The position of the first lady has been regarded as a ceremonial and peripheral status. It is position with the responsibilities of private role of spouse to the president, host and organizer of events within the presidential residence coupled with being a public women, political celebrity and political activist through establishment of pet project such as charity or fund-raising for a cause.
In Nigeria, the responsibilities of the first lady from the post-colonial era have not changed but the country’s turbulent political space has witnessed different shades of first ladies. While, some of them play to the gallery, others dare to be different. In their quest to be different, they wielded so much power like the president. I present four president-like first ladies for your reading pleasure.
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Maryam Babangida: The spouse of the famous Military President, Ibrahim Babaginda. Dr. (Mrs.) Babangida would be remembered for a long time due to her pet project which was dubbed “Better Life for Rural Women”, she had launched the programme in 1987 for the purpose of achieving gender equity with special focus on rural women. Aside her philanthropic project to rural women, she was reported not vocal about his husband’s dictatorial government but vocal in giving order for security operatives to beat up her husband’s mistress, a TV Presenter and running a seniority battle with Maryam Abacha over head of Nigeria Army Officers Wives Association (NAOWA).
Stella Obasanjo: The spouse to military turned civilian president of Olusegun Obasanjo, She was instrumental to the upliftment of many of her fellow citizens through the implementation of an assortment of grass root programmes such as spirited drive against HIV/AIDs, prostitution among teenage girls as well as her foundation of Child Care Trust for disadvantaged children. She was described as very influential in big decisions made in Aso rock as close adviser and confidant of president Obasanjo but she eventually lost her life on October 23rd, 2005, just three weeks before her 60th birthday in a Spanish Cosmetic hospital where she had gone for liposuction, a medical procedure to remove fat from under the skin.
Turai Yar’adua: The spouse to deceased President, Umar Yar’adua who was known for her pet project on cancer eradication and Women and Youth Empowerment Program (WYEP). She is a close adviser and influencer of big decisions of late President Yar’adua such as the appointment of Professor Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin, as the Minister of Health. The silent and Influential first lady showed her iron-fist control in connivance with the infamous kitchen cabinet during the health crisis of President Yar’adua in frustrating the acting president plans of vice-president, Goodluck Jonathan.
Patience Jonathan: The spouse to former president, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, she was also not left out of the pet project cycle as she initiated her own project called “Women for Change Initiative” (WCI). Her influential status can be best understood in the shape of a political celebrity; the constantly-in-the-news first lady for her comical or blunder-ridden comments on national issues such as Missing Chibok girls parody and her campaign strength is next to none, an area her husband struggles.
Written by Dosunmu Moshood