Rumble in villa: First Lady’s outbursts and the war within
Besides being the hostess of the Presidential Villa, President Muhammadu Buhari’s wife, Aisha, rather than sustain the show of power most of her predecessors were known for, has remained a major critic of the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led administration headed by her spouse. FELIX NWANERI reports on the many battles of the First Lady
Born on 17 February 1971 in Adamawa State, the First Lady is a cosmetologist, beauty therapist and author.
Her grandfather, Alhaji Muhammadu Ribadu, was Nigeria’s first Minister of Defence. Aisha’s father was a civil engineer and her mother is a descendant of the Ankali family, renowned farmers.
Aisha married a former Head of State, Maj. Geneal Muhammadu Buhari and they had five children.
The First Lady holds a bachelor of arts degree in Public Administration from Ambrose Alli University and a master’s degree in International Affairs and Strategic Studies from the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna.
She also obtained a diploma in Beauty Therapy from the Carlton Institute of Beauty Therapy, Windsor, United Kingdom and a post-graduate diploma in Cosmetology and Beauty from Academy Esthetique Beauty Institute of France.
She is a member of the United Kingdom Vocational Training and Charitable Trust and the International Health and Beauty Council.
She is the founder/managing director of Hanzy Spa and principal of Hanzy Beauty Institute, a beauty salon in Kaduna and Abuja. She is a resource person to the National Basic Technical Education (NBTE) on beauty therapy and cosmetology and has participated in the curriculum development of small medium enterprises for NBTE.
She published a book titled Essentials of Beauty Therapy: A Complete Guide for Beauty Specialists, which has been recommended as a text for the NBTE curriculum.
A women’s right activist and child right advocate, Mrs. Buhari founded Future Assured, an initiative she came up with after assuming the Office of Lady to continue her advocacy work for the health and well-being of women and children through community mobilization and health promotion.
There is no doubt that the office of the First Lady is not recognised by the Nigerian Constitution though wives of the president and governors have over time enjoyed public acknowledgement and some perks.
However, most stakeholders see the office, which Nigeria might have copied from the United States (U.S.), where the use of the title – First Lady – to describe the spouse of an executive first began in the early days of the American republic as an illegality and a drain to the nation’s resources.
From a mere status in the first and second republics, the First Lady phenomenon has metamorphosed to a power broking one in Nigeria. It particularly became part of the polity in 1986 through the wife of the then military ruler, General Ibrahim Babangida, late Mariam.
Since then, wives of subsequent leaders, military or civilian have not only continued to glamourise the position, but strengthening it as well. As a result of this, the title which has no mention anywhere in Nigeria’s constitution has become part of the body polity at all levels of government – federal, state and even local council.
And despite the fact that formal budgetary provisions are not made for the Office of the First Lady (at any of the levels of government) it is generously funded with public funds. Also, the various first ladies are allocated a retinue of aides, who are paid with public funds. These are besides their pet projects, which are equally funded by the government.
The argument over the propriety or otherwise of the Office of the First Lady got to a point that its immediate past occupant, Dame Patience Jonathan, advised that rather than scrap the office, constitutional roles should be assigned to its occupants.
Whereas many disagreed with Dame Jonathan’s proposal then, President Muhammadu Buhari, on assumption of office in May 2015, promised that there would be a clear difference between the role to be played by his wife during his tenure and previous first ladies.
Buhari, not only renamed the First Lady’s Office to “Office of the Wife of the President, but maintained then that the ostentation and arrogance that come with the office are over and done with.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media, Mallam Garba Shehu, who made clarifications on the issue then, said: “President Buhari promised that there would be a clear difference between the role played by his wife during his tenure and that played by many previous First Ladies. All that ostentation, ubiquitousness and arrogance we have come to expect from the office are over and done with. Change has come.”
On the Mrs. Buhari role, he said: “The ideal platform from which she will be useful to Nigeria’s women and children is still being thought out. Once this has been concluded on, Mrs. Buhari’s role will become clearer to all Nigerians. There will be nothing shady or hidden about it. There will be no access to public funds. It will be purely private and voluntary.”
No doubt, Buhari walked his talk in his first term (2015-2019) as his wife’s disposition to the once glamorous office of showed that it was a complete break from the past.
However, it was a new song shortly after the President was inaugurated for a second term in office. In a move that shocked many, Mrs. Buhari, announced her decision to be addressed as the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. She said this would also resolve the issue of the title of wives of governors.
He words: “When my husband was elected newly, I personally chose to be called the wife of the President. But, I realised that it caused confusion in the states as to whether the wives of governors are to be addressed as 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.”
