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MAGNUS ONYIBE

Magnus Onyibe is an entrepreneur, public policy analyst, author, development strategist, alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Massachusetts, USA and a former cabinet member of Delta state government. Since the return to multi-party democracy in Nigeria over 21 years ago, Onyibe has written and published over 200 opinion pieces on the Nigerian economy, business, politics, leadership, governance and foreign relations issues.

Just as Nigerians were being regaled  with former presidential spokesman, Rueben Abati’s thriller titled “Spiritual Side Of Nigeria’s Villa” which is a tale about ‘demons’ and ‘ghosts’  in Aso Rock villa, Nigeria’s seat of power, a current Aso Rock occupant, First Lady, Aisha Buhari has presented the world with the UNSPIRITUAL SIDE OF NIGERIA’S SEAT OF POWER by humanizing the machinations that swirl around Mr president in the seat of power.

Rather than ghosts in the mold of the sort described by Abati in his piece  or seen in horror movies like Hammer House of Horror or Ghost Busters, our First Lady stated that the seemingly masked forces beating the drum that Mr president seems to be dancing to are humans whom we can see with our naked eyes, if we look closely at our television sets on a daily basis.

The First Lady’s illuminating  comment about her husband president Muhammadu Buhari’s leadership style which she aptly described as being devoid of inclusiveness- a basic ingredient that lubricates the wheel of democracy-attracted an unsavoury rebuttal from him, which is now the fourth in the series of serious goofs and gaffes made by our president while abroad.

Mr president, an autocrat by culture and command & control enthusiast by training as a military officer, has obviously renounced autocracy and embraced democracy as he admitted at his Chatham House presentation in London England in 2015 during the run-up to the presidential elections . But Mr president needs to do more than merely renouncing autocracy by developing the consciousness of a democrat which is an essential prerequisite for liberal democracy to thrive, and which sadly is currently lacking.

Beyond being elected into office through the ballot box instead of seizing power via the barrels of the gun,which was president Buhari’s route to power some thirty years ago as a military dictator , democracy is deeper and broader.

Apart from the one-man-one-vote principle which is the bedrock of democracy, respect for the rule of law is the next most fundamental of all the principles of democracy.  Unfortunately, it would appear from all indications ,that in the over 16 months of president Buhari being on the saddle of leadership, the rule of law is the least respected tenet.
Instances of Mr president’s somewhat nonchalant attitude towards strict observance of the provision of the 1999 constitution are legion and some of them are worthy of being highlighted as catalogued below:
From the get-go, president Buhari vowed to favor the region from where he received 97% votes over the zone where he received 5%(mathematically incongruent ) in terms of appointments to public offices- a vow that he has made good with clinical precision- via the lopsided appointments that he has made so far, and which are in clear contravention of the federal character principles as enshrined in the 1999 constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria.

While the dust raised by that Freudian slip during his maiden visit to the USA was yet to settle, the second misspeak was during his maiden chat with Nigerian media people ,when president Buhari, informed Nigerians that Ahmed Dasuki, ex NSA’s crime were too heinous for him not to be shackled irrespective of the fact that competent courts of law had granted him bail. By that action, Mr president indicated clearly that he won’t shy away from running the country outside the ambit of the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria which is s violation of vow to uphold the constitution at his inauguration and which grants Dasuki, the rights of innocence until proven guilty.
Similar circumstances to Ahmed Dasuki, applies to Nnamdi Kanu, executive director of the illegal radio Biafra and leader of the Indigenous  People of Biafra, IPOB whose freedom has also been breached for allegedly using the unregistered radio station to fan the embers of disunity in furtherance of the agenda of some aggrieved Nigerians from the  eastern parts who are unhappy with the current political structure of the country and are thus determined to secede, if their concerns are not recognized and addressed accordingly.
Much as Mr president’s media spin doctors tried, the blithe by the undemocratic stance to override the judiciary by being the judge and jury in the Dasuki and Kanu cases ,which are in negation of democratic ethos contained in the presidential inauguration vow, remained causes for concern by democracy conscious Nigerians who were and have continued to be enraged by the brazen attitude of disdain for the judiciary

 The third occasion was the unwitting admission by president Buhari that Nigerians are guilty as charged by then British prime minister, David Cameron who alleged that Nigeria is a fantastically corrupt country during a garden party at the queen of England’s residence, on the sidelines of an Anti-Corruption Summit held in  London. Endorsing such a derogatory comment against his countrymen and women which smacked of holier than thou attitude, on the part of Mr president, was another source of massive irritation to some Nigerians by president Buhari , both locally and those in the diaspora.

