By Comfort Obi
I don’t know if the Presidency and the leadership of the All Progressives Congress, APC, are nervous about First Lady, Aisha Buhari. And if they are wringing their palms in helplessness. But in their shoes I would, each time she dares out. Nothing captures the helplessness in the Presidency over Mrs Buhari’s unpredictability than this cartoon in The Punch newspaper of Thursday, December 6.
President Muhammadu Buhari, Aisha’s husband, was busy at his desk when the newscaster began to read the news. He looked up, and it was the First Lady’s comments at a summit in Abuja on Tuesday, December 4, that was being read. On hearing what his wife said, Mr President threw his hands up in the air, helplessly, and exclaimed: “Aah! Who released her from the other room?” This is my cartoon of the year.
Our First Lady is ravishingly beautiful, educated, sophisticated, and brilliant. And she is, also, bold, full of spunk and fire. An unusual First Lady, in all my adult life, I have never come across one like her before.
I first took note of Aisha’s blunt nature in 2014, or was it 2015? I forget now. But she had gone to Benin, Edo state, to campaign for her husband and the APC. And looking at the crowd, made up of, mostly, women in the eyes, she told them the evils of encouraging their daughters to travel to Italy for prostitution. A sensitive issue in Edo state, which no politician would be comfortable to talk about during campaigns, Aisha saw it differently. She was speaking the truth. A few days later, a group of Edo women, obviously sponsored, protested what they termed Mrs. Buhari’s insult. Advertised in various newspapers, she was given a deadline to apologise. No prize for guessing Mrs Buhari never did.
The second time was when former First Lady, Patience Jonathan, during one of her campaign outings, told Nigerians President Buhari would jail everybody if he won. Wasting no time, Aisha retorted: “Only the guilty should be afraid.” And, during the first victory party she hosted for APC women, she took a jab at the immediate past regime when she warned: “Don’t give anybody any money in order to see my husband and I. It may not be as fast as you would have wished, but keep trying. Eventually, you will get to see us.” Her comment was an indirect reference to unconfirmed reports that a number of people, during the past regimes, allegedly, made huge sums of money just by getting appointments for those who wished to see the First Family. And APC members cheered. Soon, those who cheered found out she had no borderline. It began gradually.
After waiting for the APC government to fulfill its campaign promise of giving stipends to the poorest of the poor, she warned of the dangers in reneging on it. That warning put the government on a high jump.
Since then, our First Lady has upped the ante. This, to the discomfort of the Presidency and the APC. Behind closed doors, the consensus among many APC members is: With Aisha, we don’t need an opposition party. But many Nigerians love her guts. They think she is the conscience of her husband’s government. She speaks truth to power. Read in-between the lines of what she says, and you will get the drift of what was, what is, and what will be.
It was Aisha who, during an interview she granted the BBC Hausa Service in October 2016, told Nigerians that her husband would go for a second term in office. Until, she blurted that out, everybody thought that Buhari, given his age, would do a Mandela. But angry that strangers, like vultures, had descended on her husband’s government, eating where they did not sow, she lashed out: “The President does not know 45 out of 50, for example, of the people he appointed and, I don’t know them either, despite being his wife of 27 years.
“Some people are sitting down in their own homes, folding their arms, only for them to be called to come and head an agency or a ministerial position.” Then, the bomb: “He is yet to tell me, but I have decided, as his wife, that if things continue like this up to 2019, I will not go out and campaign again or ask any woman to vote like I did before. I will never do it again.”
Not a few people felt it was an indictment of her husband’s regime. A Fulani woman, the impression had always been that a number of them, married to high profile men, were not meant, or allowed to speak out in public.
No wonder some Fulani women, crying more than the bereaved, protested Aisha’s outspokenness. They reminded her of her status as a Muslim, and a Fulani wife. Her husband, in Germany then, standing beside the most powerful woman in the world, Chancellor Angela Merkel, and, unprepared that a question on his wife’s comments would be thrown at him, committed a faux pax. Mr President: “I don’t know the political party my wife belongs to. But I know she belongs to the kitchen, the parlour and the other room.”
Several people thought that the public chiding by her husband would make her crawl back into her shell, a shell she had been in since her husband started vying for the top job – but for the 2015 election when she was allowed to crawl out. But no. I guess, having realised what good her presence on the campaign train did for him and the party, Buhari decided to let her be. Her presence shows his softer side. A combination of Aisha and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s wife, Dolapo, is one not many Nigerians could ignore. Both glow. But Aisha has since added activism to that glow.
In October 2017, she took on the management of the Aso Rock Clinic at a public function. With the Clinic’s Medical Director present, the First Lady called for a probe of its budget. She had gone to the Clinic for a simple procedure, and was shocked there were no equipments, and even no consumables. So, she publicly asked: “Where has all the money budgeted for this clinic gone to? We need explanations, we need answers.”
This First Lady has no no-go-areas. In the outcry that followed the APC primaries for the 2019 general elections, she lashed out at the party Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole. Aisha: “It is disheartening to note that some aspirants used their hard earned money to purchase nomination forms, got screened, cleared and campaigned vigorously, yet found their names omitted. These forms were bought at exorbitant prices.
