The story of Nigeria’s President, Goodluck Ebelechukwu Jonathan and his amiable wife Dr. Dame Patience Fakabelema Jonathan (nee Oba), is an interesting one filled with twists and turns but in all, a good story that will inspire and motivate all to be resilient, hard-working and to have self-belief.
They are two individuals thrust on the same path by fate and with the same vision, to lead their dependants into a much better future. The First Lady of Nigeria, Dame Patience Goodluck Jonathan, a lady with a heart of gold whom, in spite been critiqued severally and mocked repeatedly by persons who know next to nothing about her, has remained tenacious and undaunted, thereby increasing immensely in stature and influence.
In other words, Dame Patience F. Jonathan can best be described as our modern day Amazon Queen, a trojan and a warrior in every sense of the word. In the similitude of the Amazons of old, she is not only delicately balanced in beauty, courageous, brave, unrelenting, fearless and honourable but likewise an advocate of gender equality and agitation against all forms of sexual discrimination and harassment against women. No doubt, the exploits of Amazon Queens which dates back in time and origin from the Greek culture and myth unto other cultures and continents such as Africa, Europe, Asia, South America etc.is legendary and well documented so much so that they were held in awe, in places like South America, where the Amazon River, is deemed to have been named after these rare female species, whom stopped at nothing to influence the direction of State policies, engineer improved rights for women and did mobilize women through exemplary leadership, to aspire for the pinnacle of economic and political excellence and independence from the men-folk.
A sincere appraisal of her plethora of bountiful and endless works, services, campaigns and initiatives at uplifting, alleviating, highlighting and promoting the course of the girl child, the under-privileged, the orphaned, the physically challenged, the infirm etc will reveal an Amazon Queen in the mould of Late Queen Amina of Zazzau, whom fought and won many battles and Queen Moremi, whom history records, exhibited unparalleled and uncanny strength, ability, doggedness, character and courage to succeed where others before them, stumbled.
As an Amazon , she is towing a glistering path that will inevitably leave her footprints indelibly, in the sands of time courtesy her well orchestrated campaigns and funding aimed at giving hope to the hopeless, providing institutionalized platforms all over the country for the less-privileged to ventilate, release and harness their God-given potentials to its fullest.
Born in Port Harcourt on 25th October 1957 in Okrika, Rivers State, to Chief Lazarus Iwari-Oba and her step-mother, Charity Oba aka Mama Sisi, after having lost her birth mother at a tender age, she has seen life at its best and worst; and these experiences have contributed in no small measure in making her the woman she is today. Though a month older than her husband, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, has remained a pillar and a bundle of blessings to all who come in contact with her, living up to her native name, FAKABELEMA, which means ‘Unending Blessings’. An alumnus of Rivers State College of Education, where she studied Mathematics & Biology, she later moved to University of Port-Harcourt, where she obtained a degree in Biology & Psychology.
Dame Jonathan started her career as a teacher at Stella Maris College in Port Harcourt; she later got a job in the banking sector, and established Akpo Community Bank in 1997, the first of its kind in Port Harcourt. Eventually, Mama Peace, as she now wishes to be addressed, became the Marketing Manager of Imieto Community Bank, Rivers State. In recognition of her immense contribution to Society, she has been bestowed with several awards, honours and Chieftancy titles such as:
1) The knight of the Anglican Church.
2) A recipient of the International award for Excellence by the Yitzhak Rabin Centre, Tel Aviv, Israel 2008, the first of its kind by this famous Centre since its inception.
3)The “Beyond the Tears” International Humanitarian Award New York, USA, 2008 for her role in the global fight against HIV\AIDS.
4) Pro-Chancellor and Fellow, African Business School (October, 2008)
5) African Goodwill Ambassador Award (Los Angeles, USA, April, 2009)
6) The Conferment of traditional Stool of Iyom “Ada di ohamma of Ukpo” by H.R.H Igwe Robert Eze.
7) The conferment of the traditional title of UnumeWheshi Ekpeye 1 of Ekpeye Kingdom in Rivers State by the Eze Robinson O. Robinson the Ekpeye logbo II.
8) A traditional Staff of office bestowed on her by the Okpahgwe Amawbia in Anambra State.
