Aisha Buhari: A Friend or Foe?

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Aisha Buhari

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President Muhammadu Buhari and his wife, Aisha, apparently do not agree on some issues concerning the state of the nation. Their views, published in different international media, generated controversies calling into question the kind of wife Aisha is just as rights group demands apology from Buhari for denigrating her

By Olu Ojewale  |  Oct 31, 2016 @ 01:00 GMT  |

NOBODY expected it of her. By her religion and cultural heritage of her upbringing, Aisha Buhari, wife of President Muhammadu Buhari, was supposed to be seen, not heard and neither was she expected to meddle in the political hot arena, where her husband holds sway. But Aisha broke the ‘tradition’ on that beautiful Friday, October 14, while the president was away in Germany attending bilateral talks aimed at securing investments for the ailing Nigerian economy.

In an uncharacteristic manner, during an interview with the BBC Hausa service, Aisha crossed the line when she openly criticised her husband on many issues based on politics, loyalty and party hierarchy. According to her, the president appointed those who did not share the same vision with him. She put this way: “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.”

Besides, she said some of those in his cabinet were appointed because of the influence of a few people. “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,” she said.

Asked to name those who had hijacked the government, she simply said: “You will know them if you watch television.”

On whether Buhari was still in charge, she was, again evasive saying: “That is left for the people to decide.”

The president’s wife was unequivocal on what she intended to do should things be allowed to go this way ahead of 2019 general elections. She said the president had not told her that he would be interested in a second term as he is entitled by law. Nevertheless, she said: “I have decided as his wife, that if things continue like this up to 2019, I will not go out and campaign again and ask any woman to vote like I did before. I will never do it again.”

Aisha Buhari said she had bared her mind to the president about her concern on how the government is currently run.  She said: “Yeah! He knows! At my own level, I have done it personally. I have also listened to people’s complaints and I tried to tell him what they are coming to tell me so that if there is anything to be corrected; it can be corrected.”

That seemed reassuring until the president himself was asked at a joint conference he held in Berlin with Angela Markel, German chancellor, what he thought about his wife’s outburst in the BBC interview. The Nigerian president failed to give the kind of answer that would ameliorate the situation. He simply told the reporter that his wife belonged to the kitchen, living room and the other room in his house.

Perhaps, irked by the avalanche of criticisms that followed the president’s response, Garba Shehu, senior special assistant on Media and Publicity, to the president, said on Friday, October 14, that the president was only joking with his remarks on his wife while addressing a joint press conference with the German chancellor.

But Buhari was not joking.  He repeated the same line in response to a question from a reporter from Deutsche-Welle, a German radio, shortly before he left Berlin on Saturday, October 15. He said: “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room.” Asked to clarify, he said: “I am sure you have a house. … You know where your kitchen is, you know where your living room is, and I believe your wife looks after all of that, even if she is working.”

The president said further he would want his wife to stay out of politics. But does that mean that the place of his wife should be constrained to the home?

Nobody would actually say that the president’s wife should constrained to the house considering the role she played during electioneering campaigns, traversing the whole country with the presidential campaign teams. Since her husband assumed office, Aisha Buhari has quietly been working on projects to help the unemployed and girl-child education.

She has also been working to take care of the internally displaced persons in the North Eastern parts of the country, and showing concern for the underprivileged. All this shows that Aisha really wants her husband to succeed.

This, perhaps, is why some analysts would want to support her criticism of the president.

Buhari
Buhari

That notwithstanding, her apparent outburst has been seen in many quarters as a self-expression borne out of frustration and desire to save her husband and the country. Whatever the intention, Aisha Buhari would go down in history as the first Nigerian wife of the president to publicly criticise her husband, having already made history by being the first wife of the president to hold a Masters’ Degree.

Akin Ibidapo-Obe, a professor of Law and dean, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, thinks that with the level of Aisha Buhari’s education, Buhari should have known that she could not cowed from expressing herself. Besides, Obe said for the mere fact the president allowed his wife to so well educated should be enough to indicate his perception of womanhood. He said:  “You don’t put a woman through such expansive education and exposure and then tell her that her role is in the kitchen and in the bedroom. I want to believe that our president was just merely being merry; in a lighter mood. If he, indeed, felt that her role was really in the kitchen, how would she have had a Masters Degree in International Relations and all?

“If you allow your wife to have education and exposure and then you just look at her and say her place is in the kitchen, even when it’s not as if she doesn’t fulfill those roles in the home, that cannot be taken as a serious comment. In fact, it is not derogatory because whether we like it or not, she is in charge of those duties in the home. We shouldn’t over-blow what Buhari said. Beyond his words in Germany, the president has expressed his opinion and view of womanhood by his action of allowing his wife to have proper exposure educationally and internationally.”

Apart from expressing herself, some political gladiators and observers seemed to agree that what Aisha Buhari said about the drift in the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, was correct.

