Aisha Buhari: Stabilising force behind Tinubu/Shettima presidential ticket
Last Monday, the Tinubu-Shettima Women Presidential Campaign Team was inaugurated at a well-attended ceremony hosted by the First Lady, Aisha Buhari, at the Old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa in Abuja.
All Progressives Congress (APC) women leaders and representatives from 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) converged on the venue for the event, which also had in attendance President Muhammadu Buhari, represented by his Chief of Staff, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, the party’s Presidential flagbearer, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and wife, Senator Oluremi Tinubu; Vice Presidential Candidate, Senator Kashim Shettima; APC National Chairman, Senator Abdullahi Adamu; Director-General of the Presidential Campaign Council, Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong; Governors Hope Uzodimma (Imo), Abdullahi Ganduje (Kano), Yahaya Bello (Kogi), and Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, among others.
Addressing the gathering, Mrs Buhari said women would begin their assignments with one target in mind – to deliver the presidency of APC in 2023, adding that the task was attainable having done it twice in 2015 and 2019.
On his part, President Buhari called attention to the potential of women voters, highlighting the sheer number of votes they contributed in the last two elections.
He said: “Considering the strategic role women have played in APC victories, we call on you once again to begin organising and mobilising vigorously the electorate at all levels for APC victory at the 2023 polls through the committee in an inclusive and cooperative manner.
“In the 2015 general elections, about 3.6 million housewives voted in the presidential election. And this figure ranks third next to about 4.4 million students in the 2019 general elections. Women accounted for 47 percent, almost 40 million of the 84 million registered voters throughout the nation. We must continuously co-opt and make significant in-road into these demographic and voting segments.”
President Buhari urged women to extend the same commitment they had shown him all along to the flagbearer of the party and his team.
He said: “Throughout my political journey and my tenure as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, women have remained the most loyal and supportive group in my mission for a better Nigeria despite the challenges. They should extend this same support to our presidential candidate, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and Vice Presidential candidate, Senator Kashim Shettima.”
Hailing the women for their unity of purpose and dedication, Tinubu said he entered the race to give hope to Nigerians. “To the women gathered here today, help is here, hope is here, assurance is here, the promise is here, prosperity is here, security is here. Banditry has ended, hopelessness is not part of our dictionary; we are confident people, unity is here; diversity is here; prosperity is here.
“As Nigerians, we’re not going to give up. The sign on this cap is ‘broken shackles’. You break the shackle of poverty, break the shackle of ignorance, break the shackle of destitution, break the shackles of failures. God will bless us. We will break that shackle, we will succeed as Nigerians,” he said.
Right from the moment President Muhammadu Buhari and his co-travellers in the All Progressives Congress (APC) took the reins of government in 2015, the President’s wife, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, left no one in doubt about her readiness to engage in the political process. It was apparent that in line with the change mantra of the APC, the President’s spouse demonstrated a keen interest in advancing a number of social causes dear to her.
Notwithstanding the President’s ditching of the official title of the first lady, Mrs. Buhari saw it as her mandate to be the veritable channel through which the concerns of vulnerable groups such as women and the youth could be reckoned with in the governance process.
Perhaps, sensing the aversion of her husband for the required hands-on and robust political engagement, Mrs. Buhari apparently stepped in to create a nexus between the presidency and the party. This growing level of influence apparently put her at loggerheads with some other interests within the presidency.
Notwithstanding her frequent brushes with shadowy elements in the presidency, who Nigerians derisively describe as the cabal, Mrs. Buhari has held her head up high as the voice of the marginalised stakeholders within the APC and the presidency. Her political acumen has seen her speak up in difficult times, even at the risk of being portrayed as a troublesome presidential spouse.
She had told the BBC in October 2016: “Very few, in the sense that we have maybe four to six persons that really started the journey with us in the system. Unfortunately, the people that are occupying the seats, I don’t think they have any expertise that our supporters in APC do not have. We have supporters all over the world. Those who really supported APC and felt that enough is enough, let us have sanity in the society; it was a real collective effort.
“Most of those that are occupying positions in agencies, nobody knows them and they themselves don’t know our party manifesto; what we campaigned for; they were not part of us completely. People were sitting down in their houses, folding their arms only for them to be called to come and head an agency or a ministerial position. They don’t have a mission or vision of our APC, you understand what I mean?
“Nobody will say that ‘it was as a result of my hard work that I brought this government,’ it was real teamwork and we wish that the teamwork should continue.
