While 2023 is still far away, our politicians have begun their politicking. Therefore, who am I to ignore examples set by our sterling leaders? (I meant that in a tongue-in-cheek way, in case you missed my tone) With that thought I begin my look at the winding-down of Aisha Buhari’s stint as First Lady of Nigeria come 2023 after her husband’s presidency.
Now I remember sometime in May 2015, during an interview with then president-elect Muhammadu Buhari at his home in Daura in Katsina State, when he said there would be no ‘Office of the First Lady’ while he held office. An excerpt of that was written as a news story which led the Daily Trust the next day, and it generated quite a lot of buzz. Some saw it as him simply being an ‘upright retired general with zero tolerance for corruption’. But many people just flicked it away, knowing that in a country like ours, that would not happen. And those people were absolutely right.
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It all began as the frankly funny-sounding ‘Office of the Wife of the President’ and it trundled along, snowballing enough for his wife to be referred to widely today as the First Lady. It’s a safe bet that the Office of the First Lady has come to stay in Nigeria. From late Maryam Babangida’s stunning fashion sense to late Stella Obasanjo’s visibility, we also got Turai Yar’adua’s outgoing-ness and Patience Jonathan’s, well, everything. The point, however, is that Aisha Buhari came onto the scene, with proverbial guns blazing, and taking no prisoners. Looking every bit like the First Lady she is, her fashion sense struck a balance that’s almost impossible to achieve: modest and glamorous. Most importantly, she soon established herself as an independent-thinking person with zero pandering to anything or anyone.
Aisha Buhari has over the years achieved a good deal of respect, all without a shred of disconnection to her husband. Yes, she has openly disagreed with him on political matters, sometimes to dramatic extents even, but she never for once came across as disloyal. I suspect it’s as a result of her feistiness that President Buhari thought of his now-infamous in-poor-taste joke about what a ‘woman’s place’ is. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past seven years, I’m referencing the president’s ‘other room’ comment, made in the company of one of the most powerful women in the world. While he miraculously didn’t come across as misogynistic to Nigerians, he certainly proved to be someone who didn’t read the room he’s in, pun intended.
Anyways, enough about the president: Let’s focus on his missus. Recently she was in the news when she expressed her shock and outrage at the killing of innocent Kano tot Hanifa by her schoolteacher. Mrs. Buhari shared a sermon by an Islamic scholar who called on the government to ensure justice is served swiftly. “He should be killed just the way he murdered the little girl. And this should be done openly for everyone to see. Let it serve as a deterrent to others,” the cleric said, which the First Lady posted on her verified Instagram page, with a comment in Hausa professing full support of the cleric’s position. She instantly became my heroine! And that was even before she visited Hanifa’s parents in Kano to condole with them. Sheer class, if you ask me, all the while sounding every bit like a good mother should.
Apart from the rather heavy-handed way her handlers handled ace cartoonist Mustapha Bulama’s sharply satirical jab at her daughter’s wedding, I have no qualms with the First Lady. She’s been a picture of poise, calmness, and grace – all necessary qualities of a spouse supporting her husband on the presidential pedestal. To wind this up, I can only say this as plainly as possible: After the president leaves office, I’m going to miss Aisha Buhari in the news, on the political landscape and even on social media being vocal one whatever issue she is focusing on at that moment. In all honesty, I strongly believe that for better or worse, her personality – and what she stood for as much as what she stood away from – will be one of the better-remembered aspects of Buhari’s administration. Whether there is an office for it or not, she remains in my heart as Nigeria’s First Lady.