January 13, (THEWILL) – “Nigerians do not want an office of the first daughter, first son, last-born, or side chick. It is not everything we see overseas that is good for Nigeria. Some (if not most) of them are not designed for us. Before we add any office to the country, we should evaluate to see if such an office suits us. Hence, my position on the Office of the First Daughter is if these women desire power that much, they should wear the garb of politicians and stand for elections instead of this unconstitutionality we are witnessing.”
Who says women are not powerful? Women are not only powerful; they indirectly or directly determine the affairs of a nation. Some of the most crucial decisions in history have either been influenced or made by women. Women exercise a lot of power and influence not just in the kitchen or home but in a man’s heart. Nothing inspires a man’s decision as much as the voice of
his wife or concubine, as the case may be. There are several examples of powerful women in history whose actions inspired or motivated their men. Examples of such women include Isabella I of Castile, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Nefertiti Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra, and many others. Even in the Jewish culture, we find stories in the Bible of women who showed extraordinary leadership and courage. For example, Deborah, with no aristocratic ancestry, was a powerful woman in Scripture elevated to high political power by the common consent of her peers. She displayed her leadership skills as a counsellor discussing and suggesting solutions to people with problems near her home. Deborah reigned when the civil court system was inept, the military was too weak to defend national borders, the priesthood of what had been a theocracy was powerless and ineffective, and life was no longer possible. At the same time, she became a judge to deliver her people from war. When King Jabin was harassing the Israelites, Deborah summoned Barak from the tribe of Naphtali on the northern border. She ordered him to recruit an army of ten thousand men from his tribe and the neighbouring tribe of Zebulun. Barak hesitated, insisting that Deborah accompany him for the task. Later, Deborah joined the recruits and also advised them on tactics.
To modern feminist leaders, Jezebel is one of the most intriguing women in the Scriptures, a bloody yet strong-willed, politically clever, and courageous woman. A Phoenician princess, who worships Baal, the pagan god of fertility, Jezebel marries King Ahab of the northern kingdom of Israel. She persuades him to tolerate her alien faith, then becomes entwined in the vicious religious conflict that ends in her death. After her marriage to King Ahab, Jezebel emerges as the power behind the throne. Their combination represents a political alliance that benefits both countries. It is also an opportunity for Jezebel to foster the spread of her Baal religion with its many gods, ritual sex, and temple prostitutes. She hates the monotheistic Hebrew religion, and
When she became queen, the Israelites began worshipping alien idols. Influenced by his malicious wife, King Ahab protects and encourages pagan rituals, prompting Yahweh to inflict a three-year drought in a land where people reject him. Seizing the initiative, Jezebel imported 450 priests of Baal from her native Phoenicia and murdered many priests of Yahweh. But the drama switches to the royal palace, where Jezebel’s husband covets a vineyard owned by Naboth that he wants for a garden. Naboth’s refusal to sell his family inheritance sends Ahab into depression. Jezebel asserts her dominance: Now is the time to show yourself king over Israel, she says scornfully. I will get the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite for you. How she succeeds reinforces the eternal image of Jezebel as a scheming, murderous woman. Forging the king's signature, she sends letters to townspeople falsely accusing Naboth of blasphemy. Once face-to-face with Naboth, Jezebel urges the crowd to take him out and stone him to death. Naboth dies, and his property reverts to the royal family.
Martha appears three times in the Bible as one of the most powerful testimonies in Scripture when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. It is in this story that Martha shows the unshakeable strength of her faith. A friend of Jesus, she lived in Bethany with her brother Lazarus and sister Mary. In John 11, Lazarus falls seriously ill, and despite sending a message to Jesus asking for help, Lazarus passes away before Jesus arrives. However, Martha’s absolute faith in Jesus shines through when she runs to meet him. Lord, Martha said to Jesus if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now, God will give you whatever you ask. Jesus performed a miracle and brought Lazarus back to life, fully healed. How amazing is it to witness that strength of faith, to be so convinced of God’s provision and power no matter what happens in the natural?
