Written by the Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspaper
The First Lady, Aisha Buhari’s recent interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in which she discussed the role of a shadowy ‘kitchen cabinet’ fingered to have influenced presidential policy and appointments should be hailed as an act of courage in these times. Expectedly, the unusual news interview has elicited a groundswell of opinions from members of the public. While some have said that she has no role in governance, let alone politics of the ruling party, others have praised her audacity to speak about issues that have also raised hushed discussions in the society. Her comments on party politics and governance generally should be seen as illuminating.
Again as some commentators too have noted, President Buhari had reportedly 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. And so the BBC interview by Mrs. Buhari and the President’s response to it have given a new meaning to the context of the role of the wife of the President, in this connection.
By raising burning party and governance issues, Aisha has elevated her role to a concerned spouse of a leader, a concerned party member, and a citizen worried by the way and manner that government business has so far been conducted. Mrs. Buhari should be saluted for her independent thinking and the courage to speak out. And, with due respect to views about her method, she spoke for many within the party and for most of the people that elected the All Progressives Congress (APC) government.
Smarting from the deleterious effect of the ‘locust years’ of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), expectations have been quite high for a change for the better that Buhari promised.
Specifically, Mrs. Buhari has spoken to cogent issues of governance, personal and collective values such as people reaping where they have not sown, Nigerians’ yearning for and hope in a leader of integrity, citizen’s right to speak out in a democracy, the role and responsibility of the electorate to check and balance the elected. Besides, in view of the way she has perceived issues in the polity, the educated First Lady should be concerned about her husband’s reputation and place in history. And that should not be taken from her.
The government of change that the APC party promised during the election campaigns, was intended more as a movement of the people ostensibly to change attitude and behaviours starting, naturally from the top. She said: “If you look at the political journey that we had …we didn’t call it a merger or APC again, we called it a movement because it was a collective effort of millions of people….” A movement is supposed to be a people galvanised by a sense of unity of purpose to achieve specific reform, or change of existing but discredited order. Alas, so far this has not been evident more than one and a half years in office. Indeed the promise of change has not been remarkably fulfilled.
According to her, persons who don’t have a mission or vision of the APC have seized control of this government and have been imposing some agenda that are at variance with the contract as enunciated in the party manifesto. This is profound in party politics and development.
A movement is supposed to be a people galvanised by a sense of unity of purpose to achieve specific reform, or the change of an existing but discredited system. Change was the rallying cry of Buhari and his party to Nigerians. It was also the one word promise they wanted the people to believe they would effect in the polity. The people have done their part. Buhari and APC must, as a matter of honour, do and be seen to do, theirs. This is the context of Aisha Buhari’s message. So, the message is thus more important than the messenger.
Mrs. Buhari spoke her mind without mincing words on her perception of governance under President Muhammadu Buhari. And, she is well positioned to know the situation in the house. While the views of those who did not expect her to speak so loudly should be accommodated, it should be noted that a government headed by her husband appears to have lost some rating in a recent perception index. Besides, most people would agree with her that the direction of this All Progressives Congress (APC) government cannot at all be said to be clearly in tune with its promise of change from the bad ways of the PDP-controlled government it dislodged. It cannot also be said to be meeting the people’s expectations of a focused, clean, and responsive government, and an improvement in the quality of life.
Some examples, the APC committed itself to: “create additional middle class of at least two million new home owners in our first year in government, and one million annually thereafter…” It also promised to “increase national health expenditure per person per annum to about N50,000 (from the less than N10,000 currently)”. A year and a half down the road, none of these has been fulfilled. The party spoke of ‘targeting up to 15% of our annual budget for this critical education sector while making substantial investments in training quality teachers at all levels of the educational system”. In the N6.1 trillion 2016 federal budget, N367.73 billion or 6.1 per cent is allocated to the education sector. This is not a remarkable investment in education, the only known tool of global competitiveness.
Aisha Buhari’s voice should, therefore, be seen as that of a wife deeply worried about the fate of the husband she knows too well as action man but is surrounded by some men that cannot help him to deliver significant service to the people. She is in a vantage position to know that the husband has been governing in a way that is strange to his ethical nature. She should not remain silent in the face of all these enormous challenges that may lead to her husband’s leaving office with a legacy of failure.
Amidst the value-laden reactions to Aisha the messenger, the message must be kept in focus and the issues raised must be addressed- by President Buhari, the APC, and the electorate.
Another clear lesson in Aisha’s message of hope is that Buhari appears to have a predilection to grant too much power to his subordinates. That is not leadership. It is dereliction of responsibility. There is a clear difference between delegation of role and abdication of power and authority. And, having ‘been there before’, he cannot claim inexperience. He sought this job with so much persistence. So, Buhari must take charge of his government and begin to deliver on his promises to the voters, and leave a respectable legacy.
Mrs. Buhari’s intervention too is an eloquent testimony to the docility of “we the people” that have been unduly passive in the face of poor governance. She has effectively challenged the people and even the opposition to keep an eye on the leadership to ensure that all the promises to the people are kept.
All told, she has served notice that, besides being the wife of a president, she is a person of substance who can speak to relevant national issues of the day instead of engaging in frivolities we have always associated with the office of First Lady. At least, from one of the situation rooms in the presidency, ‘change’ that we can identify with has come, unexpectedly through Mrs. Aisha Buhari.