Thursday, October 24, 2019

BETWEEN AISHA AND MICHELLE (1)











Her Excellency, Aisha Muhammadu Buhari, the First Lady shares a lot in common with Michelle Obama. They are of course dissimilar from each other in a number of areas (on which more later). Michelle has made this analysis easy with her memoir, Becoming in which she chronicled all stages of her life from a humble beginning to the sojourn of her family in the White House. 

Our politicians and their wives will do well to copy memoir writing from where they emulate their system of governance. Before Michelle’s Becoming there was Living History by Hillary Rodham Clinton; her husband, Bill Clinton authored My Live. Other memoirs from politicians about their life experiences and leadership include, (not an exhaustive list), Donald Rumsfeld’s Known and Unknown - A Memoir, George W. Bush’s Decision Points, Tony Blair’s A Journey - My Political Life, and David Cameron’s For The Record. In Africa we can only boast of a few: Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk To Freedom, Olusegun Obasanjo’s My Watch and Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai’s The Accidental Public Servant

If Nigerian politicians and people who work in the corridors of power keep to themselves by not writing about their challenges, successes and possible failures when in office, Nigerians are not likely to learn from such experiences, and Nigeria will be the greatest loser in the race. Whenever I meet someone who is or has been in any position of authority especially in a government house and the Presidential Villa, I urge them to write their memoirs for the benefit of posterity. I concede that certain events would be classified, but there will be the time that the period for such restrictions elapses, becomes declassified.

Reading Michelle’s Becoming I kept hoping to read Aisha Buhari’s account of life in the Villa. Muhammadu Buhari’s family would be the first family to spend two terms in the Villa. I am not unaware of the two terms of Olusegun Obasanjo (and even the failed third-term attempt), that is why I emphasised family. Buhari would be the first two-term democratically elected president to live in the Villa with a consort! 

Her Excellency, Aisha Buhari’s book would make interesting reading, another first, since to the best of my knowledge no first lady before her has ever written any. That book will afford her the liberty to express herself fully and clear the air on a number of issues. 

I have a confession to make. I am now a born-again columnist in respect of Her Excellency, Aisha Buhari and others in a similar situation like hers which requires listening to the other party before dispensing judgement. Recent happenings in the Villa made me realise my presumptuousness in the position I assumed after the BBC interview she granted in which she spoke about a cabal that enervates her husband in fulfilling his part of the bargain to the electorate. I wondered then and still wonder why a first lady of Fulani-Muslim extraction would do this to her husband at a time that he needed every ounce of support he could get. I tried, then, in vain to draw any line of demarcation between Her Excellency’s utterances during the interview and acts of sabotage the wife of Lut (Lot) meted out to the mission of her husband (ash-Shu’ar’aa 26:171). But now I am born-again in that I behold her actions through the lens of fair hearing without absolving her of blame. Though He knows the secrets of hearts, Allah asked Satan why he refused to bow down to Adam, as if to draw our attention to the need for fair hearing (al-Hijr 15:32). 

In a piece, I Am Mijin Hajiya which appeared on these pages in March this year I said: “I would rather be Mijin Hajiya, even though the term is used derogatorily in my community; being a Mai Gida is the norm. People in Mai Gida’s world consider a marriage successful only when the wife is enslaved, and bereft of her husband’s love and respect. Therefore, a husband who displays any form of affection to his wife, or honours her, or seeks for her opinion on anything is Mijin Hajiya. For such marital harmony to exist, according to my community, the husband must be a weakling, subservient to the wife, without any authority over her.” 

Politicians in the civilised world tend to be more inclined to being Mijin Hajiya than the opposite. Donald Rumsfeld told me in his Known and Unknown, speaking about President Ford, that he “had real strengths and one of Ford’s most important assets was the First Lady. Betty Ford was a gracious, lively and entertaining woman whom the president clearly adored. She helped set the standard for modern first ladies by talking openly about controversial public issues, a role that traditionally was not considered the province of a president’s wife.”

When David Cameron wanted to seek for leadership, as he stated in For The Record, the sought for support, understand and advice from political associates and his parents, but he spared the most important part to his wife Samantha. “The most important,” he said, “of course was Samantha. Just as she had been worried about the effect on our life of me becoming an MP, she was worried about what being leader would mean. She could see why that side of it worried me but was also in many ways the ultimate Tory moderniser. It was a crisp spring day in the garden at Dean when she said words to the effect of, ‘What is the point of spending your life in a Tory Party that can’t achieve any of the things that you believe this country needs to do?’ That was what I really needed, and after her words, the decision was made. I was running.”

I will mention more on the issue of mutual respect between the husband and the wife within and outside the home later. 

Public life as its zakah which must be paid by the famous and mighty in the form of worries, turbulence and public scrutiny. 
  
“Sometimes watching the news or reading the paper,” said Michelle in Becoming, “I found myself staring at images of the people who’d given themselves to political life - the Clintons, the Gores, the Bushes, old photos of the Kennedys - and wondering what the backstories were. Was everyone normal? Happy? Were those smiles real?” 

We do not know what people in high places are going through. We only see the pictures, the smiles and we speculate. “The more popular you became,” Michelle said, “the more haters you acquired. It seemed almost like an unwritten rule, especially in politics, where adversaries put money into opposition research - hiring investigators to crawl through every piece of candidates background, looking for anything resembling dirt.” 

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