Hundreds of women Thursday took to the streets of Lagos to protest against the allocation of N4 billion for the building of a mansion for African First Ladies Mission Initiative in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.
Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka who was billed to participate in the protest, however, sent a speech condemning the project.
He described the project as a mind boggling fiscal misappropriation.
The protest march, organised by Women Arise for Change Initiative, a Non-Governmental Organisation, NGO, took off at the premises of Lagos Television, Agidingbi, Ikeja to the State House, Alausa where a letter of grievance was delivered to Governor Babatunde Fashola.
Speaking through Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, President, Women Arise for Change Initiative during the protest on Valentine’s Day, Soyinka said the latest move by President Goodluck Jonathan to set up such initiative for his wife and legalise the office of the First Lady was another “egregious conspiracy to drain the Nigerian treasury, mounted in the name of a high-flying member of your gender.
“I have therefore elected not to lend my affection to any one individual, but the entire bevy of First Ladies of the African continent and that includes First Male Spouses. What, after all, is to stop these male consorts from developing ‘pet projects’ and setting up Missions? Even if they number no more than one or two, there is a saying that goes: What is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander.”
The nobel laureate said the move was an attempt to legalise illegality through a debasement of the democratic process and wastage of public fund on such project.
According to him,: “a mind-boggling fiscal misappropriation – Four Billion naira, no less! – is being attempted in your names – openly, in an attempt to institutionalize an illegality through a debasement of the democratic process. It is no longer secretive but in-your-face, and damn public opinion!
“Your names (women) have been invoked as the ultimate beneficiaries, and thus, you are vicariously implicated. In the name of St. Valentine and the love I bear for you all, please dissociate yourselves from this display of shameless avarice. I shall not go so far as to ask you to denounce what you probably know nothing about, but if you ever get to hear of it, distance yourselves from the gross impropriety.”
He said there was no such thing as an African First Ladies Mission in the Nigerian appropriation list, saying that any claim remotely like it is the conspiracy of sycophants, jobbers, masters of impunity, a desperate clique that unfurled a continental umbrella as cover for private aggrandizement, urging women not to be part of it as “the people of this nation are fast losing patience.”
Okei-Odumakin, in her own letter to President Jonathan, said women were scandalised by the culture of waste that had become the hallmark of governance in Nigeria, especially in recent times.
She stated that the latest of such fiscal waste was the N4 billion allocated for the building of an office for Nigeria’s First Lady, Patience Jonathan’s African First Ladies Mission Initiative, an allocation which was provided for in the Federal Capital Territory’s 2013 Budget, saying the move was an affront to Nigerians and should be vehemently resisted by all right-thinking members of the society.
“Even in an era where fiscal irresponsibility is the norm, and not the exception, the allocation is an especial egregious insult on Nigerians. To budget such a huge amount of public funds for a ceremonial office that is not recognized by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a resounding slap on the collective visage of the majority of Nigerians at a time when tens of millions live on less than a dollar per day.
“To do so when the majority of Nigerians are the unwilling patients of poverty pandemic deriving from criminally poor leadership is tantamount to spreading salt on an open wound. The office of the First Lady is not a creation of the constitution. Rather, it is the accursed child of the whim and caprices of our country’s insensitive elite,” she stated.
According to Okei-Odumakin, “it is instructive that it (First lady’s office) acquired its notoriety in the profligate Ibrahim Babangida years, where the military dictator’s wife, Maryam, wasted billions on the so-called ‘Better Life for Rural Women’ programme.
“This culture of unbridled wastage has since been embraced by the spouses of successive heads of government, particularly under the current democratic dispensation. We fervently hold that a government with an appropriate sense of duty and an eye on posterity would deploy the resources to be wasted on Mrs. Jonathan’s flight of fancy on critical infrastructure. To do otherwise, is to be insensitive and irresponsible.”
She said the N4 billion meant for the project could help millions of school age children receive better education, equip rural clinics with drugs and do society a host of other good.
Okei-Odumakin demanded that Jonathan must direct the FCT Minister to withdraw this budget allocation and sack him for this assault on public morality.
She also called for the scrapping of the office of the First Lady and that spouses of elected officials should play no more than ceremonial roles, adding that “we ask all decent women and men in our country to back these demands with positive actions.”