9) Recipient of the Award for Excellence from the Christian Women Fellowship for upholding dignity and positive projection of womanhood in our generation.
10) Recipient of the Wind of Positive Change Award from the South\South Women Organisation.
11) Recipient of ‘Defender of the Poor’ Award by Society of St Vincent de Paul (Abuja Catholic Archdiocese) amongst others.
Honorary doctorate degree in Social Welfare Administration, Hansei University, South Korea. She was given the award for achieving ‘many good causes’. According to Professor Sung-Hae Kim, the President and Chancellor of the university, “She’s a humanitarian who has dedicated her life to working for the less privileged in Nigeria and Africa, especially for women and children. Her vision as the defender of the poor in Nigeria, fits into Hansei University’s motto of a practising Christian. Now she’s part of our community. ”
At the height it, even receiving a Honorary doctorate degree from the Delta State University, Abraka on September 2012, while away on medical treatment in Germany.
Juxtaposed against the background of her well documented charitable initiatives, it is not altogether surprising seeing her amass recognitions that cut across board and ethnic divides.
For one so busy, Dame Patience still finds time to indulge in her known hobbies, such as reading, writing, travelling and swimming. An avid lover of children and a philanthropist of note, Patience Jonathan has two biological children with President Goodluck Jonathan by names, Ariwera Adolphus Jonathan and Aruabi Jonathan. Her tight schedule has also not in any way, impeded her dress sense, as she is a quintessential dresser with a picture perfect image.
The first family is indeed a very interesting and intriguing family in that, notwithstanding her busy schedule as the First Lady, she still finds time to shop in the market at Utako, in order to daily prepare her husband’s choice of meals. This underscores the premium she places on the Family as the bedrock for continuing stability in the Society. Clearly, hers is an instructive love story that dates back to her University days, when both Husband and wife, in a lecturer and student relationship then, found true love and nurtured it to blossom into a thing of admiration by all, today.
Knowing the importance of the heart to human life, and the alarming number of children born with congenital heart diseases in Nigeria, including the untold distress and pain such diseases cause both mother and child, the First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan established A. Aruera Reachout Foundation, a non-governmental, non-profit making organization, in the ‘90s, while still serving as the wife of the Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State. The Foundation is meant to positively impact the lives of less privileged Nigerians and conduct yearly trainings on vocational, managerial and skills acquisition for them, irrespective of age, religion, gender, ethnicity, political affiliation or educational background.
2) The Medical Unit of the A. Aruera Foundation was set up to sponsor the treatment of children with heart diseases and to conduct medical surgery for them, when necessary. The Foundation affiliates with hospitals in Nigeria including the National Hospital, Abuja, while heart conditions that require extreme surgeries are referred to specialist hospitals abroad, especially the Apollo Hospital in India.
The A. Aruera Foundation has trained over 2,000 women in acquiring skills in fields such as catering, sewing, millinery, jewellery making, the production of plantain and bean flours etc. in the last eight years. The Foundation has also built a tuberculosis and leprosy facility at Yenegoa and Abuja, respectively.
The genuine care the First Lady has towards children with heart diseases has continued to be on display at every juncture and she recently applauded her Medical Corp, for their unflinching support to the course of the less privileged in the Society. Though she has invested so much in the health sector through her Foundation recently, Our amiable First Lady had a health scare that shocked Nigerians and had many of them praying for her safe recovery. She returned soon after to the country after spending several weeks, in coma, abroad and was full of thanks to God and to all those who, through their prayers, stood by her throughout her ordeal. Recounting her harrowing experience and the various surgeries she had, she confessed that but for the grace of God, she would not be alive to recount the story.
To further demonstrate her kind-heartedness, she remained loyal to the former First Lady, Hajia Tura’i Yar’adua during her trying moments, ensuring in the process that the office of the First Lady neither suffered nor were her projects delayed due to her long absence when Late Yar’adua was hospitalized overseas. Patience Jonathan took up the mantle and represented the First Lady at all official assignments, while also exhibiting her knowledge of the social and political terrain. This attributes of hers, laid the foundations for her active political campaign for her husband when the late President passed on, sadly though. As the good and loving wife she is, she spearheaded the machinery that helped her husband to eventually become the president of this great country Nigeria in that, during the 2011 Elections, she campaigned vigorously for her husband and his party in all the States of the Federation. She mobilized millions of women to create awareness, pay attention to and be actively involved in the campaign, electioneering process and exercise of their franchise. And when the elections ended and her husband emerged victorious, she didn’t rest on her oars, instead she stepped up her involvement in political and humanitarian activities.
She made the office of the First Lady a spectacular political brand unlike any other first lady in Nigeria before her, even creating her Seal of Office, which she uses during public functions. Though this elicited criticism in some quarters being that the Office of the First Lady is not provided for in the Nigerian constitution, she has nevertheless made history for herself for being a trail blazer in all facets of life.
For a woman of valour, she has had her own fair share of controversies as well. She is sometimes taunted by a section of the media, considered to be her husband’s political adversaries, to discredit and undermine her good works and qualification for an Office, which ironically, they claim is not constitutional. What a paradox? Allusion to supposed acts of mis-conduct such as, the noised allegation of corruption and money laundering against her a few years ago, which came to nothing as she was given a clean bill of health by the EFCC, whom couldn’t establish nor sustain a case of fraud or money laundering against her due to insufficient evidence. Another issue her detractors sought to use in maligning her good name was the highly publicised land dispute between the former First Lady, Turai Yar’adua and herself. Though the matter culminated in a court action, the former FCT minister Aliyu Moddibo, vindicated the First Lady that, the said the parcel of land was neither owned by both Ladies but was an allocation to the AFLPM, a body presently chaired by Dame Patience.
During the political crisis in Rivers State between Governor Rotimi Amaechi and some members of the State House of Assembly, Dame Patience Jonathan’s name crept into the equation to the consternation of many, as she was accused of heating up the political crisis in Rivers State by Professor Wole Soyinka. Being an Amazon, her forthrightness and boldness, in telling Gov. Rotimi Amaechi the truth, was considered a sacrilege and an act of disrespect to his Office, by some Nigerians. As usual, a section of the Press blew it out of proportion, but the majority stood by her and for her, as gleaned from comments like this, “We make bold to say that we stand by the position of the First Lady, a woman who is bold to speak up for all who are victimised by State power,” credited to Tari Sekibo, Odori Abaji VII, The Chairman of the Okrika Council of Chiefs, in the heat of the crisis.
It is noteworthy that, this not being the first time Prof. Wole Soyinka was attacking the First Lady, she felt hard-pressed not dignifying him with a stinging response through her spokesman, Ayo Osinlu, whom labelled him an embarrassment to the Country. Their angst being that since he was bold enough to tell Dame Patience Jonathan, ‘’to be a ‘Lady’ first before becoming a ‘First Lady’’, she too, felt obliged returning the favour even going further to say that he had betrayed the moral duty imposed on him as an international statesman and literary icon. Arguing that he failed woefully at hearing both sides to an issue, as prescribed by equity, before villifying her. On this occasion, Soyinka’s one-off forage into the minefield of political partisanship no doubt, ruffled a few feathers while bruising his ego, if his vitriolic response was anything to go by.
Her appointment as a permanent secretary in Bayelsa State, was equally mis-understood by a few whom erroneously believed her appointment was politicized, without a clear understanding of the raison d’etair. However, the Bayelsa State Government swiftly responded by saying that Dame Patience had worked in the State as an educationist, before taking a sabbatical leave in order to enable her function in the office of the various political positions her husband attained, as such, she was a bona fide employee of the State Government.
Her naturally bubbly and outgoing personality has not, in any way, been affected by the above-mentioned incidences rather it has spurred her to greater action geared at impacting the lives of all Nigerian women, the defenceless poor, the under-privileged etc. She has continued to canvass for women empowerment and the education of the girl child, to the extent that she played a dominant and pivotal role in the lobby that culminated in the eventual increase to 35% of female cabinet-rank appointees of the Federal Government of Nigeria, under her husband’s watch. Today, President Goodluck Jonathan has about 13 women in the Federal Cabinet, which represents 32% of the 42 member-cabinet and a good number of these women head sensitive portfolios such as Petroleum, Aviation, Environment, Defence and Foreign Affairs, to mention but a few. Though more is expected from her, Dame Patience Jonathan has proven to be a reliable, caring mother and a beacon of light to the oppressed majority no wonder some posit that she is deservedly, an AMAZON QUEEN OF OUR TIME.
