Hajia Aisha Buhari: My Person of the Year
My person of the Year 2018 is Hajia Aisha Buhari, First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria – for moving out of the stereotype associated with spouses of the First Citizen, for carving a place for herself in spite of a pre-election declaration that there would be no office of the First Lady, for speaking truth to power and for affirming the place of women in the affairs of the nation outside pillow talk, outside ‘the other room’!
My first encounter with a defiant female character in literature was through the Greek dramatist Sophocles in his eponymous play fittingly titled after the heroine Antigone which I read first year in the university. My drama teacher, Dr. Eugene Steele employed an expression to capture the essence of that deathly-brave heroine which has remained somewhat etched in my memory some 40 odd years after that intellectual exchange: Antigone is an anomaly!
To be sure I have since encountered defiant and assertive ladies in different spheres of life. In politics, history, movies, academia, church and social circles! To Nigerians, I dare say, especially to me and to persons of like mind including my senior friend, Dr. Alex Thomopulos, Hajia Aisha Buhari our exquisitely beautiful, regal, frankly brutal and courageous First Lady is an anomaly, an unusual person, an unusual wife in the philistine political climate which we currently endure in our ravaged country. I have therefore chosen Nigeria’s First Lady as my Person of the Year!
What makes a woman of the stature and status of Aisha Buhari, born Aisha Halilu, speak truth to power not fearing that she could embarrass her husband and lose the perks of office? Is it her ancestry as grandchild to one-time Defence Minister of Nigeria Muhammadu Ribadu? Certainly not! There are several women of distinguished ancestry who cannot raise a voice against any act of injustice anywhere in the world or even in their bedroom. As a women’s right activist and child right advocate she has spoken against child marriage and homosexuality. There is something therefore in her person that might make her a great political person if she elected to contest for a position even in the conservative north. On the lighter side, she has used her profession as a cosmetologist to enhance her natural beauty which even hardened enemies, blind to stark truths cannot miss!
I was invited to the presence of her courage when she spoke up against a cabal that had hijacked power from her husband. As we all know her husband had ridden on the crest of his strong anti-corruption stance to win the general elections in 2015. Although he later casually dismissed her in far away Germany as a person of the ‘other room’, she has certainly proclaimed and acted boldly against the ‘other room’ compartmentalisation.
In our country as in the continent of Africa a woman is a second class citizen. The late inimitable Nigerian writer Buchi Emecheta has demonstrated this in her novels. A woman is meant to remain in the background in religion, family decisions, marriage rites and matters which concern the community. In the north generally, a woman is not more than an ornament. Some still keep their women, as they are perhaps entitled to, in purdah or kule. The dominant culture, deepened by the predominant Islamic religion promotes and sustains this narrative. It is a conservative society. Its traditional norms make the emergence of an Aisha Buhari as a critic of her husband’s administration impossible, indeed a taboo.
It is against this background that I adjudge Aisha Buhari an unusual person. As First Lady there are perks of office. These perks could be lost at the nod of the head of the establishment. As a wife from the conservative north she has her socially-constructed and culturally-reinforced limitations. It is their way of life. They are not as brazen as women of the southern part of Nigeria. The men keep them where they think they belong – in the confines of their home. In Antigone, Ismene, Antigone’s sister says: “Shall we not perish wretchedest of all / If in defiance of the law we cross/ A monarch’s will? –weak women, think of that / Not framed by nature to contend with men’.
Her recent open declaration that two unelected men had seized power from the President was shocking. No one could controvert her. She had earlier on openly expressed doubts about the APC chairman and how he had managed the congresses across the country. Her first outing on this course of speaking out/up was when she acknowledged the presence of a cabal who did not participate in bringing PMB to office.
It is safe to assume that this beautiful wife had remonstrated with her husband privately. She may have been prevented by the powers-that-be from reaching her husband. She therefore put the interest of State above loyalty to husband. Some have said that she was actually complaining about being sidelined from state affairs. I doubt this. If she wanted big money, big contracts a talk with a loyal minister or state governor would fetch her enough largesse. She is not self-serving in my view. It was for this reason I dismissed the Jibrin doppelganger nonsense when it entered national discourse. I have never met her in person. But the Aisha personality that has emerged in the public space would cry blue murder if the main occupant of Aso Rock were a clone.
Indeed we need more Aishas in the country. We need Aisha-aides, Aisha-ministers, Aisha-governors! Even if it turns out that our First Lady went public to push a personal agenda, (most unlikely) it would be necessary to create an Aisha in the national consciousness. Sometimes myth is sweeter, more powerful than reality. If the painted Aisha does not exist it will be necessary to invent her. Some have also said that in spite of her cries nothing has changed. Herdsmen atrocities are still associated with PMB’s silence on the scale of the problem. The security architecture is still in the hands of only one section of the country. Who knows what she has told her husband in the room, away from the media, away from prying eyes? An elder, our elders say, does not speak with all of his mouth!
Democracy thrives on free speech. It is based on the freedom of the governed to freely speak their minds. Personal loyalty is subordinate to collective security. This is why aides are obliged to tell the leader as it is. No histrionics. No exaggerations. No economy with the truth. The goodwill which heralded Buhari to State House vanished when the cabal hijacked power and subverted the good intentions of the President. His wife, standing as Conscience of the People, spoke truth to the people, using their channel – popular media. Her summation was Mr. President had become detached from ground realities. His wife the First Lady has become his feet on the ground, boots on the ground metaphorically.
As we enter 2019 the year that might make a mar the political fortunes of His Excellency President Muhammadu Buhari, I hope and pray that the spirit of Aisha as an outspoken spouse will pervade our polity; that as a senior version of Leah Shuaibu, who has stuck to her faith, principles and way of life in spite of threats of death, Aisha Muhammadu would be listened to; that in the open world, if we do not listen to truth spoken privately, it would burst into the open ultimately. This is the spirit of Aisha Muhammadu our dear First Lady. I do hope that she will ultimately bring her can-do spirit to serve the Nigerian people in her own right. Hajia Aisha Buhari therefore is my Person of the Year!