The Room President Buhari Really Needs Now

At first, like every sane Nigerian, I took President Muhammadu Buhari’s response to his wife’s criticism of his government as a joke. And even agreed with Malam Garba Shehu’s description of it as as such on Twitter, that “(President Buhari) was obviously throwing a banter.” But the President’s unnecessary restatement of that misogynistic caricaturing of his wife in a subsequent interview, clarifying that indeed “she belongs in my kitchen, my living room and the other”, was devastating. And this was done as guest of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, a woman that manages a country more prosperous than his and ranks higher than him in the global political equation. Yet that wasn’t a clue to keep his patriarchy to himself.

The tragic thing is, what Mrs. Buhari said wasn’t even damaging. It was an explicit praise of the President, which was why I attempted to understand her interviews on BBC in Hausa and then in English as a PR stunt developed to exonerate the husband. For what’s a more convenient inference than her claim that the government has been hijacked by strangers and opportunists? I even likened her guts to that of her fictional American counterpart, Mrs. Claire Underwood, reputed for audacious ambition and manipulation of events to secure her husband’s political capital. House of Cards fans will get this analogy.

For a President serially accused of nepotism and parochialism, Aisha’s interviews, in those initial interpretations by me, seemed like strategic PR for President Buhari. Her criticism only portrayed him as he once described himself, that he “belongs to everybody…” All the things she said, intended to be a criticism of her husband, only projected a favourable image of the man.

For a fact, Aisha wasn’t speaking for me, probably not for anyone outside her circle of partisan elite. She’s speaking for those who deserved or expected rewards for supporting Buhari. The hunger addressed in the BBC interview isn’t really that of the masses, but that of a part of the Nigerian elite who aren’t eating as they had anticipated. So, following her logic, democracy is intended to be a grand house party for friends and family of the celebrant – the President.

Shouldn’t this have been explained by the President’s media managers as validation of the man’s famous declaration of belonging to nobody even though he belongs to all? Aisha Buhari’sargument could’ve been valid if she hadn’t based a point on Buhari inviting strangers and opportunists to his government. She painted her husband as a naïve, and that his government has been hijacked. Before him was an opportunity to describe her outrage as a misunderstanding of his magnanimity.

Perhaps the President was not disturbed by the media backlash that trailed his initial degrading response to his wife because patriarchy is a way of life in his country, and expressions as his aren’t interpreted as wrong and unacceptable here. We shouldn’t be fooled, millions of us like this male-privileging social order even if we can’t make the delusion of that grandeur public. Amongst ourselves, and deep within us, there’s a maddening patriarchal tendency seen in our reactions when we see a car badly driven, a lady living alone, a lady over 30 unmarried, a lady heading a big public institution. Like all privileges, men see this patriarchy as birthright, something hard to unlearn. Like that racist who can’t imagine a world of all equal. And it would be foolish to praise the President for publicly shaming us all.

Buhari has goofed by degrading his wife in the eyes of the world, and he should apologise to her. But her outrage over his approach to governance was harmless. There’s nothing wrong with the President of Nigeria appointing citizens he didn’t know, or had never ever met, which seems to frighten his wife the most. That’s a partisan concern, not a national problem. If anything, we should commend the man for refusing to reward only those who supported him as expected by his wife and her ilk. It’s one thing to say Nigeria isn’t functioning as promised by the APC, it’s another to say it’s so as a result of existence of “strangers” and “opportunists” in the government.

As we await the next episode of the first family’s rumble, the President needs a retreat to reflect deeply on the legacy he intends to leave behind, and the impact of this politically incorrect example he advertised in his reaction to his wife. Buhari used to be a flawless model to some partisans, and their intellectual allies could have written the story of his struggles and named it “The Best President Nigeria Never Had” if he had lost the 2015 Presidential Elections. Today, he’s falling down the popularity bar, and the speed with which this is happening is the only motivation he needs to sit up. It’s likely he may not have company in the “other room” soon, so what he really needs is a space to reflect—a Reflection Room. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter

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Forgetting Abdulmumin Jibrin?

