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Dickson, Patience Jonathan and a controversial appointment
Oluwole Ige, in this report, examines the recent appointment of the First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, as permanent secretary by Bayelsa State government and the furore generated by the development
TO Governor Henry Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State, the journey to the Creek Haven Government House was not only tortuous, but also full of political hurdles. He had to surmount these hurdles before clinching the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ticket to contest the 11 February, 2012 gubernatorial election, which he eventually won.
It is not out of place to conclude that Dickson rode on the political platform of the “Green Movement”, which had served as a pedestal for President Goodluck Jonathan before he became the governor of Bayelsa in 2005, while he also received tactical support and backing from the First Lady during his frenetic struggle to assume mantle of power in the state. Dame Patient Jonathan, the wife of the president, has been a formidable factor in the politics of Bayelsa and her influence and far-reaching network among the major power groups and stakeholders in the state dates back to the days when Jonathan was the governor of the state. Apart from her dexterity in politics, she is reputed to be a grass-roots mobiliser and commands great respect among the women.
But the decision of Governor Dickson to appoint her as a permanent secretary in the Bayelsa State civil service had flaks from the critics, who decried the propriety of such an appointment, which they contended was uncalled for and capable of ridiculing the image of the country among the comity of nations.
While some pundits argued that the governor was only trying to demonstrate loyalty and political patronage to the First Lady, other submit that appointing her as a permanent secretary negates the ethics of public service and smacks of moral debasement.
Many public affairs analysts, social commentators, most especially the civil society groups, flayed Dickson for his large retinue of aides, which they described as a needless development to misapply the funds accruable to President Jonathan’s home state, which consists of only eight local government councils, thus making it the smallest state in the federation. The import of their arguments was that such bogus salaries and allowances being earned by the governor’s aides and political appointees should have been channeled to vigorously addressing infrastructural decay and total breakdown of public utilities bequeathed to him by the administration of Timipre Sylva.
Nonetheless, his latest appointment of Mrs Jonathan as a permanent secretary, 13 years after she left public service, is fast generating ripples, as stakeholders, including civil society groups within and outside Bayelsa State, have turned the heat on his administration, raising questions on the timing and motive or rationale behind the issue.
Expressing his position on the appointment in a telephone interview with the Nigerian Tribune, the chairman of Nembe Oil and Gas Committee, Chief Nengi James, described the appointment of Dame Jonathan as morally wrong, positing that “it amounted to national embarrassment not only for Bayelsa State, but also for the nation as a whole.”
He submitted that “The appointment should have been a silent one if she is competent to have it because many Bayelsans do not really know what really warranted the appointment. Even if she is qualified, the state government should have been very silent about it. On the other hand, morally and emotionally, she is a very big helping hand to Mr President now that the country’s situation cannot be predicted.”
“The situation at hand is quite uncalled for and could undermine the constitution of Nigeria. We need information about the performance of the First Lady when she was still in the civil service of Bayelsa State. Did she pass the promotional test such that by now she should have been in position of a PS had she not left public service?”, Chief James remarked.
Continuing, he explained, “By the virtue of President Jonathan’s wife, she has earned an honorary doctorate degree and received local and international awards for championing the cause of women and children and her philanthropic activities through her NGO had been commended. How can she make a permanent secretary, drawing salary without working for it?”
Baring his mind on the issue, the secretary of the Civil Liberty Organisation [CLO] in Bayelsa State, Comrade Morris Alaoga, said “With due respect to the Office of the governor, the news of the appointment of Nigeria’s First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, was received with disbelief and rude shock. It would have been better if it just ended as a mere rumour than a reality.”
According to him, “Ordinarily, there would not have been anything wrong with Mr President’s wife being appointed a permanent secretary in any state of her origin or by marriage; as is the Bayelsa scenario. While those who are claiming that she has been a civil servant in the state may be right, most Bayelsans are just hearing this side of her being a civil servant for the very first time, following her appointment.”
“The questions begging for answers from concerned Nigerians are: Was she on secondment or leave of absence all these years?Has her name been featuring on the payroll of Bayelsa State government? Concerned citizens are yearning to know the answers to these riddles.
“The appointment is unacceptable and a slap on Bayelsans and Nigeria as a whole. Unless the appointment is reversed, it could mean the beginning of many other false steps of Dickson’s to come. Our commonwealth should not be used to further widen the lacuna between the haves and have nots; they should allow for even spread to benefit the unemployed, those below the poverty line, children and the physically challenged”, Comrade Alaoga submitted.
But rising in stout defence of Governor Dickson action, his Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on Media and Public Affairs, Mr Daniel Iworiso-Markson, deplored the criticisms the appointment of the president’s wife as permanent secretary had generated, pointing out that the development could be attributable to lack of certain details about the service records of Dame Patience Jonathan before Dr Goodluck Jonathan assumed office.
In a statement made available to the Nigerian Tribune, he said, “We note with concern the reactions and commentaries that have greeted the recent announcement of the name of the wife of the president of Nigeria, Her Excellency, Dame Patience Jonathan, among 19 public servants who were appointed permanent secretaries in Bayelsa State.”
“Whereas the action taken by our government in this regard was strictly done based on our conviction as it relates to matters that we consider to be in the best interest of our state, we do, however, recognize the fundamental right of Nigerians to know and ask questions about the wife of their president. We want to believe that Nigerians’ reactions to the promotion were in good faith,” Iworiso-Markson argued.
According to him, “Mrs Jonathan had been in the employ of the old Rivers State Civil Service since the 90s and she was redeployed to Bayelsa State Civil Service when her husband was elected deputy governor in 1999. She rose to the cadre of a Level 15 officer and the tradition in the workforce permitted officers below that level to be promoted permanent secretary, considering other factors”.Share