- Category: POLITICS
- Published on Tuesday, 07 August 2012 10:09
- Written by Okoi Obono-Obla
The office of the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has recently aroused and enmeshed in controversy thus:
1. when it was reported in the media that the Federal Government of Nigeria bought 200 exotic vehicles for the hosting of a Steering Committee of First Ladies of Africa by the First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, under the
aegis of the African Ladies Peace Mission scheduled for Friday, 27th July, 2012;
2. There was also controversy concerning the office when Dame Patience Jonathan was appointed a Permanent Secretary in the Public Service of Bayelsa State by the Governor of Bayelsa State, Honourable Seriake Dickson. Dame Jonathan had since been sworn in as a Permanent Secretary.
3. There was also controversy following the recommendation of the scrapping of the Office of the First Lady by the Presidential Committee on the Review under the Chairmanship of Justice Alfa Belgore. The operation and funding both in kind and cash of the office at all levels of government should be discouraged and abolished forthwith.
It is a notorious fact that none of the country’s Constitution from 1960-1999 has ever created the Office of the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. However funds have always been allocated to the office of the First Lady by successive administrations in the country since independence. The First Lady is addressed by the title “Her Excellency”.
Nigeria became a Republic on the 1st October, 1963, with the coming into force of the 1963 Constitution which replaced the Independence Constitution of the Nigeria, 1960. The First President was Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. At that time the system of government that was in force was the West Minster variant of the Parliamentary System of Government. Under the Parliamentary system of government the President is the Head of State but does not possess any executive authority. The President is only a titular Head of State. He is not the Head of Government. The Head of Government was the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is usually chosen from a member of the House of Parliament from the Party that commands majority of seats in the Parliament.
The Military took over the reins of government on the 15th January, 1966. From 15th January, 1966 to the 1st October, 1979, when the military held the levers of power in the country the concept of First Lady did not assume larger than life image. It later did under the subsequent military dictatorships of Generals: Babangida, Abacha and Abdul Salami Abubukar.
The military handed over power to a democratically elected President on the 1st October, 1979. The First democratically elected President was Alhaji Shehu Usman Shagari. Between 1st October, 1979 to 31st December, 1983, when President Shagari was in office there was no designated First Lady. President Shagari had three wives. None of them was designated the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Country had several First Ladies since she became a Republic on 1st October, 1963. Thus Country’s First, First Lady was Mrs. Flora Azikiwe (1st October, 1963 - 15th January, 1966); the Second First Lady was Mrs. Victoria Aguiyi Ironsi (15th January, 1966 - 29th July, 1966); the Third First Lady was Mrs. Victoria Gowon (21st August, 1966 - 29th July, 1975); the Fourth First Lady was Mrs Ajoke Mohammed (29th July, 1975 - 13th February, 1976); the Fifth First Lady was Mrs. Esther Oluremi Obasanjo (13th February, 1976 - 1st October, 1979); the Sixth First Lady should have been the wife of General Muhammadu Buhari (1st January, 1984 - 27th August, 1985), however, Mrs. Sinfatu Buhari was not officially designed a First Lady of the Country. The Sixth First Lady thus became Mrs. Maryam Babangida (27th August, 1985 - 26th August, 1993). The Seventh First Lady was Mrs. Margaret Shonekan (26th August, 1993 - 17th November, 1993); the Eighth First Lady was Mrs. Maryam Abacha (17th November, 1993 - 8th June, 1998). The Ninth First Lady was Mrs. Fati Lami Abubukar (8th June, 1998 - 29th May, 1998); the Tenth First Lady was Mrs. Stella Obasanjo (29th May 1999 – 23rd October, 2005. After the death of Stella Obasanjo there was no First Lady from 23rd October, 2005, till the 29th May, 2007. The Eleventh First Lady was Mrs. Turai Yar’Adua (29th May, 2007 - 6th May, 2010). The Twelfth First Lady is Dame Patience Jonathan, the incumbent First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
It is pertinent to state that all the First Ladies before Mrs. Maryam Babangida had always maintained very low profile. However, Mrs. Maryam Babangida brought a lot of pomp, style and glamour to the Office of the First Lady and during her time enormous financial resources were allocated to the Office.
