“First Lady” Bounces Back

The major problem Aisha Buhari had in the last four years, was how to accurately fit into the mould her husband had cast for himself and his family before 2015. It was not Aisha that groaned about approaching the bank manager to obtain a loan for a presidential nomination form (purportedly to be seen as “not wealthy”). It was not Aisha that cast forth a very frugal way of life as doctrine. It was neither Aisha, that, for maximum effect, carefully placed a N30 sachet beverage (now N50) before cameras during breakfast with his running mate, as campaign season climaxed. That was Muhammadu Buhari, her husband. And not a few Nigerians were hoodwinked.

Buhari came across as a very modest, frugal man. The campaign, pre-2015, was extremely deft in their image management of the man who would defeat then incumbent Goodluck Jonathan. The result of their strategy was to cast Buhari in a very modest light. They almost made him look poor. We all assumed he not only couldn’t afford life’s luxuries, he didn’t want them altogether! And since you must like something to steal it, Buhari, who doesn’t like money, would be an excellent choice to manage our resources.

After winning the election, part of what we expected, was to see a man who would cut down on excesses and extravagances. Someone who would be transparent, publish his assets, cut down on frivolous appointments and use his personal lifestyle as a model on how to run government. It only ended in promises.

First, he didn’t publish his assets. Then, he appointed aides in their numbers, spent and borrowed just like his predecessors, still budgeted billions for feeding in State House, and flew around the world like a flamingo. Perhaps, worse, was his frequent medical trips to London. If he was indeed frugal, he wasn’t with state resources.

But that didn’t stop him from always touting frugality, discipline and anti-corruption. That was what led him to insist on scrapping the office of the “First Lady”. And he almost did. The idea that unelected spouses of politicians have no business running official businesses, resonated well with Nigerians. So, since the office had been scrapped, or so we thought, the President’s spouse was to simply be addressed as “Wife of the President”, (as if we needed to be reminded of what she is).

But the “scrapping” of the office didn’t affect her staff, or official spaces at the villa. She retained her conference room, and soon enough a Special Adviser was appointed into that office. Soon, she launched her pet project, a boring ritual that every one of her predecessors carried out. She had her security details, and was driven in official vehicles. In comparison to previous First Ladies, nothing actually changed. In fact, apart from The two “Maryams” (Babangida and Abacha), and Patience Jonathan, she ranks among the most noticeable First Ladies. Whereas, her husband actually scrapped that office.

During his first term, President Buhari did his best to relegate his wife’s influence when she occasionally broke out of her traditional shell. The norm is that First Ladies are the mouthpieces of their husbands among the female folk. Unfortunately, Aisha Buhari broke with tradition. In interview after interview, she questioned her husband’s decisions and appointments, and even sensationally threatened to not campaign for his second term mandate. (She was actually a no-show at most of the campaign rallies). Her husband responded by claiming she belonged to the Kitchen and “the other room” in a moment that was perhaps the most awkward any First Family has ever endured in Aso Rock.

Now that the storm is over, and a second term is in the bag, tempers have calmed, and the veil is off. We now know that most of the message of frugality we heard were just messages. The president’s son once crashed a powerbike that cost millions of naira, in a near-fatal accident. The wife of the president has been seen adorning designer wears that cost multiple millions of naira. Her Democracy Day dinner gown cost over half a million naira. The president’s children all attended choice schools abroad. The president is not poor after all. He never was.

Actually, no one should have thought an ex- Head of State, wouldn’t be able to afford a nomination form without going to the bank. We believe the reason the President hasn’t published his assets declaration form is because we would likely be surprised at how much he is actually worth.

But, the decision of the First Lady to revert to the normal “First Lady” is a joke taken too far. The office was scrapped, we were told. But, they are now making us believe it was merely a change of nomenclature.

We’ve always had First Ladies. And if Buhari had simply continued with that culture, no eyebrows would have been raised. But he told us he was scrapping it to cement his frugal image. It was mere deception. It was mere politics.

Hear Aisha Buhari’s explanation at her decision to revert to the First Lady title: “’Wife of the President’ title caused 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,”

So, Aisha Buhari reduced the decision to the confusion caused in states, where First Ladies are also a corresponding drain on lean resources and a fantastic waste of time. No. I’m old enough to remember when the office was promised to be scrapped.

Dear First Lady, in the last four years, we didn’t have a First Lady, or call you one, because your husband promised to scrap the office. We believed he did, although we later knew he didn’t. By reverting to “First Lady”, it’s an admittance to a fraudulent scam you pulled on many Nigerians. Maybe if the office had actually been scrapped, it would have spiraled downwards, and that would have been one positive change your administration delivered that Nigeria badly needed.

But no. The more things Changed, the more they moved to the Next Level.

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