Again, it took dexterous deployment of political brinksmanship and media sagacity by those around Mr president, at very critical moments in London,including Mo Ibrahim , the Sudan-born, telecoms mogul and convener of Good Governance award to outstanding African leaders, to significantly douse the ugly impression created when president Buhari endorsed Cameron’s negative toga on Nigeria.

To the relief of most Nigerians, the game changed when president Buhari managed to recalibrate his thinking by deftly demanding from his host and accuser, David Cameroon that Nigerian funds, stolen and  lodged in Western bank vaults, should be returned without further equivocation.

The fourth and the last time is the recent event in far away Germany, where Mr president, in a manner of speaking ‘has put his foot in it’ again by denigrating womanhood at a most critical time in history when women are clamoring for equality in the balance of power between them and the male folks.

By derogatorily jiving that his wife, Aisha’s place was in the kitchen, living room and the other room while responding to reporters questions about the content of the interview that Aisha granted the BBC Hausa language station criticising his leadership style,he ended up exposing his chauvinistic side to the world.

Worst of all, the denigrating comment about women which was aimed at trivialising the grievous allegations against him by his better-half, was made while standing by the side of German prime minister,Angela Merkel, who is regarded as one of the most powerful women in the world.

In an era where women are in the ascendancy as epitomized by Christian Lagarde, IMF’s managing director, who stated emphatically in her address to central bank governors , during their recent meeting in Washington, USA that one of her most critical missions is to see equality for women with men in terms of salaries and perks, it was expected that president Buhari who also attended the UNGA 71 alongside others heads of govt , would have by now been acquainted with, and thus become sensitive to the reality that a woman’s place is no longer restricted to the kitchen and bedroom, but also in the boardrooms and engineering rooms.

In the bid to do damage control, the presidential spokesman, Shehu Garba, explained that the sarcastic and offensive comment was intended to humanise Mr president because it was only made in jest, as such it should be taken only at its face value.

But Mr president doubled down on the obvious goof by explaining that since Aisha is in charge of the home front and therefore takes care of his needs at home, he did nothing wrong in situating her there.
In the advanced society, such a gaffe could have attracted as much opprobrium as US Republican Party presidential candidate in theNovember 8,2016 , Donald Trump’s leaked boast about his ability to sexually molest women leveraging on his celebrity status.

That sexist banter is fast turning out to be Trump’s Achilles heel in the US presidential race.
Likewise, the worn out cliche “A woman’s place is in the kitchen” which has obviously not been deleted from president Buhari’s consciousness ,could cost him the presidency in 2019, in the event that he puts himself up for re-election and his wife actualizes her threat not to support him, if he fails to change his leadership style.

By and large, while First Lady Aisha’s comment suggesting that if things don’t change from the status quo, she won’t campaign for her husband’s re-election in 2019 was ominous, president Buhari has sealed the prediction with his politically incorrect and socially reprehensible rebuttal which reflects the concept of women in the Stone Age.
Regrettably, such anti-social attitude towards women leans more towards religious fundamentalism which is a key driving force of the Taliban in Afghanistan and ISIS in Iraq in the Middle East region; Al Shabab in Somalia/Kenya in east Africa and Boko haram in Nigeria, Cameroon,Niger, Chad republics etc, than it does on broader world views. It particularly negates the values of  the Western world from where we took the franchise for the presidential system of democratic governance now in practice.