In Kenya lives another young lady called Charlene Ruto. In December 2022, Kenyans took to social media to express their disbelief over the apparent existence of an office of the first daughter, linked to President William Ruto’s second-born daughter. In a video circulating online, Charlene Ruto spoke to an audience at a summit in Tanzania, where she introduced her team from Kenya, including her adviser and another Head of Trade and Investments at the office of the first daughter. Upon hearing the statement, members of the audience, who innocently thought Charlene was joking appeared to respond loudly with applause, while some laughed. Following widespread criticism, Charlene Ruto granted an interview to an online media where she tried to clear the air. Charlene also revealed to be working on her Foundation, whose main objective is to amplify the voice of the youth. According to her, many Kenyans wondered why she was going around counties. But what is it exactly? She affirms she is not asking anyone to give her a position anywhere. Also, she does not need any title to do what she is doing. She decided to establish her initiative to help the community, Kenyans, and be a voice for our youth. She believes there is a difference between leadership and politics. You can lead without a title in
politics. That is why she took that path, she added. Charlene also dismissed claims that she was using public funds to move around the country, saying she has her funding. According to her, the Charlene Ruto Foundation has many donors and sponsors, who have come on board. Some are individuals who have come to her. She maintained that many business people have also come to her to support her NGO. She denies using any government resources to do her job. She has also revealed that she will launch the Charlene Ruto Foundation in early 2023. Currently, she said, she is establishing the functional structure of the Foundation. She claimed she has also released an official statement on the matter, saying that the Office of the First Daughter is a private entity and not run using the taxpayers' money. It is neither a constitutional office nor funded by Kenyan taxpayers. The office runs to facilitate the activities of any programs initiated by her. The Office of the First Daughter has acted in good faith to ensure that the Kenyan Youth have a voice and get access to opportunities to enable sustainable livelihoods.
Africans likewise took to social media to express their disbelief and disapproval over the apparent existence of an office of the first daughter. On Twitter, they backlashed Charlene for laying claim to such an office. The latest criticism comes from a renowned blogger, Pauline Njoroge, on her Facebook page, who locked horns with Charlene by questioning whose office should be called the office of the first daughter between Charlene and June Ruto. She argued that June Ruto is the firstborn daughter of President William Ruto. So how does Charlene claim her office is that of the first daughter? How will the office of June be referred to since she is the
firstborn daughter of the president? But reacting to the claim, Kenyan President, William Ruto, denied the existence of the Office of the First Daughter, a title under which his daughter, Charlene has held several high-profile events and meetings. President Ruto told journalists in the State House in Nairobi to leave his daughter Charlene alone. According to him, Charlene is just a kid. Hence, children will always be children. He refuted that there is no such office as the office of the first daughter and that Charlene is only the daughter of William Ruto, even though, there are times when she does not know the boundary between the president and the father. But critics have argued that if we do not kill the ideology fast, it would be a matter of time before children of presidents across the continent will begin to adopt the term – which they say is unconstitutional and can be an avenue of corruption and embezzlement. Those who frowned against the announcement of Charlene Ruto, the second daughter of President William Ruto of Kenya, said that Africans in the continent and the diaspora must stand up against the move. They claim that the continent is already suffering from what some have classified as the unconstitutional office of the first lady, which invokes powers on the president's wife not recognized by law.
