Aisha Buhari: An unusual First Lady

on May 28, 2019

Felix Nwaneri reports on the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari’s wife to continue to go public with her concerns over his spouse’s government

Perhaps, copied from the United States (U.S), where the use of the title, First Lady to describe the spouse of an executive first began in the early days of the republic, the office of the First Lady is not recognised by the Nigerian Constitution though wives of the president and governors have over time continued to enjoy public acknowledgement and some perks.
However, this has generated lots of controversies among stakeholders, who not only see it as an illegality, but a drain to the nation’s resources. From a mere status in the first and second republics, the First Lady phenomenon has metamorphosed to a power broking one. It particularly became part of the polity in 1986 through the wife of the then military ruler, General Ibrahim Babangida, late Mariam.
Since then, wives of subsequent leaders, military or civilian have not only continued to glamourise the position, but strengthening it as well. As a result of this, the title which has no mention anywhere in Nigeria’s constitution has become an affliction at all levels of government in Nigeria – federal, states and even local councils.
And despite the fact that formal budgetary provisions are not made for these offices, they are very generously funded with public funds. Also, the various first ladies are allocated a retinue of aides who are paid from public funds. These are beside their pet projects which are equally funded by the government.
The argument over the propriety or otherwise of the First Lady got to a point that its immediate past occupant, Dame Patience Jonathan, advised that rather than scrap the office, constitutional roles should be assigned to its occupants.
Whereas many critics disagreed with Dame Jonathan’s proposal then, President Muhammadu Buhari, on assumption of office promised that there would be a clear difference between the role played by his wife during his tenure and that played by many previous first ladies.
He maintained then that the ostentation and arrogance that comes with the office are over and done with. No doubt, he has walked his talk, but his wife’s (Aisha) disposition to the once glamorous office, shows that it is a complete break from the past.
Interestingly, “Wife of the President” as Buhari prefers his spouse to be officially addressed, rather than step in the shoes of her predecessors and sustain the show of power most of them were known for, has become a major critic of her spouse’s administration.
Mrs. Buhari to the consternation of many has continued to go public with her concerns over the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led government.
Her criticisms got to a height, when she said in an interview granted to the Hausa Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in December 2018, that Buhari’s government had been hijacked by a “few people,” who were behind presidential appointments.
She also said that the President did not know most of the officials he had appointed and warned that she may not back him for a second term unless he shakes up his government. According to her, people who did not share the vision of the APC were appointed to top posts because of the influence a few people wield.
Her words: “The president does not know 45 out of 50 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 homes folding their arms only for them to be called to come and head an agency or a ministerial position.”
Though the President’s wife failed to mention names then, she said some of such appointees are not on the same page with Buhari on the vision of the APC.
The “cabal revelation” was not the first time the President’s wife will express displeasure with the APC government. She had in November of the same year appealed to the administration not to renege on its campaign promise of paying N5,000 stipend to unemployed Nigerians.
While many commended Mrs. Buhari then for speaking out, her husband dismissed the claim of his government been hijacked by a cabal.
The President, while answering questions from journalists during a visit to Germany, said: “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room. So, I claim superior knowledge over her and the rest of the opposition because in the end I have succeeded. It’s not easy to satisfy the whole Nigerian opposition parties or to participate in the government.”
Expectedly, Buhari’s choice of words (that his wife belongs to the kitchen) did not go down well with some activists, who described it as offensive.
On the contrary, critics of the President’s wife reasoned that there could be more than meets the eye to her outburst. They opined that Mrs. Buhari may be fighting back as the President’s scrapping of the Office of the First Lady and officially designating his wife as “Wife of the President” has denied her of the power and influence she would have wielded.
But, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, who played down on his principal’s comment, said he was merely joking over comment on his wife and called on Nigerians to disregard it.
The clarification, notwithstanding, the President’s wife has not refrained from expressing her views on national issues.
She came out with another damn verdict on the APC administration at the weekend, when she rubbished its N500 billion Social Investment Programme (SIP), saying that it failed “woefully” in the North in particular.
Citing example with Adamawa State, where she hails from, Mrs. Buhari said the situation in north eastern state as far as the implementation was concerned, was pathetic. She also cited Kano State as another example, where she believed the programme failed despite the huge funds the Federal Government budgeted for it.
Speaking during an interactive programme she organised for women at the Presidential Villa, Mrs. Buhari said: “The SSA to the President on Social Investment is a lady from Kano and I am sure that my husband decided to put somebody from Kano because of the population and political impact it made. I have never asked how the money is being used or is being given out. I met barrister (an aide to the President) once and he promised me that for my state, we should get 30,000 women to be given N10,000. Up till now, I haven’t heard from him.
“I don’t want to raise the alarm that my state does not benefit from it, where the Secretary to the Government of the Federation came from, I kept quiet because I don’t want people to say that I talk too much. Recently, I saw a 74-year-old man selling petty things in Kano, I asked him how much is his capital, he told me between N3,000 and N4,000. Don’t forget that we have campaigned to give the poorest of the poor N5,000 every month.
“So, I don’t know where the social investment is. Maybe, it worked out in some states. In my own state, only a local government benefited out of the 22. I didn’t ask what happened and I don’t want to know, but it failed woefully in Kano, it’s not a good sign and it’s not a good thing.
The President’s wife also criticised the $16 million counterpart fund said to have been used so far on procurement of mosquito nets.
“I have heard about mosquito nets, Nigeria paid its counterpart fund, $16m. I asked them to give my own share of the net to send it to my village people. I didn’t get it. They have spent $16 million in buying mosquito nets, I did not get it, maybe some people have got it. But I feel that, that’s my personal opinion, $16 million is enough to fumigate mosquitoes in Nigeria. That’s my opinion.”
While it is expected the Mrs. Buhari’s revelation will jolt members of her spouse’s kitchen cabinet as the President is set to be inaugurated for a second term in office, tomorrow, there is no doubt that it is a good thing that she has continued to open up, so that when the day of reckoning comes, she will stand tall and nobody will accuse her of watching the President go astray.