Aisha Buhari’s mission impossible

Nigeria’s First Lady, Hajiya Aisha Mohammadu Buhari, does not often flaunt herself and her office as did her predecessors. Our two former first ladies acted like powers behind the throne, wielding enormous influence as politicians et al sought to warm themselves into their hearts in order to get favours from their husbands and the government. Apparently, Office of the First Lady was well funded during their time. Not so now as our current president appears to be overtly disinterested in that office, giving it only a passing look.

Aisha Buhari’s non-governmental organisation (NGO) established under the umbrella of her office, ‘Future Assured’ appears to be fading out, although it may have been working silently, doling our assistance to the less privileged in our society. One recalls that our First Lady through her Future Assured organisation was once in the forefront of mobilising relief materials, comprising all manner of goods for especially people displaced by insurgents and other uprisings. It was quite innovative as neither herself nor her NGO spent a kobo in this respect because all the goods and other materials distributed came from manufacturers or distributors of these products. She only brought clout of her Office to bear in egging them on. But as with almost all other things, fraudsters reared their ugly heads.

Notwithstanding that her Future Assured pet project is seemingly lying low currently, First Lady Aisha Buhari has continued to weigh in what is generally described as ‘women’s causes’. Two instances this year suffice as illustration. In March she was personally at the National Assembly (said to be the first such attendance by any Nigerian First Lady) during debate of the Gender Bills, thereby lending her weight to their envisaged passage. As it later turned out, all the Gender Bills were turned down by the lawmakers on the day of voting. Her presence, personality and lobby did not sway our legislators.

Their non passage infuriated my fellow womenfolk who staged an angry protest that forced Speaker Femi Gbajabiamilia to declare that the rejected gender bills would be reconsidered. That has not happened to-date though. And at an Iftar (breaking of fast) dinner she organised for presidential aspirants during the Ramadan last month, Mrs. Aisha Buhari again pleaded ‘women’s cause’. Officially, the dinner was meant to “provide opportunities for presidential aspirants from various political parties to share love and happiness with one another in the spirit of Ramadan and in a quest for nation building”. Indeed, in her speech she urged them to remain focused on issues that strengthen national unity, national cohesion and brotherhood, harping on the need for tolerance, fair play and avoidance of violent tendencies.

“The greatest end of tenure gift that fellow Nigerians can give to the First Family is another free and globally acknowledged fair elections come 2023’’, she remarked. Expectedly, she called for fair play for women in politics “to ensure their greater participation in elective positions”. The First Lady however, revealed the underlining reason for the Iftar dinner with presidential aspirants when she said, “In fact it is high time women are adopted as running mates at all levels considering their strength and active involvement in political processes”.

Hajiya Aisha Buhari made same request this week during the annual awards of the Leadership newspaper, Abuja, when she asked presidential and governorship aspirants to choose women as their running mates. She noted that in some Gulf, Middle East and Asian nations, women have been mainstreamed and integrated up to level of 50 per cent.

“Therefore, it is not asking for too much if aspirants into the offices of Nigerian presidency, governors in the respective states or even chairmen of local governments honour Nigerian women by reserving their deputy positions for women”, the president’s wife averred through an aide that represented her at the occasion. Madam Aisha Buhari expectedly, would reiterate this call when the parties’ presidential candidates proper emerge next month.

Is First Lady Aisha Buhari’s demand feasible? Women had and have occupied deputy governor post since return to democratic rule in 1999. The South West zone has fared better in this respect as majority of states in that zone had at one time or other had a female deputy governor. Indeed, until coming of incumbent Governor Babatunde Sanwo-Olu, Lagos state had since 1999 been having a woman as its deputy governor. In the South East zone, we had Dame Virgina Etiaba as deputy to former Anambra state governor, Peter Obi while in the South-south zone we currently have a woman as deputy governor in Rivers State.

All local government chairmen in Kogi state are mandated by Governor Yahaya Bello to have a woman as their deputy. Thus, there are currently, female deputy chairman in each of the state’s 21 local government councils. Nonetheless, to-date, in this 2022, there are many State Houses of Assembly that do not have a single female member. Our First Lady may wish to direct her women advocacy drive to that direction, for, as an adage says, little drops of water make an ocean. She should start her push from the grassroots.

I suppose Hajiya Aisha Buhari would consider her tenure as First Lady successful if especially the two major parties APC, PDP, select females as running mates of their presidential flagbearers. However, this is unlikely to be the case given the political permutations that are factored in choosing a presidential running mate. Chief among this is the person’s political clout, being able to mobilise and deliver votes of his/her zone. Where is that woman that can deliver the votes of her state, how much more that of her zone?

Although there are more women than men in Nigeria, statistics show that women have never voted en bloc. That is to say, a female running mate will not get mass votes of the female folks at the presidential poll simply because of her gender. All said and done, First Lady Aisha Buhari’s plea for presidential aspirants/ candidates to have women as their running mates cum deputies is likely to fall on deaf ears as did her lobby for passage of the Gender Bills in the National Assembly. She may however, continue with her advocacy even out of office.

Ikeano writes via [email protected] 08033077519

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