I was part of a group that met the lone fighter on October 3. It was a mission arranged by a social media community to establish the fact of his conflict with colleagues at the House of Representatives, which has resulted in his suspension for 180 days. The meeting was a re-introduction to revelations the lawmaker has already made, and an opportunity for us to ask him questions surrounding his new-found activism, mostly upsetting. It was a convergence of people who, ordinarily, wouldn’t have been under one roof because of wildly differing political inclinations.

Jibrin began with a familiar description of the Nigerian lower legislative chamber, attributing the disdain for lawmakers to their double-standards. He said that such disdain was inevitable since they are wont to grilling government officials in the day and accepting bribes from the same characters at night. This came at the time a video of Hon. Herman Hembe, a lawmaker called out for his corruption on the floor of the national assembly, reappeared and going viral. As the Chairman of House Committee on Capital Markets, the lawmaker was confronted by his victim, Ms. Arunma Oteh, of how he swindled her agency, Securities and Exchange Commission. It was a humiliating clip, and horrifying that the same character got re-elected and even had the audacity to rebel against corruption allegations against the House.

Said Jibrin, “What happened at the House of Reps wasn’t padding. What happened was a budget fraud.” And then came a clarification, that the National Assembly indeed has the Power of Appropriation, and that what he meant by his accusations of frauds by his colleagues was that that power was abused. He disclosed that projects were inserted in the budget by a clique led by the Speaker, with neither consultation nor feasibility studies. The clique created projects and gave their own cost estimates suo moto. How Legislators got to fix the costs of projects in the national budget over dinner or lunch really beats me. That is what they did. As to why his colleagues at the House of Representatives are unwilling to join his force against budget fraud, Jibrin answered that it’s because the Speaker has sworn to protect their allowances. And that, allowances, was my high-point of the meeting, the horrifying revelation that each member of the House receives N10 million monthly. I won’t even bother about the mathematics of this unfair use of public funds.

Though Jibrin was subjected to tough questions by participants, I thought it was a miscalculation for us to throw out the bathwater with the baby. My position is made even easier with his stance he’s not without blame and that the call for probity shouldn’t be centred around him. And true, somebody telling you his colleagues are abusing public trust and misusing resources of the nation isn’t asking you to make him a hero, he’s telling you to save your nation from those colleagues—and he’s not exonerated from the mess. I think that whether we like Abdulmumin Jibrin or not is immaterial. Our concern should be the veracity of his revelations and how to forestall recurrence of a gang of bandits creating projects for the nation and deciding their costs over a meal.

He only alerted the nation to a systemic flaw in an institution and how we are being serially scammed and taken for granted. It’s an insider’s revelation. Expected from a thinking nation is an alliance to facilitate conviction of all responsible, even him too, if found guilty. I don’t see how this is difficult to understand, why we have to be a drama queen over an unambiguous issue. Jibrin is a whistleblower. A “whistleblower” is only an insider who has information the people don’t. It doesn’t mean innocent participant. The word for that is “saint”, and saint is not a synonym of whistleblower.

To me, the worst twist since the House of Representatives corruption scandal began was APC’s letter to the whistleblowing lawmaker, asking him to stop revealing that abuse of public trust. That was evidence of one thing, that the governing party sees corruption as misuse of public funds or power by anyone other than those that represent its interests. Perhaps this is why the same APC-led government trying former government officials – and recording “successes” on the pages of newspapers – condones corruption by its people at CBN, FIRS and now the House of Reps.

Our politicians may have shown the public they are different, but the truth is they are all united in protection of their corrupt practices and roles in permitting them. Nothing was done about Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s revelations of corrupt practices in the Jonathan-led government, just the way nothing is being done about Jibrin’s now. Whether Jibrin too is guilty is a distraction. My interest is whether his revelations are true, and that if true the transgressors be punished. Of corollary interest to me is why these allegations are being “forgotten” by a change-advocating government and political party. But it is secondary to the veracity of Abdulmumin Jibrin’s claims and action of same. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter