Our First Lady, the perm sec

* An Editorial by Guardian newspaper

DESPITE desperate attempts to explain
and justify it, the appointment of the
wife of the President, Patience
Jonathan, as permanent secretary in
the Bayelsa State civil service is an
abuse of process, abuse of office and
totally without merit. It is not surprising
that the appointment has attracted
public criticisms on grounds of
propriety. Mrs. Jonathan has already
taken the oath of office, putting paid to
expectations that she might turn down
the controversial appointment. That act
of taking the oath even magnifies the
impropriety of the wife of a serving
president, already playing full
ceremonial role at the presidency as
the First Lady, being so elevated; more
so as she has been out of her career
job for more than 13 years, ostensibly
on leave of absence.
The Governor of Bayelsa State, Mr.
Seriake Dickson, affirmed that the
appointment of Dame Patience as
permanent secretary, along with 18
others, was done in a transparent
manner and after due consultations
with stakeholders. He further said the
process was devoid of lobbying, as
those elevated were selected from a list
of the most senior civil servants in each
of the eight local councils of the state.
Besides, the exercise, he emphasised,
was in accordance with the
constitutional power conferred on the
governor.
On her part, the First Lady insisted that
she deserved the promotion, being a
teacher in the state’s civil service who
had been on leave of absence since
1999 when her husband became the
deputy governor of the state. She
reasoned further that since the position
of the First Lady was not constitutional,
she needed to express her career in the
civil service and be entitled to
retirement benefit upon leaving the
service.
Notwithstanding the justifications, the
development provokes a number of
pertinent questions: What relevant
bureaucratic experience has the First
Lady to merit her appointment? What is
her portfolio? How does her
appointment interface with her extra-
constitutional role as First Lady? So far,
no one has provided the answers. It is
beyond doubt that Mrs. Jonathan has
no bureaucratic experience for the
position she has been elevated to, and
since it is a nominal appointment
without any formal portfolio, what point
does the governor intend to prove by
the appointment?
The governor’s insistence that the
appointment was done on merit and
that he only exercised his constitutional
powers is face-saving, certainly not
reconcilable with the fact of the act
being an aberration, meant only to
curry the president’s favour or goodwill.
It smacks of an attempt by the
governor at ingratiating himself to the
president, given the controversy of his
emergence as governor of Bayelsa
State. Ordinarily in most civil service
regulations, officers on secondment or
leave of absence, upon return, sit for
promotion examination and if
successful, are granted apposite
notional promotion to bring them to the
levels of their colleagues.
It may be argued that past first ladies
such as Mrs. Fati Abubakar and Mrs.
Mary Odili had been caught in a similar
political-cum-moral web. To be sure,
their cases were different from the
present one. For example, Justice Fati
Abubakar, who was a High Court judge
in her native Niger State, remained on
her job despite her husband, Gen.
Abdusalami Abubakar, becoming the
head of state. This was under a military
dictatorship, and no organ of
government played sycophancy to the
head of state by elevating his wife to
some unearned portfolio. Mrs. Odili was
professionally focused as Justice of
Appeal Court and hardly played the
Rivers State’s first lady role, a fact that
ensured her career growth and
subsequent elevation to the Supreme
Court.
Above all, the development points up
the ethical component of the state. The
ethical state must ensure social justice;
it must be accountable to the people; it
must be sensitive to the public
perception and feelings and it must be
self-effacing. In doing so, the state
earns its legitimacy and maintains
hegemony of sorts. The First Lady’s
appointment ignores the ethical side of
the state and its responsibility. The
governor betrays ignorance of the fact
that leadership is a position of pre-
eminence, not one to be trivialised. By
appointing Mrs. Jonathan a permanent
secretary, Dickson trivialised his office.
The mere reliance on provisions of the
1999 Constitution, without a
corresponding judicious use of his
powers therein regarding the
appointment to the State Civil Service,
is simply disingenuous. President
Jonathan on his part ought to have
advised against it, as the decision
constitutes a moral burden on the
image of the presidency.
Despite the oath of office, the
appointment can still be reversed. As
the Scottish bard, William Shakespeare
once opined: “For many an error by the
same example, will rush into the state,
it cannot be.”
Therefore, the rascality of the ‘African
big man’ should not be tolerated in a
democratic dispensation, as it is
insulting to the sensibility of the
people.

To promotes freedom of expression and right to contrary opinion, views expressed by Authors does not necesarily reflect the views of the blogger.

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