An unusual Wife of President/First Lad
But, whether as Wife of the President or First Lady, it is indisputable that Mrs. Buhari is not the kind of first lady that Nigerians are used to.
Besides been the hostess of the Presidential Villa, she is major critic of the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led administration headed by her spouse.
Rather than sustain the show of power most of her predecessors were known for, Mrs. Buhari has always gone public with her concerns over her spouse’s government.
As Wife of the President, she shocked the nation in December 2018, when she said in an interview she granted to the Hausa Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that Buhari’s government had been hijacked by a “few people,” who were behind presidential appointments.
She also said that the President did not know most of the officials he appointed in his first term and warned that she may not back him for a second term unless he shakes up his government.
According to her, people who did not share the vision of the APC were appointed to top positions because of the influence a few people wield.
Her words: “The President does not know 45 out of 50 of the people he appointed and I don’t know them either despite being his wife of 27 years. Some people are sitting down in their homes folding their arms only for them to be called to come and head an agency or a ministerial position.”
Though the President’s wife failed to mention names then, she said some of such appointees were not on the same page with Buhari on the vision of the APC.
“A lot of people have been coming on their own and also collectively to tell him that things are not going the way it should, when it comes to putting people in certain positions. Because most of those that are occupying positions in agencies, nobody knows them and they themselves don’t know our party manifesto; what we campaigned for; they were not part of us completely.
“People were sitting down in their houses, folding their arms only for them to be called to come and head an agency or a ministerial position. They don’t have a mission or vision of our APC. Some of them don’t even have voters card, and those who made sacrifice have been reduced to nothing and certainly not happy with the way things are going,” she said.
Mrs. Buhari then called for the strengthening of the ruling party, saying “whoever is not part of the APC should not have control over more than fifteen million people, who voted for the President. We are in a democracy and not military era, so we have to play it well and leave a legacy.”
When asked whether the President will contest the 2019 election, she said: “He is yet to tell me, but I have decided as his wife that if things continue like this up to 2019, I will not go out and campaign again and ask any woman to vote like I did before. I will never do it again.”
That was not the first time the President’s wife would be expressing displeasure with the APC government. She had a month earlier (November 2018) appealed to the administration not to renege on its campaign promise of paying N5,000 stipend to unemployed Nigerians.
In a statement by her media aide, Adebisi Ajayi, Mrs. Buhari also asked the APC to fulfil its promise of giving school children one free meal a day.
While many commended Mrs. Buhari then for speaking out, her husband dismissed the claim of his government been hijacked by a cabal.
The President, while answering questions from journalists during a visit to Germany, said: “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room. So, I claim superior knowledge over her and the rest of the opposition because in the end I have succeeded. It’s not easy to satisfy the whole Nigerian opposition parties or to participate in the government.”
Expectedly, Buhari’s choice of words (that his wife belongs to the kitchen) did not go down well with some activists, who described it offensive.
But, Mallam Shehu (presidential spokesman), who played down on his principal’s comment, said he was merely joking over comment on his wife and called on Nigerians to disregard it.
Then President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, particularly said the fact that Mrs. Buhari could come out to openly express reservations about her husband’s appointees showed that his earlier argument that the government had been hijacked was in good faith.
His words: “It is true that we still believe that there’s a government within the government. We do believe that the President has good intention and we’re behind him. But a situation, where a few people are in charge does not bode well for the image and the future of our country.
“A situation, where people, who work within the executive, say one thing and other people, who work in the same administration say and even do another thing, shows that people are getting directives from different authorities.
“Mrs. Buhari is our mother and she has come out to say that the way things are being run; where APC manifesto has been abandoned and the party completely left out of governance, should not continue for too long.”
Was Mrs. Buhari proved right?
The First Lady might not have been completely wrong on her claim then that those who worked for her husband’s victory in the 2015 election were discarded as most of them waited unsuccessfully till the end of the President’s first team to get “rewarded.”
Among these supporters were those who served in the party’s presidential campaign council and the 19-member Transition Committee that worked with the then Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government to ensure a smooth transfer of power.
However, some of her critics reasoned then that there could be more than meet the eye to her outburst. They opined that she was apparently fighting back as the scrapping of the Office of the First Lady and officially designating her as “Wife of the President” denied her of the power and influence she would have wielded.
For instance, an Islamic cleric, Shiek Ismail Illyasu Mangu, who then said that the President’s wife outburst was capable of inciting the public against the government, opined that some people were using the First Lady to tarnish the image of the President and the country.
The cleric, who spoke at Jamaatul Izalatul Bid’ah Mosque in Farm Centre, Kano, said: “We are sad about the interview granted by the wife of the President. We believe that opposition members in the country are using her against the government. Her statement is unfair and capable of inciting violence. It is a threat to the peace of the country and we do hope the security agencies will immediately arrest her.”
