Muhammadu Buhari, president of Nigeria, said something last Friday that was, to put the finest face on it when you parse public opinion, impolitic.
Asked about his wife who had criticized him sharply in public on the BBC Hausa Service (and has, markedly, not said anything else or tried to apologise since, despite the firestorm it has caused), he decided to return fire for fire.
He apparently dismissed his wife as belonging to ‘his kitchen’ and his bedroom, not belonging to any political party and not privy to any heavy lifting, and ultimately not worthy of a substantive response.
Of course, as global criticism everywhere from the Washington Post to those here at YNaija mounted, Buhari, rather than apologise, doubled down.
Asked again by an incredulous German reporter, Phil Gayle about the remarks, his disdain for the question was clear.
“I am sure you have a house,” he asked. “You know where your kitchen is. You know where your living room is. And I believe your wife looks after all that even if she’s working.”
The reporter couldn’t believe his ears – and couldn’t hide it on his face.
“That is your wife’s function?” he asked, again.
Buhari answered with the confidence of a thousand stallions.
“Yes. To look after me”.
Now, it is easy to dismiss him as an un-evolved, uncouth 70-something-year-old whose social views, like his economic policies, are stuck somewhere in the early 80s.
But how about you look at it another way? That there is nothing that Buhari said that is inherently dismissive of women and their capacity, literally.
There is a crucial distinction. In this case, he spoke about “his wife”, not women.
There is a strong case to be made that he wasn’t talking about women in general and their capacity to lead and hold political office and have political opinion. Surely, he couldn’t have. After all he was standing beside the woman some have called the most powerful woman on the globe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and he runs a country where two women held the most powerful offices up until May 2016.
And several strong women abound in this dispensation – not the least of which is the wife of his political comrade, Senator Oluremi Tinubu.
We can’t say he doesn’t know what women are capable of, and that their jobs are not simply to take care of men. He was talking of his own wife.
He was talking about the partner he married to, in his own words, “take care of him”, presumably based on a social contract where they both understand what both needed from this marriage.
Progressive feminists have said, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s new opus on the subject expanded on this idea, have said that true feminism, at the end of the day, comes from a woman being able to make a truly independent choice about her life, and part of that is this: if a woman can provide for the husband and the man can choose to stay home-making, then it’s a fine arrangement as long as both parties make a truly independent choice without the one exercising power, or society bending desire to its will.
Well, then if that’s the social contract between this man and his wife: that he would go and make the bread, and she would stay home and make him comfortable, then perhaps that’s a choice that we need leave to them, and not criticize since we are not parties to that agreement.
Also, he was right about his wife, wasn’t he? First, we have to remember that what Mrs. Buhari said was borderline silly. In accusing her husband of nepotism, she was simply asking him to replace one nepotism with another, that she approves us, for “those who worked to elect him”.
Not once did she talk about the economy or how hard times are. She filters the whole situation through the lens of appointments
— tyro (@DoubleEph) October 15, 2016
This must come out of a certain primitive naivety, where Mrs. Buhari believes that government is a cake to be shared amongst people who worked hard to elect a man, rather than a system where a leader must expand his base to accommodate those who will, in his opinion help him lead and then help him win another election.
It is, after all, Buhari’s wisdom in expanding his political net in the first place that plugged the bleeding of his consistent losses over a 12-year period.
There is a case to be made that Mrs. Buhari didn’t know what she was talking about, wasn’t equipped to make the careless statements she made, that her thoughts were un-evolved and immature and potential dangerous for the president and so the president was right about:
- Her not belonging to any party that he knows about, and
- Not knowing enough about political power play and policy to make an informed criticism at such a sensitive level.
He wouldn’t say that of Hillary Clinton, whose distinguished career includes high-level legal victories, and a storied 30-year political journey including becoming America’s chief diplomat.
He wouldn’t say the same about Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who may be the wife of corruption-addled Jacob Zuma, but is a leader in her own right, taking the charge at the highest political organ on the continent, the Africa Union Commission.
He probably would not say that even of Patience Jonathan, the immediate past first lady – whose civil service career is well documented, and who excelled as a political player in her own right, taking charge of the People’s Democratic Party in her native Rivers State, and staking her place, by herself, in the national space.
Aisha Buhari has none of these credentials, none of these bonafides, and ultimately none of the credibility to be taken seriously after her globally-reported gaffe. And her husband said so clearly.
That is not because she is a woman. But because she is unqualified.
There is a ‘there’ there.
Thought Experiment is a section on YNaija.com where we flip the coin of public opinion, and explore a minority view on important news, issues and ideas. Because society wins when there are many different angles of a debate finding space in the public consciousness.