Letter from Africa: Ladies at war

 
 Turai Yar'Adua (L) and Patience Jonathan in June 2010 Nigeria's first ladies were urged to reach an out-of-court settlement

In our series of letters from African journalists, Sola Odunfa in Lagos writes about the power struggle between Nigeria's first lady and her predecessor.

A fierce war is raging in Nigeria, and I do not mean the one declared by militant Islamist group Boko Haram.

It is the "battle of the first ladies" - being fought with political and legal weapons in defence of egos.

Ex-First Lady Turai Yar'Adua is fighting to retain prime land allocated to her in the capital, Abuja, when she was president of the African First Ladies Peace Mission (AFLPM).

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Umaru Yar'Adua and his wife Turai in 2009

Mrs Yar'Adua was known in Nigeria as a very tough woman who saw her union with the president to include a unity of office”

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The property was taken from her after the death of President Umaru Yar'Adua in 2010 and given to the current First Lady, Patience Jonathan, in her capacity as the new AFLPM head.

African leaders, nearly all of whom are men, have the African Union (AU) headquarters - a stunning building funded by the Chinese in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa.

So, in these days of women empowerment, no-one can fault their spouses for setting up the AFLPM.

Some critics may argue that such a facility should be within the AU complex in Addis Ababa, but that would not show that Africa's first ladies are independent of their husbands.

To the delight of the Nigerian government Abuja was therefore chosen as the AFLPM headquarters, as no other country made a bid to host it.

'Abdication and enthronement'

Mrs Yar'Adua was known in Nigeria as a very tough woman who saw her union with the president to include a unity of office.

Many insiders described her as the alternate president, more so when Mr Yar'Adua fell ill and was admitted to hospital in Saudi Arabia in 2009.

A woman flees fighting in eastern DR Congo on 18 November 2012 Many women have been affected by violence in Africa

At the time, Mrs Jonathan was the unobtrusive wife of Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan, who wielded no power.

Eventually, Mr Yar'Adua died and Mr Jonathan became president. Power shifted.

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They should launch a mission to resolve this dispute, if indeed their objective is to promote peace across the continent”

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That saw the natural abdication of Mrs Yar'Adua and the enthronement of First Lady Patience Jonathan.

The battle for the choice piece of land in Abuja started.

Ex-First Lady Yar'Adua's lawyers said that the land in question was allocated to her for a non-governmental organisation, the Women and Youth Empowerment Foundation (WYEF), which she had launched.

As far as they are concerned, it was never meant to be the headquarters of the AFLPM - an organisation launched more than a decade ago.

Not so, said her successor.

Her spokesman said the property was originally allocated to Mrs Yar'Adua as president of AFLPM, but was later reviewed in favour of WYEF and the decision by the authorities to re-allocate it to the AFLPM was the only "appropriate logical action".

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and wife Patience at a rally in  Abuja on 26 March 2011 Goodluck Jonathan and his wife come from southern Nigeria, the Yar'Aduas from the north

Mrs Yar'Adua took the Federal Capital Territory Administration to court to reclaim the land. She won earlier this month.

The court ruled there was no evidence to show that the land had been originally allocated to the AFLPM, as claimed by the justice minister. The government responded by saying that it would appeal against the ruling.

Every Nigerian knows that the battle is not one for the courts.

Even the court had advised the two parties to settle the matter amicably.

We lay men say that courts deal with the law and politicians in power make the law. As it is in Nigeria so it is in every other African country.

Come to think of it, there are scores of properties in the choicest parts of Abuja available for allocation.

I wish I knew what is driving the battle over this one.

So far, other African first ladies have not intervened.

I think they should launch a mission to resolve this dispute, if indeed their objective is to promote peace across the continent.

If you would like to comment on Sola Odunfa's column, please do so below.

 

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