But, the president of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), Alhaji Yerima Shettima, who then rose in defence of the First Lady, said she will stand tall on the day of reckoning.
His words: “I don’t think there is nothing wrong in a woman advising her husband and saying it out in the public. What she was saying is not for today, but for the future, especially as it concerns her family. It is expected that whether a man is in public office or not, he should have people especially family members who can advise him.
“If Aisha chose to keep mum now and at the end of the day the whole thing boomerangs, the immediate family, either directly or indirectly, may have to bear the brunt. We have examples of that around us already.
“It is obvious that the leadership of this country has been hijacked. The man meant well for the country but those around him are not thinking of the masses. So, if she chose to advice and her advice is now being misconstrued, then there is more to be desired.
“It is a good thing that she opened up, so that when the day of reckoning comes, she will stand tall and nobody will accuse her of watching him go astray. We must all stand as patriotic Nigerians and support those who are genuinely committed to the development of this country.”
National Chairman of Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), Mr. Olanrewaju Suraju, who also spoke on the issue then, said Mrs. Buhari’s outburst would have been from the responses she was getting from the President on some issues.
“I think the statement of Aisha should be understood that it was not directed at the President. It is directed at the system and the Presidency, and this is because some of the things that are happening are not originally in the party’s manifesto.
Secondly, some of the actors we are seeing now were not part of the original idea of the man’s presidency and thirdly, she is an insider. For her to have spoken out, it sends a message that she is probably not getting a positive response from the President on some issues.”
Damn verdict on APC government Despite President Buhari’s position that the place of his wife is the kitchen and the other room, the First Lady has not refrained from expressing her views on issues of governance.
In what appeared a damning verdict on the APC administration in May this year, Mrs. Buhari rubbished the N500 billion Social Investment Programme (SIP) of the present administration, saying that it failed “woefully” in the North in particular.
She spoke during an interactive programme she organised for women at the Presidential Villa on May 26, which was three days before her spouse was inaugurated for a second term in office. Citing example with Adamawa State, where she hails from, the First Lady said the situation in the north eastern state as far as the implementation of the SIP is concerned was pathetic.
She also spoke of Kano State, where she said the programme failed despite the huge funds the Federal Government budgeted for it. “Concerning the N500 billion voted for SIP, that was part of 2015 campaigns where they promised to give out N10,000; feed pupils in primary schools and give N5,000 to the poorest of the poor.
The SSA to the President on Social Investment is a lady from Kano and I am sure that my husband decided to put somebody from Kano because of the population and political impact it made. “I have never asked how the money is being used or is being given out. I met barrister (an aide to the President) once and he promised me that for my state, we should get 30,000 women to be given N10,000. Up till now, I haven’t heard from him. “I don’t want to raise the alarm that my state does not benefit from it, where the Secretary to the Government of the Federation comes from; I kept quiet because I don’t want people to say that I talk too much.
Recently, I saw a 74-year-old man selling petty things in Kano, I asked him how much is his capital, he told me between N3,000 and N4,000. Don’t forget that we have campaigned to give the poorest of the poor N5,000 every month. “So, I don’t know where the social investment is.
Maybe, it worked out in some states. In my own state, only a local government benefited out of the 22. I didn’t ask what happened and I don’t want to know, but it failed woefully in Kano, it’s not a good sign and it’s not a good thing,” she averred. Mrs. Buhari also criticised the $16 million counterpart fund said to have been used so far on procurement of mosquito nets.
According to her, “I have heard about mosquito nets, Nigeria paid its counterpart fund of $16m. I asked them to give me my own share of the net, so that I can send it to my people in the village. I didn’t get it. They have spent $16 million in buying mosquito nets, I did not get it. Maybe, some people have gotten it, but my personal opinion is that $16 million is enough to fumigate Nigeria.” First Lady turns the heat on Daura, Shehu Mrs. Buhari’s battles assumed a twist last week, when she accused the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the President (Garba Shehu) of serving the interest of some powerful individuals, including her husband’s nephew (Mamman Daura), rather than focusing on managing the image of the President. In a statement titled: “Garba Shehu has gone beyond his boundaries,” which she personally signed, the First Lady said the presidential spokesman has shifted his loyalty to individuals who have no stake in the government.
She revealed that the directive scrapping the Office of the First Lady in 2015 was issued by Daura, using Shehu, a development, which according to her, embarrassed President Buhari. Mrs. Buhari said the presidential spokesman has been presenting himself to some powerful 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.
