A tear for Mama Peace. No, not a jeer. She owes us that much. Let our faces break up and tears course down in winding, tortured rivulets of sorrow. Or that’s what I feel. The former first lady does not see it that way, though. That is the power of the irony. She thinks herself in a sort of messianic light, not for society, but for Mama Peace. She feels wronged, she feels purloined, she feels betrayed. However, nothing will sway her or dilute her resolve.
How come her $31 million was taken away from her, and no one understands her right to fight back. Others will call her naïve, and say let others take the fall on her behalf. But she says, no, it’s her money and the Magu-led EFCC must return it to her nest.
Patience Jonathan is a naïve woman, and she flops about with a sort of dangerous innocence. She thinks it was right for her to open a dollar account, or dollar accounts and ply them with humongous sums of money. Never mind she was only a permanent secretary and a first lady in those years, and no one could make a fraction of $31 million without raising a highbrow. She was high brow, she must have thought as first lady. So she was entitled to money that could raise highbrows. That is innocence, Mama Peace style.
When she pleaded on the hustings in 2015 that she did not want to visit her husband in jail, she was as sincere as when she mocked Wole Soyinka’s regal beard. No one could be more sincere when she said, “there is God O! or when she insisted that she was husbandless in “my fellow widows.” Or when she asked a photographer “are you taking us alive?”
Mama Peace had never bothered about her illiteracy. She has not tried to restrain herself, or attempted a lesson in civility or public etiquette. She had no need for it. She was perfect in her native ‘beauty.’ Some may have seen her as a hippo or anthropoid, or the unrelieved maritime shrew. But she saw herself as okay. We might say Patience was brash, bolshie, bashing, but she was never bashful or dashing.
That is why we must feel sorry for her. She might have gone away with her money, if she was subtle, cunning and carted away the money in guises as others did, so that the EFCC would not discover or let them discover it at her boon companion’s peril. She would not.
Her innocence is rare to see in history or literature, a fellow who is naïve enough to give herself away, unless we look at characters like Okonkwo or Oedipus, who saw disaster and pranced towards it. Critic Killam called it “insistent fatality.” But those are majestic figures, otherwise not naïve. But merely fated by their higher gifts to ignore their special follies, or what dramatists call “fatal flaws.”
Was it not the same thing that propelled former Kano State Governor Barkin Zuwo to roar that he kept government money in government house? Was it not the same temperament that made Marie Antionette to wonder why the protestors on French streets would not take cake if they did not have bread? Or the shoe fetish of Imelda Marcos who made a potential museum and industry out her foot comfort.
She was the opposite of what anthropologists and philosophers call the holy or saintly fools. They dedicate themselves to causes higher than themselves and play dumb in execution, and austere in their sartorial devotions, in their spare words, in the economy of their smiles and disdain for material splendour, in their sacrifices for the joy of others, in their recoil from personal happiness. Simeon in the Bible has been cited as one, as some Roman Catholic Popes, this present one looking like a modern-day version, or Mother Theresa. We also have them in the Buddhist tradition like Buddha himself as fictionalized by Nobel laureate Herman Hesse in his novel Siddhartha. Russian and French writers from Dostoyevsky to Victor Hugo have fed on it. In one of them, Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Quasimodo – the hunchback – organises a festival of fools and he is called the Pope of fools. He exposes an age of sanctimony and moral desuetude.
But Mama Peace’s story only exposes herself. Her revelations tell us two things, among others. One, she unveiled how people in high places take away money in stealth, except that she is not prepared to hide because she believes it is her money.
Two, that her husband was not able to tame the wife. She is the shrew that got away. An English newspaper once wrote that President Jonathan lacked the ability to control his wife. Jonathan could not play the tamer in Shakespeare’s the Taming of the Shrew where Catherina is made from a wild woman into a model of obedience, a play that modern stage directors and feminist rage have turned into a rebuke of the author’s misogyny.
Humans like Patience Jonathan never have the skills of high office. She never acted, and never knew it was important to play roles when in such exalted positions. She was herself, and she was a happy woman. She spoke her mind, hurt people, humoured a nation, created traffic bedlam in Lagos and never saw a reason to apologise. She said she took the money to heal herself. May no one wish to spend such money in a hospital.
The other lesson is the “Baboon dey chop, monkey dey work” syndrome. Just like we saw in the confessions of Dasukigate, people had easy access to public funds without labour. That is the primitive splendour of capitalism. They wanted to turn lazy hours into wealth. We have many of them. They are finding it hard these days because Buhari’s era does not reward the grandiose indolence of the Jonathan era. They are like the characters in Ben Jonson’s classic The Alchemist, where the landlord leaves the home to his servant to avoid a plague. But before he returns the servant has made a huge fortune from trickery, including by lying he could turn metal into gold, and had a pretty wench to boot. The master returns and inherits everything without a sweat. The play, ironically, was written before capitalism. So were the words of Christ, “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.”
Mama Peace lived that world, and has not yet relieved herself.