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Mrs. Aisha Buhari, please cool down

Aisha Buhari
Mrs. Aisha Buhari.

The  statement that wife of the president Mrs. Aisha Buhari personally signed and widely circulated on Wednesday last week, in which she accused Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity Malam Garba Shehu of disloyalty and insubordination,brought her reputation for controversy and ill-thought out remarks to a new low in the eyes of many Nigerians.

She accused the presidential aide of being loyal to the president’s nephew and confidante Malam Mamman Daura, and said Shehu “has shifted his loyalty from the President to others who have no stake in the compact that the President signed with Nigerians…To make matters worse, Mr. Shehu has presented himself to these people as a willing tool and executioner of their antics, from the corridors of power even to the level of interfering with the family affairs of the President.”

Specifically, she accused Garba Shehu of announcing that there will be no office of the First Lady in the Buhari Administration. Shehu made this statement in 2015, and it only amplified a statement that Buhari himself made as President-elect, that unlike under previous regimes, his wife will not be a First Lady. For Mrs. Buhari to publicly demand Shehu’s resignation was undue interference in governance by an unelected person, precisely what she was accusing Mamman Daura of.

Nor does Mrs. Buhari weigh the impact of some of her unguarded utterances. To say, for example, that she used the Department of State Services [DSS] to save some Nigeria Television Authority [NTA] reporters attached to her office from being sacked, allegedly on Shehu’s orders, unwittingly revealed her own abuse of power by using secret policemen to interfere with agency decisions. Her long running, very nasty fight with Mamman Daura and his family members, not over policy or principle but over turf and privilege, has been the single biggest public image disaster for the Buhari Administration. First family members exchanging insults and invectives on social media with damaging audio and video clips is totally alien to Nigerian and African traditions and Mrs. Buhari must shoulder most of the blame for being the first to go public with the family quarrel.

Other statements that she made over the years, which some people hail her for alleged candour, are also outside her brief and are a nuisance and an embarrassment to her husband’s government. Earlier this month, she publicly said that ministers and public officers close to the Presidency were not doing enough to defend the President and the Federal Government, that they “keep mute while fake news merchants attempt to take over the government.” Those remarks, made on TVC’s phone-in program “Journalists Hangout,” were meant to address a controversy she earlier generated by supporting moves to regulate the social media, a minefield that she ought to have avoided.

Her statement at a Muslim religious function late last month slamming state governors and ministers for failing to provide basic social amenities and infrastructure was also indecorous. She said, “We either fasten our seatbelts, do the needful or we all regret it very soon because at the rate things are going, things are getting completely out of hand.” Also shocking was the attack she unleashed last May on the Administration’s N500 billion Social Investment Program, SIP, which Mrs. Buhari said has “failed woefully” in the North. Its implementation was pathetic in her native Adamawa State, she said, a charge she repeated a few weeks later in Katsina State.

Aisha, who hails from Adamawa State, said the situation in her home state, as far as SIP implementation was concerned, was pathetic. She also said the program had failed in Kano “despite the huge funds the Federal Government had budgeted for it.” Such utterances, mistaken by some as candour, cause enormous distractions for the government. Of course the worst by far was her BBC Hausa Service interview in October 2016 when, while Buhari was travelling abroad, she accused unnamed persons of hijacking his government. She so caught Buhari off-guard that he responded with his own ill-thought out comment about the kitchen and “the other room.”

All over the world, the traditional role of the president’s wife is to provide the soft side of an Administration and help smoothen the rough edges of governance. Mrs. Buhari is ill-suited to the task she has assigned for herself as conscience of the nation. She must also take her unending quarrels with the president’s kinsmen off the public space. If they must continue to fight, please let them do so in their private space. Then also, she should spare loyal aides such as Garba Shehu who are trying to do their best for the administration at a very difficult time.

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