I feel sorry for the First Family. In a recession where everything seems down, gossip about the Buharis is obviously the new stimulus. And it’s trending as if our recovery depends on it. It all started with the interview that First Lady Aisha Buhari granted the BBC Hausa Service.
She said outsiders had hijacked the government, expressed the fear that we might soon witness the rebellion of 15 million voters, and warned that if her husband did not change course, she would not campaign for him in the next election.
Aisha’s comment caught fire, leaving the public sharply divided but with party insiders firmly behind her.
On one side are those who describe her interview as the anguished cry of a genuinely concerned wife, woman and citizen. While it may seem that she burned her husband at the stake, her sympathisers insist that she could not have granted the interview if she still had his ear. It’s the Nollywood equivalent of “A Desperate Housewife”.
The “hijackers” (three or four in number, according to Aisha) not only seized Buhari from his loyal base and from the public, they have also seized him from his wife. Her patriotic duty was to cry out to retrieve her husband for herself and country. She should therefore not be judged by the unintended consequences of her action, but by her pure, redeeming motive.
Nonsense, say those on the other side. There’s nothing altruistic about Aisha in the interview. It’s the outburst of a woman who has refused to come to terms with the fact that her husband had said, from the beginning, that he would have no place for the Office of First Lady. An additional personal slight, they say, might be the failure of her nominees – mostly party insiders – to get government appointments.
Yes, she campaigned for her husband but did she do so only to throw him under the bus at a time when he needs her support the most? Does she even need to talk about not campaigning for Buhari in 2019 when she had already given the opposition a long stick to beat him?
I don’t know what Aisha thought the morning after. A few insiders have even suggested that the BBC interview was not a mistake; that she knew exactly what she was doing. I think it was a mistake. Even though we all like to get high on gossip about the Joneses, let the spouse who would like to be at the receiving end of a public rebuke by their wife or husband raise his hand.
I’ll come to Buhari’s response about the kitchen, the living room and the other room later.
It is convenient to create a hash tag standing by Aisha, or to argue that she had to do what she did for the millions of increasingly frustrated voters who brought her husband to power. But since this spat broke out, I’ve struggled in vain to find a spouse who would like to be in Buhari’s shoes. I’ve also looked in vain for the equivalent of this feud in recent history.
Of course, there’s plenty of it in beer parlour gossip. How Maryam Babangida purportedly charged at her husband, then military president, shortly before his pulling-out parade on his last day in office and mocked him along the corridor in the Villa for not being man enough to fend off Sani Abacha and other hawks who wanted him out.
Another example was the purported feud amongst Obasanjo’s wives and the former president’s futile battles to scrap the Office of First Lady. Rumours of how Bishop John Onaiyekan used to settle domestic quarrels between former President Jonathan and Dame Patience and how the dame fought hard to secure her territory from encroachment by some well-endowed intruders around the Villa.
But nothing like this. Not even at the height of Jonathan’s famous cluelessness as he danced on the verge of a self-inflicted electoral defeat did Patience call him out publicly.
Buhari’s response did not help matters. He probably meant it as a joke, something to take the sting out of the public response to his wife’s interview. But it was all wrong and indefensible. For a Nigerian president to say – in the presence of Chancellor Angela Merkel and Defence Minister, Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen (both women) – that his own wife belongs to “the kitchen, the living room and the other room” is as tasteless as Donald Trump’s locker room joke.
That comment should not have been conceived or even made in a locker room.
It is troubling that Buhari’s family – his last line of defence – has become the butt of popular jokes at a time when his government is struggling. I cannot count how many articles I have read in the last one week – quite a good number by spouse beaters, couples whose marriages are collapsing and survivors of many failed marriages – all purporting to teach Buhari, a grandfather and a man married for decades, how to keep his home.
Regardless of his casual attempt to brush it off, Buhari must be asking himself how it came to this.
As Leo Tolstoy said, every family is different in its own way and endures its misery in its own peculiar way. We all go through rough times, believe me. It is not the time to suggest, as Senator Roland Owvie did in his interview with Vanguard, that Aisha should return to her parents in 24 hours or to insinuate, as Femi Fani-Kayode has done, that Buhari is possessed of resident demons in the Villa.
We feel badly let down, no doubt, and I believe that we should hold the First Family to a much higher standard. But before we post those sunny photos suggesting that our own marriages are made in heaven, perhaps we should remind ourselves that the Buharis are just human. Let’s find a place in our hearts to judge less harshly and to forgive more freely.
I would like to think that Aisha intended to save her husband, and that Buhari intended to correct his wife, too. Regrettably, the rest is fodder.
Can we get back to the bread and butter issues, please?