Nigerian

As Nigerians continue to interrogate the First Lady convention, the Anambra State First Lady, Mrs Ebelechukwu Obiano comes across as having made a case for the relevance of the position. The Americans certainly gave flourish to the notion of the First Lady but they didn’t invent it.

The setting is a natural creation. Spousal sphere of influence in the State goes back to the beginnings of constituted authority. In ancient Egypt, one of a Pharaoh’s many wives was selected to play the role of the king’s wife. She assisted the Pharaoh in the palace ceremonies and earned the title king’s mother when she bore a son, the heir apparent. During the reign of the Roman Empire the king’s wife was visible. It was on account of her relevance, that the equity standard ‘Caesar’s wife must be above board’ made sense.

What varies is the use to which this privileged position has been put. When a character with banal qualities occupies the position, the tendency is to be self – absorbed, loud and vain. For Potiphar, Pharaoh’s wife, royalty advantage is a right to indulge her fantasies or shatter an innocent man’s peace. A more popular road to travel is the obsession with dress fashion. Giving expression to a desire to set the pace, to be the cynosure of all eyes and egged on by the media’s celebrity craze, not a few First Ladies are caught in the modeling competition. And inevitably, a compulsive acquisition of designer clothes and accessories and long hours of their admiration follow. How much time would Imelda Marcos with her thousands of dresses and shoes have for issues of public interest. The holy book states clearly that where a man’s treasure is, there his heart is.

And even with First Ladies who exert some influence in state affairs, it is a mixed bag as well. The temptation to abuse the privilege is always lurking, requiring a strong sense of restraint to avert it. How unfortunate when actors in the public estate are no longer pricked by the conscience. Jezebel demonstrates how destructive this force can be on poor Naboth. From the truth of fiction, we see Lady Macbeth spur Macbeth on to their mutual doom. Nicolae Caeusescu, the last Romanian communist ruler who fell in the revolt of December 1989, was a brutal dictator in his own right. Yet, his wife, Elena was regarded as ruthless. The combination of their repressive tendencies presented a new height in despotism, explaining why they were subjected to summary trial and execution. Contrastingly, Nancy Reagan succeeded in persuading Ronald Reagan to cultivate personal friendship with Mikhail Gorbachev and that relationship at least, remotely triggered off the chain of events that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Consider the fortunes of a State governed by a responsible leader and a supportive spouse and you cannot ignore the input of Ebelechukwu Obiano in Anambra State. She is widely perceived as a source of strength to the Governor not merely from the prism of marital obligation but on account of her complementary role. Indeed, many First Ladies try to play this part but the slippery path is often not knowing when the line of obtrusion has been crossed or even not caring about that. The Anambra First Lady is acknowledged as a focused and humble personality who respects the prerogative of official authority and channels. This has helped the cause of governance in Anambra State, eliminating the tricky situation that comes with privileged actors assuming overbearing influence in Government. Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bolaji Akinyemi, once told of his experience with a First Lady who presumed to direct him to host a certain visitor to Nigeria. The First Lady did not spare him with her tongue for refusing to carry out the instruction: ‘Yeye Professor. Common cocktail you no fit organise.’

While Nigerians are understandably sceptical about the relevance of first ladyism, a candidate’s acceptability is made easier by the sense of service which is brought to bear on the position. The grouse seems to be with the penchant for visibility for the sake of visibility, an intrusion that ironically recalls the absence of any electoral mandate. This vacuous presence is to be differentiated from the portrait of a candidate with meaningful content, a persona seen to be adding value to the lives of the people. It was in this context that Ebelechukwu Obiano first caught the public’s attention when in just three months of Governor Willie Obiano’s first tenure in 2014 she embarked on a tour of the State’s 177 communities on a needs assessment. Her eye for details has on occasions proved a nightmare for potential looters of public funds.

What appears to make Ebelechukwu Obiano tick is her widely acknowledged passion for service to humanity. She is engrossed with lending a hand to the needy; it is in fact something of a positive obsession. Her extensive charity programme is a tributary of the State’s socio – economic progress, earning her the 2017 Zik Prize for Humanitarian services.

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