By Ibiba Minimah
Patience Ibifakaa Goodluck Jonathan, is the wife of Nigeria’s President, Goodluck Jonathan, both of Ijaw extraction but with Igbo inclination. Dame Patience, probably Nigeria’s most controversial First Lady yet the most political of them all hails from Okrika in Rivers East Senatorial zone and born of an Igbo mother from Umuahia in Abia State. She is an Ijaw woman from Rivers state but married to an Ijaw man from Bayelsa state.
Even those who often times criticize her actions cannot deny the fact that she is a woman who has got her husband’s back and would stop at nothing to ensure that her husband remains President at least for the constitutionally allowed two tenures of eight years though divine providence may have them stay more than that if the President seeks reelection and eventually wins the 2015 polls.
While President Jonathan is seen as a man who came to the throne through divine orchestration, having put in little or nothing and without struggle rose to become President, the wife acts otherwise. She is so deeply entrenched in the murky waters of Nigerian politics that she is interested in who gets what at any given point in time. And without much restriction by her husband and with the weak 1999 Constitution in place, Dame Patience Jonathan has continued to move like a locomotive without control.
While the Bayelsa State election is still two years away, the First Lady has busied herself with the choice of who becomes the next governor of Rivers state, her home state. No doubts, she is a stakeholder here and she reserves the right to throw her weight behind any candidate of her choice but the supreme choice lies with the people.
The office of the First Lady does not give anyone the right to handpick, manipulate and enforce any body against the people’s will. Even at the Party level, the people must vote.
The case with Rivers is peculiar as it goes beyond zoning along the lines of the three Senatorial zones. Here, the pattern is alongside the Riverine/ Upland divide. It is a state where the Senatorial zones are mixed with both Upland and Riverine people. The Riverine people are referred to as the Ijaws which are the fourth largest ethnic group in. Nigeria.
Since Bayelsa State was carved out of the Old Rivers state, the Upland people have been in democratic power for a stretch of sixteen years. In 1999, Peter Odili emerged as governor under the Peoples democratic Party, PDP, and ruled for eight years after which he handed over to Celestine Omehia though a short-lived tenure of five months before the Supreme Court replaced him with Rotimi Amaechi, currently serving two tenures of eight years. Both Omehia and Amaechi hail from Ikwerre, another Upland ethnic group. Amaechi’s reign will end in 2015 and it is morally expected that the power shift will favour the Riverine people or at most, the Ogonis who though are Upland but have never had a shot at the governorship of the state.
Mrs Jonathan being a full bred of Rivers state has spent most of her time living in the state with her husband and knows all these. In spite of the struggle by the Ijaws to form a common bond to fight the injustice against their people over the years, one prominent IJaw daughter begs to be different. It was her people who took up arms against the Federal Government to address the marginalisation of their people even when their land is being exploited through oil exploration and their waters polluted leaving the predominant fishermen jobless, yet, all that has been forgotten with the quest by Madam Jonathan to install her crony as the next governor of Rivers state. Not even the blood of the massacred Odi and Gbaramutu people mean anything anymore to her as she holds nocturnal meetings to ensure that her ‘adopted’ son, Nyeso Wike is made governor after Amaechi. It may be that the biblical blood of Abel crying for justice means nothing anymore. The Ijaws have indeed paid the price.
A quick reminder of what brought Mrs Jonathan to the much coveted seat of power in Aso Rock will be necessary here. Towards the build up to the 2007 elections, former Governor Peter Odili of Rivers state was tipped to win the Presidential primary election of the ruling PDP. But the former President, Olusegun Obasanjo considered that it was appropriate for a power shift to the Northern Nigeria since he hails from the western part of the Southern Nigeria. He brought in late President Umaru Yaradua as the flagbearer of the PDP. It was only expedient to compensate the man who was favoured to become the flag bearer as a running mate to Yaradua. Instead of Odili, Jonathan was brought in, even where he indicated no interest for the exalted position. Though that attracted a lot of public outcry, but events at that time demanded that the only way to calm the nerves of the restive Ijaw youths was to bring one of their own to Aso Rock. OBJ as he is fondly called, in his wisdom used that as a means of compensating the Odis whose homes were destroyed as a result of invasion by Nigerian troops on the orders of the President.
So, out went the Upland man and in came the Riverine man. What the Upland lost, the Riverine gained. Odili’s ambition was sacrificed on the alters of justice and equity. So came in Mr and Mrs Jonathan to Aso Rock.
It is therefore shocking that someone who benefited from such an arrangement is trying to destroy the same machinery that brought her to power overnight.
Charity, they say begins at home but this time around, by trying to deny the Ijaws their right to produce a governor and bringing another Ikwerre man, Chief Nyeso Wike as governor after his kinsman, Amaechi amounts to fighting the gods of power.
Worst still, it is shocking that the First Lady feels that the only way to reward the Junior Minister for Education for helping to fight his former boss and political mentor, Amaechi, is to ensure that he succeeds Amaechi.
They have gone to town with billboards everywhere preaching the adulterated message of ‘No Tribal Sentiments’ under a newly formed group known as the New Rivers Vision.
Was it not ethnic and tribal considerations that brought Jonathan and his wife to power? It was not just Goodluck!
Obasanjo’s magic wand worked since Jonathan became President. All the former militia groups and their leaders have not only become his co-workers in the vineyard but they are heading the campaign for his reelection.
The anti-Ijaw sentiments of the First Lady has only succeeded in polarizing the state along ethnic backgrounds as the Ijaws have vowed to resist any such plan.
On one side of the battle ground is Mrs Jonathan, Wike and a handful of his’ pipers’ while on the other side is Gov. Amaechi, the Ijaws and the Militant leaders. Just like Amaechi, the Ijaws are kicking against Wike’s ambition supported by the First Lady.
The question becomes, ‘Is Mrs Jonathan aware of the fight ahead in Rivers state?’ If so, why the anti-Ijaw stance?