The “First Lady” is an informal and unconstitutional but accepted title in Nigeria, held by the wives of the President and State Governors. They are supposed or expected to be the exemplications of grace, influence and are role models of excellence for women in their respective states and in the nation respectively. The roles of the wives of Nigerian State Governors have turned out from the age old traditionally ceremonial role into a potent force for women and grassroot development, while at the same time promoting and protecting the rights of women, eliminating all forms of heinous practices and violence targeted against women.
The First Lady’s role is to support her husband in running the affairs of the state as a good wife should do and advocate subsequently for women in general. Imo state Governor, Rochas Okorocha once revealed that his wife, Nneoma Nkechi Okorocha, was in control of at least four ministries in the state which include Women Affairs, Works, Health and office of the SSG. This statement brought a lot of mixed reactions from some stakeholders. The newly elected Governor of Imo state, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, described the statement as reckless and an aberration. No wonder she had too much influence on both her husband and governance, culmination in the choice of her son-inlaw as heir apparent to the throne or successor.
Comrade Chilos Godsent, the President of Igbo National Council said that the statement is a ridicule of public office and indicates that Imo state government is a one man’s business. And I think if it is that easy to handle four offices, successfully even as the first lady, then we do not need the number of government appointees we have. Let us not forget that there are visible lapses in our ministries that are handled by specific people, then what happens when one person takes charge of four ministries at once. The statement is just laughable.
Sheila Coyle Earl, the wife of former Governor of Wisconsin U.S.A, Governor Anthony Earl in one of her speeches said that Governors wives should be involved with their own personal careers, pursue other areas of interest and make positive impact. She said that some first ladies view their role as purely supportive for their husbands. They don’t have their own agendas. They don’t make reasonable public speeches. Some love to be around the executive mansion fussing over flowers, redecorating the place, being totally involved in the social milieu of the position.
She advised first ladies to work or devote considerable time and effort to worthwhile programme, such as adolescent pregnancy, alcohol and drug abuse, child health, economic development, world peace etc. Sheila Earl works for the University of Winconsin at La Follette Institute of Public Affairs. She is such a very busy and consummate researcher to be so distracted by mundane things.
We have seen some of the projects and programmes of our first ladies but the question is, how durable are the projects? How many of these projects continue after their husband’s tenure? Most of them embark on temporary projects that leave behind temporary legacies. Some of these projects like “She Needs A Roof Project (SNARP)” by the wife of Imo State Governor, may not stand the taste of time because they are sponsored by individuals and government appointees, who are in want of one favour or appointment from the Governor or cheap publicity blitz. When the Governors tenure expires, the projects expire because the sponsors no longer need their favours. Some of the Governor’s wives gain a lot financially from the governed through these short-lived projects, yet they claim to be the sole sponsors. They claim to have genuine love and passion for the poor and the needy while in office and I ask, where goes this love and passion after their husbands tenure?. The truth remains that they rob Peter to pay Paul. In most cases, they urge their husband on, while unleashing terror, horror, sorrow and anger to the led through draconian and very obnoxious or absurd policies that negate the essence of good governance.
However, there are projects by some first ladies that are worthwhile. For instance, “The Women for Change and Development Initiative”, founded by Dame Patience Jonathan, the wife of the former President of Nigeria. The project has joined global projects like Mrs Cherie Blair’s “Cherie Blair Foundation for Women of U.K”, Mrs Michelle Obama’s, “Lets Move “(Anti-Obesity Campaign of the U.S.A) and Mrs Grace Mandela’s “New Faces, New Voices”.
An increasing number of Governors wives are pursuing their own careers in our countries. Dottie Lamb of Colorade, for instance writes a newspaper column for the Denver Post, makes frequent appearances as an analyst on TV shows; Mrs Eberechi Suzzette Wike, the wife of Rivers State Governor, is a judge of Rivers State High Court of Justice, Mrs Mary Odili is a Nigerian Judge and wife of Peter Odili, former Governor of Rivers State. Dr (Mrs) Nkechi Okorocha, the Imo State Governor’s wife is a writer, Mrs Theresa Udenwa, wife of former Imo State Governor is a lecturer in University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt.
Some of our first ladies upon assuming office as the Governors wife, feel that four years is the same thing as four centuries. Some resign from their jobs believing that they have gotten a lifetime means of unending wealth. This is why some of them will go as far as acquiring lands as massive as the ones acquired by Imo State Governor’s wife Nkechi, which she used to build hotels, lodges and estates along Akachi Avenue. These luxuries they greedily acquire are for their unborn generation not minding that there are poor people within that vicinity that have not eaten for days. Yet they openly talk about having a large heart. I wonder.
The role of the Governor’s wife in a state is the same thing as the role of a mother in a home. A mother is caring, loving, affectionate, sacrificial, inspiring, and accommodating. A Governor’s wife should be after the lives and future of the masses not after her family’s bank account. Let us remember that all we acquire in life, we must leave them to the great beyond. But our legacies speak even when we are in the grave. And the grave is everyone’s portion.
Above all, we the women must ask our colleague, Mrs Nneoma Nkechi Okorocha, as the first lady of Imo state, where was she when her husband denied pensioners 60% of the statutory pension. Where was she when workers salary was cut 30%. Where was she when Ekeukwu Owerri market was demolished and female traders tossed like decayed vegetables. What is the use of the office of first lady, if it does not play useful advisory roles?