Prof. Wole Soyinka
Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Thusday joined scores of women activists to protest the N4 billion appropriated for the building of the African First Ladies Mission complex, describing the decision as unconstitutional and illegal.
Soyinka, while addressing a crowd of aggrieved Nigerians who marched to the office of the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), urged all African first ladies not to be a part of what he described as an act of illegality.
The Ministry of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), in its 2013 budget, had earmarked N4 billion for the building of the First Ladies’ Mission office complex in Abuja.
The complex is to house the African First Ladies Peace Mission (AFLPM) and would also provide office accommodation as well as housing not just for the AFLPM but to other international bodies as well.
Soyinka rejected the appropriation of funds for the project, saying Nigerians “are fast losing patience. The decision is another egregious conspiracy to drain the Nigerian treasury, mounted in the name of a high-flying member of your gender”.
“A mind-boggling fiscal misappropriation of N4 billion, no less, is being attempted in your names (African first ladies) openly, in an attempt to institutionalise an illegality through a debasement of the democratic process. It is no longer secretive but in your face, and damn public opinion!
“Your names have been invoked as the ultimate beneficiaries. 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.
“I implore you in the name of all local equivalents of St. Valentine; continue to serve humanity within and outside your borders, but without self-interest. Assist this nation in crushing the increasing acquisitive impudence of individuals and institutions that do not exist in our constitution, yet insist on fattening on national resources,” he explained.
He added that the enthronement of vulgar preening and opportunistic consumption “is complicating the battle of a principled minority on critical social issues. It gets in the way of sanitising society, and has become an expensive distraction. When you visit in your personal and professional capacities or as consorts to your spouses, we would love to love you, respect and honour you.
“It will be painful to watch you dodging a rain of rotten eggs and tomatoes in place of flower petals and bouquets. There is no such thing as an African First Ladies Mission in the Nigerian appropriation list. Any claim like this is the conspiracy of sycophants, jobbers, masters of impunity, a desperate clique that unfurls a continental umbrella as cover for private aggrandisement.”
While addressing the protesting women, Fashola challenged the Nigerian women to be gainfully involved in the responsibilities of political participation in the nation’s democratic journey.
The governor, who received a letter of protest from the protesters on behalf of President Goodluck Jonathan, promised to deliver the letter, explaining that the country’s democratic experience was comparatively very young.
“It is your participation that enriches the process that helps to set the appropriate priorities. Nothing can be much more incisive as the demonstration of the occupational endeavour of survival that we see our women engage in as it was shown by (the late) Mrs. Funmi Ransome-Kuti, women selling matches to survive. Definitely, that is a wake-up call,” he said.
He further explained that the opportunity still “exists because I am aware that the budget is yet to receive the assent of Mr. President. There is also an opportunity for us as we embark on constitutional amendment about what role really women who are spouses of the heads of government should play. I think that this type of protest only enriches the debate and helps us as a people to decide what we want in going forward in this nation.”
Speaking at the protest, the President of Women Arise for Change Initiative, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, said women were scandalised by the culture of waste that had become the hallmark of governance in Nigeria, especially in recent times.
She said the latest of such fiscal waste was the N4 billion allocated for the building of an office for the African First Ladies Mission Initiative.
Okei-Odumakin explained that 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 a special egregious insult on Nigerians.”
“To budget such a huge amount of public funds for a ceremonial office that is not recognised by the 1999 Constitution 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.
“It is instructive that it acquired its notoriety in the profligate Ibrahim Babangida years, where the military dictator’s wife, Maryam, wasted billions of naira 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 added.
She urged Jonathan to direct the FCT Minister, Senator Bala Mohammed, to withdraw the 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.