June 26th, 2012
1787, the French Revolution broke out. As the mob
roamed the streets of Paris menacingly, a rumour started
spreading about the Queen, Marie Antoinette.
According to it, the Queen was woken up from her siesta by
the commotion and she asked one of her servants what the
noise was all about. Upon hearing that the commoners were
revolting because the high cost of bread, she retorted that
the commoners should have made do with cakes!
Nobody could swear that he heard this strange callous
conversation but the rumour spread like wide fire. Her
husband, Louis XV1 was executed on 21 January 1793, partly
on the strength of the unconfirmed indiscretion of his wife.
The former queen was plunged into deep mourning. She refused
to eat or do any exercise and her health rapidly
deteriorated in the following months leading to tuberculosis
and uterine cancer.
Despite her condition, she was tried by the Revolutionary
Tribunal on 14 October. Unlike the king, who had been given
time to prepare a defence, the queen's trial was far more of
a sham. She was given less than one day to defend herself.
She was accused of orchestrating orgies in Versailles,
sending millions of livres of treasury money to Austria,
plotting to kill the Duke of Orléans, and incest with her
son, declaring her son to be the new king of France, and
orchestrating the massacre of the Swiss Guards in 1792.
The accusations were untrue but the outcome of the trial was
decided by the Committee of Public Safety after two days of
proceedings. On the same day, she was driven through Paris
in an open cart, wearing a simple white dress. At 12:15
p.m., she was beheaded!
Nearer home in Nigeria and not too long ago, a Nigerian
first lady was subjected to a similar but not so tragic
public ridicule on the basis of unconfirmed rumour. In the
wake of the hardship brought to Nigerians after the
introduction of Structural Adjustment Program by President
Babangida, a rumour emerged about his wife Mariam having
unlimited wealth with assets all over the world. Nobody
could confirm the veracity of this rumour. Tai Solarin, the
self proclaimed ‘social critic’ – whatever that means –
issued a pamphlet claiming that an edition of Ebony Magazine
which he claimed falsely was impounded by the Nigerian
government had published the story.
Arrested and confronted on National Television with the said
edition of the Magazine, the man went blank! But a lot of
damage had been done to the image of the lady, her family,
the government with a lot of properties destroyed by rioters
on the basis of palpable falsehood.
Last week, a Dana aircraft crashed in Lagos killing all
passengers and crew on board as well as some people on
ground. Soon controversy broke out over the alleged closure
of the nation’s airspace for a Presidential jet carrying the
wife of President Goodluck Jonathan, Patience, to land in
Lagos on Sunday.
The closure was said to have prevented the pilot of the
distressed Dana Air’s plane from making an emergency landing
at the airport. Reports circulated through Facebook and
BlackBerry Messenger claimed that although the Dana plane
had an engine failure, the distressed aircraft could have
made it to the airport if it was not delayed by the VIP
movement. Dame Patience Jonathan was therefore held
responsible for the tragedy.
In a statement by her Special Assistant, Mr. Ayo Osinlu, the
wife of the president described the report as an
orchestrated plan to politicise the Sunday crash. She said
it was “callous, inhuman and devilish” for anyone to have
thought of wrapping such national calamity in political garb
by insinuating that the plane crashed because the airspace
was closed for her movement in Lagos.
“It is surprising that some mischievous persons will see
this moment of national mourning as an opportunity to
blackmail and impugn the First Lady’s integrity.
“This is the time for all Nigerians to be sober and pray for
the repose of the souls of the victims and not a time to
subordinate the interests of our nation to narrow
So far nobody has contradicted the information given out by
the first lady’s office. Still, I wish to observe that the
statement, a mixture of truth and anger however missed the
point. More of this later.
A few months back on April 12 the visit of Dame Patience to
Lagos State paralysed social and commercial activities on
Lagos Island for over nine hours. Traffic congestion was
caused by overzealous security agents who cordoned off some
areas because the President’s wife was attending an event on
People working in offices located within the area, groaned
as they had to make a detour. Even the Lagos State governor
Babatunde Fashola expressed his displeasure at the First
‘Lagosians were terribly discomforted with the traffic jam,
needlessly, if I must say. There is the need for public
officers generally to be more sensitive to the people we
serve…It is particularly worrisome because this is not an
elected person. And I think we all, including the security
agencies, must know how they pander to our high officers,
especially VIP movement, at the risk and expense of citizens
and taxpayers whose money was used to fuel all the vehicles
that we used to block the roads against those who pay those
money’, Fashola stressed.
Not bothered, the first lady repeated the same show in
Makurdi the Benue State capital the following month. Most
streets were shut to traffic on 7th May following the visit
of the First Lady to the town. Commercial motorcyclists,
motorists and commuters had a hectic time reaching their
destinations, as there was traffic jam. Students of some
schools were unable to attend classes due to the visit.
When people are frustrated, hungry and angry, they embark on
mob judgment that may take leave of facts and reason. In
Julius Ceaser, we read about the story of Cinna who was
cornered by an angry mob and mistaken for one of the
conspirators who assassinated Ceaser. Having identified
himself correctly as Cinna the poet and not Cinna the
conspirator, somebody observed that he has been writing bad
poetry of late. The mob went ahead to kill him for his “bad
Mob actors are particularly cruel to first ladies who refuse
to stay in the home front and dominate public space. Try as
Ayo Osinlu did to disprove the fact that there was a closure
of the airport for her, he could not deny the fact that she
was in Lagos at the time.
If Patience visits Makurdi today and snow starts falling,
residents of the extremely hot town will immediately blame
her - given the antecedent of her May visit - for the
The image makers of our first lady have done a good job on
her of late by improving her spoken English. They can still
do better if they change her body language.