Last week in Abuja, wife of President Muhammadu Buhari, Aisha, again hit at her husband’s worn-out first term. Given that the attack, which was on the perceived ineffectiveness of the Social Investment Programme, the poster welfare programme of the administration, came on the eve of the end of its first term, there is a chance it might be a deliberate valedictory missile, aimed at achieving the specific purpose of instructing the President as he goes into another four-year term.
True, this is a mere conjecture, but it is one that cannot be said to be without foundation. Mrs Buhari has become a serial critic of aspects of her husband’s governance. And even though she has shown a proclivity to speak on behalf of Nigerians at the lowest rung of the economic ladder, Aisha has every time she fires these salvos, targeted specific functionaries of government whom she portrays as either having been inappropriately appointed or failing at the important office that they have been benefited with.
Take her first outburst about 20 months into her husband’s government in October 2016. She had told the BBC: “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.” She would repeat this sentiment a couple of times in the four-year administration of her husband; even narrowing down at some point on some unnamed two people whom she alleged had formed a ring of incompetence around her husband.
Each time she does this, you come away with two not necessarily mutually exclusive perception of the woman. You see a lady whose angst is about the exclusion of some people she would rather have in government. A sentiment that suggests that her interest may be primarily based on the failure of appropriate patronage rather than a campaign for merit. But even then, this likely self-serving motive is almost always wrapped in the garb of concern for the welfare of Nigerians. All of these past four years, Aisha had been lucky not to get any response from government appointees until this last intervention when she seemed to have stepped on the wrong foot.
Speaking at an interactive programme with women at the Presidential Villa last Saturday, 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… 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.” She went on to speak about monies that were being released by outgoing ministers, how that should be properly monitored and all, sometimes sounding so much like the one who was elected as President of Nigeria.
But anyone who has followed Aisha since she came into limelight would understand that she has no illusions about her place in the affairs of the country. All she seems to want to do therefore is possibly to bring what she considers her husband’s imprudence in the appointment of people into offices into the public court and force his hands into, if not concede some decisions to her, exclude some of the non-performing public officials in the new administration.
But she is wrong on both scores essentially because they both ultimately present her husband in bad light, diminish the effort that his government is making and ultimately provide free fuel for those who are opposed to the administration whether with or without reason. Whether by its spiritual essence or even temporal office of a wife, any woman who finds herself in the office of a President’s wife should support the man, criticise and advise him in the comfort of their home and at best, stay a dignified distance from government and its affairs if they contravene her personal ideologies. The only other option available is for her to contest an elected office.
It is curious though that the President’s wife has not started to receive the flak from Nigerians for becoming the opposition from inside. Not only because she seems to want to have a hand in some of the decisions of her husband and the All Progressives Congress, as has been speculated in the past couple of months, but because Nigerians are known to take exemptions to interloping spouses of elected people. Her immediate predecessor, Dame Patience Jonathan, who took support for her husband to the extreme would inform Mrs Buhari of how much of the angers of Nigerians she incurred while her husband remained in office, but then, that was in support of her husband! And with the benefit of hindsight, Nigerians’ disgust and impatience with First Ladies preceded Mrs Jonathan’s era. Since the late Mrs. Maryam Babangida gave life to the position in the late 1980s, there has been one reason or the other to get at every incumbent President’s wife.
For example, people felt that Mrs Babangida controlled her husband, in addition to being too flamboyant. Mrs Mariam Abacha was disparaged for being the power behind the throne. Justice Fati Abubakar escaped public scrutiny simply because she kept herself busy in the courts without much time to play power at the Aso Rock Villa. The late Mrs Stella Obasanjo was too flamboyant and overbearing for the appetite of many Nigerians, while Hajia Turai Yar’Adua “controlled,” not just her husband but was alleged to have held the nation to ransom during his illness and eventual transition. In essence, no Nigerian First Lady has passed through that duty without one infraction or the other being held in the pendency of the office. Mrs Buhari should therefore not take her luck too far as Nigerians, especially those in love with her husband may soon lose their patience and come after her.
An indication that the honeymoon is ending indeed came during the week when Maryam Uwais, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Social Investments, responded to the First Lady’s critical stance on the N500bn Social Investment Programme. Speaking on Channels Television, Uwais literarily accused the First Lady of meddlesomeness and ignorance, a truly audacious response that should cause Mrs Buhari some reflection on how she should conduct herself in the next four years. And this has nothing to do with Nigeria’s legendary dislike for First Ladies. It is more about self-restraint and conforming to the place of support that convention has put occupiers of that office for decades.
There is a plethora of areas where Aisha could deploy her charm and intellect to stand in the gap for her husband as Nigeria struggles to survive. The divisiveness that has gripped the heart of the nation would most certainly yield to the wise and subtle intervention of a First Lady who goes above the widely assumed bigotry of her husband to win friends for him across the country. There is the increasing wave of suicide across the country; there is decaying standard of education and so many other ways a first lady could bring her competences to bear on the development of a nation at a non-governmental level. Such a legacy of selfless service to fatherland without playing to the gallery or publicly detracting from her husband’s efforts, no matter how futile it seems to be, is what Mrs Aisha Buhari should consider for the next four years.
– Niran Adedokun tweets @niranadedokun