Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My First Lady

For the better part of a year, I and most educated Nigerians have been entertained by the verbal antics of our current First Lady. In a country where mediocrity is the new standard, we Nigerians can boast of First Lady whose vocabulary and command of the English language will cause anyone who passed through a semblance of a proper education to blanch.

As the country prepares for elections in April and we are bombarded both domestically and internationally (through the internet) with campaign slogans and political marketing tactics, I have been toying with the idea of making a viral video to parody some of her more famous grammatical faux pas in the form of a press conference where the First Lady answers questions from journalists--especially as her husband (presidential candidate) refused to participate in a more intellectual presidential debate, instead opting to a Q&A session with a hip hop star whose last taste of poverty was at least five years ago and thus cannot relate to any of the issues affecting Nigeria's youth.

So, I wrote a funny script for a four minute video.

Immediately I broached the subject about the production, I was advised not to go ahead with the project. I was immediately reminded of all those more credible journalists who had made direct criticisms of anyone in government and were picked up at the airport upon their return to Nigeria.
One colleague said bluntly, "You will be locked up in Kirikiri (a prison in Lagos)".
I was told I could do it but to use a cast of foreigners ( so as not to jeopardise other Nigerians involved) and upload it anonymously so it would not be traced to me.
This for calling attention to what we can all see, that the woman who stands as a representative for all women and women's issues in the country comes across as poorly educated and ill prepared to occupy her position; and this is a woman who used to teach at either the primary or secondary school level.

So I backed down because frankly, I am in no position to deal with any form of torture or imprisonment for speaking my mind. And also, I don't believe in hiding; if I have something to say, I will and deal with the consequences and if I can't, I keep my mouth shut.

It did not escape me that if I had chosen to make a similar video about Michelle Obama, in whose country I reside but do not hold citizenship, nothing will happen to me. As long as the video is not malicious and violent in intent, I would be left alone to express my humorous view on something she said and did. Basically, I am enjoying more rights in another person's country than in my own.

But I am fascinated by this woman who is married to the current president who is also seeking to remain in office. She represents some aspects of our society that are intriguing.

  • In a patriachal society like ours, she is a clear example of what happens when men marry down so as not to be challenged by their wives, and as they upgrade themselves over time, they do not demand the same of their spouses for the same reason. I have listened to the president speak and while I have never been floored by what he has to say, I am not afraid of him embarassing my country if he were to be present at an international forum with other Heads of State from around the world. I am sure when he first started out, he was not the way he is today but he has successfully improved himself; why he did not demand the same of his wife is beyond me. Now, she finds herself in this position and continously delivers one verbal faux pas after the other.
  • She represents an aging culture of Nigerian women who are simply content to just grow up to be married. I don't know of any personal credentials of hers but that is okay because she comes from a generation where that was the highest aspiration of their time. My generation is different and it is because her generation pushed mine to accomplish things of our own so that our identities would not be tied solely to our husbands. However, we are constantly represented by women from her time because the men they married, who lead us are in their fifties and older; relics of a failed system. A system that does my generation constant disservice and with her as an example, my gender as well.
  • Our educational system is horrible. Youth complain of a lack of employment. Employers complain that the bulk of available positions cannot be filled by an average Nigerian graduate. They are ill prepared for the work (thinking, writing and reading skills) and have somehow managed to pass through the educational system. When you hear our first lady speak and realise that she must have taught some of these graduates at some point, you realise why they are indeed ill prepared. And when you come across samples of cover letters written by graduates seeking jobs, you realise just how bad the situation is.
  • For a collection of cultures built on oral tradition, we do not have the gift of oration. Living abroad has given me a respect and liking for speeches. I have heard five minute speeches that kill on their subjects and bring the entire house to a thundering standing ovation. In Nigeria, when public figures give their speeches, you can use the opportunity to make business deals because nothing they are saying is engaging or delivered with charisma. This is probably because we have little or no training on public speaking and almost none of the public officers employ the services of trained speech writers. If the First Lady were to employ both 1) public speaking coaching and 2)a gifted speech writer, she could single handedly rally the entire nation behind her husband if she wanted to.

If her husband wins, we have more of her to enjoy for the next four years. If he doesn't, I am not convinced that his replacement would bring for us a First Lady that my generation of young women can look up to. Afterall, her predecessor had so many wise, wise words for us all in her time.

Till then, rainy season is upon us in Nigeria. Get your UNBLERA