RUMBLE WITHIN THE FIRST FAMILY
In the northern part of Nigeria where polygamy is rife, women are supposed to be seen and not heard. Many of them are confined to the Purdah system which almost completely cuts them off from the outside world and restricts their contact to just their immediate families.
It was a surprise that Aisha Buhari played a prominent role in the campaign that brought President Muhammadu Buhari to power last year. She cut the 21st century picture of a Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti in the way and manner she mobilised the womenfolk to cast their vote for her better half.
The rather conservative nature of Buhari made him do something different from his predecessors in not allowing the office of the First Lady to continue. Since the dark days of IBB, the office had been used as a conduit for all manner of white elephant projects that had no direct impact on the lives of the people. His campaign was anchored on the change mantra and this was the first casualty of his administration.
Unlike Patience Jonathan, Aisha took the backseat and not much has been heard about her. Besides her much criticised beauty book launch and her spat with Ekiti State Governor Ayo Fayose, she has been more like a cipher in the current government.
It was a surprise when she granted an interview with the BBC Hausa Service lambasting her husband’s style of governance and openly wailing that a cabal had hijacked his government. She opined that he didn’t even know majority of his appointees and that many people who didn’t share the vision of the APC were wielding a lot of power and influence and that if this trend continued, she won’t repeat what she did in 2015 with her women’s votes canvassing.
When I first heard about the interview, I thought it was some social media joke or the case of a voice impostor. One recalls that former Northern First Ladies like Late Maryam Babangida, Maryam Abacha, Turai Yar’adua never publicly upbraided their husbands. This was a departure from that established trend. In fact this would be the first time in the country that a First Lady would openly criticise the administration of her spouse.
Buhari’s reaction that she belonged to the kitchen, his living room and other room could be taken from divergent contexts. Metaphorically, he could have meant that her position in his government was not constitutionally backed and so her interview had no weight. There was no need to take her seriously. Literarily, it was a gargantuan gaffe as he threw the jab in the presence of Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor who is also a woman. They didn’t meet in the kitchen and the statement portrayed him as a misogynist. Don’t forget that his administration has been accused of not being too women friendly with the ratio of appointments that have been made so far. An article in the Washington Post has been making him look worse than Donald Trump. In a world where a high premium is being placed on women’s rights with the rise of feminism, the excellence of women in hitherto male dominated fields and the current battle for complete equality of the sexes especially the current campaign for equal pay, Buhari’s ill-thought quip has made him shoot himself in the foot.
He must have been furious that his wife could ‘run her mouth’ as is said in Nigerian parlance in the media but he should have exercised more self-restraint and not make himself a laughing stock in the international community.
There must have been a lacuna in their communication which made her vent her frustration in the media. Personally, that wasn’t the best thing to do. Having being married to him for 27 years, there would have been a better way to draw his attention to the crisis plaguing the country. Some critics are contending that she may have resorted to the outburst since she has been sidelined but whatever her motives whether altruistic or self-serving, the way and manner she went about it was not the best. Every couple goes through their peculiar challenges and public opprobrium has never been the best way to tackle knotty issues. We recall that when Bill Clinton was on the slab in 1998 and was made mincemeat of by Kenneth Starr in the highly sensational trial which led to his impeachment by the House of Representatives for perjury before being mercifully saved by the Senate, Hillary stood like the Rock of Gibraltar behind him. There was a lot of pressure on her to institute divorce proceedings against him especially when the accusers kept swelling in number. Many feminists were urging her to do the needful by becoming the pioneer First Lady to divorce a sitting President but she kept her cool until the storm was over. Hillary never granted an interview to condemn Bill despite the fact that the different media houses would have been willing to break the bank to get such an exclusive from her. I don’t think she would have been a Presidential Candidate if she had succumbed to the cries of the feminists who may have left her in the lurch now. Which brand wants to be touch Monica Lewinsky with a ten foot pole? Men should be mindful of history.
It’s no news that Nigeria is currently going through crisis but we should be preoccupied with providing solutions rather than needlessly overheating the polity. Eleanor Roosevelt was a huge source of inspiration to Franklin Delano Roosevelt as she urged him not to quit politics when he was bogged down by polio at 39 which made him wear braces for the rest of his life. She played a behind the scenes role in ensuring that the New Deal programme he championed was a resounding success. They would obviously have had their rows but there was a never a public show of it and it’s extremely counter-productive to do so. It would only provide ephemeral pleasure for the adversaries and then you would be left to stew in your own juice.
While Buhari was battling a three year incarceration under the then IBB regime, his first wife, Safinatu allegedly collected huge sums of money from the self-styled Maradona. This led to their divorce in 1988 as the General couldn’t stomach the apparent betrayal. Will Aisha suffer the same fate as the General may equate this with a betrayal? The unfolding drama would be interesting to follow.