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Nigeria, its kitchens, cabinets and other rooms

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By Tabia Princewill
A JOURNALIST of Reuben Abati’s calibre has been reduced to writing about “witches and dildos”. Why? To excuse the poor performance of the government he served and by extension, to blame the bad policies and choices of successive Nigerian governments on “witchcraft”.

If God “doesn’t reside in Aso Rock”, despite the huge sums spent entertaining pastors and marabouts, this is probably due to His condemnation of the illegal and unethical actions of all those who’ve resided in the Presidential villa.

The only “witches” in Aso Rock are the greedy devils who’ve connived over the years to bleed Nigeria dry and who’ve largely gotten away with it, with the help and connivance of the judiciary. These individuals, whom many self-loathing Nigerians have defended or supported on ethno-religious grounds, are the real inhabitants of the now famous Presidential kitchens, or kitchen cabinets to be precise.buhari-aisha

Ironically, perhaps unknowingly, when President Buhari soliloquised over what “kitchens” and “living rooms” his wife “belongs” to, he tapped into an American metaphor in use since the 19th century which opposes government, the official cabinet or “the parlour cabinet”, the engine room where decisions are taken and implemented, to the “kitchen cabinet”, the unofficial, unaccountable advisers whose contributions and recommendations have a propensity, particularly in developing countries, to supersede all other policy makers’.

Corruption allelgations

It was a campaign promise of Buhari’s, after the interventions, corruption allegations and bullying of the Maryam Babangidas, Turai Yar’Aduas and Patience Jonathans of this world, that his wife wouldn’t wield any official power. As I said in a previous article months ago, that is clearly why Mrs Buhari is known as the “Wife of the President” as opposed to the “First Lady”.

In this sense, one understands (it still doesn’t excuse his phrasing) his categorising his wife as a private citizen whose sphere of influence is non-political and as such, is limited to his home. However, one cannot evade the crudeness of the declaration about the “other room”, the sexualisation and objectification of women and otherwise infantilising remarks which in other climes is unacceptable. To Buhari’s credit, his daughters are graduates, his wife has a master’s degree, so I hope Nigerians haven’t totally dismissed him as a religious fundamentalist and discredited, for example, the attempt at ridding the judiciary of corruption: Patience Jonathan can believe, in the throes of self-delusion that she is leading the Nigerian women’s revolution “out of the kitchen” but that shouldn’t stop all pending investigations.

One can already see the opposition, and those willing enough to be used and dumped by the enemies of Nigeria, readying themselves to use this incident as a distraction, a means of swaying public opinion towards forgetting about the fight against corruption, for instance.

To be quite honest, at this stage, we don’t need the President to wax lyrical about his commitment to women. I believe in my ability and the abilities of Nigerian women without any hypocritical pronouncements, thank you very much. After all, the same House of Representatives condemning Buhari, refused the Gender Rights Bill. The Ooni of Ife’s wife famously said that women shouldn’t hope to be equal to men. We all sing the gender equality song on International Women’s Day then swiftly move on to beating and subduing women the following day. So the President’s comments don’t come in isolation: half of those condemning him do it for soundbites and media reports, not because they care about women’s rights. What we really need is to fight corruption and fix the social dynamic, the racket which skews all opportunities towards the rich. It is this same dynamic, ironically, that keeps women down: the illicit flow of wealth through the hands of an untalented, unknowledgeable few is the fundamental oppression which enables and justifies the oppression of women and children in our society. Nigerians, we need to fix the economic distortions which brought us to this sorry place.

Of course, none of this excuses misogyny or sexism nor does it erase the huge embarrassment to Nigeria. But let the common man (and woman) realise where his interest lies, beyond elite debates over mere words, while past and present cabals continue to enjoy their loot. The President’s most unfortunate words shouldn’t distract us from the content of the First Lady’s discourse. Who is this “kitchen cabinet” she alluded to and what are we, ordinary Nigerians who believed in change, going to do about it?

Nepotism and  favouritism

The idea that Buhari’s government has been hijacked has been around for months, with or without Aisha Buhari’s now infamous interview. The idea that he doesn’t seem to have the best and brightest around him has been obvious for months, whether one deems oneself a Buhari supporter or not. However, I have come to realise that the issues plaguing Buhari’s government are the issues plaguing the Nigerian state itself.

The best and brightest rarely make it into positions of authority. Even the practice of allowing governors to send names to the President who then picks his ministers from that list, ultimately encourages nepotism and favouritism rather than anything else. There has always been a cabal in Nigeria, a non-constitutionally backed group working behind the scenes. “Whether he knows or he doesn’t know, those who voted for him know,” Mrs Buhari said. If the President’s change agenda is to remain on track, a turn around will have to occur before 2019. Otherwise, voters as well as those in the APC who helped him to power, will be unforgiving.

Aisha Buhari

Named after Prophet Muhammad’s favourite wife, it is interesting that her contestation of goings-on in her husband’s government is being criticised on religious grounds when the Aisha in the Koran was herself fierce and very vocal about the politics of her time.

She had an important role in early Islamic history, both during Prophet Muhammad’s life and after his death. Ironically, the historical Aisha was opposed to the 3rdCaliph, one of the Prophet’s successors and led the growing opposition against him.

She led troops in battle and gave fiery speeches. In the Arab and Sunni Muslim tradition, she represents strong female leadership—it’s safe to say that her role in Islam transcended the kitchen. It would be interesting to know what really motivated Aisha Buhari’s comments. What she did was certainly brave.

Unconventional, but brave. Never has anyone in power stood on the side of the people to confirm their suspicions and fears. The President and those around him can try to brush off her criticism or call it a “joke” or “banter” but sooner or later, a choice will have to be made between the cabal and the Nigerian people.

When they go low we go high—Michelle Obama

It was the US First Lady who advised, in reaction to Donald Trump, his divisiveness and boorish, racially subversive antics, that one doesn’t descend to the level of such individuals by trading insults or thinking in their own simplistic terms.

“Those who didn’t do anything, who don’t even have voters’ cards are the ones in position, doing everything”, Aisha Buhari said during her BBC interview. I’ll humbly advise Yoruba leaders and their associates who feel betrayed or might be thinking just as Mrs Buhari does that some people who should be involved in government affairs have been side-lined in favour of others who contributed little, to do as Mrs Obama said, which is “go high”.

Commentators talk of Hausas historically always betraying Yorubas, or Yoruba versus Hausa versus Igbo. What do we have to show for it in terms of our country’s development?

We mustn’t couch what is happening in ethnic terms. If a Yoruba leader like Bola Tinubu feels betrayed, let us not continue the narrative of Hausa forces betraying Akintola, Abiola, etc.

It leads nowhere good. May we simply, finally strive for a situation where the best can lead us, where principled men and women, those with the best ideas, no matter where they are from, rise to the top, in all our interests.

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