On Wednesday, 9th April, 2008, the wife of President Umaru ‘Yar’Adua, Hajiya Turai ‘Yar’Adua invited to the Presidential Villa, Abuja, all former First Ladies for a Consultative meeting. Most of them attended except a few.
The venue of the meeting, The First Lady’s Conference Hall, was constructed and equipped with state-of-the-art public address gadgets at the behest of Her Excellency, Hajiya Maryam Sani Abacha. She was to launch her new conference hall on Monday 8th June, 1998, when, in the early hours of that same day, the husband, General Sani Abacha, died. (May Allah forgive him, overlook his mistakes and make Aljannah his abode).
Hajiya Maryam Abacha planned for, exerted her utmost in having a befitting conference hall within the Presidential Villa. The building was completed according to her instruction but Allah has destined that she will not hold any official engagement in The First Lady’s Conference Hall.
It is hoped that the venue has given both the guests and their host a lesson on how temporal life is. Have their Excellencies considered ‘the vicissitudes, days of varying fortunes which Allah causes to follow one another for mankind’? (Ali ‘Imraan, 3:140). Today you are at the helm; tomorrow is someone else’s turn. Today, you are the First Lady; tomorrow, you are former….; ‘as though they had not dwelt there’ at the Presidential Villa. (Al A’raaf, 7:92)
Can anyone see, anywhere around the Villa, the sons and daughters of the former First Families that were exultant because of their father’s position? They had their own offices, staff and private companies to execute government contracts. They were blind, arrogant, insolently above the law or so they thought. On account of being members of the First Families, they deemed themselves superior to everybody else and were entitled to ride roughshod over them. ‘Can you find a single one of them now or hear so much as a whisper of them?’ (Maryam, 19:98)
Where are the consorts of their Excellencies who were, in times gone by, the Commanders in Chief of The Federal Republic of Nigeria? Where is the siren; where are the CSOs that would beat, harass and imprison anybody without just cause; where are the BGs that molested people and barricaded the roads for Mr. President’s convoy? Where is the retinue; where is the Presidential Fleet?
How many were the gardens and springs they left behind, and cornfields and noble buildings, and wealth (and conveniences of life), wherein they had taken such delight! Thus (was their end)! And We make other people inherit (those things)! And neither heaven nor earth shed a tear over them: nor were they given a respite (again)’. (Ad Dukhaan, 44:25-29)
When they were ousted (by bullet, ballot; forced to step aside or denied a third term) neither heaven nor earth shed a tear over them; people rejoiced and were jubilant over the change.
The story of Qaarun (Korah in the English Bible) teaches us that affluence and power are fleeting, a temptation and a cause of fall. Qaarun was of the people of Moses; but he acted insolently towards them: the keys to his treasures (wealth) would have been a burden to a body of strong men…. He said: ‘This has been given to me because of a certain knowledge which I have.’… So he went forth among his people in the pride of his worldly glitter… Then Allah caused the earth to swallow him up and his house (mansion); ‘the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods: they, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation.’ And he had not the least little party to help him against Allah, nor could he defend himself… (Bible-Numbers, 16:1-35 and Qur’an-Al Qasas, 28:76-82).
Leadership is service to the ruled. Without the common, everyday people the leader has no authority. He is there because we are. I guess this is what informed the Servant-Leader and the Chief Servant choices of President Umaru ‘Yar’Adua and the Niger State Governor, Muazu Babangida respectively. The root is in a religious dictum: sayyidul qaumi kkadimuhum, the leader of a people is their servant.
The cohort of former First Ladies will do well to share with Hajiya Turai ‘Yar’Adua the lessons of life out of office; the bitterness of leaving the State House with all its splendour and security to live like anyone of us; the desertion, after leaving office, by people who used to be with them day and night; and the freedom they now enjoy without strict adherence to protocol.