Patience Jonathan, Nigeria’s First Lady, is a champion for the rights and growth of women. The coupling of her position and passion is a much – needed weapon in a world and society known as “a man’s world.” She has consistently played roles in women’s empowerment starting when her husband, now Nigerian’s President Goodluck Jonanthan, was Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State. Women face some of the greatest challenges in the world; we are usually given the worst end of the stick in many dire situations like poverty and war. In many cases, the ability of women to enjoy the basic freedoms of life is choked up by deep-rooted societal norms, cultures and practices. In Nigeria, the most populous Black nation in the world, the experiences of women are no different, and the always fashionably dressed Patience Jonathan has effectively established herself as a women’s advocate. Her outspoken personality and the strength of her convictions strive to ensure that all issues and concerns of women and the girl-child in Nigeria are given priority.
Patience Jonathan’s desire that all people enjoy equal opportunities led her to birth the Women for Change and Development Initiative (W4CI) in Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria, on October 15th 2010. W4CI takes active interest in promoting women’s empowerment and gender equality. Patience Jonathan brings her enthusiasm about the work she does to the public and to her speeches which in the past years have been the running joke among Nigerians and the world at large. Google ‘Patience Jonathan’ and you will be inundated with website after website poking fun at her many speeches laced with grammatical errors. One of the more popular jokes being a speech she gave at an event for widows. She started with the phrase, “My fellow widows,” to the anger and amusement of the Nigerian people who were aware of the living and breathing President Goodluck Jonathan. This phrase has generated several discussions about her role, education and capabilities as a leader. Her grammar tense, wrong word choices and word misapplication are the bane of her reign as first lady, and many have suggested that the First Lady must stop speaking in public. Nonetheless, her supporters say a woman who speaks better English than a good percentage of Nigerians should not be restrained from speaking in public especially if she is channeling her energy into improving the overall lives of the people
Patience Jonathan was born in Port Harcourt, and obtained her post secondary education at the University of Port Harcourt. It is an education that many find impossible to believe when she speaks, while others lament the state of Nigeria’s education system. Patience Jonathan passed the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) in 1980, and nine years later, she obtained the National Certificate of Education (NCE) in Mathematics/Biology from the River State College of Arts and Science in Port Harcourt. Her quest for knowledge and growth later landed her at the University of Port Harcourt where she studied Biology and Psychology. Her path took her from a career in teaching to banking then back to teaching. In 1999, she left her position at the Bayelsa State Ministry of Education when her husband, now Nigerian’s President Goodluck Jonathan, became the Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State. They have two children together.
While Nigerians rightfully debate the oral communication skills of their first lady, Patience Jonathan has been recognized locally and nationally in the country and internationally for her philanthropic work. She received the “Beyond The Tears” International Humanitarian Award in 2008, for her role in the global fight against HIV/AIDS, the African Goodwill Ambassador Award also in 2008 and she was the recipient of the “Wind of Change” Award from the South/South Women’s Organization. Between 2005 and 2007 when President Goodluck Jonathan served as Governor, Patience Jonathan served the state in the capacity of the first Lady of Bayelsa State. During this period, Mrs. Jonathan founded many philanthropic and women empowerment programs, among them are the A-Aruere Reachout Foundation (AARF), which she set up to improve the status and earning capacity of women and youths.
Thankfully, improving one’s written and spoken English is a problem that can be fixed. It is rather important to note that while Patience Jonathan’s spoken English does need work, she is primarily understood and communicates effectively with rural and inner township Nigerian women. Her supporters are quick to point out that what the Nigerian elites find troubling about her is what endears her to “real” Nigerian women. Her critics are often quick to fire back with questions. Where exactly is she making an impact and to which group of women is she making a difference with the bad standard of living in the country and the affluent lifestyle she enjoys? Her not-so-good or bad English grammar seem to have overtaken the shine and attention from her work. And while it is hilarious and even unfortunate, (and the source of dinner-table conversations); it certainly seems the least of harms because it does not pose a threat to national security.