By Reuben Abati, Guardian(Lagos)

Nigerians should be interested in the tragi-comical story of Mrs. Lucy Kibaki - wife of Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, and the First Lady of Kenya, in terms of what her example says about the position of a First Lady in the public sphere, and the dangers of excessive privilege in African states. It is a trite point to state that the Nigerian public has always been critical of the role of First Ladies. This attitude is not a product of male chauvinism, rather it is informed by the well-advertised recklessness of some of the women who occupy that position. As a rule, the wives of senior public officials in the highest positions of authority tend to misbehave. During the military era, there were First Ladies who ordered their husband's subordinates around. Others ordered the arrest of other women in their husbands' lives.

Of all the Presidential Wives that we had under the military, perhaps Mrs. Maryam Babangida was the most colourful and influential. Her successor, Mrs. Maryam Abacha, was the most powerful. She was said to have kept a personal army of her own which followed her instructions. Wives of civilian Presidents have generally been sober, although Mrs. Stella Obasanjo seems to be changing that tradition. She was fingered in the Ikoyi houses scandal recently. And only a few days ago, Festus Keyamo, the Lagos lawyer, protested in the media that the First Lady is responsible for the arrest of Mr. Orobosa Omo-Ojo, publisher of Midwest Herald who is being detained for "sedition" for publishing an uncomplimentary story about Mrs. Obasanjo!

At the lower levels, wives of state Governors, and local government Chairmen are just as unprepossessing. In the last six years, there have been stories about First Ladies organising seminars, running personal courts of influence, and insisting on being addressed as "Her Excellency!" In one state, the First Lady, and the wives of Local Government Chairmen who, I understand are First Ladies in their own right, once planned a trip to Europe to understudy other First Ladies. The trip was aborted due to public outcry. Where a Governor has two or more wives as is often the case in Nigeria, there is always a bitter rivalry.

And of course, in the event of a disagreement between the President and his Deputy, or the Governor and his Deputy, their wives also get into the squabble. I doubt if Mrs. Stella Obasanjo, the First Lady, and Mrs. Titi Abubakar are the best of friends. In any case, I dare say that many of the shenanigans of First Ladies in Nigeria escape the attention of the Nigerian media, in part, because of the unwritten code among journalists that it is better to attack the man when he errs, he is likely to understand, but when you attack the wife, you may invite his wrath. But in comparison with Mrs. Lucy Kibaki of Kenya, Nigeria's Stella Obasanjo, and all the other First Ladies would look very civilised. Lucy Kibaki is a fine and ugly specimen of "How Not To Be a First Lady", and a bad advertisement for the African woman in the public arena.

On Monday, May 3, incidentally, the World Press Freedom Day when progressives focussed on the meaning and significance of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights dealing with the freedom of expression as an inviolable pillar for human progress and societal development, Mrs. Lucy Kibaki chose to stage an ugly show of her own whose title is best taken from Pliny the elder: "Something New Always Comes Out of Africa". She stormed the offices of The Nation newspapers in Nairobi around 11.20pm, with six bodyguards in three official vehicles, and held reporters, editors, production staff, and the entire organisation hostage till 4.30 am, the following day. More bodyguards joined her while she remained in charge of The Nation Centre as the building is called. She ordered her armed bodyguards not to allow anyone to leave the building. Then, she went straight to the editorial department on the third floor where she harassed reporters and editors, behaving like a woman who had lost her senses.

The editors of The Nation in their various reports, did not have the courage to say this much but in painting Mrs. Kibaki as a farcical character, through a detailed, factual, reproduction of their encounter with her, they managed to say as much. Mrs. Kibaki had gone to The Nation to protest against an earlier report in the newspaper about how on Friday evening, last week, she had interrupted a party at the home of the outgoing World Bank Director, Makhtar Diop. Mrs. Kibaki went to the party dressed in shorts to complain that the music was too loud, she had physically tried to disconnect cables and plugs, and she engaged in a shouting match with Mr. Diop and his wife. She later went to the police station to ask that Mr. Diop should be arrested. The thoroughly intimidated police officers had to remind her that Mr. Diop is covered by diplomatic immunity. Mrs. Kibaki wanted the reporters who wrote this story arrested. "I am not leaving this place until I get the person who said I was at Muthanga Police Station... I also want my lawyer. I am here demanding the truth and exercising my rights", she screamed.

Apparently in pursuit of her rights, Mrs. Kibaki seized reporters' notebooks, pens, cameras, tape recorders and cell-phones. Dressed in a pink top and blue jeans, she walked the entire length of the newsroom, harassing every editor, occasionally laughing, screaming and gesticulating in turns. "I speak for the voiceless!", she announced. "I don't buy newspapers. I borrow copies of the two newspapers (The Nation and Standard) from staff at State House when I need to flip through them, because I cannot waste my money on newspapers that tell lies. In fact, I go to the internet to only see what you have said about my country, my government and Lucy". She peeped into what every journalist was doing, queried what the internet editor was doing with the computer, and then, at a stage, she ordered that food should be brought to her from the State House.