Besides the First Lady’s criticism of her spouse’s administration, she has also had it rough with some of her husband’s relatives, particularly Daura, who had lived in the Glass House inside the Presidential Villa with his family members.
She once gave an insight into the power struggle at the villa, with details of how her husband’s relatives physically confronted her in an interview with BBC Hausa. Confirming the authenticity of a video that went viral in October this year in which Daura’s daughter, Fatima, claimed that she was attacked by the First Lady in the villa, Mrs, Buhari said: “I was the one in that video and this person you see standing at my back are my security personnel. “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.
“They did that because my husband sacked them from the house. He told them to get all their belongings and leave the house for my son (Yusuf) to occupy. “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.” First Lady said in her statement that Nigeria’s development is hinged on the ability of public officials to execute their mandates professionally, and to be shining examples in their various areas of endeavour. According to her, it is not a good sign when officials abandoned their responsibility and start clutching at straws.
She said: “As spokesperson of the President, he (Shehu) has the onerous responsibility of managing the image of the President and all the good works that he is executing in the country. Rather than face this responsibility squarely, he has shifted his loyalty from the President to others who have no stake in the contract that the President signed with Nigerians on May 29, 2015 and 2019. “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. This should not be so. The blatant meddling in the affairs of a First Lady of a country is a continuation of the prodigal actions of those that he serves.
“We all remember that the chief proponent appropriated to himself and his family a part of the Presidential Villa, where he stayed for almost four years and when the time came for him to leave, he orchestrated and invaded my family’s privacy through a video circulated by Mamman’s daughter, Fatima. The public was given the impression that on arrival into the country I was locked out of the Villa by Mr. President. “Shehu, as Villa spokesperson, knew the truth and had the responsibility to set the records straight, but because his allegiance is somewhere else and his loyalty misplaced, he deliberately refused to clear the air and speak for the President who appointed him in the first place.
“Consequently, his action has shown a complete breakdown of trust between the First Family and him. Mr. Shehu was privy and part of the plan and its execution and he was shocked when he realised that I had publicized my return to Nigeria on October 12, 2019 and cleared the air on the many rumours that took over social media, a job he was supposed to do, but kept mute to cause more confusion and instability for his principal and his family. “Shehu then vented his anger on the National Television Authority (NTA) Management, insisting that the media crew to my office must be sacked. He succeeded in getting them suspended for doing their job. I had to intervene to save the innocent staff from losing their means of livelihood by involving the Department of State Services (DSS) in order to ascertain roles played by key actors in the saga.
“It is at this late hour that I recall, sadly, that it was the same Garba Shehu who claimed that the government will not allow Office of the First Lady to run. He was later to confirm to one of my aides that he was instructed to say so by Mamman Daura and not the President. This antic attracted the anger of Nigerian women. He didn’t realise the fact that First Lady’s office is a tradition which has become an institution.
“Today, even without a budget, I am able to run my humanitarian programmes. In saner climes, Garba Shehu would have resigned immediately after going beyond his boundaries and powers. “Garba Shehu needs to understand that this kind of behaviour will no longer be tolerated.
The latest of his antics was to wage a war on the first family through an orchestrated media campaign of calumny by sponsoring pseudo accounts to write and defame my children and myself. “Based on Shehu’s misguided sense of loyalty and inability to stay true and loyal to one person or group, it has become apparent that all trust has broken down between him and my family due to the many embarrassments he has caused the Presidency and the first family.
“We all have families to consider in our actions and, therefore, it is in the best interest of all concerned for Garba Shehu to take the advice of the authority, given to him sometimes in the first week of November, 2019.” PDP tells President to put his house in order While the presidency is yet to react to the First Lady’s claim, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said the public outburst by Mrs. Buhari, has further exposed President Buhari’s lapses in governance. The main opposition party said in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, that the development was an indication that the nation’s affairs have been ceded to the chaotic and selfish whims of a cabal.
The statement read in part: “It is indeed appalling that under President Buhari, our once productive and highly organised presidency has been bastardized and reduced to Kunle Bamtefa’s soap opera, ‘Fuji House of Commotion.’ “Instead of governance, the Buhari presidency has continued to serve Nigerians and the international community with tragicomedies that make mockery of leadership. Never in the history of our nation has the office, essence and symbol of Nigeria’s presidency been so stripped and ridiculed.”
PDP urged President Buhari to immediately put his house in order and save the nation further embarrassment. No doubt, Mrs. Buhari’s revelations has continued to jolt members of her spouse’s kitchen cabinet, but to most political analysts and observers, it is a welcome development that the First Lady has continued to open up, particularly on state affairs, so that when the day of reckoning comes, she will stand tall and nobody will accuse her of watching the President go astray.