It was Thursday, June 12 morning and we were all cramped into the tiny small Gurara Hall of Rockview Hotel, in the highbrow Wuse 2 district of Abuja. At the behest of the Federal Ministry of Health, we had gathered as ‘stakeholders ‘ for the launch of the first malaria-focused health education and sensitization book prepared for primary and secondary school students. The advert in This Day newspaper stated that the event will kick-off by 9:00am and I made haste to join members of the development committee and delegates from the states etc.
Then began the wait for the special guest of honour. The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Dr Shehu Sule made it in good time, as well as the Acting Minister of Health, Dr. Hassan Muhammad Lawal, who has brought a lot of dynamism since Prof. Adenike Grange was booted out unceremoniously with the help of EFCC for the ministerial scam she got into. The hall was filled beyond its usual capacity, and I attempted to huddle and sit at the first row of seats beside some UNICEF friends so exchange banters before the meeting commenced. I was to get a shocker when the one of the organizers screamed to our ears: ‘These seats are reserved for the VP’s wife’s guests!’ They were 13 seats in a row. and truly reserved for the VP’s Wife’s Entourage indeed! I had no choice other than to relocate to a safer part of the hall, and away from the roving cameras of the TV stations that were to cover the occasion.
The Nigerian factor will always be blamed for our lack-luster attention to details whenever we are planning for an event. From government functions, to concerts, and social events, we are award winners at jumbling logistics mayhem and mediocrity together to produce a symphony of organized confusion. So uncouth are we that we scarcely feel any shame for not doing things the right way, so we can get the right results that will move us forward as a nation. I dozed for a while out of boredom as I had no books with me as a companion, until the master of ceremony announced the arrival of the special guest of honor hissed after the long wait, and we were belated and 2hours behind the original schedule.
She walked in like a Queen Mother escorted by her 13 beautifully-clad maidens who are small queens in their own rights for they would be quick to reject the toga of princesses going by their carriage and the bevy of security men that walked into the cramped hall with them. She was brimming with smile as she reveled in the royal welcome of the heralding crowd of ‘stakeholders’. We flipped through the opening remarks from the articulate and suave, Permanent Secretary, and the goodwill message from the WHO Rep. There were addresses by Chief Joel Ogundeji, the Deputy Governor who represented the Kwara State Governor and Chair of Governors Forum. This was followed by the fluidly-delivered address by Labour Minister and Head of the Health Ministry, Dr. M.H. Lawal, a legal luminary.
Then she marched to the stately podium with the insignia and emblem of the Federal Republic of Nigeria where the Chief Guest of Honour alone can step on to make her address. We waited eagerly to hear the well- crafted words of the queen that she seemed to portray, after all, she was the erstwhile ‘First Lady’ of Bayelsa State, and was only playing ‘second fiddle’ at a level higher than the state: federal pomp was her lot now! She had followed her idea of due process and protocol by reading out the long list of her ’13 special guests’ who had accompanied her to the ‘state function’. They were basically wives of PDP Chieftains; Members of the Senate and House of Representatives; DG of State Security Services; and wives of other men that have held the reins of power. They were women whose credentials and prominence depended on their husbands’ position or status in the society. How ironic to live in a society where the women revel in insignificance!
The chief guest of honour, Mrs. Dame Goodluck Jonathan was all smiles as she held the microphone and began to read from the script before her, the speech that the First Lady would have originally read. Without offering any apologies for the belated start, she went straight to read her speech. It was as boring and uninspiring as a song rendered in monotones and without grace. Her pronunciations awed me, and those who huddled close to me didn’t hide their shock and consternation as they patiently listened to her keynote address. We endured and waited for the book launch during which she was to speak extemporarily to the seated guests.
The two malaria books titled, ‘I Need to Know’ trembled in her hands while her voice quivered as she spoke. We chucked as poorly-constructed sentences exuded from her well-sculpted mouth. A middle-aged woman who sat beside me shook her head in disappointment for she felt so embarrassed watching the VP’s wife do havoc to spoken English at a state function. To her, this must have been an illusion. The men giggled as the disjointed sentences continued their journey to our waiting ears. To worsen it all, VP’s wife announced that she was a ‘School Teacher’ before the wind of destiny lifted her husband into the political realm of glamour and prominence. The lady asked me once again, ‘How did she manage to teach students as a professional teacher and how was she able to communicate to them if her tenses are this poor?’ but I had no answer to vouchsafe. I was as dazed as any other grammar-sensitive guest in the hall.
The official presentation of the book launch followed the usual glamour and fanfare with paparazzi photographers fully represented. And in their bid to get good shots of the VP’s wife, a scuffle ensued between them and over-zealous SSS attachés to the VP’s wife. It took the wise intervention of the MC to diffuse the situation for he cautioned the SSS guy who had shouted and impolitely had handled one of the photographers. The VP’s wife he said,’ Is a ‘lover of people’, and like Jesus Christ, little children like photographers should not be dissuaded from coming close to take a ‘stately shot!’
At the end of the launch, punctuated by the filing out of her 13 maidens and cheer leaders, the beautifully-clad and smiley VP’s wife left the hall; I guess for yet another state function which the President’s Wife may be unavoidably absent. It was a glamour match and fashion parade of sorts for these 13 women in the VP’s wife’s entourage! And if the VP is a Doctorate degree holder and lecturer, how come he glossed over his wife’s grammar over the years to the point that it has turned to a public embarrassment of sorts?
One of the men who was involved in the writing and production of the educational books wondered out loud when he asked, ‘Why is the VP’s wife not groomed on public speaking, yet her dress-sense met the contemporary Nigerian fashion trends?’ But I didn’t have an answer again knowing that the turf of governance at the high level was beyond the counsel of the ordinary citizen, whom politicians swore an oath to represent. Why would 13 well-dressed women only serve as members of an entourage when their expertise and skills could be sowed into nation-building? And when would our leaders be able to speak polished English like well-taught students after over 10years of passing through the four walls of our primary and secondary schools? Are we accursed to not be allowed to listen to the fluid-like speech deliveries by political leaders in climes like