Aisha Buhari and Nigerian poor people’s money
By Festus Adedayo
Though wife of the Nigerian president, Aisha Buhari, has discontinued her defamation case against Aminu Adamu, the final year student of the Federal University, Dutse, Jigawa State, the court of public opinion cannot afford to throw the issue into the dustbin just yet. In what was the Nigerian First Lady’s most recent controversy, having allegedly ordered the arrest and detention of the university student, massive flaks against her and the futility of continuing the matter in court, it was said, must have necessitated the withdrawal of the apparently dead-on-arrival matter.
Aside the above, the concept of the First Lady and its implications for the social health and wellbeing of society today deserves to be re-examined. The cliché, “behind every great man is a great woman” has led political scientists, psychologists, sociologists and philosophers to look intently into the texture of the characters of spouses of rulers of the world. This is because, mere concentration on political actors and their policies have failed to unravel, in many cases, why they behave the way they do in office. With the arrest, detention and alleged torture of Adamu on the orders of Mrs. Buhari, the question of who Aisha Buhari really is has been more compelling. Is she a villain dressed in the robe of power or a victim of the icing on the cake of power?
Spousal studies of these women labeled “First Ladies” in Western characterization of their roles have helped tremendously to locate who they really are. Freya Berry, a young British Indian writer, in a debut novel which she entitled The Dictator’s Wife has helped the world to know that tyrants of the world use glamorous spouses as shield to soften the unpalatable images of their power relations, so that the world cannot fully penetrate their draconian images. The book tries to unravel the mystery of whether, judging by their closeness to their spouses, First Ladies should be precariously liable for the blood on their husbands’ hands, and whether it can be said that they contribute to their spouses’ governmental failures.
On a Twitter post, Adamu had attributed the bloat in the physique of the First Lady to and symbolizing excessive romance with the Nigerian national pot of soup. Adamu had specifically tweeted: Su mama anchi kudin talkawa ankoshi, which translates to “the mother has gotten fat on masses money.” He accompanied this tweet with a hippopotamus-like picture of the First Lady. Piqued by what she must have considered a plebeian audacity, Aisha was reported to have ordered the young man’s arrest and his rough parceling to the Nigerian presidential villa, where he was allegedly tortured and thereafter remanded in prison, The police alleged in court that, with the tweet, Adamu had committed an offence bordering on defamation and cyber-stalking, which contravened Section 391 of the Penal Code. However, on Friday, the case was withdrawn.
The truth is that, the First Lady and the Nigeria Police which charged Adamu for defamation by his tweet, perhaps due to the many decades of military rule, do not understand the proper concept of democracy; nor do they have a whiff of what representative democracy is all about. When purged of all the unnecessary icing of its highfalutin definition, representative democracy, which we practice in Nigeria, is a give-and-take concept. Also known as indirect democracy, it is a type of democracy where elected people act to represent the people. Practiced by nearly all western-styled democracy, its typical examples are the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Broken down to its granules, in representative democracy, the people, aware of the disorder it would have meant for everybody to be in parliament and Government Houses at the same time, place the power to govern them in the hands of their representatives who they elect in a periodic election ritual.
In most instances, these are representatives who are felt to have superior knowledge of administering society or who possess some rare qualities that are not found in the generality of the people. The people however reserve the power and right to withdraw such powers in the form of recall from the parliament and impeachment of any erring representative.
To focus the attention of these representatives on the business of governance, the people make available to them some measure of comfort. This is got from the consolidated national pool, the people’s national patrimony. The house built in the people’s name and with their resources, which is christened Government House, is made available to these representatives to live in, free of charge. The ones who are not able to live in this house get theirs monetized, called Housing Allowance. These representatives are not more entitled to live therein than the people who they represent. They eat free food as well ant his is paid from the wealth of the people. For their time which is sacrificed, they are paid salaries and other allowances. The health and wellbeing of these representatives are the bother of the state. Thus, in many democracies, they are treated free of charge from the pool of the people’s money. In fact, so that they are not distracted, the state also pays for their children’s schooling and their wives’ comfort. The representative needed not to be distracted looking for food, shelter and bothering about the wellbeing of his spouse. So the state caters for virtually all the family members of the representative.