Her life is one replete with tales of love, philanthropy and blessings to mankind. She has touched lives no doubt and this has endeared her to many people to the extent that some have openly mouthed it that she is God-sent as such, Jesus Christ typified.
Yet, in all these she is first a woman, who received and passed through the normal tutelage reminiscent of the average Okrika lady, aimed at preparing young maidens for womanhood. The classic Okrika-coming-of-age-rites involves a ritual chase by club-wielding young men, who cure the girls of their fantasies and welcome them to the realities of being a woman. These trainings must have contributed immensely to Dame Patience Jonathan’s smiles in the face of unjust hostile brushes with the Nigerian media and the tough political arena.
Having being praised by the Oyo State Governor, Abiola Ajimobi, who enrolled her in our history books as “one of the champions of women liberation in our continent.” And this was re-echoed by Mrs. Janet Museveni, The First Lady of Uganda, whom lauded her for demystifying the Office of the First Lady and showing the world that their lives should be one of unrelenting community service to their various countries. Dame Patience, also achieved another landmark when she intimated the Nationwide Thank You and Peace Advocacy Campaign, which she took to all the States and Abuja, preaching the message of peace against the high propensity for ethnic and religious violence in the country. She brought to the attention of the world, the fact that women and children were always at the receiving end of any upheaval, arms conflict or skirmishes. She also encouraged women to speak out whenever their rights, liberties or persons is violated. Though her nationwide rallies were a big security risk to her life and those of her entourage yet like a brave, fearless and courageous Amazon, not mindful of the fall-out, she trudged on, believing that if she sheds her blood in the course of stirring Nigeria to greatness then, it is a worthy sacrifice for the good of the generation next. In totality, she has earned the title of ‘Mother of the Nation’ for her undying patriotism.
Indeed, Dame Patience has come a long way from the quiet and humble wife of the then Bayelsa State Deputy Governor, to the bold Amazon she has evolved into. In spite of this metamorphosis, she still infuses warmth and vibrancy in the muddled Nigerian political arena. Her transition however, didn’t dull her benevolent spirit, instead it blossomed furthermore so much so that several orphanages, old peoples’ homes, specialist children hospitals etc, are beneficiaries of her Foundation’s increasing support and mentoring.
If you are wondering how this wonderful woman pays the bills, wonder no further because Dame Jonathan has been able to sustain and grow her various charity activities through goodwill from good-spirited individuals, Donor Organizations and multi-national Companies. Doing good comes natural to her because she sold out to God early in life when she regularly rendered services to individuals and churches by way of cleaning and scrubbing churches, stewardship etc.
Besides, she also undertakes regular official duties such as launching of the Nigerian Alliance for Clean Cookstoves in 2011, partnering with Globacom to organise a National Retreat on Women Development, Peace and Transformation in Akwa Ibom, in 2013 etc. These functions are a few of the several daily engagements performed by the office of the First Lady. She considers the entire country as her constituency, and her passion for the well-being of her fellow citizens is non-negotiable.
Nigeria is a member of the African First Ladies Peace Mission AFLPM, and every First Lady of Nigeria has always played active role in each dispensation. At the 7th summit of AFLPM in Abuja, Dame Patience and other regional heads were unanimously re-elected. Her re-election as the President of the mission involves her overseeing the affairs of the mission in West Africa, while the First Lady of Cameroon was re-elected as the vice president, alongside the other officials/ members. They would serve another two years in office..
All these attributes in the face of dire antagonism and strong anti-minority sentiments portray the Nigerian First Lady and dutiful wife of the President of this nation, as a Warrior and a Cat with nine lives. It will be right then to say that, Dame Patience F.Jonathan as the Amazon of our time, understands the dictates of her Office and the enormous responsibilities it bestows on her. Her philosophy can be encapsulated as thus; “to affect the live of every Nigerian positively while serving humanity relentlessly in order to make the world a better place”.
Written by Sunday Adebayo
Nigeria’s first online tabloid