It is important to note that public display of affection and sensuality by first couples is a rare event in Nigeria. Perhaps the nearest a similar spectacle was enacted was in 1969 when the then Colonel (now retired General) Yakubu Gowon, newly installed the head of state took one beautiful nursing sister called Victoria to the altar to solemnize what was to be the only official state marriage of the first couple. The event as it was captured on television was a national spectacle of exquisite display of parade, march past, as well as horse back riding with the accompaniment of martial music which accentuated the joyous occasion and helped in portraying the military in a positive and flattering disposition. Etched forever in many impressionable young minds like mine were the dashing young officer and his beautiful wife striding through a guard of honour mounted by soldiers in ceremonial dresses with their swords raised to form an arcade over the heads of the newly wed. Soon, however hostilities had ensued that was to cast a pall on the land for 30 months.
But to come back to the present, Dame Patience’s triumphant homecoming in visibly spritely health must have elicited a sigh of relief from many Nigerians who had feared the worst for the first lady, who as the nation got to know had to go abroad for some undisclosed ailment. In the absence of any information from official circles, the rumour mill was agog with all manner of speculative tales ranging from the first lady being taken ill with some unmentionable malady and had to be flown to some state of the art hospital abroad with cutting edge facilities the type of which are not available anywhere in Nigeria; to her having suffered complications from cosmetic surgery or some ‘’tummy tuck’’ procedure which needs expert handling.
Well, all the speculations have been proved to be what they are—mere speculations. A lot of mystery still surrounds Dame Patience’s oversea trip which her homecoming speech has done nothing to dispel. In fact, her speech has further served to confuse people the more. At one breath she let on that she thanks God for giving her a second chance but noted that she never visited any hospital, insisting particularly that she was never at the Horst Schmidt Klinic, Germany where it was said she had gone for treatment. To be given a ‘’second chance’’ in life implies one has had a close shave with death, practically rising from the dead, but according to her none of this happened in the hospital or anywhere else for that matter she is ready to reveal. And in the absence of any official clarifications, Nigerians are none the wiser.
It will take the ranks of eminent psychologists or psycho-analysts like Sigmund Freud or his other illustrious counterpart -Carl Gustav Jung to make sense of the first lady’s revelation of what some people have been saying about Aso Rock, to the effect that people who succeed to make the place their residence do not come back from there alive, and that her recovery from her affliction was proof that such a notion is not true. Since both Freud and Jung are both long dead anyway, they can be of no help in the matter, neither also can this column be of any help, being essentially about the celebration of the living, it will rather leave the issue for those more competent on such matters.
The whole saga of Dame Patience overseas trip once again points up the issue of openness in government. It is obvious that the presidency treated the matter as essentially a private one. The spouse of a sitting president took ill, at least that was what many people believed, and had to be flown abroad for treatment and according to official thinking: no one needs to know more than that. The flaw in this attitude is that the government thinks it can pick and choose which information to put out for public consumption on matters concerning the spouse of the president. The tenure of a president may be essentially his own and no one else’s, and once he is up and about performing his duty, no one should fret too much about other aspect of his life, including the indisposition of his wife. Yet being human he is bound to be affected one way or the other by a situation such as the ill health of the first lady, enough to pose a huge distraction in the effective performance of affairs of state.
In addition, for all practical purposes Mrs Patience Jonathan, like other first ladies before her, has chosen to play the role of a visible first lady and she is doing this through her “Women for change initiative,” a programme through which she seeks the total restoration of the dignity of womanhood and support for woman in leadership positions in Nigeria.’’ When this role is added to her prime one as president of the Africa First Ladies Peace Mission which she assumed in July when she hosted a continent-wide first ladies conference in Abuja, it indicates her preference for public engagement rather than be contented with the quiet and obscure private role. All of which underscores the hypocrisy over the secrecy and misinformation that shrouded her indisposition and her eventual recovery.
Dame Patience relishes her public roles; it is fitting therefore for the public to be told what ailments had plagued her from which she has, thank God, recovered.