FactCheck: Has Any Yoruba Been Nigeria’s First Lady Since 1999?

Oluwaseye Ogunsanya 

Claim

Titi Abubakar, the wife of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar claimed that no Yoruba woman has been the first lady since 1999.

Verdict

True, no Yoruba woman has been Nigeria’s first lady since 1999. 

Full text 

Titi Abubakar, the wife of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar claimed that no Yoruba woman has been the first lady since 1999 and she wants to be the first. 

Titi who made this known in an interview with BBC Yoruba on Tuesday asked Yoruba people to support Atiku’s candidacy adding that she will not stop her humanitarian work if her husband is elected president on February 25.

“Since the inception of the civilian government in 1999, no Yoruba person has become the first lady of the country. I want to be the first Yoruba woman,” She said in Yoruba.

“I want Yoruba people to support the candidacy of Atiku. Atiku’s victory will make me the first lady of the country.”

According to Femi Falana, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and human rights activist in an interview, the post of the First Lady is not a creation of the constitution.

“In other words, there is no mention or reference to the post in the constitution or any other statute in the land. So, the question of assigning responsibilities to the office does not arise. In the first and second republics, there was no office of the First Lady.

“Even under successive military regimes up to the Muhammadu Buhari/Tunde Idiagbon era, the post was unknown. It was under the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida junta that the wife of the military president created the post, albeit illegally. There was no decree to back it up.” he said.

Notwithstanding the above notion, the office of the First Lady has become an important part of Nigerian government and politics which cannot be wished away.

Most often the first lady is seen as the brain box and engine room that drives their spouse, this has subjected the office to much controversy in recent times. 

They also serve as a support system to their husbands by contributing their quota to nation building and development through their pet projects which focuses on various empowerment schemes and outreaches to women, youths and children.

According to reports, the office was popularised and glamorised by Ibrahim Babangida’s late wife, Maryan Babangida when she founded her pet project known as the “Better Life Programme” as Nigeria’s first lady between August 27, 1985 until August 26, 1993.

Her pet project was launched on September 14, 1987 to raise the social consciousness of women about their rights, as well as their social, political and economic responsibilities; bring and mobilise women together, as well as stimulate, educate, enlighten, improve, enrich and encourage them.

Verification 

Checks by FactCheckElections reveal that since the return of democratic rule in 1999, Nigeria has had four first ladies and indeed none of them comes from the south west region of Nigeria. Below are their short profiles.

Stella Obasanjo

Stella Abebe was Nigeria’s first lady from May 29, 1999 till October 23, 2005 when she died during a failed cosmetic procedure in a Spanish hospital in Spain. She was born in Esan West Local Government, Edo state. 

She married Obasanjo in 1978 when he was a senior army officer who later became the military head of state the following year. 

Stella, who is known for her interest in expensive clothes and jewellery, had a pet project called “Child Care Trust”, a charity for children and young mothers, which was supported by some international agencies. 

She also campaigned vigorously against women trafficking and was also at the forefront of the campaign to release her husband from jail to the extent of taking the campaign to the United Nations, New York. Obasanjo had been charged with treason by the late General Sanni Abacha in 1995. Stella would later become the chief campaigner in Obasanjo’s election bid.

Four years after Stella’s demise, the elder statesman got married to Bola. 

Obasanjo’s ex-wives are Mojisola Adekunle, Lynda, and Esther Oluremi who was the first lady of the ex-president when he was the head of state from February 13, 1976 to October 1, 1979.

Turai Yar’Adua

She was born in July 1957 in the Katsina area metropolitan of northern Nigeria. 

She was at the forefront of the struggle against gender-based violence, cancer and drug abuse, among other social vices as well as being loved for having a soft spot for special children through her pet project called Women and Youth Empowerment Foundation (WAYEF).

Turai who was Nigeria’s first lady between May 29, 2007 and February 9, 2010 got married to Umaru Yar’Adua in 1975, and they have five daughters and two sons. 

Turai has been described as one who wielded enormous influence in governance and she was her husband’s closest ally and adviser first in Katsina, when he was the State Governor; and later, when he became the nation’s President.

Reports have it that she was a woman who was in-charge of all the political manipulations and intrigues that went on behind the scene at the Villa. During the period of Umaru Yar’Adua’s ill health, Turai took effective control and quietly run the country before the National Assembly finally invoked the “Doctrine of Necessity”, which made Jonathan the Acting President.

