By Tabia Princewill
A lot was said last week about Aisha Buhari’s book launch, intended as a means to raise funds for the families of the Chibok girls, Buni Yadi boys and other victims of insurgency.
It is unfortunate there are still so many misunderstandings surrounding “change” due to poor communication and a perceived lack of strategy. This led some observers to conflate Mrs Buhari’s efforts with the self-serving aggressiveness of a Patience Jonathan who many accused of using “federal might” to promote herself through the civil service ranks in Bayelsa State, to occupy a position as permanent secretary which she could not physically undertake from Abuja and morally justify.
Nigerians are used to first ladies, or anyone in public office for that matter, using their position and influence in wrongful ways, therefore accruing huge benefits for themselves and their cronies. After all, the Better Life for Rural Women program seemingly produced less economically independent rural women than it did rich, urban “fashionistas”, some who allegedly walked away with our commonwealth or became fronts for successive governments.
So it really was no surprise that Mrs Buhari would be accused of using her current position to publicise herself, due to the narcissistic tendencies of past women in her situation.
Society’s morals and ethics
However, what is difficult to conceive or accept, are the missed opportunities to once and for all correct false assumptions.
If Aisha Buhari becomes a strong voice championing the rights of Nigerian women and children, then she could claim a place in history as one of the first wives of a sitting President or head of state to truly do something great and meaningful.
The wife of the President’s pedigree is known to all by now. But our society’s morals and ethics have not always been safeguarded by those with lofty names, ancestry and occupations; so it is again both unfortunate and understandable that for most Nigerians, this is not reason enough to trust her. However, the simple truth is that one cannot give what one doesn’t have. Despite the would-be ethnic based stereotypes used to vilify the First family, Mrs Buhari is very well educated, with degrees in public administration, international affairs and strategic studies. She also trained as a beauty therapist, obtaining certificates proving her mastery of her chosen craft and ran spa businesses in several locations before her husband came into office. So, it is no surprise that her fund-raising event was centred around what she knows and was successful at. It should have been someone’s job to point out that her spa served as a centre for vocational training where she encouraged and supported women interested in the beauty industry. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that her book, which she intended as a teaching instrument to be used by small and medium sized businesses as classified by the National Basic Technical Education, NBTE, programme, should serve to update the vocational training curriculum for women.
It would certainly not have made sense for her to launch a book on a theme of which she has no experience. In truth, her fundraiser was a well-intentioned initiative, which was unfortunately miscommunicated. But for change to truly convince and resonate, things will have to go a bit further.
Undertaking “projects” has become a byword for corruption. No one is asking the President’s wife to become embroiled in dubious projects she couldn’t possibly oversee (after all, her office isn’t constitutional).
Having said that, there remains a need for a strong voice championing the rights of women, children and underserved communities. Mrs Obama’s initiatives as First Lady are sponsored by the US government but then again, her office is legally recognised and has a budget, which isn’t an issue as corrupt, money-grasping first ladies are virtually unheard of in America. The Nigerian experience has proven different but regaining public confidence in government and change is part of Mrs Buhari’s supportive role.
Her experience with vocational training would make her an ideal champion for small and medium sized businesses but beyond this we must begin to hear her speaking about Nigerian women and the problems they face in our society.
She doesn’t need to undertake projects herself so there are no baseless accusations or allegations of misappropriated funds but what she can do is publicly raise awareness of issues based on a defined agenda and start conversations by getting us to think about change in ways only she can.
She alone can fully boast of knowing her husbands’ mind-set, his stance on issues, his aspirations for Nigeria, his dreams for this country’s young people. The problems relating to Nigeria’s value-system and ethics have been over analysed, it is now time for real initiatives to convince our people to change the way we think and behave: it is her duty to be the patron of such activities.
Nobody is saying Mrs Buhari should act alone, as if she too were a minister or an elected official. “Change” shuns the dictatorial tendencies of past first ladies and should bring in something we haven’t seen in a long time or perhaps ever, that is real analysis and facts for all our benefit.
The truth is that Michelle Obama isn’t an expert on everything she champions, she didn’t study nutrition in order to combat obesity, a real issue in America nor was she in the armed forces which didn’t stop her commitment to bettering veterans’ lives post-deployment.
However, she has policy and strategy aides (they work within the Presidency so she is in sync with its objectives) who put together meaningful events, which reach out to the man on the street. There is an immense opportunity here for a breakthrough in terms of our national orientation.
Initiation to bribery
We can have a country where honour and dignity of labour matter again if we have the right champions supporting these causes, if we have someone celebrating real success stories, not the children of the rich who make it through bluster and grandstanding or worse, an initiation to bribery.
First ladies have the national and cultural influence to make people listen and opt for change. The greatest social change we need right now is a level playing field. Our system is rigged to favour a few. Yet, opportunity for all Nigerians is the only real form of social justice we must aspire to.
It can and will come through the development of the girl-child: if she is healthy and educated, generations after her will be too, contributing to national prosperity and growth. These should be the thoughts and ideas weighing on the First Lady’s conscience.
The Senator recently declared that despite the allegations of corruption surrounding the Senate President who is presently on trial, he must remain in office for four years. The only officials with a four year mandatory term (unless they are impeached, or recalled by their constituents) are those elected by the people, not those voted for in strange, secret, anti-party and anti-people ways.
Melaye’s declaration of undying love or support is one thing but the laws of the land are another affair all together.
Love and friendship in the time of stupendous graft allegations—that’s a story fit for Hollywood.
Don’t doubt change
In May 2016, Nigeria and 59 other countries will sign an agreement on the sanctions to be imposed on corrupt government officials and politicians, so no one can escape abroad with public funds.
This is a result of Buhari’s pro-Nigeria foreign policy (and travels) which will deny suspects from Nigeria the ability to create shell companies abroad to hide their loot or operate bank accounts or even travel as their visa or asylum requests will be denied by 60 countries. Change is truly here whether the morally void anti-change cabal wants it or not.
*Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.