Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Buhari/Aisha Squabble

By Wale Sokunbi

Three important events caught the imagination of many Nigerians in the past fortnight. But, I will dwell on one of them. Nigeria’s First Lady, Aisha Buhari, and her husband, President Muhammadu Buhari, were in the global spotlight for reasons that were less than salutary. Aisha threw potshots at the president at an interview with the Hausa service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), saying his government had been hijacked by “strangers” who were not involved in his campaign for the office of president. The president replied with an unfortunate gaffe in the worst place he could have made such a mistake – in front of one of the most powerful women in the world, German leader, Angela Merkel.
President Buhari and wife, Aisha
Buhari, to the shock of the lady and the enlightened world, said his wife’s place was in the kitchen, the sitting room and the now infamous “the other room.”
Aisha’s statement castigating her husband had, last week, won the hearts of many who felt that the president needed to be told the home truth that she told him. The statement was particularly pleasing to those who are happy to hold on to any straw to condemn the president and project his many perceived “failings”. Indeed, one writer, on account of what he regarded as Aisha’s identification with ordinary Nigerians on their disenchantment with the Buhari administration, actually saw in her someone who should run for the office of vice president in 2019.
What is the import of the Buhari/Aisha spat? For me, Aisha’s outburst mirrors her frustration with the president for not making the appointment of persons into his administration a “family and friends affair”, but one of strange bedfellows who were coming in to reap where they did not sow. In that sense, all the anger is not so much about the baking of the nation’s legendary “national cake”, but the sharing of it in a manner that did not reflect the efforts of those who contributed in making the cake available for sharing by Buhari in the first place.

The president’s imperviousness to Aisha’s many warnings on the matter in “their other room”, probably forced her to make an open issue of the matter, to the chagrin of many Nigerians. His attitude only goes to confirm the president as someone who is “not easily swayed from his position”, as one may not really want to describe him as stubborn.
However, the president’s response to Aisha’s outburst only went on to compound a very embarrassing situation. Although it has been said that he was only joking, because he laughed just before he said Aisha’s place was in his kitchen, sitting room and the other room, the comment was demeaning of Nigerian women, in particular. It held the president out as one who has no regard for women, or any respect for their ability to make any critical contribution to discussions on important issues, as they were best suited for domestic activities in the three rooms that he mentioned.
This statement is not only disrespectful of women, generally, it suggests that they are some kind of sub-human beings who cannot be expected to understand or take sensible positions on critical issues of state.
This kind of statement, which could be very well in order if the president was entertaining his personal friends in the presidential villa, is totally out of place on the world stage, especially at this time that   women are being accorded pride of place in the enlightened world and empowered to attain all their potentials. A woman, Hilary Clinton, is on the verge of becoming the president of America, and the person to whom he made the statement is a leader of a notable country. How, then, could he even trifle with, and crack jokes, on the place of women in society?
The decision of the president and his wife to go public with their private tiff is in bad taste. But then, it only goes to show that they are human. As they say, it is human to err, and divine to forgive. Let the president purge himself of his uncomplimentary views of women’s role in society.
It does not paint a good image of Nigeria for the president to suggest that such a highly educated woman ought not to be in the public sphere but in the kitchen, parlour and the other room.
It is not the kind of language that we expect from the president of a country who should be in the vanguard to empower women and encourage them to attain their highest potentials in life.
The First Lady also ought to be able to make contrary views that she holds on her husband’s leadership and administrative style known to him in private, without making a public sport of their domestic disagreement on the matter.
The greater lesson from this unprecedented presidential domestic squabble is that Buhari   should come off his high horse and listen to the words of advice from his wife.
She has said what is already well known to many Nigerians, that he has been hijacked by a cabal which was not part of his campaign for office, but is now controlling his actions, making his appointments and pitching him against those who helped him to get into office and would be able to help him make a good job of his assignment.
What, I pray, is bad about this advice, other than the fact that it was made in the public sphere? Let the president heed the good advice of the First Lady, free himself of the faceless cabal and rejig his administration.
It is only wise for the president to listen to the wise counsel of his wife. All said and done, she may be the only person who can give him sound advice that is devoid of guile and malice. With him, she will either rise or fall.
All other cabals and strange bedfellows can always latch onto other political leaders. As it is said, there are no permanent friends in politics, only permanent interests. In Aisha only, Buhari has a permanent friend.
*Wale Sokunbi is the Op-Ed Editor of the SUN newspaper (

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