From the outset I need to stress that I have nothing against the idea of a national or state title of the “First Lady.”Aisha Buhari
But when early last month President Buhari’s wife, Aisha, announced that she had decided to dump the title of the “Wife of the President” to assume that of the nation’s First Lady, she triggered an alarm. Sincerely, she could be called anything, really, as she became the First Lady simply owing to the fact that her husband became Nigeria’s first citizen once he was inaugurated President of the Federal Republic.
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Yet, there is something terrible about that announcement. First, Aisha Buhari and her handlers and by extension, her husband’s administration, once again, betrayed a total lack of respect for Nigeria’s constitutional federalism. Second, her explanation that her title was causing confusion in the states— whether the governor’s wives were to be addressed as wives of the governors or First Ladies—was totally out of place even as it is an affront on the constitution as the states reserve the right to term the Governors’ wives whatever title they choose. The matter at hand here is not Abuja’s to decree but each state’s to treat as they choose. It depends on each state to call the wife of the governor The First Lady or the Mother or Aunt or Angel of that state.
Under a federal constitution, the non-constitutional office of the First Lady has no power to tell any state how to treat the wife of a governor or local government chairman.
For those who may not like the office of the first lady, they should train their anger at former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his late wife, Stella, for they had the opportunity to reverse the first lady policy which the rather comely late Miriam Babangida brought to a new height, (or notoriety to some), but failed.
How? Well, let me explain: To chart a new direction, Obasanjo first set up a high-powered committee, the Presidential Policy Advisory Committee (PPAC) headed by Lt. General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma (rtd).
Characteristically, Obasanjo, a fanfare-enchanted President, received the report amidst great ceremonies in April 1999, at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, a month before his inauguration. He announced that day that a new dawn was just over the horizon, waiting for him to be sworn into office. Then he vowed he would run a lean government, have no First Lady but just a wife, who was barred from going with a convoy of cars and using sirens. Same too for his ministers, he said.
That the Office of the First Lady existed under Yar’Adua and Jonathan as it did under Obasanjo, whose late wife, Stella, actually issued orders to the state governors’ wives to desist forthwith from going to the airports to personally welcome the Vice President’s wife, but must send the Deputy Governors’ wives instead, may not have had any direct effect on the economy but merely served as an example of pettiness on a grand scale. Yet, Stella Obasanjo did not explain the reason behind the order, but if she felt that it was against protocol for First Ladies in the States to extend the honours meant for her as the national First Lady to her deputy (?) who by all means and purposes was the Second Lady because she and her husband as well as their children made up the Second Family, she forgot that even the State Governors always went to the Airport to welcome a visiting Vice-President. If Stella’s supposed but ridiculous logic were to be extended even further, it would have meant that only the wife of a Speaker of a House of Assembly would be right in the perking order to welcome a visiting spouse of the Senate-President. But pray, who would then have needed to welcome the wife of the Speaker of the House of Representatives? This is because while the centre has a bi-cameral legislature, the states have a uni-cameral one, and so while the Speaker was the Federal Government’s Fourth Citizen, the States’ Speakers real equivalent in Abuja is the Senate President and not the Speaker! But the states MUST NOT have offices equivalent to Abuja’s!
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The real point here is that though Nigeria operates a federal system whereby the states are the component parts, and elect their own governors independent of the president, all the states’ First Ladies’ obeyed Mrs. Obasanjo’s vanity-inspired and totally whimsical order. Yet, why did they not ignore her, especially as both hers and their offices were unknown to the Nigerian constitution? The answer is simply this: Nigeria neither practiced a true federalism nor true democracy; so any governor whose wife disdained the former President Obasanjo’s wife, disdained Obasanjo, and any who disdained the President, was inviting the wrath of the President on himself—and on Obasanjo rested the decision about who would continue in office, aspire to another office or simply end up in jail. Or he appropriated (misappropriated really) that emperor’s role.
Also, on the President, especially under Obasanjo, rested the decision about who would be impeached, and the person would be impeached, even when the majority members of a given State House of Assembly fully backed their chief executive, he would be impeached nevertheless, as the impeachments effected in Plateau state (against the then Governor Joshua Dariye) and in Bayelsa (against then Governor D. S Peter Alamieyesiegha) showed. Now, this ill-thought out order could have raised a war whose genesis would never have been known to one of the belligerent sides. Any ill-disposed wife of a state governor could have raised hostilities between the President and her own spouse if she, for cogent reasons, asked the wife of the deputy-governor to represent her at the Airport ceremonies for a visiting First Lady Stella Obasanjo.
Mrs. Stella Obasanjo was generally seen as unassuming, as opposed to over-bearing, as a First Lady, owing to this, she did not attract bad press as much as her two immediate successors did. Not even the report by human rights organisations that Mr. Orobosa Omo-Ojo, the publisher of the inconsequential Lagos-based Nigerian Midwest Herald newspaper, was arrested on Stella Obasanjo’s orders on May 2, 2005 and taken to Akure prison and that his arrest was prompted by an article the previous week about her, headlined “Greedy Stella,” made a dent on her genteel image.
Now, why would the title Mrs Aisha Buhari, (of the other room’s fame) favoured in June 2019 make news? Answer: In December 2014, Muhammadu Buhari went on the record to say he would abolish, scrap or ban the office of the First Lady if he was elected as President, saying that it was unconstitutional.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which endorsed Buhari for the 2015 general elections, commended Buhari for his plans, when elected as President, to scrap the so-called ‘Office of the First Lady.’ MEND went on to say that the office of the first lady is obviously an irrelevant, fraudulent and unconstitutional office, whose only purpose is to further plunder the resources of the country.
Poor MEND. Supporting Buhari’s policies come with the risk of what happens when Buhari does a policy somersault as he usually does. This is not just an example of a campaign promise not kept but touches on how deeply the Buharis think things through before pronouncing on them. Put differently; how much is their word their bond? Or has the Office of the First Lady become constitutional now? Next time, Mrs Aisha Buhari should respect Nigeria’s federalism and leave the governors’ wives out of what to call herself.