■ Ex-first lady’s life, style and battles
By CHIDI OBINECHE
love or hate her, Patience Ibifaka, nee Oba, wife of Nigeria’s immediate past president, Goodluck Jonathan is an enigma, a burst of complexities and an eyeball with legs. She is a burgess straight from Neil Gayman’s comic book series, The Sandman. After 16 years in government houses in Yenagoa and Abuja, she has more than any past first lady, living or dead, continued to excite varying degrees of emotion. Barely 15 months off the public eye, patience has returned with a bang, wings aloft, red-hot, like the Dame she is.
She is embroiled in a tango with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC over the sum of $15million traced to an account at Skye Bank opened by her husband’s former aide on domestic affairs, Waripamo Dudafa. Another $5million was also traced to her account in the same bank, bringing the haul to $20million. As part of investigations into a money laundering case against Dudafa, the commission traced four companies’ accounts in the bank to him. The EFCC charged Dudafa and the four companies with money laundering. The four accounts, which have since been frozen are in the name of Pluto Property and Investment Company Limited; Seagate Property Development and Investment Company Limited; Trans Ocean Property and Investment Company Limited and Globus Integrated Services Limited.
In a move that is vintage Patience, she claimed ownership of the accounts and promptly sued the EFCC for N200million. The anti-graft agency has been working on the premise that Dudafa forged the identities of his domestic servants to open the accounts. The domestic servants were, however, denied access to the accounts, while a platinum card was issued to Patience. As hearing of the case opened, officials of the companies pleaded guilty to the charges.
A highly peeved patience reacted by accusing the agency of deploying mercenaries who posed as officials of the companies to plead guilty in order to rope her in and take her money. She had earlier claimed that the monies found in the accounts were for her medicals and sundry purchases abroad, vowing to provide evidence of the sources. The evolving development has led to speculations of an impending comprehensive probe of Jonathan and his wife, with growing fears at the weekend that her multi-billion naira hotel in Yenagoa known as Aridolf Resort Wellness and Spa, which she inaugurated in April 2015 may be seized, if she fails to explain how she came about the funds in the accounts.
Already, the former first lady is facing a probe over the source of funds for five properties including a N5billion hotel in Abuja. Another four properties linked to her in Yenagoa and Port Harcourt are also being investigated. The commission suspects that the funds used in building these edifices may have come from gratifications while her husband was in office. Altogether, about $31million belonging to her has been frozen.
The ongoing tussle is gradually opening more vista into the world of the ex-first lady. In the foreground of the last presidential elections, the irrepressible ex-first lady had sensationally urged Nigerians at a rally not to vote for Muhammadu Buhari, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC because “he will jail us.” That haunch in her, which has raced through the sinews of this regime, is noisily screeching to a halt at the doorstep of the Jonathans.
On September 4, 2012, she was hospitalized in a German hospital following a severe bout of food poisoning that lasted for days. She took ill 10 days earlier, after hosting a summit of first ladies from across Africa. She was discharged from the Horst Schmidt Klinik in Wiesbaden on October 2, 2012. When the media noticed her unusual disappearance from the public view, her Spokesman Ayo Osinlu, issued a statement emphatically stating that she had only gone to Germany “to take time off to rest”, and not for medical purposes. On her return to the country after two months, Patience declared that she literally came back from the dead. According to her, “I was operated upon nine times. My intestines were brought out many times and put back, but God said I will not die. It was a miracle that I survived. God is wonderful.”
During the crisis over the 230 Chibokgirls abducted by Boko Haram insurgents in Borno State of the North East of Nigeria, Patience scored a bull’s eye. After a meeting she convened in May, 2014 with representatives of the Chibok community, there were reports that one of the leaders- Naomi Mutah- had been detained by the police. It was alleged that Mrs. Jonathan had felt slighted that the mothers of the abducted Chibokgirls had sent Ms Mutah to the meeting. Immediately after the meeting, Ms Mutah was taken to a police station and held. Pogo Bitrus , a Chibok community leader described the act as ‘unfortunate’ and ‘insensitive’, and said he hoped Patience would soon ‘ realize her mistake’. She was also reported to have accused activists of fabricating the abductions, and sponsoring Boko Haram to give the government a bad image.