In the 2023 budget estimate, the offices of Aisha’s husband, President Buhari and his Vice-President, will spend the sum of N11.92billion on local and foreign trips, as well as on the presidential air fleet. It is the people of Nigeria’s money, the money of the poor and the rich. It is inclusive of the sum of N1.58billion which was earmarked for aircraft maintenance and another N1.60billion which was allocated for the overhaul of the Gulfstream GV and CL605 aircraft engines of the presidential office. In the same vein, the Office of the President was slated to spend N2.49billion on local and foreign trips and the Vice-President’s office, N846.61m. Fuelling of these aircraft, according to the budget, will cost the Nigerian taxpayers which comprised the poor and the rich, the sum of N250million, while N650million will be spent to purchase a new mobile helicopter landing pad.
In the same budget, the sum of N40.45million was penciled down for the construction and equipping of a new presidential kitchen and a total of N508.71million to be spent on foodstuffs and refreshments, amount which stands at N331.79million and N176.92million. I am not aware that the above sums emanated from the private wealth of Mrs. Buhari’s husband or from proceeds of his cows in Daura. She can only be allowed to claim that she had not eaten the poor people of Nigeria’s money if she has not spent from any of the amounts earmarked for the Villa feeding and comfort in the last seven and half years.
It was this same Mrs. Buhari whose daughter, Hanan stirred the hornet’s nest when she was conveyed by the Presidential jet to attend the Durbar in Bauchi. By Nigerian governmental convention, it is only the President, First Lady, Vice-President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, former Presidents and a Presidential delegation, who are allowed to use the Presidential jet. It will also be recalled that, in that year’s budget, the amount voted for the Presidential jets was N8.5billion. Hanan, who graduated in Photography from the Ravensbourne University, London, was said to have gone to Bauchi on special invitation as special guest of honour of the Emir of Bauchi, Rilwanu Adamu.
While Mrs. Buhari’s daughter was engaged in this unconscionable abuse of office and waste of tax payers’ money by this act, it beggars belief that the same woman would be miffed by allegation that she was chopping poor Nigerian people’s money. Before getting into office, her husband, then Major General Buhari, was trenchant in his criticism of the Goodluck Jonathan government and the ones before him, for expending public funds on unjustifiable things.
In case the First Lady did not know, she got entitled to all those unearned perks simply because, on May 29, 2015, the people of Nigeria, through their votes, decided that her husband was their Number One national representative! Over 200 million Nigerians could as well have been living inside Aso Rock! It is their entitlement. But the votes of 2015 entitle her to the long convoy of cars that snake behind her each time she goes out, which was purchased from the wealth of the Nigerian people – the poor and the rich. For all our food and the comfort of our collective home called Aso Villa where she lives, all we ask from the First Lady is tolerance to our tantrums.
Mrs. Buhari would only have had a defence in court if she could present verifiable and irrefutable evidence pointing at her having been spending her personally earned money and not money belonging to the poor and the rich of Nigeria, in the last seven and half years plus. If she could not, she would lack every right to litigate against a 24-year old Nigerian who claimed that the Nigerian people’s money, with which she feeds, must have been responsible for her bloated physique. She might however have had a defence if she could provide evidence to show that her recently acquired shepopotamus-size image – apologies to the nil discretion in an earlier statement made by Prof. Wole Soyinka to describe Mrs. Goodluck Jonathan – was as a result of a health challenge and not from proceeds of Nigerian people’s money which she chops legitimately.
The concept of First Lady was first documented for use in 1838 in reference to Martha Washington. Sparse reference was however made to her while her husband, George, was the United States president. The first spouse of a Head of government to be so referred to and regularly by the people was Harriet Lane, USA’s 15th president, James Buchanan’s niece, who had to take that position because Buchanan was a lifelong bachelor. In Nigeria, from independence up till the current wife of our No. 1 citizen, Nigeria has had eclectic characters as consorts of Heads of State. It began in 1966 with Victoria Nwanyiocha, General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi’s wife. This was because Tafawa Balewa, his predecessor, never promoted his spouse(s) to limelight.