“Many others contested and yet had their result delayed, fully knowing that automatic tickets have been given to other people.
“All Progressives Congress being a party which cardinal principle is change, and headed by a Comrade/activist whose main concern is for the common man, yet, such impunity could take place. Under its watch.”
For the first time, Oshiomhole, a garrulous combatant , who pulls no punches, was tongue-tied. But many think that the First Lady’s comments encouraged a number of APC aspirants, who felt cheated, to either go to court, or leave the party in anger. This other day when I chided one of them for jumping from one party to the other, and back again, he told me: “Even the First Lady condemned impunity in my former party, as presided over by Oshiomhole.”
In between, Aisha had helped in exposing her ADC for allegedly receiving money in her name. If anybody thought that the First Lady was crying wolf where there was none, the Commissioner, Anti-Fraud Unit, Alagbon, Lagos, Dan Okoro, recently arrested a couple of people, with documents, duping high profile Nigerians, in the name of the First Family. And so did the Department of State Services, DSS. Any other First Lady would, perhaps, have preferred a more quiet handling. But not Aisha. She has nothing to hide. Many find it refreshing.
Yet, not many APC members found her recent outing refreshing. To them, it is a bad market. And, they are nervously asking: What next? Addressing a conference hosted by an association of women, Project 4+4 (Meaning four more years for Buhari to make it eight years), Mrs. Buhari deviated from the script, and said the unbelievable. She called for a revolution, almost. And accused two people she described as powerful, of hindering the progress of her husband’s government. She accused them of pulling the government back, thus denying it of achieving more than it has already. She called them retrogressive. And she doubted if there were still men in Nigeria. Otherwise, she lamented, the situation won’t have been what it is. Mrs. Buhari: “If 15.4million people can bring in a government to be dominated by two people or three people, where are the men of Nigeria? Where are Nigerian men? What are you doing? Instead of them to come together and fight them, they keep visiting them one after the other, licking their shoes, I’m sorry to use these words.”
Noticing that some of those who accompanied her were uncomfortable with what she was saying she lashed out: “I have realised that Senator Babafemi Ojudu, Special Adviser, Political, to the President, and my aide, Dr. Hajo Sani, and wife of the Vice President, Mrs. Osinbajo, are not comfortable with my saying this, and want me to confine myself to the prepared speech, but we must say the truth.”
As she spoke, the women clapped and cheered. Some gave her a standing ovation. Watching the video, which has since gone viral, I wondered if the women understood the implications of what the First Lady was saying, which are: That her husband is not fully in charge of his government; that he left the governance of the country to two men whose names she didn’t disclose, but who definitely were not elected by the people; that the two men are so powerful, even the President defers to them in every situation.
When the First Lady asked: “Where are Nigerian men?”, the question was not directed at only the APC men, but a call on all Nigerian men to rise up and fight instead of keeping quiet, and swallowing every thrash thrown at them. She was telling them that their “mumu don do.” She meant that Nigeria is where it is today because those two men wouldn’t allow it move forward. Where are Nigerian men?, she repeated. That question sounds like an indirect way of calling for a revolution, almost.
For the records, the First Lady has my sympathy. I believe she spoke out of frustration. She is the closest person to her husband. Therefore, she knows her husband’s capabilities. She believes he would have done better without those retrogressive elements. The seemingly slow action is getting at her. The questions many are asking though are: Does her husband know of her frustrations? Did she discuss her frustrations with her husband before going public? If so, what was her husband’s reaction? Did he ignore her, or dismiss her pains as nothing serious?
My opinion is that the First Lady must have been bottled up. She had to let out some of it for her own sanity. She had to let Nigerians know of the two powerful men drawing her husband and Nigeria back. Good.
But unfortunately though, the buck, as they say, stops on her husband’s table. Nigerians don’t know those men, and didn’t vote for them. It is her husband the 15.4million people voted for. Nigerians have only one President – her husband – not three.
Having said all those let me say that I love this First Lady. I love her courage and boldness. I am attracted to bold and brilliant women. But, in her shoes will I go public? Not likely. Of course, I will fight those men. I will so do it that when they hear my name, they will run. I will make the State House too hot for them. Because, when the chips are down, my husband and I will be on the spot while the interlopers would relax comfortably in the arms of their wives.
It is okay to clap for Mrs. Buhari’s courage. But her comments amount to a de-marketing of her husband. If he is not solidly in charge, why vote for him, a number of people are asking. The main opposition party, the PDP, and their sympathisers have since latched on it. As I write this, an advert is running in national newspapers, placed by an association which goes by the name Society for Better Nigeria. Analysing Mrs. Buhari’s comments, the Association wrote: “The President’s own wife, Aisha Buhari, just revealed that two unelected men are controlling her husband’s government.” See? And they went on to ask: *”Do you want to vote for a man who can’t control his own government?
*”Do you want to vote for a man whose wife does not believe in him?”
But what does Mr. President think? We don’t know. He may be having a good laugh at the PDP. He knows his wife more than anybody else. He will not cage her. Or curtail her freedom of speech. Proof: On Monday, December 10, Mr. President inaugurated his lovely wife, Aisha, as a member of the Two-Tier Presidential Intervention Structure on Elimination of Drugs. Bad belles, eat your hearts out!