I confess. I am one of those Nigerians who have been intrigued by Dame Patience Jonathan's recent gaffes. I have even gone as far as memorising the hilarious sound bite where she urges voters to press their ‘hand' on the ‘umblera', come ‘April elections'.
It's not so much her astonishingly poor grasp of the English language that I find amusing - although this is frightening, given that people say she once taught in a primary school - but the musicality of her voice, the way she cleverly employs repetition and refrain in her speech. One is reminded of nursery rhymes and I suppose in her ideal world, some gormless individuals may, after internalising the content of her speeches, press their thumbs on the PDP umbrella, in spite of themselves.
I admire this lady's confidence. This is woman who is determined to articulate and promote her faith in her husband's presidency. This is a woman who is using her clout to canvass for her husband's aspirations. Day after day, rally after rally, she is out there saying anything and everything to show that she is a present and indispensible useful force on the campaign trail. I have not been a fan of the Dame; she cuts the profile of an embarrassing aunt who refuses to leave your twenty-first birthday party and insists on joining in when your mates start playing naughty party games. I have had the opportunity of listening to her ramblings live and although she didn't have a chance of making it onto my list of top twenty speakers, it was impossible to deny her passion.
Using her voice
In the last week, all over the world, we have been celebrating the international woman. It's been a Femfest the world over. We lovers of womanhood have had a chance to remind the world that the voices of women ought to be heard. We want a good seat at the proverbial table, a seat with an enviable view. We want due credit for the overwhelming sacrifices we make in our families and our communities. We want to be walk next to our partners, not crushed beneath their feet. We want to celebrate our small and significant strides.
In the light of all this, yesterday night, as I was reciting the ‘umblera' speech to a bunch of friends who hadn't had the pleasure of receiving it as a Blackberry voicenote, something occurred to me. In spite of the dislocated grammar and her murderous handling on English vocabulary, Patience Jonathan is doing a great thing for womanhood. She may well go down in history as the most vocal First Lady, Nigeria has ever had. I hear people wondering if this is a good thing.
Actually, it is. In fact, it's a great thing. I was one of those who followed the Obama campaign very closely. There were times when Obama would campaign in one state and his wife would do the same in a different US state, speaking to a different cohort, using her personal charm in delivering her husband's message.
In Nigeria, we have been cursed with two types of first ladies: the overbearing money-grabbing ones and the colourless, invisible ones. I have never seen Ribadu's wife. And where on earth is Buhari's wife? They are rarely seen in public, let alone heard. I find it difficult to trust a man who keeps his wife under wraps. If she's good enough to bear your children, she deserves a place next to you on every podium. I like to see the complete package and at least with the Jonathans, I know what I am getting.
Believe me, a lot can be understood about a man from the way he looks at his wife, how much he leans towards her when she talks to him, how comfortable he is about her engaging with the public. On this score, I give President Jonathan pretty high marks. He has no qualms with letting his wife do her thing. He even came out to defend her recently, berating those who ‘insult his wife'. So cute! She's no pushover
Dame Patience may be rough around the edges but she is a no push over. She is a strong, thick-skinned woman with a voice, albeit a coarse one. There is something charming about the fact that the criticism and cheap shots we take at her expense have left her undeterred. I would only advise that perhaps she communicate in her comfort zone - Pidgin English or even her mother tongue. There is nothing embarrassing about using an interpreter and promoting our indigenous languages. I would also suggest that, in the meantime, she supports her husband's Bring Back the Book initiative by reading a novel or two. Nothing improves your proficiency in an any language than reading the good literature available.
For Nigerian voters who lived through the 80s and experienced the full measure of despotic leadership, these are interesting times. I am still not certain who will get my vote in April but I can't help but think even Dame Patience would have turned out better if past rulers like Mohammad Buhari had prioritised education, equipped schools with books and thought a little deeper about future generations of Nigerians.
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