It is almost a superfluous use of words to attempt to introduce Patience Jonathan and Aisha Buhari—the wives of President Goodluck Jonathan and General Muhammadu Buhari, the two main contenders for tomorrow’s election—to anybody living in Nigeria.
Over the past months, the eclectic canvassing for votes has plunged in these two women, one of whom will become the most powerful woman after the presidential votes have been counted, into the muddied fray of national politicking. It is true that there are other potential first ladies in this race, but the story of the presidential campaign, a two-horse race, leaves these two as the likeliest candidates.
Not one who can be pushed aside, Patience Jonathan has commandeered her husband’s bid for a second term like a General on the battlefield. Her dignified, confident pose at campaign rallies are matched only by her aggressive command of emotional and spiritual gimmicks in rousing a crowd. Many may regard her as one without a fluent command of the English Language, but Patience Jonathan is a woman of the crowd. Everywhere she goes, she commands attention. And with her blunt and sarcastic choice of words, she has proven over and over again that she understands the politics of her people.
On the other hand, Aisha Buhari is not a politician. Beautiful, soft-spoken, and calm, she appears to shy away from the glaring lights of the media, compared to her counterpart. The intense race dragged her into the murky waters of local politics, and although she has not floundered and fumbled, she has also not sparkled and delighted. Her strongest point appears to be the diplomatic ambience which comes with her personality. Her command of the English Language does not appear to be deeply flawed; and lots of Nigerians, especially the young ones, seem to think of her as an epitome of what Nigeria’s First Lady should look like.
Patience Jonathan was born in 1957 into the Christian family of Chief Lazarus Iwari-Oba in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State. She earned her school certificate in 1976, and passed the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) in 1980. In 1989, she obtained the National Certificate of Education (NCE) in Mathematics and Biology from the Rivers State College of Arts and Science, Port Harcourt. She then proceeded to the University of Port Harcourt, studying Biology and Psychology.
Patience Jonathan started her career as a teacher at the Stella Maris College, Port Harcourt and later became administrator at Sports Institute, Isake. From there she moved to the banking sector in 1997, where she established the first community bank in Port Harcourt called the Akpo Community Bank. She served as Marketing Manager of Imiete Community Bank. She returned to the classroom briefly again as teacher. Eventually she was transferred to the Bayelsa State Ministry of Education, where she served until 29 May 1999, when her husband became the deputy governor of the state. On 12 July 2012, she became a permanent secretary in Bayelsa State. She and her husband have two children.
Aisha Buhari was born in Adamawa State into the family of the first Minister of Defense, Hon. Mohammadu Ribadu. A thoroughbred Fulani woman, she is a granddaughter of the first Ciroma of Adamawa. A woman with a royal pedigree, Aisha Buhari was raised in the tradition of philanthropy which has been a guiding principle in both her private and public life.
An alumna of the Ahmadu Bello University where she bagged a degree in Public Administration, her quest for more education took her into the field of Physiotherapy and Beauty Therapy. She is a graduate of International Affairs and Strategic Planning. She is also an alumna of the famous Carlton Institute of London and the Academy Esthetique Beauty Institute of France, where she earned a Post-graduate Diploma in Cosmetology and Beauty Therapy. A philanthropist, she has encouraged and supported her husband in politics and private enterprise. Her marriage is blessed with children.
Like day and night, these two women are different, both in personality, upbringing, and experience. But they do have one thing in common – a real desire to see their husbands get Nigeria’s top job. The motivations for this desire should be obvious, but the average Nigerian should look beyond the surface in choosing who becomes their next First Lady by carefully analysing what they have to offer.
Patience Jonathan will offer political bravado. She will show that women can become political tractors in Nigeria, crushing every cultural and social inhibition. She may have nothing else to offer, and whether that is a good thing or not is left for each Nigerian to judge for herself. However, it should be emphasised that the Office of the First Lady is not a constitutional one. The office has no direct public legitimacy, and its excessive use as a political machination may hurt Nigeria’s callow democracy in the long run.
Aisha Buhari, on the other hand, will offer social and cultural bravado. Her soft, educated approach will see her focus on important issues like girl-child education, and also see her becoming a major Nigerian diplomat in the mould of Michelle Obama. She is not a politician. She knows little about how to work a crowd and rouse emotions. But her office has no need for these credentials, since it is not a politically inclined. And what with the fact that everyone loves a beautiful face and Aisha Buhari is by no means ugly.
To some people, Aisha Buhari appears to be the right choice for Nigeria’s Next First Lady, due to a simple analysis of her interests compared to her counterpart. But that should not be the end of the story. Patience Jonathan has shown emphatically, in a culture where women are seen as second class politicians, that a woman can have a voice. That quality alone, for most people, is a good-enough achievement as a First Lady. She’s also a beautiful woman with candour.
Whichever woman you vote this Saturday (by virtue of voting for their husbands of course), keep in mind that who Nigeria needs as a First Lady is a woman of empathy and dignity, who sees beyond the narrow lenses of politics, into the future of the Nigerian masses; a woman who does not sway with shallow promises and rhetoric jargons, but who wins hearts with the sincere kindness and virtue in her heart; a woman who will ably represent the interests of girls and women; a woman Nigerians be proud of to the extent of saying: ‘Yes, that’s my country’s First Lady’.
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