Okechukwu Jombo writes that there seems to be nothing different from President Muhammadu Buhari’s wife, Aisha Buhari’s role and former First Lady, Patience Goodluck Jonathan.
During the presidential campaigns, President Muhammadu Buhari made it clear that he would not allow the Office of First Lady because, according to him, it was not constitutional. Some people hailed him for the decision while some were very critical, waiting to see what would happen.
It was on this premise that when it was announced that Buhari’s wife, Aisha had moved into the office formally occupied by Patience Jonathan as First Lady that eye brows were raised. Notwithstanding the change in nomenclature, “Wife of the President”, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, has been operating from the Office of the First Lady located inside the Presidential Villa.
Since her husband’s assumption of office, Mrs. Buhari has dropped the title of “First Lady” used by her predecessors, including Mrs. Patience Jonathan. She opted for the mantra of “Wife of the President.” However, apart from the nomenclature, nothing significantly has changed, as Mrs. Buhari and her handlers have been operating from the First Lady’s office used by her predecessors, it was learnt. The office is located beside the official residence of the President.
Her office, like it was under her predecessors, houses her staff members, including personal aides, security details and protocol officials, among others. She has so far organised events similar to the ones that were not in short supply under her immediate predecessor, Mrs. Jonathan.
The first event organised by Mrs. Buhari was an elaborate “thank you dinner” she organised in honour of APC women and youths for supporting her husband’s election.
The President’s wife, during the recently concluded Ramadan, also broke her fast with some women leaders and the less privileged.
Recently, the Office of the Wife of the President, in conjunction with a United Kingdom-based private firm, organised a seminar on protocol, etiquette and security for wives of state governors.
At that event, the President’s wife charged the wives of the state governors to come up with laudable programmes to complement their husbands’ efforts.
At the conclusion of Ramadan, Mrs. Buhari also hosted children to an elaborate Sallah party.
All these events were held inside the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja, with glamour and fanfare.
Apart from these, the President’s wife, represented by some individuals, had donated either cash or relief items to internally displaced persons and other groups in parts of the country.
People’s thought that Buhari unlike former President Goodluck Jonathan would curtail the pronouncement of the office have been disappointed.
One of those who tried to compare the two women is the Head, Nigeria Network of NGOs, Yemisi Ransome-Kuti, who said that “Patience has been like a bull in a China shop. No control whatsoever. We are very hopeful that we will have a very different First Lady, who will bring calm and harmony to the presidency.”
To start with, Mrs. Buhari has shown the public a glimpse of what to expect in her soft-spoken speeches while supporting her husband during the last presidential campaign, suggesting a calm mien.
In one of her tweets at the time, she said she would prefer to be referred to as “Wife of the President” to being called the “First Lady.” This also caught on with some people, who felt the outgone First Lady lacked a similar modesty.
Interestingly, Buhari had contested to become Nigeria’s President in 2003, 2007 and 2011, but Mrs. Buhari was relatively unknown until her husband’s fourth attempt in 2015, where she appeared to have put up more appearances at campaign rallies than previously.
While addressing the debate over the role of a First Lady during one of the election campaigns, Mrs. Buhari said, “If the office of the First Lady is constitutionally recognised, my husband will not tamper with it but if it is not, that’s okay. For me, I will perform my duties and role as the wife of the President of Nigeria traditionally.”
The wife of the president has some traditional roles, like receiving guests, visiting orphanages, helping the less-privileged people. Similarly, her roles involve leading the fight for the right of women and malnourished children, curbing infant mortality rate, kidnapping and girl child trafficking.”
Already, some Nigerians expect that Mrs. Buhari would be different from Mrs. Jonathan by being less controversial. For instance, the presidential candidate of the KOWA party in the last general elections, Prof. Remi Sonaiya, described the two women as having different personalities and therefore didn’t “expect them to behave the same way.”
She, however, identified the key to avoiding controversies as understanding that the position of the First Lady is not an elective one, an error she insinuated that Mrs. Jonathan made.
“I think that it’s important to understand her supportive role and to realise that she is not the one that was voted for. She’s not an elected person and therefore should not impose too much on the people,” she said.
“I think the former First Lady would have been a public figure herself because she wanted to be involved in the affairs of the PDP, to determine who gets what and so on and so forth. She loved to exercise power but I think the incoming one is a different kind of person.”
In the same vein, an activist and President, Women Arise for Change Initiative, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, advised that a “high level of decency and modesty must pervade the activities of any woman in public position,” to avoid undue controversies.
“These positions must be clearly understood as being positions of responsibility (and) not for merry making or display of power without responsibilities,” she added.
For instance, Okei-Odumakin urged Mrs. Buhari to deviate from the roles performed by former occupiers of the office of the First Lady to “supporting government initiatives that seek to make life better for the women and the girl child.
“She must go beyond creating platforms that are often for self empowerment by many of the previous occupiers of the position to using her position to lobby for government policies and legislations that will advance the cause of the Nigerian women.”
Sonaiya also urged Mrs. Buhari to “be a voice for women issues.” She said, “Across the board, there are still a lot of issues that need to be attended to concerning girls and women. For instance, one of them is the education of girls all over the country. She can be a voice to advocate for girls’ education and equal rights for women in areas where there are discriminations because there are many areas where women are at a disadvantage.
“I think that will be more useful and more important than if she were to meddle in the affairs of the All Progressives Congress or something like that.”
According to the President, Down Syndrome Foundation Nigeria, Mrs. Rose Mordi, the “First Lady and all the ladies in positions of authority in the country should have the fear of God as women are mothers and therefore play a very important role in the society.”
She said the success of the “incoming government will depend on how the wife of whoever is in a position of authority relates with the general public.
“They must also have a good heart to do the right thing without going to play politics because at the end of the day, we the electorate are the ones who put their husbands there and by virtue of the fact that their husbands are there, they also are in a position of authority.
“Therefore, they should deal with individuals on equal basis irrespective of tribe, religion, disability and so on and also help in getting their husbands to take the right decisions that would be beneficial to everybody.”
Already, Mrs. Buhari appears to have assumed the suggested role as she assured Nigerians of the incoming government’s commitment to the development of children in a statement released to mark this year’s International Children’s Day on May 27.
She said education would be the “main focus of the incoming APC government.” “Our children are our future and education of our children is the best way to secure the future of our country,” she further said.
Mrs. Buhari also called for the implementation of the Child Rights Act which has been passed by the National Assembly, but yet to be adopted by several states in the country.
In the past, Mrs. Buhari had also called for legislation against early marriage. She is at the verge of initiating a pet project.
That has also been the style of previous First Ladies. So, in all, what is the difference between these two?