Aisha Buhari: Flippant Activist Or Frustrated First Lady? By Festus Adedayo


Weird, unusual and a clear contradiction of the mannerisms of the class she belongs, events are fast proving that the persona of Nigeria’s First Lady, Aishat Buhari and the driving force of her clear departure from the norm, certainly need looking into. Weird, no doubt, Aishat isn’t the first queer First Lady in the world. Is she a destructive female, bent on destroying her husband, what the French call the femme fatale? The femme fatale is an archetype of literature and art referring to a mysterious and seductive woman whose charms and deploying of her feminine wiles ensnare the collective in dangerous and deadly situations, all geared towards achieving hidden purposes. The femme fatale may also be a victim who is trapped in a deadly situation that is beyond her, example being the 1947 film entitled The Lady from Shanghai.

Mrs. Buhari’s weirdness finds fitting similarity in Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of American lawyer and politician who later became the 16th President of the United States of America, in 1861, until his assassination in April 1865. Todd was what is called a proto-feminist and religious radical. Her views were weird, even for America of her age, curried with a manifest protest politics stance which smelled of deep scents of occultism.

Her acts as First Lady made very seismic impact on the American nation.

A few months after arriving the White House in March, 1861 as President and First Lady, the Lincolns’ first nightmare which many mid-century parents equally encountered, became the lot of the First Family. Willie, their 11-year-old son, had become afflicted by a serious fever. Willie was on record to be very sensitive and “precociously religious” and was the couple’s favourite. Not minding the weeks of vigils and trauma of the family, Willie gave up the ghost one afternoon in February, 1862. Todd as a person was acutely traumatised. This made her, like the troubled biblical King Saul, to turn to the spiritualism of trance mediums which she began to frequent, desperately believing that they could help her set up spiritual contact with her child. True to her expectation, one day, according to her biographer, Carl Sandburg, Todd rushed to the room of her half-sister and exclaimed, “He lives, Emilie! He comes to me every night and stands at the foot of my bed, with the same sweet, adorable smile he always had.”

Todd’s spiritual consultation of mediums became so embarrassing that in 1875, her only surviving son, Robert, got her locked up in a sanitarium. Three years earlier, and exactly seven years after Lincoln, her husband, was assassinated, specifically in February 1872, both the New York Times and the Boston Herald subjected her to intense incendiary articles which claimed that this widow obliquely sought services of Margaret Fox, an American notorious medium and was squandering her inherited estate on the spiritualist. On July 16, 1882, the earthly toil ended for Todd Lincoln. She died dejected by the betrayal of an American nation which killed her husband, a son who committed her to a psychiatric hospital and an American press which labeled her as deranged.

Neither could Aisha be weirder than Dolly Madison, wife of James Madison, President of the United States between 1809 and 1817. Dolly turned the White House to shindigs every week, inviting everyone: celebrities, politicians and shoemakers on the streets. She also capped this up by dressing provocatively. She was recorded to have made a departure from the norm by inviting her husband’s political rivals to these shindigs, thereby uniting the political parties.

Two statements underneath, one from a fictitious character in a book of literature and the other made by Aishat herself, share some similarities in the advocacies behind their outbursts. They should provoke an in-depth study of the reasoning behind them. The statements both query the masculinity of the male gender and the potency of his manhood in righting wrongs. The first was, “Lord, you call yourselves men, you poltroons! You let a small ruffian insult you. Fancy, he grabs at a girl in front of you – might be your daughter – this thing with the manner of a pig! If there were real men here, they’d pull his pants off and give him such a leathering he’d never sit down for a week. But, no, you let him do this here; tonight you’ll let him do it in your homes. And all you do is whimper.” The second was, “Where are the men of Nigeria? Where are the Nigerian men? What are you doing? Instead of them to come together and fight them, they kept visiting them one after the other, licking their shoes. I am sorry to use that word.”

