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Aisha Buhari: The New First Lady and Her Agenda

Mrs Aisha Buhari, the wife of the President, last Thursday, revealed a shocker. She announced that, henceforth, she wanted to be addressed as the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This happened at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja during the presentation of awards to the former and current wives of Governors of the 36 states.

In her words: “When my husband was elected newly I personally chose to be called the wife of the President. But, I realised that it causes confusion from the state as to whether the wives of state governors are to be addressed as the first ladies or wives of the governors. So, forgive me for confusing you from the beginning, but now I chose to be called the first lady.”

Has this shift changed the essential Aisha? Below is a cover story TheNEWS wrote on her 0n 29 June 2015. It is entitled:
Aisha’s Agenda
The defeat of former President Goodluck Jonathan at the 2015 presidential election and the alleged role his wife, Dame Patience, played is a lesson for Aisha, the wife of President Muhammadu Buhari.There are also factors that may make her different

Delectable. That may not even be the best description for pretty Aisha, the 44-year old mother of five and wife of Muhammadu Buhari, the retired Army General, who, through democratic means, returned to the seat of power as the Nigerian President on 29 May, 30 years after he first led the country between 31 December 1983 and 27 August 1985. She may just be considered the type of woman any man would want to push him to the pick of any aspiration. And it worked for her husband.

Buhari, born on 17 December, 1942, first contested in 2003 under the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, with the late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, a former Senate President, as his running mate. He lost the election to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, just like other candidates. A resilient Buhari again contested the 2007 presidential election with late Chief Ume-Ezeoke, a lawyer from Amichi Nnewi, Anambra State as running mate. He lost to the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. Yet he did not give up.

In 2011, Buhari formed the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC. Picking Tunde Bakare, the fiery Lagos-based lawyer and General Overseer of Latter Rain Assembly. In that election, he had a tough time against Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the immediate past President. He lost the election, this time, promising to return home. Jonathan is believed to have won the 2011 election out of sympathy from Nigerians over the way the illness of the late Umar Yar’Adua was handled by an alleged cabal that held the nation by its jugular.

As he struggled these previous three times, Buhari was always seen alone. Not even a family member accompanied him in the political sojourn. This kept many guessing, even though wrongly. But Aisha, recently explained that while her husband was constantly pursuing his ambition of leading Nigeria from the current quagmire, she was underground taking care of the home. Many now know that she was not only taking care of the home, she was also, with open arms, welcoming back her husband each time his electoral defeat came. Like every virtuous woman, Aishat is believed to have been part of the encouragement for her husband, pulling him above every frustration that often came with every electoral loss.

While she did that, some Nigerians, especially those averse to Buhari’s ambition often claimed that the President kept his wife in purdah, an Islamic term for women who are kept out of the public by their husbands for religious reasons. In fact, since Buhari is a staunch Muslim, who hardly smiled, many of these people called him an extremist who would never have a soft heart, like the average Nigerian man, for women in his life. Some wondered how his wife, who they did not know, could have endured him all these while!

Cover pages on Aisha Buhari1
On the flag-off of his presidential campaign in Lagos, prior to the general election, former President Jonathan, who sought for re-election after five years, four years as elected president and one year as a replacement for Yar’Adua, his predecessor, went on the offensive against Buhari telling women that if they voted for Daura-born candidate of the APC, they would all be pushed back into the kitchen. He reminded the women that he was held them so close to his heart unlike Buhari. To show his love for the women, he said, he had many of them in his cabinet, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Diezani Alison Madueke as the Minister of Petroleum and a host of others in that regard. Patience Jonathan, best known for her flamboyance, also echoed this on many occasions. In one of her campaigns, she jokingly told the crowd that her husband was the husband of many women since he had them a lot, in his government. She also said her husband had the interest of women in his heart and that this was why he allocated powerful positions in the cabinet to women.

In Enugu, for example, Dame Patience told the crowd that she did not know why women would even think of voting for Buhari, who, according to her, would not have regards for women. “During Buhari’s era (as military Head of State), he said women should be confined in the kitchen. But under Jonathan’s administration, women have been liberated to contribute to national development. Buhari abolished the office of First Lady during his time. You should not allow our people to go back to the analogue age. We are in a digital era. Buhari is too old. He should allow the youths to lead,” she shouted to the crowd. At another rally in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, she told the crowd: “don’t be deceived. Don’t look at any woman that comes here; don’t listen. They are just deceiving themselves because out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh. Their husbands have said that they would not carry women along and that there is no office for the First Lady but now they want to deceive Nigerian women and she has come out to say: ‘my husband said it in error’. Don’t worry, I’ll carry on in the traditional way. Any woman that comes, tell her to go back. Don’t let any Nigerian woman deceive you.”

