IN some disputes especially when family is involved the tendency is to work hard for restraint and to pull back from the brink. Therefore, it is not unusual to hear admonitions from the warring parties to avoid washing dirty linens in public. But for our president, Muhammadu Buhari and our first lady, Aisha Buhari, the prospects of concealing their very public fight over very dirty linens in public appear unlikely. For the First Family the gloves are off.. Enough has already been said by the couple even if nothing more is said by them henceforth. Theirs was a quarrel ostensibly conceived at home, nurtured and incubated in transit across the Atlantic Ocean and hatched in world capital cities of London, the United Kingdom and Berlin in Germany.
The first salvo was fired in London about two weeks ago in a rather tactless manner by Aisha Buhari in a BBC Hausa language radio interview. She dismissed her husband the president as being incompetent, lacking in leadership, sleeping on duty, losing control of the administration he is supposedly heading, being a high profile hostage of a cabal that has hijacked his government, heading just in name and in name only a floundering ship called Nigeria, and appearing to be helpless. More directly she said the All Progressives Congress (APC) party administration under her husband’s charge was peopled by strange elements, jobbers and interlopers who neither shared nor subscribed to the vision and mission of the nationwide movement that swept Gen. Buhari to power about 16 months ago. She said that in addition to abandoning or sidelining the core Buharideens, the Nigerian masses have been handed the short end of the stick. Mrs. Buhari capped her angst by declaring that unless her husband does the needful, and immediately, she would not be part of the possible 2019 reelection campaign of the president.
Trust the global media with their baiting proclivity. Ahead of the broadcast of the explosive and damning interview with the first lady of Nigeria, the BBC released snippets of the encounter to whet the appetite of its audience. That action set the alarm bells ringing. The Nigerian media became awash with speculations and stories that the presidency would give an arm and a leg to abort and to kill the interview. Expectedly that effort failed and the interview was broadcast as scheduled. It stirred the hornet’s nest. Fireworks started flying for and against what Aisha Buhari said. Some Nigerians shrugged their shoulders and said they knew anyway what the woman had voiced. They said the only thing new was that this time it came from the inside. Others attacked the woman for her effrontery and meddlesomeness. She was even accused of allowing herself to be used by detractors to undermine the government led by her husband.
Then the expected happened. President Buhari, a man not known for diplomacy, not known for tact either, not known for finesse, not known for sobriety, not known for clear articulation, not known for measured response and moderation, not known to let go and forgiveness, not known for avoiding unnecessary controversy, fired back. He viciously attacked his wife ostensibly with the sole intention to intimidate her, put her down and shut her up permanently. In Germany on a state visit, and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a woman, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor [head of government] at a press conference, Buhari was asked to react to the issues raised by his wife in the interview she granted to the BBC radio. He said rather flippantly that he did not know the political party his wife belonged to, but that he knew that the woman belonged in his kitchen, his living room and the other room (read bedroom) To rub it in Mr. Buhari reminded Mrs. Buhari that he was a veteran with testimonies and bruises from a succession of three failed presidential bids. It was a blistering attack which betrayed, if ever it was in doubt, President Buhari’s regard or lack of it for his wife and women. The setting for his reaction counted for nothing. There he was sharing a platform with a world leader who is a woman and head of the government of a powerful country, and saying that his wife’s value could be equated to any other kitchen utensil. Bizzare!
Sensing the global odium the president had brought on Nigeria, presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu scrambled a damage limitation statement claiming that President Buhari was merely cracking a joke. But Buhari promptly placed a disclaimer on Shehu and his make-good statement. Buhari said he stood by his disparaging remarks about his wife. An American newspaper, the Washington Post, wrote an editorial lamenting that they did not know that there was any person worse than Donald Trump, the Republican candidate in their presidential election scheduled for November 8, for contempt for women. Sadly the newspaper branded our president a fraud who before his election made promises he had no intention of keeping. It said that Buhari’s disregard and disrespect for women surprisingly surpassed Trump’s who has hitherto been seen as irredeemably bad. Even the eternal president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, had this to say of Buhari: “If your [Buhari’s] wife belongs to your kitchen and bedroom only, why waste your country’s scarce resources to travel to Imperial Germany to visit another man’s wife, who does not belong in the kitchen?”
In spite of the insistence of Muhammadu Buhari that he meant what he said about his wife which by extension is a reflection of what he thinks about women, his spin doctors are still about town defending the indefensible. The new line that trended briefly during the week was the story of how our president within 30 years of marriage to Aisha transformed her from a mere school certificate holder to a multiple graduate including turning her into a successful entreprenuer. They also point us to Buhari’s daughters who were afforded quality education and training in reputable off-shore schools. The tragedy, however, is that those who insist on making over Buhari are insensitive to the sensibilities of women.
To be sure Buhari spoke from the abundance of his heart. He spoke the minds of many, I dare say, the majority of the men from his faith and from his neck of the wood. Fiercely independent and outspoken women have come from the north of Nigeria for decades. Some of them warriors. But they belong to the minority. They were the exceptions. The rule is that their women are not supposed to be heard, not even seen. Their station is supposed to be behind the iron curtain. In purdah. In some Muslim countries until recently women were not on the ballot. They could not vote. I believe that in Saudi Arabia, even up till today, women are forbidden from driving automobiles. For many years in Nigeria, census enumerators especially the males were forbidden from physically counting women. In purdah. Even female enumerators who were non-Muslims were not encouraged to do the counting. It was said that what obtained then was that the family head, of course a male, would give the enumerator who would be standing outside the compound the number and details of the women with whom he shares his emotions. Whatever number it pleases him to claim became part of the facts of Nigeria’s national census figures.
To be concluded