While the first was an unnamed woman in a South African train incensed by a tout attempting to assault a young girl and by so doing, debasing her “womanity”, the second was made by Mrs. Buhari last week at a national leadership summit for women organised by a political group, Project 4+4 for Buhari & Osinbajo 2019. The two outbursts are however united by an uncommon activism that is geared towards righting wrongs. While the unnamed woman, cited in a South African book of short stories, like a typical African woman, was riled by contemporary disregard by a male-dominated society for the person of the female gender, Mrs. Buhari was provoked by what she perceives as an unfair power equation which has tilted power away from the people of Nigeria.

There is however a deeper need for an examination of the persona of the character called Aishat, wife of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Since arriving Aso Villa with her husband the President, Mrs. Buhari has carved a renown for herself for her fiery public rebukes of her husband’s government. At the most recent event, she had said that although over 15 million Nigerians voted for Buhari in 2015, two persons have taken over the reins of that government. “Our votes were over 15 million in the last election, and after that, only for us to be dominated by two people. That hinders collective team work that we started, which is totally unacceptable,” she had said, and continuing, exploded: “If 15.4 million people can bring in a government, and only for the government to be dominated by two people; where are the men of Nigeria?” She also critiqued the slow start of the government, pillorying achievements of the Buhari government at this last minute of the administration.

On Monday, October 9, 2017, Mrs. Buhari had tongue-lashed the presidency for its sparse commitment to the healthcare of the people, basing this on the management of Aso Rock clinic. The clinic, she had said, lacked facilities to treat patients and claimed that, after she found that the clinic’s x-ray machine was not working, she had to resort to the services of a private clinic.

Barely two years after the life of the administration, the First Lady again shocked Nigerians when she announced on the BBC Hausa Service that she might not support her husband’s reelection bid unless some characters in his government were relieved of their posts. Apparently a rejoinder to these vociferous critiques, in faraway Germany, while standing beside the most powerful woman in Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Buhari had committed the faux pas of saying, “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room,” a statement which must have disgusted and lowly rate Buhari in the presence of Merkel and feminists throughout the world. Also recently, Mrs. Buhari had taken the Chairman of the APC to the cleaners for what she described as acts capable of destroying the party.

So what makes Aishat Buhari tick? What is the reason for these polemics in the Villa? Is she merely a flippant and unguarded woman who likes to hear her own voice, an activist whose advocacies for the common man is not bound by the locales of power, a frustrated woman who feels that “strangers” are usurping her roles as First Lady or a bemused woman who suddenly finds a strange and effeminate man in her bedroom different from the man she married?

There is no doubting the fact that Aishat Buhari’s hue is alien to the Nigerian First Lady commune, even from the time of Victoria Aguiyi-Ironsi, Nigeria’s first publicly advertised First Lady. Born to the renowned family of Ribadu and descendants of the Ankali family, a renowned farmers family. Her grandfather was Alhaji Muhammadu Ribadu, Nigeria’s first Minister of Defence, while her father was a civil engineer. Nigerian First Ladies have followed in tow, from Victoria Gowon, Ajoke Mohammed, Stella Obasanjo, Maryam Babangida, Maryam Abacha, Fati Lami Abdulsalam, Turai Yar’Adua and Patience Jonathan, but none has been as evocatively against-method as Aishat.

Questions have been asked on the appropriateness of Aishat’s public critiques of her husband’s government. Are they a mirror of estrangement of the First Family? This question becomes needful because, if both husband and wife sleep under same roof or see each other like normal spouses do, public ventilation of personal grouses would have been unnecessary. Are they symptoms of a familial decay that the world is not yet privy to? Are they a confirmation of the touted cynicism of her husband, which manifests in claims of a body double? Specifically, are they manifestations of Aishat’s public disavowal with a strange man she cannot understand and possibly cannot penetrate in her bedroom? This last interrogation may not be true because, even before her husband’s illness, she had taken to the microphone to announce her displeasure with the political maltreatment of Bola Ahmed Tinubu by a cabal in government in the early period of the government, claiming that Tinubu was the one her family saw at the nocturnes of their political odyssey, pre-presidency. Or are those manifestations simply in synchrony with the persona of a firebrand, no-holds-barred woman who is displeased with a sliding system? This is a challenge to writers, journalists and biographers to fish out the correct reading of the weird amazon at the Aso Rock Villa.

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