Her constant attacks also drew the attention of Nigerians. Various stories about Buhari’s family and his alleged strictness flew to different parts of the country, some allegedly sponsored to paint the candidate in bad light. Nigerians began to demand to see the woman supporting Buhari.

Aisha suddenly became an instant hit from the moment she appeared with her husband and other party chieftains at the APC campaign rally on 13 January at the M.K.O. Abiola Stadium in Abeokuta, capital of Ogun state. Photographers fell on each other, just like the crowd, in a bid, not only to catch a glimpse of her and Dolapo, the wife of vice presidential candidate of the party, but to get the right shots for the cover pages of the nation’s dailies the following day. Right from that appearance, Aisha engaged in campaigns that further confirmed how polished she is. A photograph of her assisting a trader who sells fried bean cakes also surfaced on the internet further boosting the support for her husband and endearing her to the electorate. She also engaged in mobilising women for her husband.
Ever smiling, Aisha would later confess that she was not troubled by the attacks against her before she finally made a public appearance. Just days ago, she disclosed that she was convinced by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the national leader of the APC, through which her husband got the presidential ticket, to join the campaign train for her husband’s election. At the banquet hall of the Presidential Villa when she hosted Nigerian women and youths to an appreciation dinner for their support towards her husband’s victory at the polls, she said she remained back home, not in purdah, but taking care of the home-front until Tinubu prevailed on her. “It was my personal decision not to come out for campaign because I needed to take care of the home front while my husband was in the field campaigning. It was Asiwaju Bola Tinubu who talked me into it before I decided to join the train. I have never been in purdah since I got married to my husband. My husband is a very gender sensitive man with many daughters. He even allowed me to go to school and to cut the long matter short, he is the pillar of my success.”

Facts have shown that Aisha was never at any time kept in purdah by her husband. She got most of her educational certificates after her marriage to Buhari. Born Aisha Halilu to the family of the first Nigerian Minister of Defence, Mohammadu Ribadu, an indigene of Adamawa State, the beautician is seen as one whose educational background would come to bear in her carriage and roles in Aso Rock in the next four years. In a recent interview, she said: “I don’t think there is need for any special preparation to be in the spotlight as wife of the President, because I will be like any other woman. However, for the kind of preparation you are referring to, having been married to a former President for over 25 years, and knowing his principles and what he believes as an honest and upright person, I will only pursue issues that will promote the welfare of the masses.”

Aisha is an alumnus of the famous Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria where she earned a Bachelor’s in Public Administration. She then went into Physiotherapy and beauty therapy. She is also an alumnus of the famous Carlton Institute of London and the Academy Esthetique Beauty Institute of France, Dubai, where she earned post-graduate diploma in cosmetology and beauty therapy. With these trainings, she went into private practice, setting up beauty palours and mentoring propsective business people. She also became a consultant to the KRCP/NNPC on skills acquisition. Aisha is a member of the United Kingdom Vocational Training and Charitable Trust (VTCT), The International Health and Beauty Council (HBC). Currently, she is a graduate student of International Affairs and Strategic Planning.

This educational background and grooming became evident during the campaign for her husband. While Dame Patience took every opportunity to pour venom on Buhari and the APC, Aisha continually engaged the crowd at her own rallies, on issues and promises by her husband. Two times she replied Patience was when she calmed her nerves and said her husband did not need to jail people’s husbands. Patience had warned women in the country against voting for Buhari with the argument that he would send their husbands to jail. Again, while the bashing of Buhari continued, neither the latter nor his wife returned any insults from the former First Lady. Aisha waited patiently till Patience misfired. She is believed to have insulted the people of the north by saying they give birth to children they cannot adequately care for. This did not only infuriate Aisha, but the entire north which felt insulted that Dame Patience, who should be canvassing for the support of the north, was calling them the parents of beggars and unwanted children.

Cover pages on Aisha Buhari
In Kano, Aisha, like a political strategist, simply latched on this miscalculation to ask the electorate to turn their faces away from the PDP and its candidate and instead concentrate on voting for Buhari. “With General Buhari in power, the spate of kidnapping and reckless assassination of innocent people will be history in Nigeria. With Buhari in power, the nation’s depressing economy will be rebounded in line with the expectation of the citizens and world best practices,” she said told the women. Some say the actions and utterances of Dame Patience was part of the reasons for her husband’s defeat at the polls.

Buhari earned a major shot from Dame Patience and her supporters during the campaign for saying that he would abolish the Office of the First Lady of the federation as it was not only unconstitutional, but a swindling pipe through which extra-budgetary spendings were carried out. Aisha also consistently maintained this promise by her husband stressing that she knows her roles as the wife of the President and not the unconstitutional position of the First Lady.

