of Nigeria with full rights and privileges as any other woman in the country. By herself, she is a relevant entity, married or not, and to the president or not. She is not an appendage of anything. The “mere” just makes it worse. I understand the frustration with some of her antics, and they deserved to be ridiculed. But NOT in this way. Not by our learned professor. And not in this century.

Blogger Ena Ofugara thought that Soyinka's comments reveal an “antediluvian mindset”:

Who refers to the First Lady as a “mere domestic appendage of power” in any country of this world? Do not they know the wife plays a key role in getting votes for the husband? Is Michelle Obama not revered globally? Has the Queen of England ever hugged any human being aside Michelle? Is her qualification for that embrace not because of Obama being president? IS SHE A DOMESTIC APPENDAGE OF POWER????? Who in this century still considers women DOMESTIC??? Is the Prof not aware that women now earn even more than men in Nigeria as the beautiful brilliant ones are snapped up quickly by employers? Are our most powerful ministers these past years not been women viz Dora Akunyili and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala? What men tower above these women? So why call her DOMESTIC. Is this not an antediluvian mindset?

And Kukogho Iruesiri Samson, a Nigerian poet, blogger and multimedia journalist, asserted:

I'm not a supporter of Jonathan
Nor appreciate his Patient Dame
But I cooked Soyinka's words in pan…
And the outcome muddied his great name



  • […] by Nwachukwu Egbunike · comments (0) Share: Donate · facebook · twitter · reddit · StumbleUpon · […]

  • HRH Prince Farouk I

    I agree with what Soyinka was trying to say, did it come off as a bit sexist, maybe but the point remains that the first lady should not be causing commotion and heating up the polity

  • Musah Abdul

    The whole crisis started when the wife of the president became rude to the gov. of Rivers state and her husband could not call her to order. She should know that respect is reciprocal.

  • neddy

    My fellow Nigerians, isn’t it obvious that its not about the president anymore but his wife whose duty was to call her husband to order when he is going wrong? but here the reverse is the case.Rivers state is now filled with Rebels and Radicals who come in the name of Freedom Fighters and worst of all their names are all in the Nations most wanted list. but they derive so much joy and pleasure in causing chaos, TERRORISM is their business,

  • neddy

    i dont care about the cause of the Rivers state chaos, PEACE is all that matters.

  • Emmanuel Ajebon

    Who is this Dame Patience Goodluck Jonathan? And where did she get the title dame from?
    When Professor Soyinka was in the University of Leeds in the 50’s, this your Nigeria’s dame’s family were walking bare footed and running naked to the farm looking for cassava to eat three times a day!

    Why should a fair weather opportunitist-a village girl- like your Dame disrupt the day-to-day operations of the State of Rivers State.

    Nigerians-who do you blame? A weak husband who has not ‘brushed up his wife to be a lady first before abrogating the illusionary title of First Lady of a nation of blind people.

    I thank God say -I don clear longest time.
    I live in New York City where we do not see or tolerate such “feferity”common among Nigerian womsn-dirty show offs!

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