In other words, it is the aforementioned terrorist group’s fascination and the pursuit of the anachronistic and archaic beliefs such as the doctrine that women can not be heard or seen, that’s driving their zest for their warped sense of purity and religiosity which is in part, fueling radical Islam and terrorism. As the saying goes ‘old soldier never dies’, hence Mr president is yet to be  fully weaned off his dictatorial tendencies and which is why I’m not amongst those condemning him for the series of faux pax. Our president, in my judgement, needs help in understanding and internalising the practice of democracy, to the extent that it would become his default mode.

In that regard, president Buhari needs to be hand-held and walked through the labyrinth of the mine infested field of democratic system of governance in Africa which is bereft of altruistic values or replete with weak institutions that could have restrained leaders from straying, but the lack of which exposes them to the risk of easily crossing the thin line between democracy and dictatorship.

Although former president, Olusegun Obasanjo was also a military dictator that once ruled Nigeria after twenty , 20 years of ascending power through the barrels of the gun, he had the rare privilege of serving as a co-Chairman of Eminent Persons Group, EPG of the commonwealth of nations alongside the likes of former president of Austria and Canada where he got some tutelage in democratic practice before his reincarnation as an elected president of Nigeria in 1999 -a feat that Buhari now parallels.
By hobnobbing with such eminent personalities like Malcolm Frazier, former Australian prime minister and Lord Barber of Wentbridge, former chancellor of the exchequer under Edward Heath of Britain,leaders who are steeped in democracy ethos, Obasanjo’s autocratic instincts must have become blunted, hence he was less dictatorial during his reign.

But even then, compared to his successors in the presidency, Obasanjo was the least democratic largely because, the late Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, who had no military background operated govt on the principle of rule of law .
A case in point is when then President Obasanjo bared his autocratic fang by unilaterally stopping payment to Lagos state govt, her fair share from the federation account, as a punitive measure meted to then Gov,Bola Tinubu for creating development authorities in addition to the constitutionally approved 21 LGAs to facilitate speedy grass root development.
In an uncanny way, the rude awakening of president Buhari to the reality that the world has changed dramatically from the belief that a woman’s place is in the kitchen, when he held sway as military head of state some thirty years ago, as evidenced by the backlash of anger conveyed  by the numerous parodies and invectives being poured on him via the mainstream and online media platforms, may be a blessing in disguise.

I say that in the sense that , although he has learnt the hard way, president Buhari is now sufficiently informed about the liberation of women from the kitchen and the ‘other room’  to the front row of leadership in both public and public sectors.

This is underscored by the fact that apart from Angela Merkel who is the president of Germany, Theresa May, another woman is the prime minister of Britain and both countries are the most powerful in Europe.
All things being equal, another lady, Hillary Clinton, could after November 8, which is less than one month time,  become the next president of the USA- the richest and most powerful country in the world.
That’s not all.

Japan, the third richest country in the world is also bracing up for a female president after the exit of the incumbent, Shinzo Abe.
Given the rise of women as heads of state of strategic nations , the United Nations security council may sooner or later be more populated by women than men , and they would not be enamoured by a man who believes that a woman’s place is in the kitchen.

Consequently, if president Buhari does not recognize that women now run the world as foretold by the American music diva, Beyoncé in her hit song titled “Who Runs The World”, a rhetorical question which she posed and emphatically answered in the affirmative,”Girls”,about two years ago,  then Nigerian economy would be in worse jeopardy. So president Buhari must adjust his condescending optics of the women folks, so that Nigeria may not be blacklisted by the women whom global powers now revolve around.

The assertion above stems from the fact that, not only are women the leaders of the three countries that are the most influential in trade and also major aid partners to our dear country, women such as Christiane Lagarde,CEO of the IMF and the likes of Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors are amongst the women who now bestride the corporate world that our president willy-nilly have to be dealing with.

If president Buhari would have to engage in trade and solicit aid from them, which he must, then he has no other option than to conform to the reality of according women more respect. The existential reality is that First Lady Aisha did her husband and Nigeria  good by unwittingly thrusting the new and positive world view of women, into president Buhari’s consciousness, albeit via shock therapy.