The office of the First Lady was made popular by Mariam, the late wife of General Ibrahim Babangida, former military President who reigned for eight years between 1985 and 1993. Since then, apart from Justice Fati Abubakar, the wife of General Abdulsami Abubakar, a former Head of State, other wives of former presidents have maintained the office and even advancing it more than they met it.

For Patience, that office to analysts, the was one that almost had the same powers as those of the President. Rotimi Amaechi, the immediate past governor of Rivers State, would not forget in a hurry his experiences in the hands of the first family. He has continued to tell tales of how he was frustrated but for his strength and political sagacity. Amaechi once accused Joseph Mbu and some others of taking instructions from Dame Patience Jonathan in the long-drawn battle between the duo that got Rivers State becoming the victim. Therefore, to hear Buhari and his wife talk about abolishing that office was abominable enough to call on Nigerian women to avoid the APC and its candidate like a plague.

She also had some level of support in this regard. Temple Chima Ubochi, an analyst and blogger, recalled that as Head of State, Buhari apointed no woman to a position of authority, despite the fact that it was the era “Ghandi and Thatcher” reigned. “Now, as presidential candidate, he caused an outrage when he said that he would abolish the Office of the First Lady, if elected. That statement Buhari made turned out to be a big political error. People started reasoning that Buhari’s opinion might have influenced him to hide his wife away from the public all along. People started saying that why Mrs. Buhari was not part of Buhari’s campaign, previously, was as a result of his belief that women are not to be seen or heard. Some of us might think that Nigeria’s current first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, is overstepping her bounds, in words and deeds, but, that’s not enough reason for anybody to contemplate abolishing the office of the first lady. What President Jonathan must do, after winning the election, is to rein in some of the excesses of his wife, and then, everything would be all right.

Although the first lady has no role ascribed to her by the constitution of Nigeria, but, she can play a major role in the society such as receiving guests, visiting orphanages, helping the less privileged people, leading the fight for the right of women and malnourished children, infant mortality rate, kidnapping and girl child trafficking.”
In the heat of condemnation from her, the PDP and some presidential aides about Buhari’s anticipated ‘hatred’ for women, Mallam Garba Shehu, the spokesman of the APC Presidential Campaign Organisation, was forced to issue a statement denying the allegation and putting the record straight using the manifesto of the APC. “Drawing extensively from the information contained in the APC’s manifesto, a Federal Government under the leadership of Buhari promises to offer women and youths in Nigeria a new deal. We are firmly committed to the value that women are the backbone of the Nigerian society, especially in our rural communities.

Therefore, issues that matter to the average Nigerian woman cut across the spectrum of policy areas, such as agriculture – where they predominate as farmers and farm labour – to health and education, where their concern for their children are paramount. Our policy position for woman takes into cognisance the fact that in spite of several rights outlined in the 1999 Constitution, many women do not enjoy the same freedom as men, particularly in the fields of education, economic empowerment and political participation.”

Aisha Buhari
Until after her husband’s victory at the polls, she ran the Hanzy Spa and Hanzy Beauty Institute situated along Camp Road, a high brow area of Ungwan-Rimi Government Residential Area in Kaduna, close to the residence of Architect Namadi Sambo, the immediate past Vice President. The institute is the first in northern Nigeria and was accredited by the National Board of Technical Education as a vocational training centre and registered by the Ministry of Education. The institute was patronised by prominent Nigerians many of whom did not even know that Aisha was the brain behind it. She also has such spa in Abuja. In an interview with ThisDay last year, she called herself a very busy person who does her things quietly and keeps to her profession as an esthetician, managing her spa and beauty institute. “I have a number of documentations on my experience in this area including writing a book, The Essentials of Beauty Therapy,” she said in the interview, to portray her level of education and show how well she is grounded.

Garba noted that no society can progress where half of its population suffers systemic discrimination. An APC government, he said, will seek to end all forms of gender discrimination in both public and private sectors, in education, employment and housing and also protect equal property and inheritance rights. Further explaining the party’s core objectives for women and youths to include, Garba said the Buhari government would improve anti-discriminatory legislation and institute merit-based affirmative action in employment; inject gender as a component of federal character and appoint a Minister for Women and Gender in the Office of the President; enforce legal protection for the fundamental rights of the girl-child in all areas of religious, social and economic life.
Aside this, he said the government would focus on providing women with greater legal protection from domestic violence and sexual harassment; empowering the Police with specialist training on handling of domestic violence issues; strengthening coordination between women and youths’ agencies at state and federal levels cutting across ethnic and religious barriers, improving and strengthening support for women and youths’ participation in all sectors of the economy through training and skill acquisition; develop innovative ways of encouraging women and youths participation; encouraging local governments to combat female adult illiteracy with education programmes in local languages and provide incentives for the private sector to support these initiatives.