Historically the concept of the title of “First Lady” originated from the United States of America. Linguistically, the term “Lady” originated in England. The title “First Lady” was first used in the United States of America in 1849 when President Zachary Taylor called Dolley Madison “First Lady” at her State Funeral while reciting a eulogy written by him. The title gained nationwide recognition in the United States of America in 1877, when Mary C. Ames wrote an article in the New York City Independent Newspaper describing the inauguration of President Rutherford B. Hayes. She used the term, to describe his wife, Mrs. Lucy Webb Hayes. Since then all wives of the Presidents of the United States of America are described as “First Lady”.
The Office of the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in its website is listed as an organ of the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Indeed number three in the hierarchy of these organs of Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The other organs listed are the President, Vice-President, the Federal Executive Council and the State House. The Office of the President is created by Section 130 of the Constitution. In the same vein, the Office of the Vice-President is created by Section 141 of the Constitution. The State House is the office of the President. The Federal Executive Council (constitutionally known as the Executive Council of the Federation) is created by Section 147 of the Constitution. However, there is nowhere in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria where the Office of the First Lady is mentioned. See ATTORNEY-GENERAL OF THE FEDERATION V ATIKU ABUBAKAR (2007) 10 NWLR (Pt.1041) 1. In other words, the Office of the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is not created by the Constitution or any legislation. It is a mere contraption existing at the whims and caprices of the occupants of the position of the President. Conversely there is no enactment of the National Assembly creating the office of the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
However, the office of the First Lady is unwittingly accorded the imprimatur of officialdom by the Federal Government deploying to the office senior and junior Civil Servants. Vehicles belonging to the Federal Government of Nigeria are being used to service the office. The deployment of vehicles and allocation of money to the official of the First Lady is decidedly illegal and void because there is no place for such office by virtue of the Constitution.
The Constitution is by virtue of Section 1 (3) thereof the supreme law of the Country. It follows that it is the Constitution that imparts efficacy and legitimacy to all other laws and regulations in the Country and therefore anything that does not derive its legitimacy from the Constitution is illegal, null and void.
In MUNIRAT ODUNTAN V ABUDU W. AKIBU (2000)7S.C. (PARTII)106, the Supreme Court held that where a non-member of a chieftaincy family was appointed, such appointment is void ab initio and the approval of the Executive Council would not, and could not confer validity on such appointment; the approval itself is equally void. For anything based on a void act is "bad and incurably bad".
One of the greatest English Jurist of the 20th Century, Lord Denning, Master of the Rolls in the case of MACFOY Vs UNITED AFRICAN COMPANY LIMITED (1961) 3 All E. R. 1169, succinctly and eruditely illuminated on the position of the law when an act is void thus:
“… If an act is void, then it is in law a nullity. It is not only bad, but incurably bad. There is no need for an order of the court to set it aside. It is automatically null and void without more ado, though it is sometimes convenient to have the court declare it to be so. And every proceeding which is founded on it is also bad and incurably bad. You cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stay there. It will collapse. So will this judgment collapse if the statement of claim was a nullity. But if an act is only voidable, then it is not automatically void. It is only an irregularity which may be waived. It is not to be avoided unless something is done to avoid it. There must be an order of the court setting it aside: and the court has discretion whether to set it aside or not. It will do so if justice demands it but not otherwise. Meanwhile it remains good and a support for all that has been done under it. So will this statement of claim be a support for the judgment, if it was only voidable and not void”.
I have also studied the Appropriation Acts of 2010, 2011 and 2012 respectively to find out if the Office of the First Lady was allotted any money. The office of the First Lady is not listed in the departments or agencies or Commissions or other statutory bodies under the Presidency. The Office of the First Lady is not also mentioned in the breakdown of appropriation for capital or recurrent expenditure of the Office of the Head of Service; Office of the Secretary to the Federal Government; Federal Ministry of Women Affairs or the Federal Ministry of Special Duties.
