OPINION: Aisha Buhari: The Critic in the Other Room
By Reuben Abati
Mrs Aisha M. Buhari, the wife of President Muhammadu Buhari is probably the most loved person in Nigeria today, especially by critics of her husband’s administration. She first came to our notice in this regard when in the course of her ailing husband’s medical vacation in London, she famously declared through BBC Hausa Service that the Buhari administration had been hijacked by a cabal. Long before anybody raised the issue, she was the first to observe that President Buhari has no business seeking a second term in office the way he was carrying on. She even added that she would not join him for any second term campaign. I had written a piece at the time titled “Aisha and that BBC interview”.
I said I expected that the statement attributed to her would be disowned. But no such thing happened. Her husband soon took his own pound of flesh when at a press conference in Germany, he told the entire world that Aisha Buhari, his wife, belongs to the “living room, the kitchen and the other room.” I didn’t support this brazenly chauvinistic statement but I reminded Mrs Buhari that her primary duty is to support her husband, and that this, historically, has indeed been the duty of First Ladies. Mamie Eisenhower covered up for her husband. Jackie Kennedy had to endure her husband, JFK’s shortcomings. Hillary Clinton saved Bill Clinton by standing with him in his most difficult moment. Not every President would ask for a Grace Mugabe, who pushed her husband out of office, or a Lucy Kibaki who made Mwai Kibaki of Kenya look like a domestic victim. Closer home, the tradition has been for our First Ladies to stand by their husbands through thick and thin. Those whose husbands were Muslims, with perhaps the exception of Maryam Babangida, took the additional step of staying off the radar. Aisha Buhari is probably the first Nigerian First Lady to cultivate the public persona of an assertive, irreverent, independent-minded, critic-in-the-other-room, aggressive, resident and privileged “wailing wailer” in Aso Villa.
I don’t consider this a praise-worthy development. I stand by the cautious conservative view I expressed in my previous article on her. From initial concerns about her haute-couture fashion appearances, Nigerians have come to regard her more for her occasional, but striking political statements, or such statements that may be attributed to her. She reportedly bolted out of “the other room” about three days ago, when she retweeted videos of two major attacks on her husband’s administration on the floor of the Senate. Senator Isa Misau (Bauchi Central) had accused President Buhari of surrounding himself with incompetent persons. He even cited the example of the new Director-General of the Nigeria Intelligence Agency (NIA), which in my view is an unfair assessment.
Civil servants are not necessarily competent because they pass promotion examinations. The most important requirement in the secret intelligence cycle may not necessarily be book intelligence. But Misau spoke his mind as he painted a broader picture of incompetence and disappointment, and the failure of the Buhari cabinet: 50% of whom he dismissed outrightly. Mrs Buhari found this so quotable and impressive, she tweeted the video on her twitter handle six times! Three days later, and in the face of the public interest that this has generated, the tweets are still there. Nobody has disowned them or deleted them. One popular caveat in twitter-sphere is that “retweets are not endorsements.” In this case, it seems we are not dealing with mere retweets, but actual endorsement. You retweet what makes an impression on you. Mrs Buhari on the handle, a verified handle – @aishambuhari – also retweets Senator Ben Murray-Bruce’s condemnation of the Buhari administration. Ben Bruce goes about proclaiming that he talks common sense, and although I don’t see much sense in what is common, uncommon sense projects more creativity in my view, but clearly Aisha Buhari sees sense in Ben Bruce’s unflattering criticisms of President Buhari’s leadership style and ability, and hence she serves as his Vuvuzela. Ben Bruce has been going about since then like a man who just got a sweetheart kiss from a crush.
Mrs Buhari’s conduct is unusual; it is shocking in its extra-ordinariness, to put it directly, it smacks of treachery and disloyalty. But it has fetched her enormous praise. My brother and colleague, Dele Momodu, a one-time Buharist, no, in fact a Buharideen, now a thoroughly disappointed “wailing wailer” has written a paen to Aisha Buhari. Ben Murray-Bruce has also composed the equivalent of a poem in her honour. He says she must refuse to be “cowed”. Ben Bruce is mean. Why use the word cow at this time? Is he suggesting that Mrs Aisha Buhari should not allow herself to be turned into a cow, when he as a common sense Senator knows that cows are not particularly famous in Nigeria at this time?
He redeems himself by saying she is an intelligent woman. Some other commentators have said that Aisha Buhari will make a better President of Nigeria than her husband. There are others who have suggested that she should become Nigeria’s Vice-President in 2019. “Toasting” and “seducing” another man’s wife with nice words is off-limits in my cultural space. I disagree with everyone on social media and elsewhere who have been saying that Aisha Buhari is right to criticize her husband publicly and to lend voice and strength to the likes of Senator Misau and Ben Murray-Bruce. Reno Omokri has also praised Aisha M. Buhari. This is how we would be here and Femi Fani-Kayode will be the chairman at an award ceremony making President Buhari’s wife “the Woman of the Year 2018”. If care is not taken, Aisha Buhari will soon join the Chibok Girls Movement or become an associate of Oby Ezekwesili’s Red Card Movement.
