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Aisha Buhari: Victim or one of the contending villa power players?

First Lady, Mrs Aisha Buhari

An old video clip in which President Buhari’s wife, Aisha, was seen irate and throwing tantrum in the Villa recently went viral, renewing focus on the First family and their domestic issues.  Just before this video, there had been unfounded rumours that President Buhari was set to wed Sadiya Umar Farouq, the Minister of the newly created Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development.

Upon her return to the country on October 13 2019, after a two-month vacation in the United Kingdom, Aisha Buhari confirmed that she was the woman in the video that went viral and explained the circumstances behind the video:

“I was the one in that video and this person you see standing at my back are my security personnel,” the First Lady reportedly told BBC Hausa service.

“It was Fatima, the daughter of Mamman Daura that shot the video in front of my security and everybody there. She was actually recording the whole thing right in front of me and was laughing and mocking me.

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“I left them and wanted to get to one of the rooms but they prevented me from getting through, I left them and took another way yet I met the store locked.”

Fatima Daura had a different version of events:

“When she (Aisha) came, the door was locked and she picked a metal chair and broke the door. I have sent the picture to you. My sister that went out was almost hit by the chair. She threw the chair which broke through the door and almost hit my sister.” She said she recorded the incident  to show her parents “should anything happen”.

Opinions seem sharply divided on this video: while some see Aisha Buhari as a victim, who is being denied the closeness a wife should naturally share with her husband by the people she called ‘cabal’ and  accused of hijacking her husband’s government, others see her as part of the power play in the Villa who is losing out in the power game because she does not want to play by the culturally and religiously rule that a wife must be absolutely submissive, (in public at least),  to her husband in order to  win her trust.

Though Mamman Daura is said to have moved out of the Villa, I disagree with those who said that the President shouldn’t have invited him to live with him in the Villa in the first place. Just like some people invite their friends home and treat them as members of their family so can Buhari invite anyone he chooses to invite to share his home in the Villa with him. We sometimes need some people around us for what they mean to us – either as confidants or as confidence boosters.

One Ibrahim Ali Gombe, writing on Facebook,  put  the relationship  between Buhari and Mamman Daura and Abba Kyari (another member of the cabal that Aisha Buhari often criticises by innuendo) this way:

“Mamman Daura and Abba Kyari (Chief of Staff) are two personalities you [Aisha]cannot push away from President Buhari, your husband. Fine, you’re his wife; however, what these two have contributed in the life of your husband is inestimable and unquantifiable. Buhari is Abba Kyari. Abba Kyari is Mamman Daura. Mamman Daura is Buhari. They are inseparable.”

Apart from  Mamman Daura and Abba Kyari being relatives, Ibrahim Ali Gombe also claimed that when Buhari was released from detention after being overthrown by Babangida in 1985, it was Mamman Daura who placed him on a monthly salary through his companies and was in fact a benefactor to the entire Buhari family, including training Aisha’s children abroad. He also claimed that Abba Kyari was Buhari’s chief financier when he ran for the presidency in 2003, 2007 and 2011. If this claim is true,  then  Buhari’s apparent loyalty to both Mamman Daura and Abba Kyari is not just a continuation of their long-standing friendship and blood relationship but also a way Buhari  expresses his gratitude for their support over the years. Obviously such closeness may rub on the wrong side of many wives.  It is precisely being seen as competitors for their husband’s affection and closeness that some wives are endlessly fighting their mothers’ in-law or husband’s family.

While it may be difficult to know the underlying causes of disaffection between a man and his wife, I believe that Aisha’s public criticisms of her husband’s policies, to the applause of Buhari’s political opponents, have not  helped her cause in the power play at the Villa.  In an article I published in this column on  February 1 2018, entitled, “Why I cannot #Stand with AishaBuhari” I enumerated various ways in which the President’s wife could have possibly misread and complicated her woes by publicly criticising her husband and his government’s policies to the applause of Buhari’s political opponents. Permit me to quote copiously from that piece:

“… a wife should not be seen to compete in an area in which her husband is also interested in competing. This may sound sexist – and it is – but it is unfortunately the worldview of the men of Buhari’s generation. And it is also in this context that his remarks about the ‘other room’ must be understood. It is equally why it is dangerous for Mrs Buhari to listen to those goading her ‘not to be cowed’ or massaging her ego that she will make a better President than her husband.” Mrs Buhari may have unwittingly been playing into the hands of her enemies within the government who have reportedly labelled her the “suicide bomber from Adamawa.” In fact if the President’s cabal have marginalized her and her husband either endorses that marginalization or turns blind eye to it, she should also examine whether she may be unwittingly doing anything that gives the wrong impression that she cannot be trusted.

The challenge for Aisha Buhari therefore is to find a way of reaching accommodation with some of the members of the ‘cabal’ to ensure she is not completely marginalized in the affairs of the government.  Playing the victim may win sympathies for her, especially from feminist groups, but such may paradoxically even further compound the reported distrust of her in the government.

And by the way, despite misgivings about the cabal it is most likely that the President’s confidence in them will have increased by the way they managed his illness and hospitalization. Though many criticized their secrecy over the whole illness, they also managed to ensure that hawks did not carry out a palace coup to remove Buhari during his long hospitalization in the United Kingdom. They equally ensured that he came back probably looking healthier than he was when he left the country so it may be more difficult to delegitimize them in the President’s eyes by fighting them in public.

I believe it is perfectly possible for Aisha Buhari to retain her apparently outspoken nature while defending her husband vigorously in public. It is often said that in African culture, the most influential wives are often those who find ways of gaining the confidence of their husbands and deliberately appear subservient and submissive to their husbands. This is not naivety as some thin but  a method of power play by women that is often more effective than abrasive frontal challenge for power.

The point is that many men say their wives are their best critics but that is acceptable to them only because such criticism take place outside the public glare – and therefore believed to be in good faith. There certainly must be other ways and channels for Mrs Buhari to make her feelings about the government known without giving the impression that she is friends with her husband’s political foes or endorsing their positions. This means that public stabs from her would be far more painful to her husband than the stabs of Brutus to his bosom friend Julius Caesar in “even thou Brutus”.

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