Beyond Patience Jonathan’s resignation

Olumide Iyanda

Buzz by Olumide Iyanda

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Olumide-IyandaBayelsa Governor, Seriake Dickson, took the joke too far when he appointed First Lady, Patience Jonathan, as Permanent Secretary in July 2012. It came five months after he took over affairs in the state that prides itself as the Glory of All Lands. The joke is now on Dickson as Mama Peace has thrown the job back at him.

It is common knowledge that Dickson owes President Goodluck Jonathan more than gratitude for the manner with which he emerged governor. Without a Jonathan behind him, the incumbent governor would probably still have been a member of the House of Representatives in Abuja. His predecessor, Timipre Sylva, lost out because he fell out with Aso Rock paving the way for Dickson’s emergence.

Even with state political machinery at his disposal, Sylva lost the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ticket which had been given for him to run in the April 2011 general elections because the powers-that-be in Abuja decided against his candidature for the Bayelsa governorship election which eventually took place in February 2012. Left in the cold and slammed with corruption charges by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Sylva is now an All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftain.

Dickson perhaps could not think of a more ingenious way to say thank you to Jonathan than to make his wife permanent secretary. A statement from the Office of the Head of Service, back then said: “By the constitutional power conferred on the state governor, Hon. Seriake Dickson, in Section 203 sub-section 2c, Dame Patience Jonathan and 17 others have been elevated to the position of Permanent Secretary in the state civil service.”

A spokesperson for the governor was quoted to have justified the appointment as purely based on merit, as Mrs. Jonathan was said to have risen to the position of director in the Bayelsa civil service before she reportedly went on a leave of absence. Simply put, she was still an employee of the state government. The First Lady, we were told, should not be discriminated against simply because she was the wife of the President. She was only living the dream of every civil servant which is to attain the position of permanent secretary.

Contrary to what many of those who are fascinated mainly by the First Lady’s speeches think, she actually obtained the National Certificate of Education (NCE) in mathematics and biology from the Rivers State College of Arts and Science, Port Harcourt, before proceeding to the University of Port Harcourt to study biology and psychology. She served in various capacities in Rivers State before she was transferred to the Ministry of Education in Bayelsa where she was until May 29, 1999 when her zoologist husband became deputy governor.

With years of civil service employment behind Dame Jonathan, Dickson insisted during her swearing-in ceremony on July 20, 2012 that he had “done nothing wrong or illegal” and that Mrs. Jonathan merited the post. His spokesman, Daniel Iworiso-Markson, also described the appointment as a “routine action”. It didn’t matter to them that many in Bayelsa and beyond thought the development was one of the routine jokes that governance has been reduced to in Nigeria.

Mrs. Jonathan also used the swearing-in ceremony to address the uproar about her appointment, arguing that her role as the First Lady of the Federation was not even constitutional and that the fact has been rubbed in her face many times.

Her words: “When it suits them, they will say we don’t have office. Remember when I went to Lagos for peace advocacy, the Governor of Lagos State said that my husband should call me to order since my office is not in the constitution and that I have no office. Why now won’t I pursue my career that I am sure of?

“We the wives of political office holders; if our name is not in the constitution and our husbands will retire with full benefits, then they should find a role for us when they are amending the constitution. They should look into our own affairs.”

But a love affair consummated to pay back a favour can only last for so long. At 57, the First Lady still has three years left before the mandatory retirement age, but she has “voluntarily resigned her appointment”, according to insiders. And everybody from Abuja to Yenagoa is doing a bad job of denying the frosty relationship between Mrs. Jonathan and her boss, Dickson. The rift obviously has nothing to do with the former’s job performance or ability to perform to full capacity. As it often happens, it is about who calls the shots in the President’s state of origin.

With the whip used on the first wife now in full view of the second, Dickson may need to ask Sylva and Rotimi Amaechi of Patience’s home state for the manual on surviving a break-up with the Jonathans. There is something those two know about the former Super Permanent Secretary that he needs to learn. And fast too, before it is time for re-election.