By UMAR SA’AD HASSAN —
Prior to his victorious campaign in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari had contested in three presidential elections and not for once did he promise to scrap the Office of First Lady if he won. He only did that in the run-up to the last presidential polls.
PMB was always one to seize every opportunity to score a point with the average Nigerian. He had been depicted as the liberator of the masses right from his first attempt and he has always been ready to capitalize on that persona to impress, if need be.
Whether it was to promise he would make N1 equal to $1or that he would end the Boko Haram insurgency within his first 100 days in office, he seemed to know just what the tired, angry, frustrated and used Nigerian wanted to hear.
So when ex-governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso lost the APC presidential primaries to him, it was no surprise to many that Buhari lifted the ex-governor’s campaign promise of operating without a first lady. It was succinctly delineating the wastefulness of previous governments and the candidate’s intention to halt it. But you just had to sense there was a problem. Buhari was no longer running in the old ANPP or CPC fashion; he was doing so under a much-bigger platform that necessitated a much more elaborate way of doing things. He was now flaunting his loving father and caring grandpa photos on social media to appeal to a broader range of voters. And what’s more? His wife had been dragged from behind the scenes and thrust right into the heart of things. He had made a promise more in consonance with the archaic manner in which his campaigns were run on one hand while also agreeing to subscribe to a new order on the other, and there was bound to be one of two things if he won: sticking to a promise that wasn’t original or a hypocritical first ladyship and the technical revocation of a quite sensitive campaign promise. Sensitive, in the sense that it is capable of sending a perhaps wrong message to Nigerians that they were just being sold the same product in a new package.
The truth is that nothing has changed. We have a first lady who like every one before her is a wife of the president. When questions started being asked about Aisha Buhari’s use of the first lady’s office, it was funny to hear the SA to President Buhari on media, Mallam Garba Shehu, say there was nothing wrong with it because she wasn’t doing so in her ‘official capacity’. I just couldn’t make any sense out of it. What is her ‘official capacity’ if she had one? It either meant someone needed to get the full meaning of the phrase ‘first lady’ or that she was a hypocritical occupant of the office.
As of this moment, she has her own retinue of aides which include a special adviser, senior special assistant on administration, senior special assistant on media and a director of information. Does anybody still think Buhari stuck to his promise of abolishing the first lady’s office? I don’t think so. He rebranded it, at best, by merely changing the name. Just like every administration before his, he will concede to the fact that the office is not constitutional but he has earned no special right to wax sanctimonious about not wasting our waning resources on ‘his wife’s office’. Nigerians are not fools.
We have watched her set up her ‘Future Assured’ pet project to cater for the less privileged and though her strides have been quite commendable, there are questions as to the funding of her activities, bearing in mind that the president earns about N1.2m monthly, and there is no salary for the first lady.
In Gombe State alone, she donated foodstuff across 11 local government areas worth millions of naira and a sickle-cell detecting machine to the Federal Teaching Hospital. Her donations to other states and the IDPs are befitting of the wife of a president like we used to know them before we voted ‘change’; so it’s safe to ask in this era: from whose kitty?
The official amount said to have been realized from her book launch and fundraiser was N55m, which she pledged to the parents of the Chibok and Buni Yadi victims. Nobody bothered to give us an explanation as to why she opted for secret donations. Some staff of a commercial bank had set up a stall at the venue in anticipation of huge donations by guests but ended up leaving there disappointed. If her husband’s anti-corruption war is as sincere as we have been meant to believe, then, none of the political office holders at the venue would dare play ‘Fat Santa’.
The vice-president himself said much shouldn’t be expected from him as he and the president were on half salaries. Why would anyone hide people’s contribution to their cause on a day they have gathered to celebrate them? It only means one thing: there is an ugly side to it. If the first lady and her group didn’t want to raise eyebrows as to how their donors (a lot of them former or present office holders) came about the sums, then, it might just be because a chunk of it is taxpayers’ money.
To further illustrate the true role of Buhari’s wife, she partnered with the Camerounian first lady, Chantal Biya, in the areas of women and children development when she accompanied her husband on a two-day working visit to Nigeria and even went on to host the wives of all envoys to Nigeria to sell her ‘Future Assured’ pet project. I ask: What has Buhari ‘changed’ by scrapping the first lady’s office for one for the wife of the president when the roles are basically the same? His wife is even more active than the last previous two first ladies at this stage.
She has gone on to host and thank the social media influencers who helped campaign for her husband at the Villa and launch a book all within the space of a year. Is it right to provide aides and make available our resources to an unconstitutional office the president said he didn’t recognize?
As a campaign strategy, it worked and contributed in further selling the ‘Change’ mantra to Nigerians, but if any other president promises to scrap the first lady’s office and allows his wife do the things Aisha Buhari is doing, then, he wouldn’t have changed anything, because, like every other one we have had, she is a first lady who is the wife of the president. Period.
— Umar Sa’ad Hassan is a lawyer based in Kano.