Back to home soil, the job that best depicts the influence, prestige, and power of the woman is that of the wife of the president or head of state. Nigeria has had its fair share of wives of Presidents and Heads of State, who have influenced the decisions and actions of their husbands. When it comes to wives of the president or heads of state, we have seen different types. We have seen the flamboyant, the reclusive, the flashy, the matronly, and the flirtatious. The evolution of the position of the first lady in Nigeria has been in stages and eras. It has slowly evolved from the first harmless and supportive title to the overbearing monstrosity we have presently. The period of these noble First Ladies began with the arrival of General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida. His spouse, Mrs. Maryam redefined the first ladyship; she took the job to another level. She remodelled the title using the American pattern. In short, her beautiful, intelligent, charismatic, flashy, and ambitious character showed in her position as the president’s wife. Unlike others, she did not want people to see her only. She also wanted to be seen and heard. She wanted an office and space of her own. She carved out for herself and sought to legitimize the position of the first lady. She started her pet project called “Better Life for Rural Women.” With her panache, she got everyone involved in the project and never mind if most of the money for her project was public funds. Politicians, entrepreneurs, and members of high society all struggled to be identified in one way or the other with her project. She strutted across the land like an empress with her attractive smile. Nigerians were impressed by her. Maryam Babangida thus, set a negative trend, as almost every other first lady that came followed with their uppity character and pet projects. The arrival of Mrs. Patience Jonathan makes Fati Abubakar, Stella Obasanjo, and Alhaja Turai Yar Adua look like a learner of the first lady's abuse of power. Under Mrs. Jonathan, unconstitutionality became constitutionality, and illegality became legality. Nigerians have never seen such a blatant abuse of power before. That era saw the birth of the Office of the First Lady and the paraphernalia of government, making the position official. The first lady moves across the land as an elected official with all the privileges and accessories. In her days, people were eager for first ladies to visit their state because of the incentives associated with such a visit. A first lady's visit to some states also means a lockdown of activities in some of those states.
Late last year, there were reports from Nigeria earlier over the order to arrest, assault, and detain a Nigerian student by the first lady of Nigeria, Aisha Buhari, over a tweet in which he accused the first lady of fattening on taxpayers' money. According to the Guardian Newspaper, the scandalous nature of her action underscored the official silence that reigned for several days on the allegation. The Guardian reported that operatives suspected to be from the Department of State Services (DSS) arrested Aminu Mohammed. They allegedly tortured and detained him in the Presidential Villa on the orders of Mrs. Buhari. Following condemnations in the court of public opinion, Mohammed was arraigned at the FCT High Court No. 14 in Abuja for cyberstalking. Several well-meaning Nigerians condemned the action of the first lady that the cyberstalking allegation had no justification for the seeming abduction of the 24-year-old Mohammed, who DSS arrested without notice. He was missing for several days. To later find him beaten and incarcerated in the Presidential Villa, without any denial from either Mrs. Buhari or the DSS, was the height of indecency and abuse of power in the president’s office.
Africans from all works of life have reacted to the abuse of power by president Ruto and her daughter. Many people asked President Ruto to remind her daughter she is only the president’s daughter. Some have quizzed Ruto to tell her daughter that there is no such office in the constitution of Kenya. Some advised him that since he said Charlene is a child, he should give her proper training on how a president’s daughter should behave. They lamented that the president has to work on his family. One way to do this is to get his children to understand the importance of generosity and compassion. If he wants his children to acquire these traits, he should teach them about charitable giving. This idea not only grows their generosity muscle, but these acts of charitable giving will also help them become more aware of those in need and their ability to help those in need. Other people reiterated that African leadership is reinventing the wheel. According to them, soon, we shall see the Office of the First Son, the Office of the Last Son, the Office of the Last Daughter, the Office of the First Wife, the Office of the Second Wife, and the Office of the Twins until all the wives and children have offices. Then, we may go ahead with the Office of the Cook and the Office of the Driver.
One issue that baffles me nowadays is the manner by which Nigerians copy foreign things. Copycat culture is in vogue in Nigeria. I will not be surprised when after May 29, we will have these offices created in Nigeria. Knowing Nigerians and our high level of copying others, I will not be surprised when people will justify and not oppose or raise any alarm about the excesses and impunity of these offices. Dear presidential aspirants, Nigerians do not want an office of the first daughter, first son, last-born, or side chick. It is not everything we see overseas that is good for Nigeria. Some (if not most) of them are not designed for us. Before we add any office to the country, we should evaluate to see if such an office suits us. Hence, my position on the Office of the First Daughter is if these women desire power that much, they should wear the garb of politicians and stand for elections instead of this unconstitutionality we are witnessing. We cannot have two presidents in a country. The role of the first daughter is not constitutional and should be seen purely in the context of a private entity. This impunity must stop! It has to stop! What are your thoughts?
*** Written by Rev. Mattew Ma, S.J, a Jesuit Catholic Priest and PhD candidate in public and social policy at St. Louis University in the state of Missouri, USA.