Since last year’s ill-health episode of the wife of the President, Mrs. (I think she prefers Dame or Dr.) Patience Jonathan, all her subsequent foreign trips are now being linked to issues about her health.
In order to avoid such speculation every time the Bayelsa State Permanent Secretary jets out, her media aides have now decided to take a cue from her husband. They have resolved to henceforth be issuing public statements on her trips and provide information on the country or countries she is heading to and the purpose(s) of such trip(s). That was exactly what they did when she travelled recently to Sierra Leone to participate in the inauguration of the country’s National Strategy for the Prevention of Teenage Pregnancy.
Meanwhile, although many are aware of the February 17 “I was dead for over a week” testimony of the President’s wife at the Villa Chapel, what has not been reported are the circumstances leading to that famous testimony.
Left to her speech writers, the ‘Mother of modern Nigeria’ would have read a speech that journalists would describe as ‘empty’. As she made her way to the altar, her security detail had placed a copy of the speech on the lectern for her. But as the Dame mounted the podium, it appeared as if something else took over and changed the course of events. In a broken voice, she started with how she had limited the number of conversations she engaged in in the last three days just because she did not want to lose her voice.
She said it was to enable her to give the testimony to the fullest and “put the devil to shame.” She said despite that self-restriction, she woke up on the D-day to find out that she had lost her voice. “I told myself that devil is a liar. WhetherI lose my voice or not, I will give this testimony to the glory of God,” she declared as the congregation which included her husband and other top government officials laughed and clapped.
Holding a copy of her speech high enough for all to see, she said, “This is the speech my people prepared for me to read but I have decided that today is not a speech-reading day. I must narrate my story properly so that people will know the magnitude of what God did for me.” Her aides who were scattered all over the chapel looked uncomfortable but the congregation again applauded ‘Mama’.
Pin-drop silence enveloped the sanctuary of God soon after that applause. She, however, did not start the testimony until after making a passionate appeal to journalists in the house.
“Before I start, let me appeal to my journalist friends that whatever I say, that is wrong, please remove it. Whatever I say that is right, report it,” she pleaded. That statement again attracted laughter. Whether journalists heeded that clarion call is left for the President’s wife alone to decide. The testimony proper moved people to tears as intermittent sighs of “hmmmmmm” and “Oh my God” rent the air. She indeed held the congregation spellbound. It took the intervention of the Chaplain to the President, Ven. Obioma Onwuzurumba, to tactically stop the testimony, but not after Madam had given journalists a good story to write. That much was attested to by the lead stories of almost all national newspapers the following day.
The Eaglets and their dashed hope
That President Goodluck Jonathan pleasantly surprised members of the Super Eagles when on February 12 he hosted them to a lavish reception at the Presidential Villa, Abuja after their victorious outing at the African Nations Cup in South Africa is no longer news. Their cash gifts came with a plot of land and national honours for each member of the team.
Coming from this background, members of the National Under-17 football team and the Under-18 African Youth Athletic champions had their hopes risen (justifiably so) when they heard that the President would be hosting them last Tuesday. The Eaglets had finished second in the just-concluded African Under-17 football championship in Morocco while the athletes topped the table at the maiden edition of the tournament held in Warri, Delta State.
Some of them attended the presidential reception with their proud parents. A mother of one of the athletes was seen taking photographs with her invitation cards displayed conspicuously like a graduating student would proudly display his or her certificate.
As the event commenced, the footballers and athletes, full of smiles, took turn to shake hands with the President. When he started his short remarks, they kept punctuating the speech with loud applause. Their mood, however, changed quickly when the President announced that he had decided to reward them with “token sums” because as young people, he did not want to spoil them with money.
“In recognition of your performance, we are giving you a token cash appreciation. It is a token because you are young people and we don’t want to spoil you. The Under- 17 players will get N500,000 each…,” he announced. Suddenly, the applause lost steam.
At the end of the event, I approached some of them, who looked unhappy. I knew they were not happy. The first one apparently took me for a security operative and was not forthcoming when I asked if the President met his expectation. He simply said, “at all, at all, na im bad pass.” But the second guy felt at home with me when he looked closely at my tag and discovered that I am a journalist.
“Bros, the man fall my hand. He say he no wan spoil us. He for spoil us small na. Who tell am say young people no dey spend money?” he said. All of them left the venue quietly.
This sack fever again?
Again, sack fever is gripping Jonathan’s cabinet members. The fear is that as the administration enters its mid-term on Wednesday, the President may want to show those seen as dead woods the way out in order to give way for fresh blood. Already, media reports on the alleged imminentreshuffle are increasing by the day. We have passed this road over and over again. One thing is clear, no one was born a minister. Even the position of permanent secretary is not permanent. An incumbent today will be an ex tomorrow. Either now or later, these ministers will definitely go.