With this year’s edition of BB Naija having just ended after fleecing Nigerian youths of billions of naira, which they paid in order to watch young adults live a false life of debauchery inside a video-wired and live-transmitted cage, something else was badly needed to fill the void.
The local football league has lost most of its lustre. Most of the big guns in Nigerian football who made waves internationally have now retired. There is no exciting national lottery in Nigeria these days. There are no great boxers, wrestlers or tennis players in Nigeria anymore. Our athletes these days are something else. Election tribunals are returning all the governors. Stories of coups in African countries used to cause excitement in Nigeria but no one has been overthrown since Zimbabwean soldiers shoved Robert Mugabe aside two years ago.
Brexit is too complicated to entertain. Everyone lost interest in Israeli elections when two of them in one year were declared inconclusive. The war that just started in northern Syria is not understood by anyone outside the Turkish government, and the on-going Trump impeachment enquiry in Washington, DC lacks all the high drama of Watergate. So far it has no Cuban burglars, no White House “plumbers,” no Sphinx, no Bernstein and Woodward, no Deep Throat, no “what did the president know and when did he know it,” no Judge John Sirica and no 18 and a half-minute gap in tapes.
One would have thought that the Federal Government’s budget estimates for next year, which the president presented to a joint session of the National Assembly last week, would have caused much national excitement but outside circles of top civil servants, economists, contractors and top politicians, few Nigerians paid much attention. This was partly because the president’s budget speech was dense with figures and in Nigeria, statistics have been completely discredited since the day ten years ago when government said Niger Delta power projects were 90% completed even though they had not generated one megawatt of power out of the promised 4,000 megawatts. So what was the 90% completion? “Publicising bids for the contract, 10% completion; receiving bids, 15%; opening of bids, 20%; award of contracts, 25%; opening letters of credit, 30%; paying for shipping, 35%; arrival of goods at the ports, 50%; paying demurrage, 60%; paying compensation for land at the sites, 60%;…”
The tale that said President Muhammadu Buhari was about to marry one of his ministers therefore stepped in to fill the void. It had all the elements that cause excitement. Power itself was involved because it would be the first marriage in Nigeria’s State House since 1968, when General Yakubu Gowon took Miss Victoria Zakari for a wife. Powerful people were also involved, the President of the Federal Republic himself and a whole federal minister. Another very powerful Nigerian, the First Lady, was tangentially involved because she was about to get a co-wife after 30 years of marriage to an Army General turned politician, with several children and grandchildren to show for it. That Mrs. Aisha Buhari had been away from the country for two months added spice to the tale.
Paralysis in the Presidency’s communication machinery also helped the tale’s spread. While the story swept through the social media like wildfire and discussion in all offices, houses, bars and police stations was dominated by it, government officials said virtually nothing. Personally, I could see why. Who is there to walk up to Buhari and say, “Oga, is it true that you are going to marry the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs? Reporters are asking and I want to know what I should tell them.” One stern look from the president could melt any press officer’s audacity.
Very enterprising young Nigerian cyber innovators therefore rushed in to fill the void. One group of them printed a wedding card. Not surprisingly, it was made in the mould of the numerous wedding invitation cards that herald marriages every weekend in the North. It was issued in the name of the president’s late father, “Alhaji Buhari Daura.” I am not sure that was the name that the old man used, but the card alleged that he was inviting people to the wedding of “our children.”
Now, now. This card made no concession to age and circumstance. In Hausa Muslim tradition, second, third and fourth marriages are not the responsibility of parents, such as the first marriage is. A person can as well go with his friends and contract his second marriage. Besides, if a man is getting married at President Buhari’s age and position, there is no need for a card. He has enough ministers, advisers, governors, party leaders, ambassadors and hopeful contractors who can fill the venue of the wedding by word of mouth alone. In fact, newspapers reported last Friday that the State House mosque was filled to the brim because many VIPs turned up for the Friday prayers in case the rumoured marriage turned out to be true.
We even read on the social media about the Imam who was to contract the marriage. Another social media post claimed that half a million naira was to be paid as bride price, which I thought was on the high side because most grooms pay between N20,000 and N100,000 these days. Dowry is a central element in Muslim marriage, but in Hausa society it is a minor financial element in marriage, the more serious things being the bridal boxes called lefe and the marriage ceremony called biki. Now, while those boxes full of cloth, cosmetics and jewelry could number up to a dozen depending on the couple’s social status, they are mostly important for young brides who are marrying for the first time. If the bride is a minister, for instance, she does not need boxes of cloth.
In addition to the fake wedding card, social media activists also made up several videos about the presidential “wedding.” One of them, which showed Hajia Sadiyya Umar Faruk gaily dressed in the middle of a party, surrounded by VIP women, was really deceptive because it looked like a wedding party. In fact, it was a party thrown by her friends to celebrate her appointment as a minister. Which means VIPs in Nigeria must be careful because videos of events could easily be twisted to look like something else.
I also saw a Tweet by the minister where she said rumours that she would marry “Baba Buhari” were not true. I don’t know if she made that Tweet, but her use of the name by which the president is referred to in political circles sounded significant. It was stripped of romance and emotion. I know a few Hausa women who call their husbands “Baba” but it is very rare. The minister has a very challenging portfolio to cope with, mostly carved out of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s office. Her task will be made doubly difficult now because the media will watch her every step. The president too may not want her to visit his office anytime soon despite her critical cabinet portfolio because rumour mongers will feast on it.
At the weekend, Mrs. Aisha Buhari returned to the country after a long holiday abroad. When a reporter asked her about the speculated marriage, she said she was not the one to answer that question since she was not the one alleged to be getting married. The trouble with that answer is that it has set up the President; reporters will now be looking for him to ask him if it is true that he is taking a second wife anytime soon.
Going forward, how can the Presidency avoid such highly distracting rumours from sweeping the country and throwing it off balance? It should do some very exciting things such as create new states, pay Udoji, capture Shekau or send Super Eagles to win the World Cup.