Mrs. Patience Goodluck, National Icon or Historical Footnote?, By Femi Akinfolarin

patience jonathan

My favourite Shakespearean play is Macbeth. It is one of the darkest works of the renowned playwright. The premise is simple. Vaunting ambition leads to crime, followed by inevitable fall. Macbeth is a kinsman and general of the Scottish King Duncan. He meets some witches who prophesy that he would one day become the king of Scotland. He might not have done anything about it. Unfortunately, he mentions it to his wife, Lady Macbeth who promptly persuades her husband to kill the king, and then covers it up for him and helps him ascend the throne. The eternal and relevant question about this play for me has always been this ‘would Macbeth have become King if he hadn’t killed Duncan?’ It was a possibility; he was competent and related to the king and Duncan’s children could have died naturally.

I think about this Shakespearean play any time I read about a new slip from our First Lady, Patience Goodluck or Mama Peace as her admirers call her.

Clearly there are two aspects to this tenacious woman. The Amazon that attended the University of Port Harcourt and earned a Bachelors of Education degree in Biology & Psychology and then established the Akpo Community Bank before becoming the marketing manager of Imiete Community bank and then teaching and finally ending up at the Bayelsa Ministry of Education (according to Wikipedia anyway). All the above she did while working alongside and, I suspect, sometimes even leading her husband in starting and establishing his political career; from deputy governorship, to the vice presidency and finally to Aso Rock.

I am not one of those people who hold the First Lady’s way of speaking or mannerisms against her, she is truly representative of the vast number of Nigerians who do not speak anything other than their native dialects and Pidgin English. She probably is more representative of the average Nigerian than the plane hopping professionals deriding her on social media. The woman is a typical Nigerian superwoman – effectively running the household, raising kids and managing the affairs of her expanded family circle, running the political structure of her husband’s career, etc. She is quite remarkable in this respect.
However, there is also the part of her that suffers from hubris and there is a strong possibility that this part will eventually end up destroying her and her Otuoke born husband’s moment in the Nigerian sunlight.

The sunny day when the First Lady went to Okrika and gave the Governor of Rivers State the worst dressing down of his political life in front of a crowd of people marked a turning point in the political history of Nigeria, and if Mr. Jonathan loses the federal election in 2 weeks, it would be the single largest contributing factor to that defeat. That’s because subsequently Mr. Amaechi led the governors’ revolt against the president at the Governors’ Forum’s elections, which translated in 2013 to the defection of PDP governors to the ‘New PDP’ and finally the APC. So, indirectly Mrs. Patience Goodluck is responsible for General Buhari’s rise and the creation of the APC.

There are other significant moments of hubris that cemented a negative image for the First lady. Why does the wife of the most powerful man in the largest black nation in the world need the title of Permanent Secretary? Mrs. Jonathan could easily have rejected the title, and only Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa would have been offended. Nigerians would have applauded her and seen a more practical side of her, but she failed to seize the moment.

However, the unbelievable insensitivity she showed during the Chibok girls’ episode was the straw that obliterated the proverbial camel’s back. Calling a press conference where she berated the recently bereaved family members of the kidnapped girls and indeed detained one of them was astoundingly bad public relations. And it was clear that she represented the viewpoint in the inner circles of government, that the Chibok issue was a distraction. The hubris which led to this misuse of her power has now defined her in the public space as a loose cannon, causing significantly more damage than help to her husband’s reelection bid.

As her husband faces the biggest political challenge of his career up to date, Dame Patience needs to step back from the national and international stages where she merely causes mirth. She needs to redirect her energies to the grass root campaign where she can speak the people’s language, focus them on voting, getting Mr. Jonathan reelected rather than as Lady Macbeth, a woman of such vaunting ambition that she got a timid man to the pinnacle of political life, only to fly too close to the sun and, like Icarus, crash along with the President to earth in a flaming heap.