By Ochereome Nnanna Chairman, Editorial Board
LURKING in the shadow of every Nigerian leader (President or Head of State) has been a wife who was officially addressed as First Lady or Wife of the President (or Head of State). Before the coming of Military President Ibrahim Babangida, these ladies were mostly in the background, manning the “home front” and occasionally accompanying their husbands on official visits to important events at home and abroad.
It was during Babangida’s regime (1985 to 1993) that our First Ladies assumed more visible, quasi-official roles. They became more dominant within the ruling circles. They started wielding enormous influences, not only through the gravitational pull they exerted on their husbands but also through the “pet projects” they initiated and prosecuted, mostly with public funds which were not accounted for.
With our return to democracy in 1999, these women also became integrated into their husbands’ political structures and unabashedly engaged in the electioneering campaigns. Hajiya Turai Yar’ Adua and Dame Patience Jonathan, for instance, wielded very strong influences in their husbands’ governments. In fact, Turai even was reported to have coordinated the “cabal” of her husband’s government when President Umaru Yar’ Adua became too sick to rule Nigeria, to the point of allegedly sidelining the then Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, until her husband died.
Hajiya Aisha Buhari, whose husband prefers the title of “Wife of the President” for her, had initially preferred to hold the home front while her husband as the presidential candidate of the APC worked the campaign trail and the soapbox with the rest of the political gang. It was not until January 13, 2015 that she joined her husband’s campaign during the Abeokuta rally after Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, one of the frontline leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC), persuaded her to join the fray. Since she made that decision to come out, she has brought something fresh, unique and people-friendly to an office whose former occupants were contented with manipulating the elite, government machinery and political class for personal aggrandisement.
She has strongly established herself as the number one advocate for the people, pricking the conscience of the APC Federal Government and fighting almost a lone battle to ensure that the Party delivers its campaign promises to the people.
Shortly after assuming power, some officials of the Party and the Buhari government had started distancing the President from some of the APC’s campaign promises. Indeed, some APC senators in November 2015, had disowned the N5,000 the Party promised to pay 25 million poor Nigerians, but Aisha Buhari would have none of that.
She directed her media office to issue a public statement calling on the APC not to renege on its promises to the people, especially the payments to the most vulnerable. Eventually, the Federal Government put Mrs. Maryam Uwais, one of Buhari’s Special Advisers, in the charge of the Social Intervention Fund and voted N500 billion in the 2016 budget for the programme, though the exact level of its coverage and implementation remains something of a mystery.
Aisha Buhari has stood firm as a purist of the APC’s touted progressive ideals. She is a strong advocate of the anti-graft war of the Buhari government. It is no longer news that Aisha has been locked in several battles with the inner core of the Buhari government, which is made up of very close, highly-placed members of the Buhari family, friends and old associates. Widely referred to as “the cabal”, elements of this group have openly sabotaged Buhari’s anti-graft war while some of them have corrupted efforts being made to care for the displaced persons of the Boko Haram insurgency.
Perhaps the greatest evidence that Aisha Buhari is a fearless fighter always on the side of the Nigerian people was the bombshell revelation by her in an interview she granted the BBC on October 14, 2016. She said her husband’s government had been hijacked by “the cabal” of people who did not play any role in the processes that brought him and the APC to power.
Husband’s health challenges
She was worried that those who worked for the party to win in 2015, including those who knew what the party promised Nigerians, had been sidelined by the “cabal” which had not only taken control of managing her husband’s health challenges but also taken over the reins of power in his absence. A visibly angry Aisha told the BBC: “He is yet to tell me, but I have decided as his wife, 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 may not back him at the next election unless he shakes up his government…the President does not know 45 out of 50, for example of the people he appointed, and I don’t know them despite being his wife for 27 years”.
Of course, her husband has not conducted any shake-up of his government. In fact he heavily foot-dragged before bowing to massive public pressure to sack former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, David Babachir Lawal, who was seen as a prominent member of the Buhari cabal. The President reacted to his wife’s BCC interview with a remarkable sound bite that immediately went viral in the social media:
“I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room.”
The “shootouts” between the President’s wife and the “cabal” has mostly been carried out in the public arena. Saharareporters once quoted some elements of the “cabal”, in an alleged leaked phone call, as referring to the President’s wife as “the suicide bomber from Yola” (she originally hails from Yola in Adamawa State). Aisha returned the “compliment” by making reference to “jackals and hyenas”.
While announcing the imminent return of her husband from his protracted medical vacation she airily tweeted on July 7, 2017: “Now the hyenas and the jackals are scheming and talking to each other in whispers; still doubting whether the Lion King will be back or not. Now the Lion king is asleep and no other dare to confirm if he will wake up or not.
It’s the wish of the hyenas that the Lion King never wakes or come back so that they can be kings. It’s the prayers of the weaker animals that the Lion King comes back to save the kingdom from the hyenas, the wolves, and other predators.”
Hajiya Aisha Buhari is seen as a woman who would not condone evil or keep quiet when the wrong things are being done by people in her husband’s ruling circles, no matter who it involves. It has never happened before, at least here in Nigeria. In more ways than one, the wife of the President is something of a surprise package. As a professional beautician, she is highly fashionable.
She expertly blends the Islamic and Western motifs in her approach to dressing up. And she is not shy to put on very expensive attires, such as the raiment and wristwatch she wore to her husband’s inauguration on May 29, 2015 which caused some stampede in the social media.
Another eye-popping surprise came when she donated N135 million to internally-displaced persons in Yola camps on February 12, 2015 as the wife of the presidential candidate of the APC, General Muhammadu Buhari.
Yet, Buhari had on October 12, 2014, disclosed that he took a bank loan to pay for the N27.5 million APC presidential form. It left quite a few Nigerians baffled as to the real status of the Buhari family whose patriarch was famously reputed to dwell solely on his pension as a retired general and former head of state before he got elected as President.
Born on February 17, 1971, Aisha, whose grandfather, Alhaji Muhammadu Ribadu, was Nigeria’s first indigenous Minister of Defence, got married to Buhari on December 2,1989 at the age of 18. She completed her education in her husband’s house and now holds a Master’s degree in International Affairs and Strategic Studies, with a couple of post-graduate diplomas in cosmetology.
Nigerians have in Aisha Buhari a fearless fighter for the common good; a woman who speaks the truth to power even if it means goring her own ox, provided the right things are done. Vanguard Editors had very little problem in overwhelmingly giving her nomination their majority votes as the Newspaper’s PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR, 2017.