A short essay on ‘the other room’
In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman-Margaret Hilda Thatcher (the late British Prime Minister).
It’s fast turning out that ‘the other room’ in the cosmos of President Muhammadu Buhari is where we have to look for answers to some of the bewildering national questions of the day. When he was grabbed on camera as he faced the world to disclose the existence of an enclosure exclusive to his wife, the president hardly perceived the location as a world beyond his own vision. His remarks were a gratuitous riposte to a loving spouse’s customary admonition. He ignored her and sought to cage the woman, as it were. But the genie was out of the bottle.
For, after we had been told of the room, its occupant has since hogged the headlines, taken over the narrative and compelled a huge flow of media commentary. Periodically, she looks through the window and, noticing scenes toxic to the polity and her husband, drops words of caution. Sometimes she would venture out, to air views that her husband’s fawning hangers-on wished were never allowed a space beyond her soul.
But we must give audience to Mrs Aisha Buhari. We must be interested in what she cooks in ‘the other room’ the same way we must inseparable from the inner working of the Buhari Presidency.
It’s close to the eventful days of the JFK Presidency in the United States of America in the 1960s. The Administration wanted to set up an agenda for the media that played down the activities of Jacqueline, President Kennedy’s wife. Leave out JFK’s wife in your political reporting, the White House would seem to tell the newsmen. The authorities missed the point that it was the woman who provided irresistible cannon fodder which the journalists pounced on. Jacqueline’s own body language and fashion statement wouldn’t leave the reporters out of her life!
Now consider our own Aisha. Although not a flea-hop near Nana Rawlings of Ghana, a Grace ‘Gucci’ Mugabe (Zimbabwe) or an Eva Peron (Argentina), she has, in a way, acquired their magnetic and forceful temper: subtle power to shake off shadowy existence.
Aisha’s ruthless interrogation of the state of Aso Villa Clinic led her into fundamental submissions on the challenges of leadership in Nigeria and why we are in this sorry pass threatening to consume us. She impliedly threw darts at her husband and all others claiming to be our leaders.
In particular, she shot down the Federal Government’s sing-song of change as a movement or revolution that begins with the citizens. It is sedentary rulers who pursue and embrace this creed. When my leader is ill and he flies out for medicare, he little inspires me to trust in the domestic health infrastructure. He isn’t moving me to change my stand on the system. It is hypocrisy to ask me to change my attitude to national issues when he hasn’t initiated a change through a thorough-going transformation of his own lifestyle which must include endogenous consumption. I want to see my leader and his family patronize the local schools, markets and hospitals my kids make use of.
The homilies on corruption, patriotism, honesty, indiscipline, self-denial, sacrificial national service, humility, good neighbourliness etc. are hollow and “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” as long as the leaders themselves don’t first reflect these virtues while in public office and in private. If the citizen doesn’t first sight these attributes in the leader, there can’t be change.
That was the lesson the First Lady kept in ‘the other room’ imparted last year when she took ill. “A few weeks ago,” she said, “I was sick…they advised me to take the first flight out to London. I refused to go. I insisted I must be treated in Nigeria…”
You wonder: what has a singular act of self-abnegation by a leader got to do with good governance? But the point is that the citizens of a given society meet themselves in the leader, elected or selected. If the leader is obsessed with the notion of self-preservation and an opulent lifestyle that mocks his people’s poverty with the perpetuation of a retarding system he promotes, he throws back all these vices into the people. Members of this society won’t approximate the change the leader drums in their ears unless the leader himself first renounces those vices in principle and in practice. We have wasted precious time and resources in Nigeria for decades as an independent country wishfully thinking change lies with the led.
The isolated occupant of ‘the other room’ knows better…you assess a society by its abstemious or wasteful and extravagant leadership, even if she herself appears to have failed that test with her gaudy and luscious dressing.
The other day as most Nigerians hailed ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo for advising Buhari not to opt for an encore in 2019, they did not give honor to whom it is due: the First Lady had first arrived at that conclusion. Obj got that insight in January 2018; Aisha, operating from ‘the other room’ had settled upon that counsel nearly two years ago on October 14, 2016.
We should also recall that ‘the other room’ brewed the scary imagery of such predatory beasts as jackass, hyenas, wolves and the king of them all, the lion who have all been feasting on Nigeria. In our dog-eat-dog country, it is the Eighth Wonder of the world that we have not all been consumed, that Nigeria has not altogether disappeared at the table of the salivating animals. The world has long waited for the Eighth Wonder; the ancient world having produced seven.
Banishment or isolation in prison or under house arrest isn’t evil after all. It brings forth sublime productivity as it did for our own Wole Soyinka. His famous book The man died was jail-born. Alexander Solzhenitsyn was incarcerated, but his writing skills flourished while in chains. John the Beloved, the great apostle of Jesus Christ our Savior came up with the eschatological Book of Revelation in exile on the desolate island of Patmos.
Our own Hajia Aisha Buhari must perpetuate this tradition of literary fecundity. We look forward to seminal books emerging from ‘the other room’. The volumes should among other objectives help to deliver our politicians and public office holders from the unhelpful notion that leadership is leisure, that leading is living in luxury. No! Leadership is losing yourself in service for the led.
•Ojewale wrote from Ota, Ogun State.
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