I also in my search found to my chagrin and consternation that there is no allocation made whatsoever for the Office of the First Lady under the cloak of any Federal Ministry or Extra Ministerial Department of the Federal Government of Nigeria. However there is no denying the fact that the office of the First Lady enjoys some substantial form of allocation of funds from the public till to enable the First Lady and her coterie of officials to move around in expensive attires, razzmatazz and wields so much clout, influence and power. It goes without saying that access to the First Lady attracts rewards and opportunities of unimaginable proportion. At the States level the wives of the Governors are also First Ladies of their respective States and enjoy allocation of funds of the public treasury despite the fact that there is no statute or law giving a veneer of legitimacy to the office of First Ladies of States.
Undoubtedly the allocation to public funds to the Office of the First Lady is illegal and unconstitutional. It amounts to an egregious violation of the provisions of the Constitution to allocate funds which are not appropriated by the National Assembly that is constitutionally vested with the power of appropriation of Public Funds. Section 81 subsections 1, 2 & 3 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as altered and amended) provides thus:
“The President shall cause to be prepared and laid before each House of the National Assembly at any time in each financial year estimates of the revenues and expenditure of the Federation for the next following financial year.
(2) The heads of expenditure contained in the estimates (other than expenditure charged upon the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation by this Constitution) shall be included in a bill, to be known as an Appropriation Bill, providing for the issue from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the sums necessary to meet that expenditure and the appropriation of those sums for the purposes specified therein.
(3) Any amount standing to the credit of the judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation shall be paid directly to the National Judicial Council for disbursement to the heads of the courts established for the Federation and the States under section 6 of this Constitution.
(4) If in respect of any financial year it is found that-
(a) the amount appropriated by the Appropriation Act for any purpose is insufficient; or
(b) a need has arisen for expenditure for a purpose for which no amount has been appropriated by the Act, a supplementary estimate showing the sums required shall be laid before each House of the National Assembly and the heads of any such expenditure shall be included in a Supplementary Appropriation Bill”.
From the above, it is as clear as the crystal that any allocation of money by the Federal Government that is not contained in the allocation to the Federal Ministries, Agencies, Extra Ministerial Departments, Parastatals, the Presidency, Offices of the Head of Service and Secretary to the Federal Government and Federal Executive Bodies established by Section 153 and listed in Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (supra) is void ab initio. The Federal Executive bodies created by Section 153 of the Constitution include:
1. The Code of Conduct Bureau;
2. The Council of States;
3. The Federal Character Commission;
4. The Federal Civil Service Commission;
5. The Federal Judicial Service Commission;
6. The Independent National Electoral Commission;
7. The National Defence Council;
8. The National Judicial Council;
9. The National Population Commission;
10. The National Security Council;
11. The National Police Council;
12. The Police Service Commission and
13. The Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission.
From the above, it is abundantly clear the Office of the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and its counterpart in the 36 States of the Federation including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, is illegal and unconstitutional. A fortiori, the allocation of Public Funds to these Offices by the Federal Government and the State Governments of the 36 States and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, is illegal and void.
The appointment of Dame Patience Jonathan as Permanent Secretary in Bayelsa State is a pointer to the fact that the Office of the First Lady is illegal. Otherwise it would amount to an illegality for Dame Jonathan to occupy two Public offices simultaneously. Section 208 (2) (c) of the Constitution of the Country vests on a State Governor power to appoint and remove a Permanent Secretary appointed into the Public Service of such a State.
Undoubtedly a Permanent Secretary either in the Public Service of the Federation or the Public Service of a State is a Public Officer by virtue of Section 10 of Part II of the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution. See Section 318 of the Constitution for the definition of the term “public officer”. By Section 2 (a) of Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution it is an offence for a public servant to receive or be paid the emoluments of any public office at the same time as he receives or is paid the emoluments of any other public office. See ANTHONY ABIODUN DADA V.  6 NWLR (PT. 920) 1.
It is therefore the right time these Offices are scrapped and abolished in view of the fact that the President and the 36 States have sworn to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is an impeachable offence for the President and the State Governors to continue to breach provisions of the Constitution to continue to allow the Offices of the First Lady of Nigeria and that of the respective 36 States to exist or deploy public funds towards its existence.