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Saturday, 15 October 2016

Actually Buhari made a blunder by being himself

“It was my personal decision not to come out for campaign because I needed to take care of the home front while her husband was in the field campaigning,” Aisha Buhari told her guests after the elections. The implication of this is that she was never really a politician.

She went on to tell her audience how she joined politics. ‘‘It was Asiwaju Bola Tinubu who talked me into it before I decided to join the train’’, she said.

Until the 13th of January 2015, she had not been visible in Buhari’s campaign. Tinubu must have talked her into joining the train because of the influence Patience Jonathan was having in her husband’s own campaign. (It might not really have been Buhari’s intention for his wife to join the train.)

But she now feels frustrated with the way her husband is running the country. In her interview with the BBC, She claims her husband has appointed people who weren’t part of ‘them’ in the APC.

With all kinds of insinuations about Tinubu’s powers being whittled down in the APC, many believe she might have been talking on behalf of the person who convinced her to join politics.

But she chose the wrong medium to voice her frustration. Many believe that the first lady is, first and foremost, a wife. She has access to her husband and should have continued using that access to lodge her complaints.

This is not to say her frustration is not understandable. Many of the president’s genuine supporters are frustrated, as well. Having been in the campaign train, she has every right to have influence in the government.

But Buhari doesn’t think so, exactly. Apparently, this is the reason he didn’t ask his wife to join him in the campaign.

‘‘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’’, the president said, while trying to respond to his wife’s criticism of his administration in Germany.

Just when the president started winning back some of his supporters with the coming home of some of the abducted Chibok girls and the unconventionally sting operation on corrupt judges, the first lady’s criticism led the president to make comments which might have even shocked his hosts in Germany. And, of course, brought a barrage of criticism here in Nigeria.

The president’s comment has led to all kinds of damage control from the presidency, after many referred to the president as a sexist.

The president’s spokesman says he was joking. He argued that Buhari respects women and has given some prominent roles to women.

Though the president laughed before giving this bombshell, his hosts might have seen this as a bad joke. European countries are sensitive to this kind of comment. (Many have lost their jobs because of such ‘harmless’ comments, which were later interpreted as being sexist.)

The president belongs to the 60s, and this comment gave him away. He actually believes his wife should not have an overbearing influence in politics. (At least no one will say he cannot control his wife, just like some former Nigerian presidents were accused of).

And many folks, who share the president’s old school view, point to Chairman Mao’s China. Mao Tse Tung’s wife, Jiang Qing, was very powerful in China. In fact, Madame Mao, as she was called, led the Cultural Revolution in China and subsequently became very influential. She metamorphosed into Mao’s principal aide.  And by the time of Mao’s death, Madame Mao and her cronies were unconstitutionally controlling almost every important institution in China. She was subsequently arrested and jailed for 10 years, after her husband died.

Though the president’s so called joke might not have gone down well, he was just being himself. He didn’t attempt to be politically correct. He didn’t wish degrade women, but tried to pass a message, which he believed in.

There are ample evidence to suggest the president loves his wife, listens to her and respects women. Aisha Buhari has been quoted to say her husband was very gender sensitive and is the pillar of her success.

But the president, apparently, has a personal view on a woman’s role, especially a first lady’s. The president, most likely, believes that wives are not supposed to dictate how their husbands’ offices should be run, but could give their advice [maybe in the bedroom]. And this view could be distasteful to many in the 21st century.

On a final note, this public ‘conversation’ between the first couple should not be dismissed as private affair. Instead, as I have argued on this column, it should force Nigerians to debate whether a first lady should be given a constitutional role, considering the role they play during elections and in governance.

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