President Buhari
Aisha also defended her position saying that her roles in Aso Rock must not necessarily be ascribed to the contentious Office of the First Lady. She promised that her husband would rule the country within the rule of law based on the constitution of the country. She also said: “if the Office of the First Lady is constitutionally recognised, he will not tamper with it but if it is not, that’s okay.” She reiterated this stand last week when at the dinner, she blankedly but with large smiles that easily lights up an entire room, told the guests: “I am not the First Lady. I am the wife of the President and will be addressed as such going forward.”

A press statement from the event summarised her person as played out at the ‘Appreciation Dinner’ dinner for women and youths. Her jovial nature throughout the event belied a strong personality who says what she thinks. Speaking at the State House venue of the dinner, Mrs Buhari shared some of the challenges experienced on the campaign trail, ensuring that she diffused a potential life threatening situation with banters, which shows her sense of balanced perspective on the trials that come with being in the public glare. Speaking in impeccable English, she attributed the success of the campaign to team work and was profoundly grateful to the team, women and youth that helped vote her husband into office. She also attributed all her success and achievements to the support of the President who encouraged her to go to school even while raising five children, where she eventually got her Master’s degree in International Affairs and Strategic Studies from the Nigerian Defence Academy, NDA. “We are celebrating our victory,” she said. “And for every victory celebration, there is a party.”

She regaled the audience with a story of the egg seller who had never flown in an airplane but was flown in for the party. She wanted to bring her eggs along, but the security did not allow the eggs on the plane. With an agenda focusing on women issues, the wife of the President hoped to see more women in the legislature, from the local government level. While observing the decline of women in the legislature , a situation she hopes to help reverse; she expressed belief that empowerment from the ward level would better affect the ordinary woman on the street.

Nicknamed ‘Gogo of Africa’, meaning ‘Caregiver’ by Hajia Ramatu Tijani, the APC National women’s leader, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, jovial and gentle natured, showed she was prepared to share her beloved husband with the rest of the world. She told the guests, who laughed heartedly: “he belongs to the whole world and he belongs to nobody.”

But in saying this, she sounded a warning that has revealed her simplicity and zeal to help her husband succeed. She also revealed what some have called a deep-seated unethical practice that characterised the previous administration by warning her husband’s yet-to-be-named aides and appointees never to receive bribes from anyone to see her or her husband. She reminded the prospective aides that it took her husband 12 years to finally get the seat and thus, should be supported to get priorities right. In her words: “there was nothing that people did not say about the past administration. It is not former President Goodluck Jonathan that is not good but the people around him. So, the people that are going to be around President Buhari have to be very careful because this election ended peacefully. We are praying and hoping that people around him should know that it took him 12 years to get to that position and they must know that they are coming to serve the masses, not General Buhari. It is the people that are around him that will determine the political health of our state.”

Drawing conclusions from Aisha’s warning, Femi Salawu, a Nigerian journalist, listed five revelations, the first being that the President’s aide are very powerful and determine the success of an administration. The second revelation, according to him is that people paid as much as between $30,000 to $50,000 to see Jonathan as the Mrs. President and even paid more to see her husband. The third was Aisha’s confirmation of the success of the campaign she embarked upon for her husband. Aisha had quoted people as saying her husband earned up to four million votes as a result of her campaign. The fourth is the role Tinubu played in the victory of Buhari as it was the former Lagos governor, who pulled her from the house to the field. Finally, she revealed with her statement that her husband has special interest in the happiness of women as witnessed by the number of girl-children he has and the beauty that radiates in his wife.

With her disposition, many think she would demystify that acclaimed powers that lie with the Office of the First Lady, but some think it is just an initial show to attract acceptance as there is the possibility that she would become very powerful like others who had previously occupied the seat. Many analysts have thus warned her to learn from the mistakes of Patience Jonathan, who, according to them, was always in the news for controversial reasons. Professor Remi Sonaiya, the presidential candidate of the KOWA party in the 2015 general elections, was reported as saying though Patience and Aisha are two different people and expected to behave differently, “I think that it’s important to understand her supportive role and to realise that she is not the one that was voted for. She’s not an elected person and therefore should not impose too much on the people. I think the former First Lady would have been a public figure herself because she wanted to be involved in the affairs of the PDP, to determine who gets what and so on and so forth. She loved to exercise power but I think the incoming one is a different kind of person.”

Nigerians are fast becoming politically educated. They now want to be invloved in how they are government. Aisha Buhari is believed in some quarters to have started well. But will she end well or like Patience Jonathan?


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