Vanguard (Lagos)

14 February 2013

Nigeria: Soyinka Leads Protest to Fashola Over N4 Billion First Lady House

Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka and civil society groups, Thursday, condemned the N4 billion earmarked for the construction of a Mission House for the First Lady, Patience Jonathan, in the 2013 budget of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, saying it is "a mind-boggling fiscal misappropriation."

It would be recalled that the fund for the mission house, which was expected to serve as centre to host other African First Ladies, was listed in the 2013 budget of FCT, Abuja.

Soyinka and civil society expressed their displeasure in a lettter read during a protest march organised by Women Arise for Change Initiative, which also had in attendance, Mr. Festus Keyamo; wife of late Beko Ransome-Kuti, Abosede; daughter of the late Afro beat king, Yeni Anikulapo and others.

The protesters, who were over 100 converged on the premises of the Lagos State Television, LTV, Agidingbi, Ikeja, and later marched to Lagos House, Alausa.

Traffic was partially paralysed around Alausa axis for about an hour due to the activities of the protesters.

The protesters displayed various placards which read: "N4 billion will create jobs, so we say no to mission house; N4 billion budget for Mission House, we say no to fiscal rascality."

The Nobel laureate whose statement to other African First Ladies was read by the President of the Initiative, Mrs. Joe-Okei Odumakin in the presence of Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, said: "There is no such thing as an African First Ladies Mission in the Nigerian appropriation list."

He, however, urged other African First Ladies to distance themselves from the idea, saying: "Your names have been invoked as the ultimate beneficiaries and thus, you are vicariously implicated. In the name of St. Valentine and the love I bear for you all, please dissociate yourselves from this display of shameless avarice. I shall not go so far as to ask you to denounce what you probably know nothing about, but if you ever get to hear of it, distance yourselves from the gross impropriety."

It's unconstitutional--Keyamo

Keyamo, on his part, said: "The allocation of such fund to an office that wasn't recognised by the 1999 constitution is unconstitutional, null and void. And this is significant that it is women that are protesting against this act.

"It is sad that Abuja has since become the capital of corruption. The stories that come out of the FCT daily aren't palatable at all."

Okei-Odumakin wants First Lady's office scrapped

Okei-Odumakin, in her speech, demanded that "President Goodluck Jonathan must direct the FCT Minister to withdraw this budget allocation and sack him for this assault on public morality.

"The unconstitutional office of the First Lady should be scrapped and spouses of elected officials to play no more than ceremonial roles in the country."

The President noted "N4 billion could help millions of school age children to receive better education, equip rural clinics with drugs and do society a host of other good."

Mrs. Abosede Ransome-Kuti on her part said "of what interest is the N4 billion allocated for the construction of a Mission House for African First Ladies to the man on the street. Of what interest is this to the vast majority of the citizens of the country who cannot eat three square meals daily?"

In his response, Fashola said: "This is what I think is the discharge of your own responsibilities of participation in the country's democratic journey. For nothing, I will deliver this letter today.

"Our democratic experience is comparatively very young. And this is about the 14th year. And going forward, I believe that it is your participation that enriches the process that helps to set the appropriate priorities.

"Nothing can be much more incisive as the demonstration of the occupational endeavours of survival that we see our women engage in as it was shown by Mrs. Beko Ransome Kuti, women selling matches to survive in the country, definitely that is a wake-up call for us all.

"The opportunity still exists because I am aware that the budget is yet to receive the assent of the President. And this provides an opportunity to look at it again. There is also an opportunity for us as we embark on constitution amendment about what role women who are spouses of the heads of government should really play. I think that this type of protest only enriches the debate and helps us as a people to decide what we want going forward in this nation."

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