The recent appointment of a former beauty queen, Bianca Odumegwu-Ojukwu, as an aide of President Goodluck Jonathan, has attracted diverse opinions. But EMMANUEL OBE writes that it might be the fillip Bianca needs to launch herself into the nation’s political firmament
These might not be the best of times for Bianca Odumegwu-Ojukwu, a former beauty queen and reigning ‘queen’ of the former leader of the defunct secessionist Biafra, Chief Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, who is lying critically ill at a London hospital.
Controversy has returned to her path since January 26, 2011 when the Presidency announced her appointment as the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Diaspora Affairs. It is like a sweet, but bitter story.
Bianca is not entirely new to controversy, In 1989, she lost her Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria and Miss Intercontinental crowns in circumstances that were not only controversial, but mysterious.
It had appeared to be the first time that a beauty queen had been dethroned in the country, with her crowns then offered to her first runner-up, Regina Askia.
Just as that controversy was stoking, her romantic affair with Ojukwu (a man 34 years her senior), burst into the open. In spite of the heat and rolling over that the issue generated, Bianca maintained a dignified quietude, and never offered a word.
She had since then withdrawn from public glare, appearing occasionally at public functions with her husband, who is an inescapable public figure and a crowd puller.
Bianca’s recent appointment was not the only one announced on January 26, 2011 by Ima Niboro, the President’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity. Kingsley Kuku got the job of Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs; Dr. Zakari Ibrahim was appointed Coordinator of Anti-Terrorism; and Oyewole Leke was appointed as a Senior Special Assistant on Maritime.
While others received the news of their new jobs and went home to celebrate in peace, Bianca was thrown into the fiery furnace of Nigeria’s public commentary.
As expected, the reactions have been varied. Even the ranks of the separatist group, the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, have been divided on the issue.
While some people have asked Mrs. Ojukwu to reject the appointment for its “poor timing and hidden political motives,” others have hailed the appointment and have asked her to accept it as a welcome gesture.
But the madam, who took a break the penultimate week from taking care of her sick husband and returned to Nigeria to accept the offer and represent her husband at the national convention of the All Progressives Grand Alliance in Awka, has rather remained quiet on the raging controversy.
Rave reviews of Mrs. Ojukwu’s appointment have dominated the media space for some time now, with most of the commentaries coming from the South-East zone, where Ojukwu is from. A lot of political meat is being made out of the issue.
Mr. Alex Okeke, a politician from Abagana in Anambra State, said he considered the appointment as a masterstroke by President Jonathan, which would attract political reciprocity from the people of the South-East.
Mr. Anunoby Ogugua tried to bring out the simplicity in the entire controversy. “The appointment of Mrs. Ojukwu at a time the husband is hospitalised in a hospital in London is aimed at gaining political capital for Mr. Jonathan in the South-Eastern region, where Chief Odumegwu-Ojukwu is widely respected,” he said.
Miss Ijeoma Onuora, a journalist and youth leader based in Awka said Bianca’s appointment did not only belittle her, but the entire people of Anambra State. She said, “Why can’t the President appoint her as a minister, even a junior minister, considering that Anambra has lost a ministerial slot with the exit of the former Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili?”
But Awojobi Olakunle, a public commentator from the South-West, brought in another dimension to it. He said the appointment was coming at a wrong time, as Bianca was supposed to be at her husband’s bedside to attend to his needs. “A shameful appointment,” he lashed out, “when she’s expected to be at her husband’s bed side praying for his recovery.”
Officially, MASSOB has endorsed the appointment, even though some individual members have kicked against it, saying Bianca ought not to have accepted a job offered a Biafran by a Nigerian government.
MASSOB’s Director of Information, Mr. Uchenna Madu, said, “MASSOB welcomes the appointment of (our Lolo Bianca) Ojukwu into President Jonathan’s cabinet as a good development. We advise that she takes it.”
Madu said that in any case, MASSOB, like any other body, had no right to dictate to Mrs. Ojukwu on whether she should accept the offer or not.
Mr. Chizoba Okoyeugha, a lawyer to MASSOB, feels that Mrs. Ojukwu is eminently qualified for the job based on her education and exposure as an international beauty queen.
He said though he believed that Mr. President had a good intention when he appointed Mrs. Ojukwu to the post, the President would be making a mistake if he appointed her to represent the Igbo people because he did not consult the people before making the appointment.
He said if Jonathan offered the appointment to lobby the people, he was entitled to it, “because lobbying is an essential part of democracy.”
But the government of Anambra State and the leadership of APGA have refused to be joined in the ongoing controversy surrounding the appointment of Mrs. Ojukwu by Jonathan. They will not even want to talk about it.
One of the hottest critics of the appointment of Mrs. Ojukwu is Mr. Uche Ezechukwu, who, in his column in a national newspaper, listed the appointment as one of the goofs of Governor Peter Obi and the leadership of APGA, who negotiated it.
He upbraided Mrs. Ojukwu for accepting the appointment at a time her husband was ill and needed the attention from his wife.
The Senior Special Assistant to the Anambra State Governor on Media and Publicity, Mr. Valentine Obienyem, said, “My brother, we don’t want to interfere in the running of the Federal Government by the President. If madam’s appointment was by the state government, I would have been able to comment.”
Obienyem would not want to comment on whether the appointment was negotiated by the Anambra governor or the leadership of APGA.
The Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr. Mike Udah, said, “Neither APGA nor (Governor Peter) Obi begged the President to offer Ojukwu’s wife a job. Mr. President, of his own volition, chose to give her a job along with some other Nigerians. The FG should be thanked for this honour, which Mr. President bestowed on Ndigbo by this appointment.”
The governor himself has at a different forums hailed Bianca’s appointment as a positive gesture from the President, who he said had not only shown concern for the health of Ojukwu, but had been very good to the people of the South-East.
Though she has not spoken on her appointment and the controversy that has surrounded it, a recent newspaper interview she granted appeared to have well captured Mrs. Ojukwu’s mood.
She said, “Being Ikemba (Ojukwu’s) wife is a job on its own. These are issues that are being constantly discussed. Right now, my prerogative is my husband and my family. I’ve a very young family. I don’t want a situation that would have my attention divided.”
The unfolding drama surrounding the appointment of Mrs. Ojukwu and the way she handles it might just be paving the way for her to introduce herself into the political landscape of Nigeria.
With her pedigree, it will not be a surprise if she soon openly declares a firm interest in politics. Her father, the late Chief Christian C. Onoh, led the political front of the Wawa people of Enugu and Ebonyi states for several decades. He eventually became the governor of the old Anambra State. She must have learnt a lot in her father’s political court while she was growing up.
Her husband, ever since he became a man, has been hooked and tied to the political destiny of Nigeria, and has lost his right to a private life. And being with him so closely for the past 23 years, Bianca may have spent good time understudying him.
And what with the likely exit of Ojukwu from the scene and the attendant vacuum this could create, Bianca’s charm, charisma and pedigree could just place her in a good stead to accept to lead her people. Only then might we know the real Bianca.
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