by Chi Ibe
Finally, Aisha Buhari spoke.
I don’t mean she opened her month. I mean, she ventured an opinion – stepped out of the role of Stepford Wife and said something meaningful about something topical, in a way that showed, finally, that she has character, that she has fire in her belly, that she has soul.
And suddenly, in what has become a national firestorm, we finally understand why she rarely speaks, hidden permanently under the shadow of a man almost 30 years older than her.
When she speaks her mind, her husband is wont to humiliate her, by globally reducing her to a tool for cooking and cleaning, for sex and silence – while he, clearly wiser, better, sharper than she, be allowed to do the thinking and the talking, alobe.
“I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room,” President Muhammadu Buhari told no less than the Associated Press, while speaking in a country run successfully by a woman whose name he has once mis-pronounced. “So I claim superior knowledge over her and the rest of the opposition because in the end I have succeeded.”
Wait. He said WHAT?!
These are 5 takeaways from this moment of intense national embarrassment.
- Buhari, quite simply, has no respect for his wife
Patience Jonathan, formidable first lady with former president Goodluck Jonathan sometimes (actually, many times) said abominable things. She may or may not be an icon in corruption, and she lacked taste, as much in clothes as in political association. BUT, she was a strong woman, clearly married to a secure man.
Jonathan allowed his wife lead the charge – in defending him personally, in fending political attackers, in saying the words he could not say whether about the Chibok Girls or about the Buhari campaign. He allowed her shine. You saw both of them and you could immediate recognize that this was an equal partnership. He respected her, she respected him. There was no stupid argument about gender roles. The one who could do a job was allowed to do it; both of them a team. This was a woman no one could push over.
The opposite is firmly the case with this first couple. From the body language to his latest public disgrace of a woman many find difficult to dislike, it has been clear that this is not an equal partnership. If anything, President Buhari appears to treat his wife more as a daughter, to be paraded and patronized, than as a partner, to be respected and positioned.
She doesn’t appear to wield any power – hard or soft – in his government, prompting her clearly to vent in an environment (Hausa-speaking BBC) where she felt at home and within context. This was a woman with grievance, who apparently cannot even share her deepest thoughts with her own overbearing, patronizing, belittling husband – and so she has had to speak to the world.
In return – for her audacity in daring to speak – he has put her in what he considers to be her place: seen but not heard, below and beneath him, destined to be silenced.
It’s a bloody shame.
- Buhari is in fact a ‘bush man’
Some people will find this disrespectful. They should go and tell that to a man who embarrasses his own wife in the global press. And to the marines.
Our president is clearly an un-evolved man – who has not been part of any of the crucial social debates of the past few years. Chief among them are the rights and status of women – as able to contend with men effectively everywhere from sports to the presidency of the World Bank (Hint to a President who is out of touch: A Nigerian woman, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was and is in contention for that position).
One has to wonder what else he doesn’t know about the world. Does he know what it means to be gay? Does he know what it means to be transgender? Does he understand what it means even to be a progressive? Does he understand the concepts of ageism? Does he have any idea of the debates that have intensified over the past few years – about how rich or old or white or straight men have subjugated minorities through convention and tradition over the past few centuries of human existence?
What else lurks deep in the recesses of our president’s mind beyond his lack of respect for the intellect of women? What else should we be worried about?
Because, EVEN AS A JOKE, his statement is offensive, and destructive, and just plain irresponsible. Does he even know this?
Oh dear God, what have we gotten ourselves into as a country?
- Who knew? Our president is crass
Beyond the hard bigotry of his comments lies something even more worrisome because it lies up there with the kind of unrestrained crassness as defined Donald Trump’s political philosophy of ‘grab ‘em by the pu__y’.
The president, in trying to silence, and ultimately humiliate his wife, said this: “belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room”.
While Nigerians, trying to cope with this tragedy by laughing rather than crying, have turned #TheOtherRoom into a trending hashtag, every adult of common sense knows exactly what room the Nigerian President was referring to, thinking he was sharing a ‘’locker-room’ joke: the bed room.
We always suspected our president was un-evolved, unsophisticated, and probably unable to absorb both complex emotion and information. But who would have thought that he was also, at the base of it – this man who positions himself as a paragon of virtue, introspection and personal discipline – crass?
Just basic, danfo-driver-on-the-streets-fof-Egbeda crass?
- We now understand why his cabinet is the worst since democracy’s return
President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet is not just one of Nigeria’s worst in recent times in terms of quality, it is also flatly the worst in terms of sensitivity.
We just emerged from a Presidency that clearly believed in empowering women, politically and substantively – effectively handing over the government to the trio of Patience Jonathan, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Diezani Alison-Madueke. It also incubated stars including Omobola Johnson, Stella Oduah, and you could add Chief Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar. These weren’t just token women in positions of authority, these were women IN authority.