As deputy governor, Goodluck Jonathan had got into a dalliance with a young law graduate of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, a daughter of a former Attorney General of Bayelsa state (names withheld) The liaison, which produced two boys, brought out the “beast” in Patience, as she fought to the finish to severe it. It took the intervention of the former governor of the state DSP Alamieyeseigha to calm frayed nerves. It was alleged that the lady underwent severe torture in the hands of security agents, before she were ferried to London for security reasons. She, however, returned to Nigeria when Jonathan became president, and took up abode in Maitama, a high brow area of the city. Described as a very easy going and self effacing lady, she owns and runs a school. There is no love lost between her and Patience, though she successfully kept her in the background throughout the years at the Aso Villa. The lady is the cousin of former minister of petroleum resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke. Initial attempts by the lady and Diezani to reposition her status within the ex-first family met with fierce resistance from Patience.
In January 2013, Patience was engaged in a tussle with Turai Yar’Adua, wife of the late ex–president Musa Yar’Adua over a plot of land in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT. They each other themselves to court and treated Nigerians to a theatre of the absurd. Nobel Laureate Prof Wole Soyinka has on several occasions battled Patience over how she engaged in closing entire streets any time she was in Port Harcourt, and how she ‘suffocated’ the then governor Rotimi Amaechi on all fronts, including snatching a microphone from him at a public function in her hometown of Okrika and proceeded to berate him. He advised her to be a ‘lady’ first before being a ‘first lady’.
“ I was just doing my own thing not knowing that in far away Asia everything was being noted. I want to assure you all that with God’s help I will do more. My grandma used to say; ‘whatever little you have, share; if you have a thousand and you can’t share, you won’t share a million if you have’ – speech delivered while receiving a doctorate degree in South Korea, October, 2013.
“ I remember when Chief Obasanjo was the president of the country, I was close to his late wife, Stella. We worshipped together in this chapel. It was a painful moment for me when she (Stella) died and her corpse was brought here.
“That was how my corpse would have been brought here. It was not an easy experience for me. I actually died; I passed out for more than a week. My intestine and tummy were opened.
“ I am not Lazarus but my experience was similar to his. My doctors said all hope was lost. A black doctor in London who is with us in this service was flown in when the situation became critical. It was God himself in his infinite mercy that said I will return to Nigeria. God woke me up after seven days.”
“ I know that some people somehow leaked the information that I was dead. They are people that I trust and rely on; to them, I was dead and I would never return to the country alive. Some of them even sold my things off”.
“ I won’t say everything here. It is the lord’s doing that I returned alive. When God says yes, nobody can say no. “People are always afraid of operation (surgery), but in my own case, while my travail lasted, I was begging for it (surgery) after the third operation, because I was going to the theatre every day.
“ It was God who saw me through; I did eight or nine operations within one month. It was not an easy one.”
“The day I came back, I said God I have nothing to say, I offer myself to you. I will be doing things that will touch the lives of the less privileged.”
Patience met her husband while she was a student at the Rivers State College of Education (now, Rivers State University of Education, Rumuolumeni). She speaks: “We first met at the Rivers State College of Education, Port Harcourt where I was a student. He was my Biology lecturer. Later, he left for University of Port Harcourt to pursue his PHD.”
“We met again at the University of Port Harcourt when I went for undergraduate degree. That was where our relationship began. He took interest in me because I was a brilliant and smart student. It was love at first sight on his part. But it never crossed my mind that it would lead to a serious relationship. My first impression of him was ‘this tall, dark, handsome, young man’. Further interaction with him also revealed that he came from a good Christian home just like I did. His humble and gentle disposition caught my attention and most importantly his intelligence.”