If Mr president has been reading up all the trending issues that his seemingly innocuous gaffe has thrown up- which l believe he would, then our president by now must have learnt a great deal about how to treat women better.

For those who are condemning Aisha for making  political comments , let’s not forget that she was practically dragged into the political fray when she and her pretty daughters became issues in the 2015 presidential campaign. As a committed wife, she was pulled into the campaign train and after she helped her husband secure victory, her lucrative Spa business in Kaduna was shut down.
How can a lady who has been working very hard as an entrepreneur in the past 27 years of being married to Buhari who was then a retired army general and former head of state, be confined to Aso Rock without a major role to play except to watch a cabal manipulate her husband, as she alleges?

I get the impression that either the so-called Aso Rock kitchen cabinet underestimated Aisha’s capacity to fight back or planned to use the cloak of religion and culture to tame her, but as things currently stand, the First Lady is not one that would stand idly and watch her husband being held hostage , so the  Mafia failed woefully and that makes one wonder how Mafia are the so-called Aso Rock Mafiosi?
For sure, the involvement of First Ladies in politics is not Peculiar to Nigeria. One only needs to brush up on contemporary US history to see how influential Eleanor Roosevelt was when her husband Franklin D Roosevelt helped rescue the USA economy from the Great Depression in 1933.

In recent history, Hillary Clinton , was a very active First Lady when she pushed affordable health care policy for all Americans, although without success during her time as the first lady but it has recently culminated into OBAMA CARE, named after president Barack Obama, who finished the work that Hillary started as First Lady. Subsequently, Mrs Clinton has been a senator and served as Secretary of State to the USA during president Obama’s first tenure and now her eyes are set on the throne as president of the greatest country on planet earth.
Back home, late Stella Obasanjo, wife of former president Olusegun Obasanjo, Turai Yar’Adua, spouse of late president Umaru Yar’Adua and Patience Jonathan, the better-half of the immediate past president, Goodluck Jonathan served as Nigeria’s First Ladies and they had a huge influence over the affairs of state, sometimes in an overbearing manner.

So First Lady Aisha’s expression of her reservations about the trend of politics being played by her husband is not an anathema.
In fact, from the groundswell of support that her revolt has generated, president Buhari should listen more to his wife, Aisha.
As the agent provocateur , Aisha Buhari might have
inadvertently shattered the glass ceiling for Hausa-Fulani women who for so long have been shackled by cultural and religious beliefs that forbid them from being heard or seen.

In Saudi Arabia, women’s hard fight to transit from not being allowed to drive cars to being on the driver’s seat by agitators who resisted the primordial taboo was met with brutal reprisals but at the end of the day, Saudi authorities were compelled to go into negotiation with those who dared to challenge the system, following the global outrage against chauvinism and support for the defiant women.

Queen Amina of Zaria and Gambo Sawaba of Borno are the last known women from the north to have accomplished feats in the political firmament worthy enough to earn  them an enviable mention in the annals of Nigerian history.

Aisha Buhari may well be the modern day Queen Amina who would help liberate the women folks, particularly in the northern part of Nigeria by putting them in the limelight of politics  instead of the dark recesses of the kitchen, where they have been, immemorial. There is no doubt in my mind that it is by such unshackling of women folks from some ingrained cultural confinements, that Nigeria as a nation can optimally harness the potentials of every citizen , irrespective of gender like in Germany, Britain and very likely the  USA where women are successfully running their powerful countries and by extension the world.
Who says Aisha can not run for public office like Hillary Clinton who was First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State and now a front-runner for the presidency of the most powerful and richest country on earth?
Yes, Aisha can!

My apparently unbridled optimism is inspired by the fact that , it is the audacity of hope that catapulted Barack Obama into office as the first black man to be the president of the United States of America. Like Barack Obama, like Hillary Clinton and perhaps like Aisha Buhari.
Who says imaginations can not also grow wings in Nigeria?

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