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The frustrations of the First Lady of Nigeria and other Nigerians about the leadership of President Buhari and his many failed promises are understandable. But while her open criticism of him was ill-advised, what is more damaging to President Buhari than that is his old-fashioned and sexist response.

Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, 73, was last week the subject of an unprecedented public rebuke from his own wife. In a recent interview with the BBC Hausa, Aisha Buhari, the Nigerian First Lady and 28 years her husband’s junior, warned that she would not support her husband for reelection if he did not shake up his government. She lamented that “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.”

The comments made by Aisha Buhari have raised mixed reactions among Nigerians with some praising her while others criticized her. The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, said he was vindicated by Aisha Buhari’s outburst that a cabal has hijacked her husband. Dr. Junaid Mohammed, the Convener of the Coalition of Northern Politicians, Academics, Professionals and Businessmen, described her comments as “100 percent correct.”  Premium Times’ Okey Ndibe wrote that “President Buhari was tossed about by the turbulence that bore the name Hurricane Aisha.”

Other people however, did not appreciated her utterances. The Former Governor of old Kaduna State and National Chairman of People Redemption Party  (PRP), Alhaji Baralabe Musa, dismissed Aisha Buhari as someone who does not understand politics. “Well, it is very unfortunate for such statement to come from the wife of the President. It is very unfortunate; things must have gone so bad. But she does not really know some of the things she said,” Musa was quoted saying, adding that “this is because she is not an active politician like her husband to speak about government, and his associates. The statement is in bad taste, in really bad taste. ”

It is very rare in politics to see a First Lady publicly slamming her husband. Many First Ladies and other women married to politicians have stood with their husbands through thick and thin even when their husbands were doing things much worse than appointing people their wives did not approve of. Reuben Abati, writing for The Cable, reports that every Nigerian Head of State or President has enjoyed the support of his wife while in office. So, what the Aisha Buhari did was unprecedented and very damaging to the President.

I think that for the Nigerian First Lady to rebuke her husband publicly was ill-advised. If she had concerns about his leadership, she should have raised them with him in private but not by disparaging him in public. She should have protected his reputation in public even if she may have disagreed with him in private at least to avoid washing dirty linen in public. “The biggest challenge a man can face is to have his own wife ‘fight’ him in public,” states rightly so The Cable’s Reuben Abati. As a leader, if members of your own household have no faith in your leadership, it is very difficult to convince other people that you can lead them. Charity begins at home! If you cannot provide leadership in our own home, how can you purport to lead an entire nation?

Notwithstanding the manner is which Aisha Buhari raised her concerns with her husband’s leadership, her concerns are actually legitimate. In addition to being his wife, she is also his supporter and most importantly a member of the Nigerian electorate. And as such, she has every right to hold him accountable for his record as a democratically elected president. And she is not the only Nigerian disappointed by the President leadership and his failure to deliver campaign promises.

“The promise of change has become a promise of doom”, writes Premium Times’ Malcolm Fabiyi on Buhari’s record, noting that Nigeria is ailing from a laundry list of ills from economic recession to heightening insecurity to widespread power cuts among other things under Buhari’s watch. While running for office, Buhari promised to make the Naira equivalent to the United States dollar. When he took office on May 29, 2015 the Naira was trading at 195 against the US dollar, now it is trading at 385 against the US dollar. As the Naira looses its value, the cost of living for Nigerians is going through the roof. On another issue, Buhari took five months to form his government, creating a power vacuum that brought decision-making to a halt.

The frustrations of the First Lady of Nigeria and other Nigerian citizens about the leadership of President Buhari and his many failed promises are therefore understandable. However, what is more damaging to President Buhari than his wife’s criticism is his own response to it.

While on a recent three-day official visit to Germany, Muhammadu Buhari was asked by a journalist what he thought about his wife’s criticism. Buhari laughed off the criticism saying that: “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to but, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and my other room.” These are not the kind of words one would expect from a Head of State in the 21st Century. To make matters worse, Buhari made those remarks during a joint press conference with Germany’s  Chancellor Angel Merkel, a  woman who has led her country for over a decade.

President Buhari should have treated his wife’s criticism with the seriousness it deserved. Let me venture a response that would have sounded more appropriate and would have helped him limit damage to his reputation. “As a democratically elected President, I am ultimately accountable to all Nigerian citizens, including my wife. Therefore, I will continue working hard every day to deliver on my campaign promises and demonstrate to all Nigerians that I deserve the support of those who voted for me and hopefully gain the backing of those whose support I am yet to earn.” This way, he would have come out of this whole saga a statesman who was a victim of - and eventually survived - backstabbing from his own wife.

Unfortunately, Buhari chose to dismiss his wife’s rebuke as that of someone who “belongs to my kitchen and my living room and my other room.” By essentially suggesting that women’s contribution to societies should be limited to being displayed in living rooms as paintings, to cooking for their husbands and to sleeping with them, he has reduced himself to just another old-fashioned man who has not yet understood that women do not belong to the kitchen. That was disappointing!

* Nicolas Nahimana studied Political Science at Catholic University of Eastern Africa (Nairobi, Kenya) and has a keen interest in politics and current affairs.



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