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The Awka show of shame and the relevance of the Office of the First Lady, By Kazeem Akintunde

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Ebele Obiano (left) and Bianca Ojukwu

It was not expected and when it happened, it left everyone in shock. Even cameramen and photojournalists, trained to capture such events for posterity were too shocked to capture the commotion, perhaps fazed by the senseless order given by one of the Government House officials that all recording should be suspended. Who gives such order in the 21st century with hundreds of Android phones in the ownership of citizen journalists? Thank God for a courageous fellow who defied the order and gave us a good view of the slap of the century!

The venue was the Government House in Awka and the event was the inauguration of Professor Charles Chukwuma Soludo as the Governor of Anambra State. The colourful occasion was already midway when the unexpected happened. The incoming governor, Soludo was in the presence of the Chief Judge of Anambra State being administered with the oath of office. While Soludo was swearing before God and man to improve the lot of Anambra indigenes and residents, Ebele Obiano, the wife of the outgoing Governor Willie Obiano, had another plan up her sleeve. Ebele, who, despite the fact that her husband was already seated, sauntered into the venue and was quickly took a seat away from her husband, an action which surprised not a few people in attendance. But proving to be the drama queen, she left her seat to have a word with the widow of Dim Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Bianca. Many in the audience did not pay close attention to her and were focusing on Soludo at his oath-taking ceremony. However, few insiders sensed that a drama was about to unfold – and drama they got. 

For those in the know, there had been no love lost between the first family and Bianca. And this is due to the overbearing attitude of Ebele as well as the running of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, the political party established by the late Ojukwu and the vehicle that gave victory to Obiano in the 2015 governorship election in the state. When the relationship degenerated, Bianca vowed never to attend any APGA function in the state as long as Obiano was in office. And she kept to her word.

 The inauguration of Soludo was, however, a different scenario. One which made Ebele see an opportunity to mock Bianca about her pledge. She however got more than she bargained for. Upon walking up to Bianca and without anyform of greeting, she pointedly asked her what she was doing at the Government House after she had vowed never to attend any APGA event. 

This was how Bianca Ojukwu recounted her experience: 

“As the inaugural ceremonies for Prof Charles Soludo and his deputy, all the guests were seated, but the former First Lady of Anambra State, Mrs Ebele Obiano, was noticeably absent.

“She then arrived some one-and-a-half hours later while the ceremony was on. I didn’t pay any particular attention to her arrival.

“Surprisingly, she then walked towards me and I thought she was coming to greet me. Instead, when she got to where I was seated, she verbally attacked me with her voice raised, taunting me and asking me what I was there to do and using unprintable vile language.

“She asked if I had come to celebrate their last day in office. But I ignored her completely.

“Then, she kept aggressively putting her hands on my shoulders and shouting. While I ignored her verbal onslaught, as advised by those sitting around me, I requested twice that she refrain from touching me with her hands.

“She proceeded to do so yet again and went further to grab at my headtie, which she attempted unsuccessfully to remove. This very act is considered a sacrilege to a titled matriarch such as myself in Igbo culture. It was at this point that I stood up to defend myself and gave her a dirty slap to stop her from attacking me. As she made towards me, I then pulled away her wig. She held on to her wig with her two hands and tried to take the wig away from me.

“What struck me through the whole episode was the fact that she was clearly intoxicated. I was stunned by the stench of whisky on her breath at such an early hour of the day. How could a First Lady be so drunk and proceeded to turn up in that state at an inauguration ceremony that began at 9a.m?”

The shameful act displayed at the venue of the inauguration has again brought to the fore, the relevance of the office of the First Lady in the country. President Muhamadu Buhari, at his inauguration, had vowed not to recognise the office, saying that the 1999 Constitution does not provide any role it. He stated emphatically that his wife, Aisha, should be addressed simply as the wife of the President. Indeed, there is no provision for that office in the constitution but previous heads of government in Nigeria have always tolerated the office as they tried to make their wives relevant and happy during their tenures.

Buhari’s wife, Mrs Aisha Buhari also expressed support for her husband’s position. She opined that the president would not meddle with the office if it was constitutionally recognised. According to her, where such does not exist constitutionally, she will limit her roles to the traditional functions of visiting orphanages and caring for society’s down-trodden as the First Lady.

“Wives of presidents have some traditional roles, such as receiving guests, visiting orphanages, helping the less privileged people. They also lead in the fight for the right of women and malnourished children, infant mortality rate, kidnapping and girl-child trafficking,’’ she said. 

But in performing those roles, the Presidency at the federal level and State governors have always earmarked some funding for the office to enable their wives carry out such responsibilities while at the same time appointing aides for them to assist in carrying out such functions with the government paying their salaries and emoluments. In making their wives happy, huge resources are now channeled to the office while they extract humongous pressure on their husbands to do their bidding. In fact, some have been known to be the real power behind their husbands. The case of Mrs Patience Faka Jonathan, wife of President Goodluck Jonathan is still very fresh in our memory. Some have been known to nominate ministers and other top government appointees for their husbands during pillow talk at night. And once appointed, such ministers channel huge contracts to cronies nominated by such first ladies. Already, there are allegations that Ebele Obiano used up to 10 companies in the state to get contracts and woe betide any commissioner that did not play by the rules. They received dirty slaps as if it is going out of fashion. 

Among her victims in Awka are the wife of the former deputy governor. Trouble started on Sunday, the 16th of November, 2014, after the dedication of the child of the Anglican Bishop of Awka, His Lordship Most Rev. Dr. Ibezim at the cathedral of St. Faith, Awka. The wife of the deputy governor complained to the wife of Dr. Alex Ekwueme, being a mother of all, on how Ebele Obiano did not carry her along in whatever she did. 

Desirous of brokering peace, Ekwueme’s wife, Beatrice, got an audience with Mrs Obiano where she advised her on the need to carry everybody along, especially the wife of the deputy governor. At this point, Mrs Obiano flayed up and claimed that the constitution recognised her and not the wife of the deputy governor. Immediately the former deputy governor’s wife shouted back, Mrs Obiano slapped her. It took the intervention of security men to prevent the duo from physical fight. During the quarrel, the wife of the deputy governor told her that she cannot kill her as she killed her maid, nor slap her as she usually slaps drivers.

A few months later, another story leaked of how Mrs. Obiano engaged in an open quarrel with a member of the House of Representatives from the state, Uche Ekwunife. If not for the intervention of the then First Lady, Patience Jonathan, Ekwunife would have been attacked by Ebele Obiano in faraway Poland. Both women were on the entourage of the First Lady to Poland.

Going forward, it is my humble suggestion that a crash course should be organised for the incoming First Ladies on etiquette, public speaking, comportment in public and the dos and don’t as a public figure. While we may rightly say that we cannot completely relegate wives of presidents and state governors to the kitchen on the in order to sustain the campaign of equality and breaking biases among sexes, some women’s level of exposure and tutelage of what the offices they occupy entails will go a long way in preventing future embarrassment as the one Ebele treated Anambrarians to during the reign of her husband as governor. 

See you next week.

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