The face of business
A glimpse into her business life shows a woman with a Midas touch and an abiding passion for business. At different times in her teaching and civil service careers, she had always done business on the side. Indeed, she had a nickname “Mama ice cream” at a time. She earned it when she cooled and distributed ice cream. Her husband was a senior lecturer at the time, and later an assistant director at OMPADEC (Oil Minerals Producing and Development Commission) She had a poultry farm too.
A woman of style, she created her own seal of office on her lectern, which she used during public functions. This generated heated debate and criticisms because the “Office of the First Lady is not recognized by the constitution. The Dame is also quite sociable, always keeping a legion of friends. A former legislator in Rivers State, Evans Bipi, once referred to her as Jesus Christ. “This woman (Patience Jonathan) is everything in my life. She made me what I am today. Politically and otherwise; I can say it anywhere. I can say she is my Jesus Christ because she has made me who I am today”. The ex-first lady is also an exquisite, classy dresser. As part of her style, she also treated the nation to remarkably rib-cracking English in slow, boorish diction. Some of the popular ones include “My fellow widows”;
“Yes, we are all happy for the effort, it is not easy to carry second in an international competition like this one,” speech after the female Under 19 FIFA World Cup; “We should have love for our fellow Nigerians irrespective of their nationality”; “Thank God the doctors and nurses are responding to treatment; “ Chai! Chai! There is God o… there’s God in everything we are doing, continue!;” “Ojukwu is a great man, he died but his manhood lives on”; “Na only you waka come?”; “At least, we all have HIV/AIDS, except that some of us are negative and some of us are positive (On world AIDS day).
The essential Patience
Patience was born on October 25, 1957 in Port Harcourt. She earned her First School Leaving Certificate in 1976, and passed the West African School Certificate Examination (WASCE) in 1980. In 1989, she obtained the National Certificate of Education (NCE) in Mathematics and Biology from the Rivers State College of Arts and Science, Port Harcourt. She then proceeded to the University of Port Harcourt and bagged a B ED in Biology and Psychology. She also has an honorary doctorate from the University of Port Harcourt. She began her career at the Stella Maris College, Port Harcourt and Sports Institute, Isake. She veered off into the banking sector in 1997 serving as marketing manager of Imiete Community Bank, after which she established the first community bank in Port Harcourt known as Akpo Community Bank. She returned to the classroom again briefly, before she was transferred to Bayelsa State Ministry of Education where she served until May 29, 1999, when her husband became the deputy governor of the state. On July 12, 2012, she was appointed a permanent secretary in Bayelsa State by Governor Henry Seriake Dickson. She and her husband have two children, Ariwera Adolphus, and Aruabi Jonathan.
Patience has been recognized nationally and internationally for her philanthropic work and political pragmatism. She got the “ Beyond the Tears” international Humanitarian Award in New York, USA, in 2008, for her role in the global fight against HIV/AIDS; the African Goodwill Ambassador Award( Los Angeles, USA, 2008, and the “Wind of Change” Award from the South/South Women’s Organization. As first lady of Bayelsa State between 2005 and 2007, she founded the A- Aruere Reachout Foundation (AARF) which was designed to improve the status and earning power of Nigerian women and youths. The foundation also focused on assisting children with heart related ailments. She bears the title, “Dame” because she is a Knight of the Anglican Church. Her hobbies include reading, writing, travelling, and swimming. She holds many traditional titles, including Odadigba of Otuoke Kingdom (ladder of success) and Yeye Obateru of Owu Kingdom, Ogun State (Wife of he who shares the King’s burden). She lost her mother at a tender age and was raised by her step mother, Charity Oba (Mama Sisi) who died in a road accident along the East-West Road between Bayelsa and Rivers state in July 2013. She hails from Oba-Ama Community in Okrika, a port town in Rivers state.
Up close Patience
From the cradle, up to her close to six odd decades, her life rankles with interest, and most times excitements. As a knight in full armour, she has grabbed all the ends and bits, in perpetual battle with life and its droppings. Patience lives here. Her life and works are a huge pile for chroniclers of history. Boiled and strewn all around with the springly darts of life, she dares to wink at the gods; a rare quality of conquerors.