Nigeria has a First Lady whose outings are a critique of what people see as the husband’s rather lackluster presidency. Not once, not twice but too many times and in each of these, she speaks the language people want to hear. It makes her a puzzle as to how come she can afford shooting straight in spite of her location in the centre of the sort of privileges that would banish merely contemplating any form of protest, no matter what, if it were some other women. And, by so doing, rupturing fandom as well as the image of Buhari as held in some otherwise well regarded enclaves.
In a September 17th, 2017 interview with Punch, Prof Bolaji Akinyemi had this to say in a contextual profile of Muhammadu Buhari: Apart from being the president, he (Buhari) probably right now, is the only Nigerian that can ensure that we don’t end up in a ditch; in spite of what he says at times, he is the only Nigerian. Not that he stands the chance; he is the only person. Whether he will do it or not, is a different kettle of fish. Now, why do I say that? The present system that we have is skewed in favour of the North and the way forward will have to be the surrender of issues from the 1999 Constitution controlled by the Federal Government to the states. Some issues on the exclusive list should be moved to the concurrent list and possibly, there should be a creation of the reserved list. So, it is the North that needs to make the concession. But if you’re going to be rational in your approach, the North has to be persuaded that it is not being asked to commit political or economic suicide and the only person right now that the North truly trusts and believes will not play politics with their interests is Muhammadu Buhari. He stands now in the kind of position that the (late) Sardauna stood in the sixties. An average person on the northern streets believes in Buhari in the way that they don’t believe in (former Vice President) Atiku (Abubakar) or my former boss, IBB, because those are the people who have spoken out forcefully calling for restructuring. The northern streets will conclude that these persons are playing with their interests.
Even those who might point at an element of exaggeration in Akinyemi’s analysis would not fault the aspect that touches on the ‘northern streets’ as an element of Buhari’s power. Many elements, including those with radical roots, are on that street and still very assertive in their preference for Buhari. Some do not talk about it but, deep within them, they would rather see no evil about the man. There is thus the element of fandom underpinning Buhari’s struggle for and with power even as there are equally numerous ones completely disenchanted with the Buhari they have seen in the past four years.
There is nothing strange in that because there can be no hero, super star or charismatic rider without fandom except that, most times, fandom is a liability. It is so because fans are about cheering, clapping and hailing. For fans and fandom, every step of the star is a magical addition to singularity. It goes on and on till the star believed to be some god begins to show that s/he is human after all, either from disagreeable misinterpretation of cardinal principles or contradictory practices or to physical exhaustion and to death. Very few would disagree that President Buhari is suffering from several contradictory practices, especially in his mission of fighting corruption. But bulk of his fans is still cheering, some as militantly as ever. In the eyes of some fans, it is a sin to criticise Buhari.
This is where Aisha Buhari is a puzzle. It has never happened in the history of Nigeria for the president’s wife to speak across purposes with the president president. Social science in Nigeria is still dazed by her standpoint politics that it has nothing to say on her agency yet. There are still no works in the literature that captures her slicing of the Buhari establishment in each and every of her outing., beginning from the cabalistic framing of the Buhari presidency to challenging Nigerian men to contest cabalistic capture of the engine room of power to a swipe at the government’s N500b safety net intervention. Her voice rings very sharply on whichever issue she takes, sharper than all else running the show.
Take the latest one, for instance, particularly the portion below which has been edited to take out the reportorial voice. She was speaking penultimate Saturday in Katsina where she was superintending distribution of relief materials to victims of banditry. They are in thousands. Beyond tasking security to crack the criminals before it is too late, she situated her intervention in the broader context: We are not supposed to be here giving rice, milk and others items to victims of an incident during Ramadan period. We should not keep silent while things are happening, thinking that if something happens today it will not happen tomorrow. What happened today, will happen tomorrow, it will also happen next tomorrow if we keep silent. It is compulsory to speak the truth, it is not proper for us to give highest number of votes during the general elections and allow bandits continue killing people and keep quiet. We must speak on whatever is going wrong in the country.
A very welcome intervention certainly! How great would it have been if the president himself were to say things that move people rather than what critics call his head prefect approach to power – always seeking to punish rather than correct. And which is simply what is tearing the country apart because that rarely speaks to the issues, a point that permits a digression here. Nigeria is currently afflicted by generalized insecurity. But it is not the insecurity that is tearing down the country. Rather, it is there being no consensus whatsoever on a state of siege of that magnitude Nigeria is experiencing. The government that should have led the discussion has itself no clear or definitive sense of the multiple assaults on the country. On one occasion, the president or his mostly incoherent aides would say it is corruption fighting back. That is to say allegedly corrupt persons are making the country ungovernable. On the next occasion, he would say it is renegade fighters from outside the country. The next platform he gets, he would say it is an old problem that comes from closure of cattle routes. How could the president afford shifting standpoints in the face of a powerful, countervailing narrative of the insecurity by critics who see it as an act of genocide by his own Fulani ethno-religious identity?
Akinyemi and people who think like him are, therefore, correct to rate Buhari a failure in consensus building. In the same interview, Akinyemi said: “… Obviously, I would have preferred that we’re confronted with a president who engaged in consultations and also probably brought in more stakeholders. In a way, the presidency of any country is a critical agent for change. The Americans call it the bully pulpit syndrome. The buck stops with the president. The body language of the president can determine the outcome of an engagement. I hold the belief that President Buhari has a critical role to play in moving the nation forward in averting the oncoming tragedy and in heading the country away from collision to a cooperative destination in arriving at the kind of federalism that will be acceptable to all of us”.
It is either the president does not understand or does not accept that it is one thing to have insecurity but another thing entirely how the insecurity is understood. Each of the two frames above imply different approaches to solving the problem. If there is no consensus and quickly too, how would the situation not be an invitation to something with unacceptable consequences, given the threats and acrimony going on? Not when the lack of transparent effort at consensus by the president on whose shoulders the buck stops can even be read as a power script. Consensus building could be difficult to forge but it is a requirement. Same as mass mobilization! Yet, all two are absent at the moment. Obviously, the government assumes that anybody who cannot see something great in its strides must be a fool or a saboteur.
So, from which spring of wisdom does Aisha Buhari drinks that she can handle the complexities but not her president husband? And is it that the camp differences in the household of power is simply unbridgeable or she is not generous with her wisdom as far as sharing with the husband or that the husband doesn’t value her own spring of wisdom? People seek to marry those who can give them a quick second opinion that cannot but be genuine, honest and reliable. But, here is where views that appear earthier do not seem to find reception with the president. Could the distance between the president and the ‘other’ room be such that impairs sharing of views?