“Everybody knows what my husband wants to achieve in four years. But having a new set of people on board that were not part of us, they don’t really know what we promised Nigerians and that is the thing we are facing now.
“Though I heard that they are about to announce like 3000 names as Board members; we feel that those that have started the struggle should not be limited to Board members; they should be in positions like heading agencies that will impact positively on the lives of Nigerians.
Knowing what we have campaigned for, only for us to bring people that are busy telling people that they are not politicians but they are occupying seats that were brought in by politicians. This is a huge disrespect for politicians. Knowing that we are just starting, we have not got to 2017, talk less of 2018 and then 2019 for us to go back to the polls; you understand what I mean?”
At that point, she voiced out in making it apparent that the President had lost touch with the constituency of poor, disadvantaged and disempowered citizens who rallied round the President and propelled him to the presidency in 2015. Mrs Aisha Buhari’s passionate and irreverent interventions have rightly conferred on her the toga as the moral voice of the Buhari presidency, especially in moments when Nigerians had become despondent about the outcomes produced by a government, which came on board on the back of massive expectations that it would turn the fortunes of the country around.
Little wonder, for much of the administration, Mrs. Buhari emerged as to go-to person for those searching for reprieve, justice and fairness within the cut-throat political machine that the APC has been. Party loyalists who had grievances over one issue or the other, but could not directly reach the President, found a listening ear in the President’s amiable wife. Where her husband was derided for being taciturn and reluctant to offer strategic direction to the political party, his wife was celebrated by many party faithful for her ability to bring party stakeholders together and persuade them to believe that the Buhari mandate would still translate to good for the nation and the party. However, time is always the culprit; within the twinkle of an eye, the seventh year of Buhari’s two term of eight years was upon the government and the transition process was already underway.
Interestingly, where the President adopted what appears to be a strategy of dithering and staying aloof with no clear interest in who his anointed successor would be, Mrs. Buhari again boldly stepped up to the plate. For her, the candidacy of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the former Governor of Lagos State, and National Leader of the APC ticked all the boxes. At the APC presidential primary, the resounding victory of the former Lagos State Governor who amassed 1271 votes to dust 13 other challengers in the race for the ticket, told the story. Apart from donning apparel, which had the BAT insignia tacitly embroidered in it, it is apparent that the support of the President’s wife for the BAT project went beyond symbolism.
Specifically, she blocked adversaries who wanted her husband to ditch Jagaban Borgu. She didn’t use any third party in talking to Godswill Akpabio and even Southwest governors to step down for BAT. She allied with Governor Nasir el-Rufai and rallied with APC governors to ensure that the cabals’ influence waned during the APC primaries.
After Tinubu’s Abeokuta outburst, there were fears that his ambition might have been jeopardised. Buhari was said to be initially upset, but the first lady insisted Tinubu did not say anything wrong and should keep up the heat to scare the “useless people” around the president who was working against the realisation of Tinubu’s presidential ambition.
The president’s wife’s position was that a promise was made to Tinubu before the 2015 presidential election and Buhari was duty-bound to honour his word as “a man of integrity”. Even if he would not endorse Tinubu, he should not stand in his way or succumb to pressure to support any other candidate.
Many close watchers of Nigeria’s complex and cut-throat political contest for the presidency point to the vast network, which Tinubu as a politician has cultivated over the years.
Right from the heady days of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) when Tinubu became the rallying point for pro-democracy campaigners who escaped the fangs of the despotic and sanguinary dictatorship of General Sanni Abacha, he has done a lot politically to pay his dues in terms of fighting for democracy in Nigeria.
Tinubu’s indelible contributions to the historic 2015 mandate won by President Buhari would have also counted in the minds of powerful stakeholders in the APC who insisted on having him fly the APC flag in 2023. An ally like the President’s spouse is a massive asset for any candidate to have in his camp.
Mrs Buhari would have also reckoned with the roles played by the Jagaban in her husband’s storied march to the presidency. These facts counted more in BAT’s favour and outweighed the flaws, which could have been used by political adversaries to deny him the ticket.
With the general elections barely four months away, the launch of APC Women Campaign Team with Mrs Aisha Buhari as leader has clearly shown the impactful role the First Lady will continue to play in the realisation of Asiwaju Tinubu’s ambition of presiding over the affairs of Nigeria as the President.
So far, pitching her tent with the Tinubu-Shettima ticket appears to be the wisest decision considering the popularity and acceptability the ticket has continued to attract across the spectrum of diverse stakeholders in the political firmament of Nigeria.