By Comfort Obi
I will start with a story. A cousin of mine, too nervous to be on the wheels of her car, has a rather funny and weird driver. He is good looking. Deceptively shy. Full of surprises. Sometimes, erratic, at other times, as cool as cucumber, and when he feels like, he plays deaf. But he is serviceable when he wishes to. He feels free with his boss. So ever so often, he crosses the red line. Once, he whatsapped his photograph, dressed to the hilt to his boss. On a couple of times, he had looked his boss in the face and told her: “I have a job interview.” And then, he would come back to say: “I was not hired.” One day, he told his boss he got a job where he would earn double what he is being paid. But he wouldn’t leave: Why: It is a difficult job. I don’t want to drive (inter-state) in the night.
Initially, I got irritated each time my cousin, a widow, relayed her experience to me. Why won’t you fire this driver who tells you he would rather be somewhere else, I would ask her? But she has a ready excuse: My late husband hired him for me. And I don’t want to hurt his feelings by firing him.” Indeed, three times, she told me she had, finally, fired him. But I made no comment because, give them 24 hours, he would be back to his job after pleading and, begging for pardon with his sister in tow!
This driver reminds me of President Muhammadu Buhari and his Minister for Women Affairs, Aisha Alhassan. Remember her, don’t you? Whatever, permit me to briefly shake your memory.
In 2015, Alhassan, a former Senator, was going to make history if she had become the first elected governor of a state, Taraba. She contested under the All Progressive Congress, APC. And I rooted for her without knowing her, in fact, without having met her one on one- even till date. Along with some women friends of mine, led by a colleague who knew her very well, we kept vigil, we prayed, we read line by line, word for word, any story about her, as it concerned that election. When the election was inconclusive in one Local Government Area, and was re-scheduled, our “women power” was on display. We took it for granted that she would win. So, we started getting ready for a big celebration. We started planning to storm Jalingo on the eve of her swearing-in-ceremony – which we had taken for granted, without looking at the number of votes and Local Government Areas she garnered. We were just carried away. To cut the long story short, she lost to the calm, cool and, collected now, incumbent governor, Dairus Ishaku.
By the time she went to the Election Tribunal, and having seen the difference in scores and LGAs won between her and the governor, I lost interest.
But I noted her as a woman of courage, with a lot of confidence in her capabilities. My admiration of her never waned. I was happy when she was appointed a Minister. And I have kept watching her since.
But for three years, almost, I have kept asking: where is our Minister for Women Affairs? Is she still on the scene? A few months ago, I became excited about her again. She was in the news for something not more than three politicians that I know would have the courage to do. The only other two I know are former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, now back as a PDP chieftain after his romance with first, the ACN then, APC, and the other is late Professor Dora Akunyili.
Atiku, while still Obasanjo’s Vice President disagreed with him publicly on a number of issues, and was the arrow head in the scuttling of Obasanjo’s Third Term bid. As for Akunyili, she moved for the stepping down of her then gravely ill Principal, late President Umaru Yar’Adua and, the appointment of then Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan as Ag President.
After Akunyili, I never thought we could have another woman who would look her boss and colleagues in the eye and, excuse this cliché, call a spade a spade. But here glided Alhassan, warming my heart, and making me leap for joy.
In an interview she granted which went viral, she ditched her boss, President Buhari. She said she would never back him for a second term in office. She said as soon as Atiku Abubakar, who she referred to as her Leader, showed any interest in the Presidential seat, she would back him. She said Buhari never told her he would seek a second term in office. And that she wouldn’t mind being sacked as a Minister by the President. For her, Atiku is her political leader, not Buhari, the man who wiped her tears when she lost the governorship election by appointing her a Minister.
As I read the interview then, my heartbeat fastened and, my eyes glittered. Yes, I admired her courage, but in her shoes, I wouldn’t do it. I would have honourably resigned before granting such an interview. But not Alhassan. She is made of a sterner stuff than some of us. Till date, she has not denied the interview. On the contrary, she actually attended the Federal Executive Council Meeting the very next week, as if daring the President and her colleagues, as if saying: See me here, do what you want to do, I don’t care. That day, I held my breath.
But that was when my respect for Buhari soared. It does seem that he is a man of unbelievable patience and tolerance – when it comes to women. I expected him to fire Alhassan. But no. Till date, I never read anywhere he referred to Alhassan’s interview. In his shoes, Alhassan would never have stayed a day longer as a Minister. She would have followed Atiku, her political leader that day. Unconfirmed sources say she went (with some people) to apologise to the President. But, that to me, is, excuse this cliché again, medicine after death. You cannot deny me publicly, and come through the back door to apologise to me. That apology should be rendered publicly.
Yet, it does seem that Buhari has a soft spot for the women around him. When people wanted to make a mountain out of a molehill over his wife’s criticism of his regime, and thus put a wedge between him and his outspoken lovely wife, he ignored them. After he mis-spoke in Germany about his wife belonging to the kitchen and the other room, he never referred to it again, nor did it tame her. He, of course, knows his wife more than anybody else and would have laughed at the bunch of so-called Fulani Women who addressed the press on how and when a Fulani wife should talk or not talk.
I guess it is also his soft spot for women that has kept the beautiful and brilliant Kemi Adeosun, Minster for Finance, in office, after the serious case of alleged forgery of her NYSC exemption certificate – an issue that has cast a slur on his administration.
But back to Alhassan, I have come to the conclusion that Buhari did not fire her because, fired or not, there is really no difference. As a Minister, she has made no impact. She has been as dull as dodo. Her inactivity almost borders on incompetence. I have not seen any quotable quote from her, or any action that would make us remember that: hey, we have a Minister for Women Affairs.
In the face of the fate of the Chibok and Dapchi girls, Alhassan rarely says a word. In the face of domestic violence against women, Alhassan says nothing. In the face of wife and husband battering, Alhassan says nothing. In the face of maternal deaths and infant mortality, Alhassan says nothing. In the face of the threat to girl-child education, Alhassan says nothing. In the face of the heart -wrenching rape of women and children, even babies, by deranged men, Alhassan says nothing and, does nothing.
Surprised? Yes. But more surprising to me is that Alhassan is still in the APC, still with her Principal and, still has not joined his political leader, Atiku Abubakar, to his new party, the PDP, and leading Atiku’s Women Supporters Group.
The day Atiku re-decamped to the PDP, I expected Alhassan to follow. The day Atiku declared interest in running for the Presidency, I expected Alhassan to quit the President’s cabinet and join his political leader – an action she herself told us she would take. And I am ashamed for her.
It does seem that nobody, politically, should take Minister Alhassan seriously. She seems all hot air. She has no bite, only barks.
In the last couple of weeks, she has suddenly surfaced. She says she would run again for the governorship seat of Taraba. And she has been talking. The other day, she said Governor Ishaku sponsored thugs who attacked her when she went to the state. The state government has since countered her. Those she transported to Taraba from nearby states, the government says, attacked her because she may not have given them the promised stipends. Even though we have been so bloodied we believe anything, I will be surprised if anybody in Taraba would take Alhassan seriously.
Unless there is a positive score card of her sojourn at the Women Affairs Ministry which she has not made public, I don’t know how Tarabans would vote for her to run their state, especially, as I really never heard her seriously condemn the atrocious activities of Herdsmen who have made her state hell on earth!
But, well, politics in Nigeria? One never knows. A lot of incompetent people, and those who hardly keep to their words rise to high heavens. Our lot!!
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