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.
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
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.