Aisha Buhari’s BBC Hausa Service interview is generating a lot of excitement in the polity. For some, her responses represent political opportunities to either self-glorify as prophets or to condemn the president for his political choices. For others the interview looks like a betrayal of a husband by his wife. And for the misogynists of all shades, the interview represents an abomination. However, irrespective of the judgment made of the interview, the freedom and frankness with which Mrs. Buhari fielded the questions surprised everyone as they do not match our mental representation of the President.
Our president cuts the image of a no-nonsense head of a household. His carriage and demeanor portend an aristocratic Fulani rooted in the firm tradition of patriarchy. His stern mien conveys the impression that his words carry more weight than his tall lanky frame. His background as a General in the army gives the impression that his is to give orders and for the others to execute without questions within and outside his family compound. Put together, all these characteristics show a person to whom dialogue within the household is an anathema. This is probably the impression that our president gives to many people inside and outside Nigeria.
But Aisha Buhari, his wife of almost three decades has, through her bare-all interview with the BBC, shown that we all have a wrong impression of our president as a family man and probably as a politician. Her responses demonstrated that Mr. Buhari is a liberal man who sees himself as an equal partner in a family relationship. Who would know him better?
The open-mindedness and the frankness of Aisha’s responses to BBC’s questions could not have been on the spur of the moment. Clearly, if Mr. Buhari had been a fierce household dictator, Aisha would have learnt over the years to rein in her independent thoughts. Women that live with dictatorial husbands will not dare bare their minds about the politics or the behaviour of their husbands in public. At least not in Nigeria. This interview gives an insight into Buhari’s household where, it appears, independent opinions and the freedom to express them are allowed. Mrs. Buhari has shown the world the humane and women’s rights-oriented face of her husband.
And the President’s responses confirm this suspicion. If he was surprised that his wife gave the interview, he did not show it and did not excoriate her. There are many ill-omened responses that the President could have given. A typical Nigerian man could have ominously said, “This is a family matter. I will deal with the situation when I get back home..” But the President simply said, “my wife belongs to the kitchen, living room and the other room..” A smart answer by all standards to massage the misogynistic ego of obsessed testosterone-driven Nigerians who would have taken him to the washers. He did not promise to clobber his wife as many would have done. How many Nigerian men hit their wives everyday for insignificant things? And he is being criticized for his response to Aisha’s interview by women’s rights groups!
Mallam Garba Shehu, his spokesperson, when first confronted by those that apparently took offence at the President’s response to his wife’s interview said, on twitter, “Mr. President respects the place of women in our society. He believes in the abilities of women.” This is logically true, given the freedom and honesty with which Aisha answered the interview questions posed. Under further pressure, Mallam Garba Shehu sought to further explain the President’s response by saying, “He was obviously throwing a banter….. My friends, can’t a leader get a sense humour anymore? Mr. President laughed before that statement was made…” This shows that the President did not get worked up because his wife expressed her independent opinion on the situation of things in Nigeria.
It is my opinion that the President on his return back to Nigeria from his trip will not make a big deal out of his wife’s interview. He is not cut out for that. He will, probably over tea with his wife discuss the merits and the demerits of the interview and move on. Hopefully he will act on some of her concerns, and if he does not, it will not break up his family.
The true hero of this interview is not Aisha Buhari. She did not tell us many things that we did not know. And harping on what she said during the interview is immaterial and puerile politics. The true hero is the President who, in aberration of his social and religious environment as well as his military career proclivities has shown that the issue of the Rights of women is not just a political discourse but a way of life to be practiced both in private and the public. This is an opportunity for campaigners for Women’s Rights to leap in the other direction. It is the moment to celebrate the anti-thesis of their thoughts and representation of the President.
The import of this event should be seen vis-à-vis the gender equality bill in the parliament. There have been reports of some religious leaders warning against the passage of the bill for religious reasons. Mr. Buhari has, by the freedom of expression of independent opinion demonstrated by his wife shown on which side of the debate he stands.
I give Mr. Buhari all my respects as a head of a household ….I have been wondering what would be my reaction if my wife were to grant an interview to a news outlet in a way that expresses her independent thoughts and which directly or indirectly puts me on the spot…..Ask yourself this question.
Abimbola Lagunju is a writer and author of several books.