What we have under Buhari, sadly, has been a rolling back of all that progress in a government heavily imbalanced against women.
It is clearly the reason Kemi Adeosun is silenced and reduced, reduced to a mumbling, bumbling mass of apparent cluelessness, bowing to greet ministers like Lai Mohammed at federal executive council meetings where she should be standing her own. Because this president thinks women, especially those who are younger than him, know less than him – no less when he wins an election they have never won before.
This is a government imbalanced against young people as well (not one to be found beyond being in charge of Twitter and Facebook in the corridors of his government), biased against ethnic groups (the one shining light – Ibe Kachikwu being in charge of the NNPC – was soon dismissed without explanation, as if the president suddenly realized he had done something against his own will that needed to be urgently corrected), and some will say biased against basic common sense needed to govern a modern economy.
We can see why. This president doesn’t think the way modern presidents of advanced civilization are supposed to think. And so he doesn’t understand when everyone else is complaining.
He just doesn’t get it.
- There is a reason the Nigerian Internet is consumed by feminism
Just yesterday, Nigeria’s other leading literary figure, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote a stream of consciousness piece on her Facebook page about feminism (she gave us permission to publish here), that issue she has dedicated plenty of her time and life to as she focuses on dismantling the prejudice that still sadly consumes her country.
As we can see, she was right on the money.
“In all Nigeria joor! A completely sexist nation,” tweeted broadcaster, Funmi Iyanda, as this scandal broke yesterday. “It was stark in comments and attitudes filming unrelated issues around SW, SE and SS Nigeria.”
That’s the reason agile young men come on Twitter and everywhere foaming at the mouth about gender roles, all coming down to: they are hungry and can’t find a woman to cook for them– because that, after all, is why God created an entire gender, simply to support and placate the golden men.
We have had entire generations of men grown up entitled, believing women simply for reasons of biology to be lower than them, inferior to them, destined for a life that only serves and worships men. Many of them are intimidated by career women, male genitalia shriveling at the mere thought of opinionated woman, searching for every excuse to regain a social standing that is, thankfully, lost forever.
Tragically, their president agrees with them. And now, he has validated them. His wife, he says is for cooking and sex, and nothing that has to do with her brain.
My God. Did you watch that video? Did you see the vehemence, the bitterness, the flash of angry smallness with which the president belittled his wife? It was vicious. HE was vicious.
It was funnier imagined. ?????????? https://t.co/WCHwcgcpq5
— Funmi Iyanda (@Funmilola) October 14, 2016
It frightened me. It should frighten you.
This man harbours the worst of our impulses as people. He validates the worst of our bigotry as a nation. This is a deeply dangerous role model for an entire generation of boys and girls.
Nigeria needs that Gender Equality Bill desperately.
And a bonus number 6: Garba Shehu needs to stop defending this president
I must confess a soft spot for presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu. This is a man forced to defend a man he didn’t really have a relationship with previously. And of course, when compared to the tone-deafness of the other one, Femi Adesina, then Shehu is a veritable beacon of common sense, fortitude and basic human dignity.
And it is apparent, he understands that his principal constantly has his foot in his mouth and needs a person to clean up the mess almost on a daily basis. So, before the president can even decide what he means, there is Shehu gallantly doing his best to minimize damage.
The sad thing though is that the most damage Shehu is doing is to himself. This is a man dearly respected by peers, even some foes. This is a man with a distinguished career previously as an editor and as a corporate communication professional. This is man who gained the nation’s respect for handling the image of his previous boss, Atiku Abubakar, with polish and with dignity and with panache.
Sadly, this is what he has been reduced to. Defending the indefensible by saying “My friends, can’t a leader get a sense humour anymore? Mr. President laughed before that statement was made.”
Here is the deal: first, Shehu you know as much as we do that this was not a joke. That the laughter was not a laughter of mirth, but a laughter of vicious derision. Your president bristled at being questioned by a younger woman, his own wife. More importantly, it doesn’t matter if the president is joking. This was rubbish talk. It is rubbish talk, serious or joking. And it is beneath the office of a president. Beneath the office of any serious minded male adult.
And, by the way, it must be asked: what gains come to Shehu when he fails in diverting the fire from a stubborn, obtuse and instead directs some of it at himself? What is the upside of this knee-jerk defense of a man who cannot be defended? Nothing, I tell you. Absolutely nothing.
This is not worth it, Garba Shehu. Sit pretty and enjoy a well-deserved position. Your president has chosen to dispose of the goodwill Nigerians gave him without charge and douse himself in the fire of ignominy and disrespect.
Allow him. Save yourself. Time is now.