For the likes of Junaid Mohammed, convener of the Coalition of Northern Politicians, the wife of the president was absolutely correct in her assessment of the situation in the party and the country. Mohammed commended her for being diplomatic because she did not mention names of characters involved despite the volume of information at her disposal. He said: “From the bits I heard by myself and from friends whose judgements I respect, everything said by Mrs. Buhari is true… Some of the facts she said are matters in which I have privileged information and knowledge, so I believe she was telling the truth and I do not want to question her motivation or listen to what people say. I believe it is in the interest of this country to listen to what she says before we are driven into a ditch by her husband.”

According to Mohammed, her concern for the nation and her family must have prompted the outburst. “When the chips are down, it is she, her children and Buhari’s children from his first marriage that will carry the burden. So, nobody has the right to tell her what is appropriate or inappropriate,” he said.

Speaking in the same vein, Martin Onovo, presidential candidate of the National Conscience Party in the 2015 general election, commended the wife of the president for being truthful in exposing her husband’s weaknesses.

“It has been obvious for long that the president is not in control of the government. If you have been watching the situation of things, different officials in the APC hold different positions and always differ on issues.

“If the president is in control, this wouldn’t have been so. It shows weakness on the part of the president. He has always appeared to be constrained by some forces despite the powers conferred on him by the constitution. The president should know that authority and responsibility go hand-in-hand, so for whatever is happening, President Buhari should take responsibility.”

Onovo, therefore, called on the president to display strength and not allow a cabal to run his government. He warned: “When a cabal runs a government, they further their selfish interests because they are behind the policies he made. Hence, if the president cannot run the government, it shows weakness and failure. He should encourage national unity by inviting all groups and parties to participate in his government because diversity encourages innovation and development.”

On their parts, Femi Fani-Kayode, a former minister of Aviation and Reuben Abati, former special assistant to former President Goodluck Jonathan, have an interesting angle to the whole scenario. Fani-Kayode and Abati would want Nigerians to believe that demonic forces operating in the Presidential Villa were responsible for both the president and his wife behaviour.

According to Fani-Kayode, Aisha Buhari is the latest manifestation of some demonic powers far beyond the president’s understanding. The former minister said on Friday, October 14, that reading Abati’s piece on some demonic forces in the Villa he could now believe their existence. In a lengthy statement posted on his Facebook, Fani-Kayode wrote: “I worked in the Villa for three years as President Olusegun Obasanjo’s spokesman on public affairs and a lot of very strange things happened there. Amongst them is the fact that the two people that served as senior special assistant to President Obasanjo on Media and Publicity one after the other, namely the much-loved Mr. Tunji Oseni and then later Mrs. Remi Oyo, both contracted a terrible terminal illness whilst in office and died a few years later.”

Besides, he said a number of administration officials suffered varying degrees of misfortunes. “Amongst them were Col. Solomon Giwa Amu, Obasanjo’s hard-working and good-looking ADC and Mr. Stanley Macebuh, his brilliant and cerebral senior special assistant on Public Communications.”

Having recalled some of the unpleasant happenings in the Villa, Fani-Kayode, therefore, said he couldn’t but agree with the theories in Abati’s column, especially as it coincided with Buhari’s comments that had been deemed largely distasteful.

Abati had written: “I am ordinarily not a superstitious person, but working in the Villa, I eventually became convinced that there must be something supernatural about power and closeness to it.

“But when my son, Michael arrived, one of my brothers came with a pastor who was supposed to stay in the apartment. But the man refused claiming that the Villa was full of evil spirits and that there would soon be a fire accident in the apartment. He complained about too much human sacrifice around the Villa and advised that my family must never sleep overnight inside the Villa.

“I thought the man was talking nonsense and he wanted the luxury of a hotel accommodation. But he turned out to be right. The day I hosted family friends in that apartment and they slept overnight, there was indeed a fire accident. The guests escaped and they were so thankful.”

Abati said the demons were so ruthless that some married men were deprived of the ability to exercise their social status, leaving their wives little choice but to seek alternative means of satisfying their sexual cravings.

He said his suspicion that evil spirits cohabit with officials in the presidential villa was the primary reason he declined to pack into an apartment provided for his family there.

The former spokesman of Jonathan said if he should become president tomorrow he would not live in the Villa, but build a new edifice dedicated to Almighty God.

Fani-Kayode, therefore, said he couldn’t but agree with the theories in Abati’s column, especially as it coincided with Buhari’s comments that had been deemed largely distasteful.

“When our president can get up and tell the whole world all the way from distant Germany that his wife ‘belongs to the kitchen, the living room and the other room’ simply because she dared to speak her mind to the BBC, then you know that he is in the grip of something evil and that demons are speaking through him,” Fani-Kayode said.

