I will like to preface my commentary on the reported re-tweets by the wife of the President, Aisha Buhari, of some uncomplimentary tweets about her husband’s government by Senators Ben Bruce and Isah Misau, with a story. It was a story my roommate at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, told me during our undergraduate days in the 1980s. I am not sure if it was a real life story or if he made it up.
It was the story of a man - let us call him Joseph. According to my roommate, Joseph and his wife were the envy of their community because of the solidity of their marriage and their abiding friendship and devotion to each other. One day, four youngsters - two ladies and two young men - decided to interview Joseph to find out the secret of the success of his marriage.
“Sir, you seem inseparable from your wife and you are almost always seen together. What is the secret of your marriage Sir?”, one of young men asked.
The man belched out a long laughter, scratched his head and with outstretched arms declared: “Very easy. My wife takes all the small, small decisions while I take all the big, big decisions so there is never any room for conflict”.
The four interrogators looked at one another in confusion. It was not the sort of answers they had expected.
After some moments of silenced confusion, one of the ladies asked: “But Sir, is that not sexist?”
“No, it is not”.
The other lady followed up: “So what exactly are the small, small decisions your wife takes? Cooking for you?”
The man again gave that smile of superior wisdom and began to list his wife’s duties:
“My wife takes such small, small decisions as the type of car we will buy - within the limits of our income; the type of clothes everyone in the house, including my humble self will wear - within the limits of our income; the type of school our children will attend- within the limits of our income; where we will live - within the limits of our income...”.
The man went on to list virtually all the things that engage the attention of couples – and claimed his wife took the decision on all of them. Perplexed, one of the four youngsters asked, “If your wife does all those things, then what are your own responsibilities as she seems to even own you?”
Again the man gave that smile of superior wisdom and answered: “I take such big, big decisions as whether Africa should go nuclear, whether the whole question of climate change is real or fake science, whether the presidential system of government is just too expensive for this country...”
The four burst into ribs-cracking laughter but one managed to ask in-between guffaw: “But what if your wife disagrees with your decision on those issues?”.
The man gave out another long laughter. “No, she won’t. We have an unspoken rule. My wife never comes into any area I am interested in competing. In that way we support each other 100 per cent in the allotted sphere of operation”.
How does the above story relate to Aisha Buhari?
Based on Joseph’s rule above, a wife should not be seen to compete in an area in which her husband is also interested in competing. This may sound sexist - and it is - but it is unfortunately the worldview of the men of Buhari’s generation. And it is also in this context that his remarks about the ‘other room’ must be understood. It is equally why it is dangerous for Mrs Buhari to listen to those goading her “not to be cowed” or massaging her ego that she will make a better President than her husband.
In 2016 when the President’s wife gave that explosive interview to the BBC Hausa service in which she claimed that a cabal within the presidency had hijacked the government of her husband and indicated that she might not support a second term bid by him, I wrote an article entitled ‘Aisha Buhari as a Metaphor’. In that piece I argued that while I understood her frustrations, her approach to the problem could only make matters worse. There was a period of ‘good feeling’ in which we all felt that the issues arising from the BBC interview and the ‘other room’ comments’ had all been resolved. I was therefore surprised and disappointed when I read about her recent re-tweeting of uncomplimentary comments by Buhari’s political opponents on government’s mishandling of the herdsmen attack in Benue state and criticisms of the appointment of Ahmed Abubakar as the new Director general of national Intelligence Agency.
There are a number of observations arising from those re-tweets:
One, there is this aphorism: “If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, then a friend of my enemy is my enemy.” This means that for as long as Aisha is seen as endorsing the position of the President’s political enemies, Buhari’s inner circle (or the cabal), will continue distrusting her. This means also that she will only be playing into the hands of her enemies within the government who have reportedly labelled her the “suicide bomber from Adamawa.” In fact if the President’s cabal have marginalized her and her husband either endorses that marginalization or turns blind eye to it, she should also examine whether she may be unwittingly doing anything that gives the wrong impression that she cannot be trusted.
Two, it seems that Mrs Buhari is very concerned about a cabal ‘capturing’ the government of her husband. This is understandable. But the truth is that every government or in fact any big organization is controlled by a cabal – a small group of elites who are cohesive, conscious and conspiratorial (3Cs). They may have different names such as Kitchen Cabinet, Kaduna Mafia, Langtang Mafia, Bida Old Boys or Economic Team (under Obasanjo’s Second Coming). In fact political scientists talk about the ‘Iron Law of Oligarchy’ – the tendency for all forms of organization, regardless of how democratic they may be at the start, to eventually develop oligarchic tendencies and be captured by a few individuals who disproportionately influence the workings of such an organisation or government. The challenge for Aisha Buhari therefore is to find a way of reaching accommodation with some of the members of the cabal to ensure she is not completely marginalized in the affairs of the government.
And by the way, despite misgivings about the cabal it is most likely that the President’s confidence in them will have increased by the way they managed his illness and hospitalization. Though many criticized their secrecy over the whole illness, they also managed to ensure that hawks did not carry out a palace coup to remove Buhari during his long hospitalization in the United Kingdom. They equally ensured that he came back probably looking healthier than he was when he left the country so it may be more difficult to delegitimize them in the President’s eyes by fighting them in public.
Three, it is perfectly possible for Aisha Buhari to retain her apparently outspoken nature while defending her husband vigorously in public. Many men say their wives are their best critics but that is acceptable to them only because such criticism take place outside the public glare – and therefore believed to be in good faith. There certainly must be other ways and channels for Mrs Buhari to make her feelings about the government known without giving the impression that she is friends with her husband’s political foes or endorsing their positions. This means that public stabs from her would be far more painful to her husband than the stabs of Brutus to his bossom friend Julius Caesar in “even thou Brutus”.
Four, it may be germane to call to mind what happened with Mikhel Gorbachev, the eighth and last leader of the Soviet Union (1985-1991). When he unwittingly began unravelling the Soviet Union (which was then a rival super power to the United States), the Western press hailed him to the high heavens. He was awarded Otto Hahn Peace Medal (1989) and the Nobel Peace Prize (1990). By the time he realized that his ‘Glasnost’ (openness) and ‘Perestroika’(restructuring) had weakened irredeemably the Soviet Union and wanted to re-assert his authority on the ethnic groups that wanted to break away, the same people that garlanded him with a Nobel Peace prize also branded him a dictator. Today, Gorbachev is one of the most reviled people in Russia and is synonymous with the break-up of the Soviet Union. I believe there is a useful lesson here for Mrs Buhari. Power is ephemeral. If I were Mrs Buhari, I would ask myself: when all this is all over and I am back in Daura with my husband, how will I like those chronicling my husband’s legacy to remember me?
I am one of the critics of some of Buhari’s policies. But I will feel uncomfortable if Mrs Buhari re-tweets my criticisms of her husband’s government because I will not accept such from my own wife.
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