IT is easy to like- and indeed respect- the wives of the president and the vice president. Both are naturally good looking which, according to psycologists, predisposes people to being liked, particularly if they are women.
Both are quiet but by no means bland, as they have proven themselves able to hold their own in public, and in particular when they are required to speak. Both carry themselves with clearly practiced elegance and have equally elegant daughters, who have inherited their good looks and easy affability. They are also well spoken, as well as down to earth; and are quite accustomed to the limelight such that power is unlikely to alter their outlook in any negative way.
Truth is, Aisha Buhari and Dolapo Osinbajo are generally liked by Nigerians not as much for the reasons listed above as for the following two. First of all, the immediate past First Ladies of the Federal Republic had provided an excellent foil for them. Patience Jonathan had been as garrulous as Amina Sambo had been lacklustre, showing an ability to engage her publicly in a positive manner only after office.
Loud both in appearance as well as in articulation, the exceedingly ambitious Mrs. Jonathan had provided the perfect contrast for Aisha Buhari, whose husband had lost three previous presidential elections with her by his side.
The second reason is that their husbands, who are quite the men of the moment, had expressed intentions of downplaying the role of the First Lady once they got elected into the presidency. What had started as politicking had been affirmed upon the swearing in of President Mohammadu Buhari, who found a way to mention that the office of the First Lady would not be funded by the presidency.
This has psychologically endeared the ladies even further to the Nigerian public, despite the initial focus on Aisha Buhari’s ten thousand dollar designer watch which she had worn to the presidential inaugurations ceremonies in May.
It is the same reason, in actual fact, that Lagosians had liked the esrtwhile Lagos First Lady, Abimbola Fashola, who had exhibilted copious amounts of public modesty both in dress and in speech, and is said to only wear the local ankara fabric, where her contemporaries regularly turned out in the priciest laces and designer wear.
She spoke little and graciously, turned out relatively punctually to events and actually stayed at them. She also avoided rivalry with the women in her husband’s administration, with any rumours suggestive of a tiff was usually squashed even as they raised their ugly heads.
But the fact of the matter is that First Ladies will be First Ladies- different in personalities, looks and predispositions; and of course talent and education. There will be good First Ladies and there will be bad First Ladies. There will be quiet First Ladies as the late Stella Obasanjo had been, and there will be troublesome ones like Turai Yaradua. There will be stylish ones such as the unforgetable Maryam Babangida, and there will be drab ones such as Maryam Abacha.
It must be noted that bad first ladies have not been the exclusive preserve of the Nigerian state. The wife of one of the most notable presidents of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, was recorded as having been less than modest and remains, at the very least, controversial.
Like Jacqueline Kenney, Mary (nee Todd) was indeed with her husband the moment he was shot, but unlike the beloved Jackie O, Mary somehow became a national embarrassment instead of a national icon. Examples abound in nearly every country of the world.
To throw the baby out with the bath water is however not the solution to First Lady overzealousness. The states seem to be looking at the face of the presidency, as it were, and have seemingly kept the new First Ladies under wraps but for the distinct exception of Iara Oshiomole, who could not be kept under wraps if she tried.
It is a frighnening prospect that this might have the dire consequence of making statescraft all the more uninteresting, while a lot of the charity work that was actually done by the various First Ladies might be left undone.
The Nigerian state might be a relatively young institution, but the vibrant office of the First Lady has been a distinct part of it on the various levels. Scapping it is altogether too clinical and will leave us a cold state.
The Nigerian First Lady might as well be a ceremonial figure, or at least become, as Time magazine recently describes the British Royal Family, the number one tourist attractions of their respective states or the Federal Capital territory. Anything but being scrapped.