On her part, Sola Salako, a public commentator, was not happy with the president’s response to his wife comments. Salako said that it was obvious that the wife was frustrated about the situation of things and could not get her husband to see reasons. Whatever, she would want Buhari to apologise to Nigerian women for relegating them to domestic duties at home. “For goodness sake, we have women who are chief executives of banks, hospitals and multi-national corporations all over the world. I insist that the president should apologise to us (women) for his statement,” Salako said.

In any case, Buhari, it seems is not a chauvinist as the likes of Salako would like to view him. When a reporter from Deutsche-Welle asked if he believed that gender equality was a good thing, the president said: “It is a good thing to the extent that it is accepted culturally throughout the country.” He also promised to look at the Gender Equality Act as part of the nation’s law.

Somehow, one does not need further evidence to show whether or not if the president believes in gender equality. Ibidapo-Obe pointed out that in an interview saying allowing his wife to read up to Master’s degree level should convince anyone about this.

Ibidapo-Obe
Ibidapo-Obe

What must be of concern is that Aisha Buhari seems be attracting an unflattering attention. On Wednesday, July 20, the wife of the president sued Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State for claiming she was involved in the Halliburton scandal. This was in sequence to allegation made by Fayose in June that she was the “Aisha Buhari” named in a United States court document, alleged to have been involved in bribery case involving Williams Jefferson, a convicted former US congressman.

In the ex-parte motion, filed July 20, 2016, Aisha prayed the federal high court, Abuja Division, to grant her reliefs to issue writ of summons against the governor and his media advisers, namely Idowu Adelusi and Lere Olayinka.

Olukayode Adeniyi, presiding judge, granted all the reliefs she sought, including an order of substituted service.

She had earlier written to the governor on June 23, demanding retraction, arguing that the allegation that she was involved in either scandal as “very wild and unfounded.”

She was said to have been credited with transferring of $170,000 to Jefferson, but former heads of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, who investigated the matter said the Aisha Buhari named in the document was an impostor and not Buhari’s wife.

Ibrahim Lamorde, immediate past chairman of the EFCC, and Nuhu Ribadu, the pioneer head of the agency, said they carried out extensive investigation into the case during their respective tenures and established that the woman named in the scandal was an impostor. Buhari himself had in the past said he had no link with the Aisha Buhari in the Jefferson scandal.

But Fayose has stuck to his claims. A letter written by Mike Ozekhome, SAN, the governor’s counsel, said: “Our client states and reaffirms categorically that the statement he made as regards the involvement of Mrs Aisha Buhari, the wife of President Buhari, in the Halliburton scandal, is correct and justified in law; having regards to a court judgement convicting one Mr William Jefferson for bribery in the Halliburton case.”

“The said Williams Jefferson is currently serving a jail term in the USA and to the best of our client’s knowledge; this judgment has not been challenged, or set aside by any Appellate court of law anywhere in the world. The statement of His Excellency, our client, is therefore correct and justified, same having been factually premised on an existing court judgment above referred to.”

The case is pending in court until October 16, 2018, when the governor would have completed his term in office.

Aisha Buhari, it appears is not new to politics. Born on February 17, 1971, in Adamawa State, a North-Eastern Nigeria, she is a granddaughter of Muhammadu Ribadu, was Nigeria’s first minister of Defence. Her own father was a civil engineer while her mother is a descendant of the Ankali family, renowned farmers and textile giants.

She was educated in Adamawa State where she attended primary and secondary schools. At age of 18, she got married to Muhammadu Buhari on December 2, 1989. They have five children together.

Despite her duty as a wife and a mother, Aisha still went further in her education.  She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Administration from the Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, and a master’s degree in International Affairs and Strategic Studies from the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna. According to Wikipedia, she is currently undertaking a Counselling Course on Co-Dependency in the United Kingdom.

She has a diploma in Beauty Therapy from the Carlton Institute of Beauty Therapy, Windsor, UK, and is a specialist in Permanent Make-up, Mesotherapy and Miocro-dermabrasion. She holds a post-graduate diploma in Cosmetology and Beauty from Academy Esthetique Beauty Institute of France. She is a member of the UK Vocational Training and Charitable Trust and the International Health and Beauty Council.

She is also the author of “Essentals of Beauty Therapy: A Complete Guide for Beauty Specialists,” a book which has been recommended as a text for the NBTE curriculum.

She is also known as a women’s right activist and child right advocate. She is one of the Nigerians who criticised child marriage and homosexuality.

Indeed, her interview surprised a lot of Nigerians, having made it known that her role as wife of the president of Nigeria would be limited to whatever is constitutionally recognised, and that she would not overstep her boundary.

For now, both the president and his wife seem to have held on tenaciously to their respective positions without any show of discord, but whether Aisha Buhari will now be forced to recoil to her shelf is anybody’s guess. In the meantime, Nigerians would be watching, hoping and praying that amendments would be made where necessary.

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