Patience Jonathan

Patience Jonathan held sway from February 2010 to May 2015 when her husband, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, lost his reelection bid. She was born on 25th October 1957 in Port Harcourt, Rivers state capital. 

She got married to former president Goodluck Jonathan in 1993 after meeting him the second time when she was still an undergraduate at the University of Port Harcourt while Jonathan was there to pursue his PhD. Both had first met at the Rivers State College of Education where Patience was a student and Goodluck Jonathan was her Biology lecturer.  

As a first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan sought to make life better for women and to restore the dignity of womanhood through her pet project, Women for Change Initiative. The initiative relentlessly empowered Nigerian women through numerous enlightenment and sensitisation programmes. She was also at the forefront of her husband’s re-election campaign trying to garner the support of the womenfolk. It is to her credit that women got many juicy appointments in the administration.

On the flip side, she was known for her “meddlesomeness and overbearing attitude” which was believed to be largely responsible for her husband’s loss at the 2015 polls. Rotimi Ameachi, the former Governor of Rivers State and former Minister of Transportation, once described her as a “de-facto President” because of the political power she wielded at the time. 

After she left the office, she was prosecuted by the Economic and Financial crimes Commission (EFCC) on issues bordering largely on money laundering. According to a report on Sahara Reporters she is “arguably the most prosecuted of all wives of former presidents of the country”.

Aisha Buhari

During President Buhari’s first term, the presidency referred to Aisha Buhari’s office as ‘office of the wife of the president’ but there was a change of nomenclature to ‘the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in Buhari’s second term.

Her pet project “Future Assured” is an initiative of the Aisha Buhari foundation, a Non-Governmental Organisation set up with the aim of advocating for the wellbeing of women, children and adolescents in Nigeria.

She hails from Adamawa State, North-East Nigeria and bagged a degree in Public Administration from Ambrose Ali University (AAU), Ekpoma and a Master’s Degree in International Affairs and Strategic Studies (MIASS) from the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Kaduna.

She subsequently trained as a beauty therapist at the Carlton Institute, London and the Academy Esthetique Beauty Institute of France. 

She was recently criticised for ordering the arrest of a 500-level student of the Federal University Dutse, Jigawa, Aminu Muhammad, over a post on Twitter mocking her. 

First Ladies Before 1999

Before the return of Democracy in 1999, Nigeria had other first ladies who are Yoruba. They are Mrs. Ajoke Mohammed, wife of General Murtala Mohammed, Nigeria’s fourth First Lady between July 29, 19765 to February 13, 1976, Mrs. Esther Oluremi Obasanjo, the first wife of General Olusegun Obasanjo and Nigeria’s fifth First Lady between February 13, 1976 to October 1, 1979 as well as Mrs. Margaret Shonekan, wife of Chief Ernest Shonekan and eighth First Lady of Nigeria beween August 26, 1993 and November 17 1993. 

Other first ladies who are not from the South West Region are Mrs. Flora Azikiwe, the wife of the first President of Nigeria, Nnamdi Azikiwe and the First Lady of Nigeria from October 1, 1963 to January 16, 1966.

Victoria Aguiyi-Ironsi, wife of General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, and the second First Lady of Nigeria from January 16, 1966 to July 29, 1966.

Victoria Gowon, wife of Yakubu Gowon, and the third First Lady of Nigeria from August 1, 1966 to July 29, 1975.

Safiatu Buhari, the first wife of General Mohammadu Buhari, and Nigeria’s sixth First Lady from December 31, 1983 to August 27, 1985.

Mrs. Maryam Babangida, wife of General Ibrahim Babangida, and the seventh First Lady of Nigeria from August 27, 1985 until August 26, 1993.

Mrs. Maryam Abacha, wife of General Sani Abacha, and the ninth First Lady of Nigeria from November 17, 1993 until July 8, 1998.

Justice Fati Lami Abubakar, wife of Abdulsalami Abubakar, and the tenth First Lady of Nigeria from June 8, 1998 to May 29, 1999. 

Conclusion

FactCheckElections can conclude that Titi Abubakar is right. No Yoruba woman has been the first lady since 1999.

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