I think something is wrong somewhere. The position of the President is a national security position. It is hard enough to be a President, but to have issues on the home front makes the job doubly difficult. This is the very issue that came up the other day. One character who likes to talk accused me of being sympathetic to the Jonathan administration and using style to criticize the present administration. I told him off and reminded him of my rights as a trained journalist and as a professionally licensed critic and citizen. He held his ground. So I asked: “Aisha Buhari criticizes President Buhari and retweets anti-Buhari comments, is she also a Jonathanian woman? The guy had nothing to say. So I added: “if President Buhari is being criticized in his own bedroom, by persons who eat his pepper and palm oil, what moral right does anybody have to silence critics of his administration?” The guy blurted out: “if my wife tries that nonsense with me, there will be a meeting with my in-laws with serious consequences!” Case settled, so I rested it.
The de-marketing campaign against President Buhari is even worse than that. Within 24 hours after the retweet on Aisha Buhari’s handle, it was reported that one of her daughters, Zahra M. Buhari had also posted a cryptic statement, which suggested a condemnation of the administration. Unlike her mother, Zahra does not seem to have a verified twitter handle. There are even about eight handles bearing her name, including one that confesses to being a parody. But of all these, the most influential is – @zmbuhari – which has the largest following – 77.4k – and which seems to be more credible. Under this handle, Zahra supports her father, retweets her mother’s tweets including the ones already cited, she sounds spiritual and poetic and in every measure, comes across as her mother’s daughter, as if mother and daughter are united in a rebellious mission inside the Presidential Villa.
I recommend a forensic study of the retweets under her handle. In one case, she retweets @aminuganawa, a bright US-based Ph.D, who writes: “I doubt if there is anyone who would want you to succeed more than your wife and children. Your success is their success. If there is anything that will harm you they are likely to be the first to notice it. If you want an honest feedback listen to your wife and children.” That was three days ago, shortly after Zahra retweeted her mother’s retweets. Are we being told that the President does not listen to his wife and children, and that indeed, outsiders have held him hostage? A rigorous semiotic analysis of wife-and-daughter-Buhari’s tweets belongs to another level of analysis and other revelations. But here is Zahra M. Buhari’s most controversial tweet in the last 48 hours and it speaks for itself:
Sahih al-Bukahri, Knowledge
Book 3, Hadith 1
Narrated ‘Abu Huraira
When the Prophet (pbuh) finished his/
speech, he said, Where is the questioner,/
Who inquired about the Hour (Doomsday)?”/
The Bedouin said “I am here, O Allah’s Apostle”/
Then the Prophet (phub) said, “When honesty is lost, then wait for the Hour/
The Bedouin said, “How will that be lost?”/
The Prophet (phub) said, “When the power/
or authority comes in the hands of unfit/
persons, then wait for the hour/
The foregoing verse is probably the most intellectually relevant criticism of the Buhari government to date and to be attributed to his daughter’s platform is the scariest of all things. “Unfit persons”? “Doomsday?”
It seems to me that some people are sleeping on the job. The happiness of the President is a matter of national security. The biggest problems that the Buhari administration has faced have been mainly unforced errors. In the absence of a competent opposition, this government has consistently shot itself in the foot. To add to that: a President with what looks like a troubled home is the most unfortunate thing that can happen to a country. To show a lack of capacity to manage that particular trouble has sorry implications for the Presidency and the administration. I may sound conservative but I think the twin-image of a rebellious wife and a free-willing daughter posting negative comments about a sitting President should be of greater interest to the intelligence agencies and reputation managers.
However, it is possible that there is a fake Buhari wife and a fake Buhari daughter out there being used to amplify negative narratives, in the most treacherous medium of the time: the social media. It is the job of the intelligence system to track that trail and stop it, if indeed it exists. It doesn’t require more than a couple of emails to Twitter, anyway, with complaints about implications for national security. Zahra M. Buhari doesn’t need to have so many twitter accounts in her name. And if Aisha Buhari’s account has been hacked, we should be told, and if she did not retweet those anti-spouse messages, we should know even if serious damage has been done already. If this is not the case: then we should say this: her job in the other room does not include openly and deliberately discrediting her husband. This much should be made clear. And if that fails, then we would be dealing, more or less with the true quality of the man in that other room.
The bottom line in my view: This President needs HELP. And he is not getting it.