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Aisha Buhari and her chamber of torture

There was something brilliantly shocking about the opening sequence of Kemi Adetiba’s 2018 Netflix movie, King of Boys. It opens at a flamboyant party with…

There was something brilliantly shocking about the opening sequence of Kemi Adetiba’s 2018 Netflix movie, King of Boys. It opens at a flamboyant party with the gorgeously dressed Eniola Salami (delightfully played by Sola Sobowale, before she was misdirected and reduced to a screaming wreck) who goes from greeting the governor of the state in the midst of dozens of fancifully dressed guests to a backroom where she smashes the head of a captive enemy with a hammer, wiped her hands clean and returned to the party, all in the same breath. 

Reports now indicate that something similar, hopefully without that gruesome head-bashing bit, played out in the presidential villa in Abuja. At the centre of this deeply disturbing occurrence is the president’s wife, Mrs Aisha Buhari. 

On November 20, the Daily Nigerian published reports that Mrs Buhari suffered an accident when she somehow slipped and fell, possibly fracturing her limb and was rushed to an Abuja hospital. At first, it all sounded like an unfortunate accident until days later when other details emerged. 

Apparently, the First Lady was so outraged by a tweet by one Aminu Mohammed, a student of the Federal University, Dutse, Jigawa State, that she had him traced, arrested, transported, detained and tortured inside the presidential villa. So outraged was she that while the young man was being beaten, she had decided to pull off an Eniola Salami and participate herself—either by kicking him or depositing her significantly-improved weight on him, it is not yet certain—and in the process, she had slipped, fell and injured herself. 

Remanded Aisha Buhari’s critic ought to sit exams on Monday – Lawyer

Aisha Buhari and her chamber of torture

To be honest, it all sounds too ridiculous to be true. But apparently, it is. Mr Mohammed has been missing for several days. His family, speaking through his uncle, has made a public plea to Mrs Buhari to kindly release their son. Notable personalities like Najaatu Mohammed have demanded the release of the victim. Amid this kerfuffle, allegations of the First Lady having had one of her former aides beaten and tortured have surfaced. 

Her former aide’s crime was allegedly leaking her secrets. As for Mr Mohammed, his offence was posting a photo of the First Lady looking rather well and, well, robust, with the caption: “Su Mama an chi kudin talakawa an koshi.” (which roughly translates in context as the first lady has grown fat on public funds) 

There is no doubt the First Lady has significantly bulked up in the last few months. Unlike Mohammed, I won’t put it to “eating the masses money,” because she certainly wasn’t starving before her husband won elections in 2015. She looked robust when she appeared on the national scene in 2014 to campaign for her husband and has by and large remained the same, until recently. I am not sure it is for a good reason. 

It is quite possible she is suffering from some ailment, one that when she disappeared for a while and was photographed in Turkey in December last year rocking a significant weight gain and what appeared to be a baby bump, Nigerians wondered if the president had been up to some mischief in “the other room” and put the first lady in the family way. Either that, Nigerians reasoned, or she was treating some malaise. Her office denied both. 

Whatever the case, it appears the first lady did not take kindly to being politically body shamed by this student. Reports suggest her ADC, Usman Shugaba, caused Aminu to be arrested and tortured, which somehow ended with the First Lady injuring herself. 

Sometimes it is better to let some things slide. If the first Lady had ignored the tweet, it would have sailed under the radar and disappeared in the garbagesphere of Twitter. What she ended up doing was triggering what in media studies we call The Streisand Effect. This occurs when a notable person tries to suppress low-impact information but inadvertently blows it up. 

Since the illegal detention of Mohammed, we have seen different takes on his post. Thousands have repeated the caption he used in protest and defiance and even cartoonists, like the inimitable Mustapha Bulama, have given their rendition. None of these is flattering to Mrs Buhari. 

While some things are best left to slide, others should not. One of these is a person in authority or an authority figure, be it the wife of the president or police officers acting in her name, or anyone’s name for that matter, being allowed to disappear Nigerians for exercising their freedom of expression. 

The tyranny of arresting a student and beating him up should not be condoned. It is not only criminal but patently abusive of the legal system and the collective outrage of Nigerians who have been calling for his release. Just as his secret arraignment, without his lawyers or his family present, only demonstrates a willful desire to continuously abuse the system in pursuit of a vendetta.

The family of Mohammed, led by his uncle, have made a public appeal to Mrs Buhari to release their son. I can understand the fear that will cause them to beg for, instead of demanding, his release. After all, a social media critic, Abubakar Dadiyata, was abducted from his home on August 2, 2019, by people believed to be working for the government. He has still not been found. 

But here is what makes this case different from the others. Here, there are individuals identified as being behind it. The First Lady and her ADC. None of them has come out with a denial days after the accusations have been made.  

To add to the show of shame, a student body, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), which recently has manifested as a cesspit of next-gen political con-men and jobbers, has tendered an apology to the first lady for the offence that Mohammed’s tweets caused her. It was an incredible statement. The president of the association, Usman Barambu, who also happens to be from the same institution as Mohammed, has confirmed that he has met with Mohammed in detention and confirmed that Mohammed was arrested on the orders of Mrs Buhari, taken to the Presidential Villa where he was tortured and is currently being held at a police station in Wuse.  

Yet,  in a stunning betrayal of the NANS’ spirit of old and common sense, the association’s president decided to apologise, supposedly on behalf of the victim, to his tormentor.  

Fortunately, other officials of the association, like the PRO, one Temitope Giwa, disagree with this approach. She said it as it is, that the first lady’s conduct nullified whatever case she might have against Mohammed and demanded his immediate release. 

The other party that ought to be ashamed of its conduct in this unfortunate incident is the police, who have been the subject of anti-brutality protests only recently and should have advised Mrs Buhari to seek legal redress for any perceived harm she might feel Mohammed had caused her by his tweet. That is the right thing to do. But to deploy state resources, with a brutal efficiency they have not deployed in tracking down actual criminals, to hunt down a young Nigerian and detain and torture him inside the presidential villa is inexplicably naïve, callous and condemnable. 

There are no mincing words here, these things need to happen, immediately: first, Mrs Buhari and her police collaborators need to release Mohammed immediately, safely, unharmed and undamaged. Secondly, the first lady must be held accountable for any injuries, physical and psychological that Mohammed suffered during his ordeal. And thirdly, Mrs Buhari and her collaborators must be sued and held accountable for human rights violations, abuse of power, false imprisonment and everything else human rights lawyers can tack onto the case. After all, her husband’s immunity does not cover her. 

We know all sorts of shady things have gone down in the villa, but this has to be one of the lowest ebbs Mrs Buhari has dragged the villa to—from a presidential villa to a torture chamber of the weak and helpless. Mr Buhari has desecrated both her office and the villa by this conduct unbecoming of a person of her standing. There should be a price to pay.