Later, she asked for water. Her bodyguards went downstairs to bring her two bottles of water which she then refused to drink, saying that if she did, she would vomit. The journalists of The Nation could only watch as she held them hostage. At one point, she slapped Clifford Derick, a cameraman from Kenya Television (KTN), who had been trying to record her. "We cannot entertain lies; it is illegal and it is a crime", she said. Derick later appeared on CNN to say that "it was the dirtiest slap he had received in his life".

Eventually around 3.34 am, Mrs. Kibaki agreed to "address the journalists, to be quoted and have her pictures taken". For over one hour she gave a lecture on her role as First Lady and the ethics of journalism. She accused the Kenyan Press of making the work of the President difficult by criticising him all the time, and she, Lucy Kibaki, is ready to defend her husband against "a nasty mainstream press". The media she said, "must start respecting the President by addressing him through his rightful title... His Excellency the President or Mr. President". She ruled that no journalist must call the President - Kibaki as if he is just another person.

She added: "You do not want the President to work, you hurt him, you hurt me and my children. I am sure the Kibaki family is not all that bad... you do not have to be nasty to other people. You had been nasty and unkind to us... English words to describe what you have done to us fail me". By now, she was almost breaking down in tears: "Do you people have any heart? Are you Christian, Muslims or pagans? How would you feel if you were on the receiving end where people tell lies about you?" At 4.30am, Mrs. Kibaki's terrorist gang finally left The Nation, with a threat that she was moving on to Kenya Television and Standard newspapers!

Mrs. Kibaki's story provides raw entertainment but it is sad. While she laid siege on The Nation premises, the editors tried to contact State House for help, but nobody came to their rescue. Work was disrupted. Production was delayed. Someone got slapped. Editors and reporters were ridiculed; and subjected to false imprisonment. Up till now, there has been no official statement from the Kenyan Government about Mrs. Kibaki's thuggish conduct? The matter has been debated in the Kenyan Parliament but President Mwai Kibaki has refused to say a word. Even The Nation newspaper is so intimidated that its reports of the incident were not ascribed to specific journalists but to an anonymous "NATION TEAM". The newspaper's editorial: "First Lady: Who's in charge?" The Nation, May 4) is also disturbingly mild. Is the whole of Kenya going to succumb to the terrorism of one women in the State House, just because she is the First Lady?

Mrs. Kibaki is an embarrassment to her husband, and the entire Kenyan nation. Incidentally, this is not the first time that she would misbehave in public. In 2004, she publicly abused Vice President Moody Awori who had made the mistake of referring to her in a speech as "Second Lady". She also quarrelled endlessly with her husband's former personal secretary, Matere Keriri until the poor woman lost her job. She is generally, a cantakerous woman who likes to remind every one that she is the First Lady of Kenya. Mrs. Kibaki needs counselling, if not a meeting with a psychiatric. She needs to be told that Kenyans voted for her husband as President, not her. When she speaks of "my government", she betrays her obsession with power bordering on delusion. Who exactly is in charge of Kenya? Is it Mr. Kibaki or Mrs. Kibaki? President Kibaki's silence does much damage to his own credibility. He must call his wife to order. He must restrain her from abusing the goodwill of the poor people of Kenya. She not only makes disparaging comments about poor people, she is an arrogant, class-conscious power-monger whose arrogance knows no limits. Mrs. Kibaki obviously has her own ideas about the role of a First Lady, the problem is that those ideas are wrong and stupid.

The confidence with which she stormed the offices of The Nation is informed by the crisis of press freedom in Kenya. Since the days of former President Arap Moi, the press in Kenya has been the target of all forms of repression. The courts are routinely used to suppress the media. Journalists are abducted, and beaten. And yet, ironically, Kenya has one of the most vibrant media in sub-Saharan Africa. By laying siege on a newspaper house in pure terrorist, gangster style, Mrs. Kibaki has managed to tell the world that the country she calls hers is not yet an open society, and that "her government" is opposed to fundamental human rights. It is even more damaging that she chose the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day to make her point.

It is a pity that the Kenyan parliament lacks the powers to impeach a First Lady. Mwai Kibaki came to power in December 2002 as the candidate of a multi-ethnic, formidable opposition group, the National Rainbow Coalition, which mobilised the Kenyan population to put an end to the monopolisation of power since independence by the Kenya African National Union (KANU). In two and a half years, Kibaki has not met his people's expectations. Having a problem wife whose ingratitude is colossal, worsens his poor record.

Mrs. Kibaki's victims should insist on their rights as well as the point that the President's wife cannot be above the laws of Kenya. The Nation newspapers should sue for damages. Clifford Derick should also go to court. Mrs. Kibaki does not enjoy any immunity under the Kenyan constitution. All other First Ladies in Nigeria who may be occasionally tempted to misbehave should always remember this story about how Mrs. Lucy Kibaki became the laughing stock of Kenya, Africa, and the world.