New Telegraph

Office of The First Lady: Is it constitutionally provided for?

I n official and private settings, stakeholders have been commenting on the relevance or otherwise of the ‘Office of the First Lady’ at the federal level and replicated across the 36 states of the federation. New Telegraph is pleased with such interrogation by the stakeholders on the appropriateness or otherwise of the office. While some frown at the concept of the Office of the First Lady for the fact that it is not backed up by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, others have thrown their weight behind the position saying that such an office is needed to enable each occupant give the desired spousal support to either the president or the governor.

We endorse such interrogations, which is an indication that more people are becoming interested not only in governance-oriented decisions but also in helping to bring pressure to bear on the governing elite to take the right decisions without undue interference. New Telegraph does not have anything against the concept of spousal support.

It must be acknowledged that spousal support is a reaffirmation of the fact that collaboration remains an incontestable trigger to success. Virtually all successes of enduring value have been actualized through consciously or unconsciously – contrived collaboration. One of the classic examples of collaboration was the anti-Abortion Bill protest by the National Council of Women’s Societies (NCWS) in 1981. Sensing that a male-dominated Senate would have an easy ride passing into law the Abortion Bill, which the NCWS felt would denigrate the womenfolk.

The all-female pressure group stormed the National Assembly Complex, then domiciled at the Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS), Lagos, with their thousands of members, to successfully demand the discontinuity of the Abortion Bill. New Telegraph recalls that during the NCWS protest, which was in the second Republic, Nigeria had only one female Senator, Senator Franca Afegbua of the old Bendel State. With such female legislative disadvantage, the NCWS which then President was Mrs. Hilda Adefarasin was strategic enough in mobilizing its members to help put an end to further debate on the provocative bill. But we do not approve of the creation of the Office of the First Lady to ensure an uninterrupted spousal support at either at the federal or state levels. The office is not a creation of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The presidents and the governors all pledge to uphold the constitution while being sworn into their prestigious positions.

It therefore amounts to a disobedience to the Supreme Law for either of them to do a detour to directly or indirectly fund the Office of the First Lady which does not receive the blessing of the county’s constitution. Though it is argued that the Office of the First Lady is not captured in annual budgets, it has been alleged that the position is sustained through indirect funding. This is usually realised through the deployment of personnel and logistics of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). Prospective contractors and other benefactors may in a bid to elicit the friendliness and support of the government make unscheduled donations to the Office of the First Lady instead of being deployed into the extension of financial support to the less privileged pupils and students.

New Telegraph therefore urges the national and state assemblies to wake up from their slumber and take to the path of diligence in the discharge of their constitutional responsibilities. This would enable them to refrain from regarding themselves as the extension of the Executive Branches of government at the federal and state level, but instead keep a third eye on their official conduct with a view to constantly rattling them into improved responsibility and responsiveness.

It is through such legislative diligence that the status of the First Lady would be made to return to what it used to be, which was largely ceremonial, and didn’t add to the cost of governance. Then, a First Lady either at the federal or state levels, performed largely ceremonial functions, such as visits to the orphanage and other facilities for the less-privileged to empathise with them, welcoming of the first delivery child in a year and expressing solidarity with his/her parents and functioning as a lead advocate of governmental and public support to the different agents of socialisation for the orderly functioning and progress of the country.

New Telegraph is of the firm resolve that parliaments at national and state levels should, for no reason, allow overt or covert transformation of the office of the First Lady into full blown democracy that would end up causing haemorrhage to the public. This unfortunately appears to have become the norm across the nation. The status of the First Lady across all levels is simply ceremonial and should be made to remain so, since the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has not indicated otherwise.

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