Written by Adekunle Ade-Adeleye
Absence, it is said, makes the heart grow fonder. Already, even before they pack their bags and head for Otuoke, President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife, Dame Patience, have altered the chemistry of our turbulent and irrepressible relationship with the First Couple. President Jonathan has just lost the presidential election to Muhammadu Buhari, a retired general and former military head of state, by a margin that put the election beyond dispute, notwithstanding the antics of Godsday Orubebe, a former minister of the republic.
Of the two colourful personalities, the president and his wife, Dame Patience is the more irreverent, excitable, insouciant and domineering. Her qualities, if diplomatic scruples will not allow us call them vices, are so remarkable and unmistakable that she has achieved domestic and international renown. She is the queen of malapropism, and the poster child of verbal indiscretion, not to say executive interference. But her reputation was sealed not by any of her constant malapropian eruptions, as memorable as many of them are and have remained, but by her catastrophic meddling in the now famous case of the 219 Chibok secondary schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram militants about a year ago.
In that famous case, and about 10 days after the girls were abducted, she took on the responsibilities of the president and began summoning school and state officials to shed light on a crime she felt was either overstated or contrived to undermine her husband. Whatever she had a hand in, she boasted before doting officials and pressmen, she did fulsomely and efficiently. She would get to the bottom of the case, and she would do it briskly, she grimaced. Amidst great histrionics and tears cascading down her luxuriant face, she thundered one eruption after another of inimitable malapropisms. Unsure whether to stick to pidgin, with which she was perfectly at home, or something more First Lady-like, she would wander into proper English now and again, until the inconveniences of good grammar got in her way, and she would relapse into the more comfortable but inelegant style of her childhood.
In the end, she of course failed, for the outcry that greeted her blunders, not to talk of the multiple fallacies she committed that made her seem insensitive, were enough to roast the best of statesmen. And she was not even a statesman. Her abrasive style, of which there are thousands of examples, would also be missed. Who could forget the sundering of relationships between her and the equally brusque Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi? He had been conducting her on a tour of development projects in the state, and had got to somewhere near her hometown of Okrika. There he gloated about the demolition he was about to carry out to make way for more fitting and noble edifices. Not only did she perform the huge and open indiscretion of snatching the microphone from him, she proceeded to denigrate his efforts, caution his exuberance, and ticked him off so peremptorily that the tour ended abruptly. For a governor who himself did not take prisoners, it was humiliating that protocol did not allow him to respond.
If Dame Patience’s reputation was sealed with the Chibok abductions, she entered into Valhalla and into immortality with her resonating performances in the closing weeks of her husband’s presidential campaign. It is not clear why President Jonathan permitted her error-prone wife to mount the soapbox, for as it was, even his own gaffes were unmanageable and destructive of his political goals. But there she was, prancing, dancing, coaxing and cajoling from one state to another, selling her husband’s puny talents, and exhibiting great impertinence and mouthing insufferable mendacities. To her, everything was permissible and expedient.
Her husband’s opponent in the March 28 election, the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Gen Buhari, was dead in the brain, not brain dead, as many thought she said, for the two obviously do not mean the same. It was not enough that she denigrated age, she also lampooned and scorned cultures. The North, she hissed, was irresponsible in family planning and training of children. It is not known why she had little or nothing against the Yoruba or the Igbo; but for the brethren across the Niger River, she was acerbic and unsparing. In return, the northern brethren promised to respond to her tirade on election date and doom her husband’s reelection chances.
With the departure of the Jonathans, and the assumption of office of a new pair so stately but taciturn, the pleasures, excitement and verbal and policy flourish that we took for granted for so many years, unpaid for and unsolicited, would be lost, perhaps for all time. Sic transit gloria mundi, say the Latin. Thus passes the glory of the world.