from Africa in Transition

Nigerian President’s Wife Appointed Permanent Secretary of Bayelsa State

July 24, 2012

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On July 11, Bayelsa State Governor Henry Seriake Dickson appointed President Goodluck Jonathan’s wife Patience as permanent secretary of the state government. The appointment has provoked angry criticism. One commentator compares the governor with Caligula in the arbitrary use of his powers of appointment. Another criticism, noting the first lady’s powerful role in the Jonathan administration, raises questions about chains of authority in the Bayelsa state government; as a practical matter, Mrs. Jonathan is far more powerful than the state commissioner to whom she nominally reports. The writer also raises the question of whether she has been a “ghost worker” (receiving a salary without performing duties.)

In response to the outcry, the media and public affairs special assistant to the governor has issued a defense of the appointment. The statement reviews Mrs. Jonathan’s career in Rivers and Bayelsa states. It also argues that the governor of Bayelsa is “convinced” that the wives of governors, vice presidents and the president whose positions are not funded should be encouraged to pursue their own careers. It goes on to say that Mrs. Jonathan’s “services to the development of Bayelsa State and Nigeria as wife of a deputy governor, governor, vice president and now president qualifies as essential service which should be recognized and rewarded, not derided and denigrated on the altar of politics.”

Though legal, the appointment appears politically unwise. Kidnapping and oil bunkering in the Delta (of which Bayelsa is a part) is on the upswing, according to anecdotal evidence. And Jonathan himself is being threatened with impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives. Now is not the time for a controversial appointment of the first lady to a state position by a governor who is a political ally of the president.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

Nigeria

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