NOT too long ago, Nigeria's First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, secured promotion as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Women Affairs, in her home state, Bayelsa.
Eyebrows were raised over what qualified her for the post, given that, in the organogram of Civil Service in Nigeria, such office is occupied by seasoned bureaucrats from whose wealth of experience government draws to formulate and implement policies. This could hardly be done part-time. Rather it involves a day-today involvement in the activities of the ministry.
The dust that greeted Dame Jonathan's appointment in the civil service hierarchy had hardly died down, than she was chosen as President of African First Ladies Peace Mission (AFLPM).
The office of the First Lady, though not constitutionally provided for, as some sections of society had always clamoured for, owing to its abuse in the past, could hardly be a trivia, either. As spouse to the President, running the First Family is, in itself, a battle in the home front. Hence, public scrutiny of the family life of public office holders goes beyond privacy, but is a sine qua non to occupation of public office.
Where the emotional health of an individual, public office holder, is an issue, the spouse must be a principal. Beyond constitutional provisions or laid down rules, being a spouse to a public officer is about intimate health management which could only be measured by such number of years as the marriage has subsisted.
Given Nigeria's leadership roles in matters of economic gestures and peace keeping at regional and sub-regional level in Africa, no honour bestowed on the Nigeria's First Family, can be said to be excessive. Amongst several others, Nigeria was designated a front-line state for its role in the struggle against Apartheid regime in South Africa.
In fact, it forfeited its Commonwealth citizenship's right for daring to lead the boycott of Commonwealth Games in Helsinki, Finland, in 1986 as its foreign policy designed the Concert of Medium Powers to force down the hands of Power Blocs supporting racism in South Africa. Neither would any African country match Nigeria in human and material contributions when the subject-matter is peace keeping in Africa.
Yet, Nigeria must be introspective in its charitable activities. When it comes to what constitutes Nigeria's interest, hardly do African countries readily reciprocate with good gestures. Beset with corruption-ridden system and discontent citizens, Nigerian immigrants in fellow African countries are treated with disdain. They are grilled and molested with impunity at the least opportune time.
The last in recent memory is the immigration cross-fire between Nigeria and South Africa. And hardly has there been any demonstrable goodwill to Nigeria since the start of the Boko Haram challenges. All these give the impression that the beneficiaries of Nigeria's good gestures are, at best, fair-weather friends.
That Nigeria is quick to please fellow African countries at the expense of good governance, infrastructure development, human and material resources, also calls for a re-think. While countries with least endowed resources have marked decades of uninterrupted power supply, such basic infrastructure as are taken for granted elsewhere remains a luxury and a pipe dream in Nigeria. On development index, Gross Domestic Product(GDP), Per Capita Income (PCI), life expectancy, literacy level are all at the abyss.
How are Nigerians then sure they have truly earned genuine respect of fellow Africans? To make matters worse, the events surrounding Mrs Jonathan chosen as President of AFLPM, created further controversy with the matter of whether 200 luxury vehicles were bought by government or donated, for use at the Summit.
These are tense times for Nigerians. Mass unemployment, violence, insecurity, lack of basic amenities amongst other deficiencies all combine to oppress the average Nigerian. The repeated ostentatious display by Mrs Jonathan heightens the frustration felt on the streets.
The lesson in all these is that charity must always begin at home. Only a hypocrite would try to remove the mote in his neighbour's eye leaving the log in his. Nigerian government must get its act together, focus its attention on resolving the pressing domestic hitches and not continue to appear insensitive to the sufferings of its citizens.
To truly earn genuine respect from Nigerians and the international community, a more sobering approach should be adopted. If the First Lady must be visible, then there are no shortage of local social concerns in dire need of attention. Families displaced by floods, conflict and terror acts are some of the causes requiring high-profile attention. Victims of the Boko Haram deadly bombings, require more than condolence visits, while on their hospital beds. Wider social issues in Nigeria's health and education sectors abound too. Mrs Jonathan ought to display more sensitivity.
Nigerians are going through a socio-economic crunch. Perhaps they would be more forgiving of the Office of the First Lady, if there was less flamboyance and more genuine effort to address and embrace some of the pressing social causes in a sober and meaningful manner.
Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone provided by Airtel Nigeria.