The BBC has reported a reverberating interview given by the first lady, Aisha Buhari. The first lady was brutally honest, unequivocal and stunningly objective about her husband’s administration and the need for Buhari to focus on his legacy. Aisha Buhari stated that: “Many people have been coming to tell him that things are not going the way they should. That when it comes to putting people in certain positions, most of these people that are occupying some agencies number (1) nobody knows them; number (2) they don’t know our party manifesto; they don’t know what we campaigned for…They don’t have a mission. They don’t have a vision.” These are remarkably strong words from unusual quarters. Our patriarchal system dictates that a woman must support her husband even when he is heading to the abyss. Therefore, a woman’s opinions, if she is given the space to have any, can only be articulated in the private cocoons of the marital home. First ladies are expected to simply look beautiful, wear the latest fashions and take up a non-controversial cause. Therefore, Aisha’s comments must be a huge but refreshing shock.
Aisha Buhari’s admonition is the definition of home-truth. It says a lot about the first family, and the Buhari administration. The first lady has done Nigeria a huge service by making it clear that things are not going well in the Buhari government. There are those who argue that Aisha is displeased with her husband’s appointments because she could not get “her own people” into the administration. I have no evidence at my disposal to confirm or refute that. However, those who think that Aisha is wrong to publicly criticize her husband should kindly ask themselves a few questions: How long have you known Buhari? What was your level of involvement in his campaign during the four presidential elections he contested? Do you know what it feels like to be married to Buhari for 27 years? Do you love Buhari more than his wife?
I can understand why the current governing elite may defend the administration’s appointments and performance. However, anyone who means well for Buhari and genuinely wants him to succeed must concede that he has elevated cronyism and nepotism to a whole new level in Nigeria. He continues to risk our country’s fragile unity by his lopsided appointments, non-systematic approach to governance and the lack of thoughtful, coherent, and sophisticated vision for our country. Aisha Buhari has just confirmed that those of us who are critical of President Buhari are not his enemies. We criticize him precisely because we mean well for him and our country.
Aisha Buhari recognizes that the Buhari family name is at stake. The president can write the Buhari name in immortality or simply have the name scorned for generations to come. The state of affairs in Nigeria at the moment is the worst that I have seen in my lifetime. The president’s arguably mediocre cabinet has been further undermined by a tiny clique at the presidency. This clique almost exclusively speaks Fulfulde. That in and of itself is not a problem. The problem is that the clique or “kitchen cabinet” is not made up of the best brains among the Fulfulde-speaking people of Nigeria. Consequently, the president is not drawing on the best brains in Nigeria. He is fighting with one hand tied to his back. This partly explains the routine and elementary blunders that have plagued his administration.
Aisha Buhari has kept a relatively low profile when juxtaposed with the last two first ladies. Many would recall the rather overbearing attitude of Patience Jonathan and the quest of Turai Yar’Adua to cling to power as her husband neared an unfortunate end. Aisha indicated in the interview that the president was aware of her concerns. The first lady stated 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.” I have argued in the last several months that President Buhari should concentrate on his current term and abandon any thoughts about running for a second term. It is worth reiterating that Buhari cannot win a second term in a free and fair atmosphere. I know that he now holds the levers of power and has engaged in favouritist purges that could help him hang on to power. However, unless he performs an economic miracle akin to the Wirtschaftswunder, or the German economic miracle, he stands to ruin what is left of his reputation.
The first lady’s candid assessment of her husband’s administration sends the right signals to the Nigerian society, particularly young girls and women. It redefines the supranational contours of the roles of a first lady. It also demonstrates that at least one person at the presidency has not lost touch with reality. The masses have a voice in Aso Rock who believes the president must focus on leaving a solid legacy.
Finally, I would like to congratulate President Mohammadu Buhari for the choice he made 27 years or so ago. You married a woman who is not content with merely enjoying the privileges of power. The interview granted by Aisha Buhari demonstrates that she expects that your years of running for office must not go to waste. Your government must fulfill its promise to the Nigerian people. I hope that it also means that the first couple has got a healthy, and mutually respectful relationship. We now have a contender for “Person of the Year”. Thank you, Aisha Buhari.
‘Tope Oriola is professor of criminology at the University of Alberta, Canada. Twitter: @topeoriola