The First Lady syndrome began to gain traction and public scrutiny from Yakubu Gowon’s Victoria Hansatu Zakari, a UCH, Ibadan nurse who he married on April 19, 1969, to Ajoke Mohammed, wife of Murtala Mohammed, who received less public attention. Olusegun Obasanjo’s Remi was also devoid of glamour of the office, due probably to the cat-and-mouse relationship between her and her husband. First Ladyism then fell to near zero level with Shehu Shagari and a similar manifestation was felt during Muhammadu Buhari’s first coming. It however became a major issue under Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha, with their spouses each garnering public attention through pet projects with which they, in the words of Freya Berry, knowingly deployed to humanize the despotism of their spouses. The Nigerian media then fawned over these First Ladies’ closets and philanthropic habits while papering over the singeing fire on the people from their despotic husbands.
First Ladyism again nosedived under Abdulsalami Abubakar due principally to his wife’s preoccupation with her job as a judge and picked up during Obasanjo’s second coming with Stella who courted public attention like ants court sugar. It became an issue of discourse again thereafter under Umaru Yar’Adua’s power-possessed wife, Turai and Goodluck Jonathan’s Patience. Much as she tries to draw curtains over this view, Buhari’s Aisha’s First Ladyism is perceived more as window-dressing.
With apparent dearth of Paparazzi journalism in Nigeria, the type that unearthed several hidden details of Princess Diana’s liaison with her Arab consort, Dodi Fayed, scholars must rise to the people’s rescue and begin to piece together Aso Villa jigsaws for our consumption. Perhaps by so doing, they could arrive at the current frame of mind and a fitting psychoanalysis of the office of the First Lady under Buhari. Except for photo-op sessions, there have been allegations of no love lost between Aisha and the Nigerian president. Specific suggestions have even sidled into public discourse that the First Lady does not enjoy spousal attention from her husband.
The first absurd manifestation of this was Mrs. Buhari’s open antagonism and criticisms of her husband’s government in the early years of the administration. This was so notoriously manifest that many people concluded that if indeed the couple lived together as husband and wife and shared spousal affection, she could have offered those pieces of advice in the presidential closet. In 2019, while appearing on a Lagos television show, Aisha was asked why she was always criticizing her husband in the public rather than have “pillow talk” conversations with him that symbolizes spousal affinity and interaction. She had replied that “there is no pillow in the villa. No,” She however attributed this to their busy schedules.
Again, the brawl at the Villa between her and leader of Aso Rock’s cabal, Mamman Daura, revealed an ugly underbelly of the relationship between Aisha and her husband. What came into limelight was that the two live in different apartments in the Villa. The brawl between Daura’s daughter and the First Lady showed that there was a failed attempt to de-room Mrs. Buhari in favour of Daura’s daughter. On top of this, a couple of years ago, the First Lady packed her belongings out of her “matrimonial home” and made the UAE her home. What manner of matrimony would allow such unilateral elopement and still stand on its feet? These absurd revelations should interest scholars as probable pointers to the lack of sound health in Zi oza room of Nigeria’s seat of power.
No woman would live with a fib that intent analysis of Aso Rock matrimony may reveal as presidential family without strain and occasional urge to bare the fangs of a tiger as Aisha did. It is not unlikely that what the world saw in the Adamu tackling was an attempt by Aisha to grasp at straw which she thought was presidential wife’s power and her own way of wielding that power. This is because Mrs. Buhari looks too charming and matronly to behave in a manner which the world has since concluded could only have been advertised by Mrs. Idi Amin Dada.
What Mrs. Buhari did with Adamu was a crude and naked abuse of power. If she wasn’t wrong by that act of ordering the arrest of a young man expressing her free speech, then our fathers and mothers who died in the bid to dethrone military rule and embrace democracy died in vain. People died and many others were maimed so that we can have the freedom we have today and be at the courtyard of free speech. Free speech can only be checkmated by defamation and not baring of a wolf’s claws. It is an antithesis for Aisha to use democratic office to harass anyone in the manner of a despot. Why what Aisha Buhari did to Adamu was an oxymoronic tragedy to the Nigerian people is that, by that act, she got our people to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Festus Adedayo is a Columnist with Nigerian Tribune