By Onyiorah Paschal Chiduluemije
The recently reported statement credited to the All Progressive Congress Presidential candidate, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, to the effect that he would scrap the office of the first lady if elected President of Federal Republic of Nigeria is not only uncalled for but also it simply goes to speak volumes about his ever disgusting and deplorable chauvinistic and/or misogynistic attitudes towards the womenfolk and issues pertaining to them, which is though apparently in line with his usually extremist Islamist inclination.
As it were, and like a friend aptly puts it, granted that General Buhari hails from the North and belongs to as well as fanatically professes a religion that “does not allow women” from his part of Northern region to either be heard from or seen(as contemplated, engendered, enjoined by and encapsulated in the Hausa-Fulani concept of Bashiga – translated in English language to connote “no entry” into anywhere Muslim Hausa-Fulani women reside or are found, especially by non-Muslims), he ought to have remembered before blurting out his gaffe that the country he aspires to govern as a democratically elected President is a conglomeration of multi- ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious groups that do not only adore and respect their women but also accord due recognition to their pivotal role in the herculean task of nation-building which – going by contemporary practice and trends in other climes – is best coordinated and championed in a democratic enviroment through the office of the first lady, or the like, in collaboration with the Ministry of women affairs.
And so for General Buhari to have developed a strong aversion to this important office of the first lady – which additionally serves as agency for women empowerment and poverty alleviation – for no known or reasonably justified cause and to have publicly pronounced that he would scrap the office if elected President, may not after all be unconnected with his own part of the jihadist agenda of the Islamic Boko Haram sect aimed at ensuring by all means possible full relegation of the womenfolk to the oblivion.
As anachronistic as this Buhari’s perception of the office of the first lady appears, there seems to be substance in the assertion of people who believe that the General at 72 and as a “semi-literate jackboot” who has stayed out of power for too long, and with an unpleasant record of having truncated our democracy at some point in history, is totally bereft of the contemporary global leadership qualities, exposure and the awareness of the dynamics and realties of international politics being played along the line of flexibility that are all associated with governance in the 21ist century.
It is thus believed that General Buhari is neither “fit” to govern nor inclined to handle emerging democratic exigencies or contingencies. For one, a case in view is his impetuous proclamation that he would scrap the office of the first lady merely because there seems to be no clear provision in our constitution or any statutory backing establishing it. While this reason is certainly not sufficient to be advanced by anybody for wanting to scrap the office of the first lady that has thus far impacted positively on the lives of many, especially women and their children, it is key to note that this is not the only office that does not have constitutional/statutory backing.
Of course this singular reason in itself does not obviate the need for its existence. In like manner, it does not follow that any democratic institution and practice not backed up by laws in a democratic society is not worthy of its existence. In essence, instead of talks about scraping the office of the first lady, what is rather needed is conscious effort geared towards legitimizing, legalizing or institutionalizing it in such a way that will insulate such an important office from being abused or personalized by its occupant to the anger of members of the public.
This remains the right approach considering the fact that even during military regimes, the relevance of the office of the first lady was greatly felt by Nigerians with little or no complain. For instance, it is common knowledge that without the commendable efforts of the office of the first lady in the time of Mrs. Mariam Abacha’s reign, perhaps the structures we know today as National Hospital in Abuja would have been non-existent. And no other Nigerian is in best position to attest to this fact than former President Olusegun Obasanjo whose administration brought about the establishment of the hospital to its present national status.
What is more, it is even quite disappointing that of all issues troubling our polity and that are desirous of urgent solutions, the one in a series to engage the attention of General Muhammadu Buhari is the petty issue of scrapping the office of the first lady. And the question now is: is this the so-called issue-based campaign? If indeed General Buhari does not seem to have an axe to grind with the first lady or Nigerian women at large, why must he start his 2015 Presidential campaign with such a far less important issue as the discussion about scrapping the office of the first lady?
Could this be a deliberate attempt to attack the person of the first lady – Dame Patience Jonathan? Or could this translate to an expression of General Buhari’s deep-seated sadness or reservation over the increasing role and active participation of women in the art of governance and/or the task of nation-building? What exactly could be General Buhari’s motive for thinking that scrapping the office of the first lady or even making fuss about it will be the solution/part of the solution to the myriad of problems bedeviling Nigeria?
Or could it be that the present day Muhammadu Buhari is still a reflection of that young callous Major General and Head of state whose so-called War Against Indiscipline(WAI) in the 1980s was perniciously used by soldiers under his watch to enforce some aspects of Sharia legal system that tend to relegate women to the background? In fact, as a child then who had nonetheless become quite conscious of himself and events happening around him, one still remembers an ugly incident that saw some young ladies being maltreated by Buhari’s demented soldiers for no just cause. The unpleasant incident in question took place at Nsukka in the present day Enugu state.
At the time, hiding under the cloak of pursuing and enforcing Muhammadu Buhari’s so-called policy on War Against Indiscipline, some of these Buhari’s soldiers had made it a point of duty arresting women, especially young ladies, for the “offence” of putting on jeans and/or trousers of any kind and forcing them to enter filth-filled gutters as punishment for appearing in public places in such “indecent” attire. Are you surprised? Indeed that is one of the inhuman hallmarks that characterized what is commonly referred today as Buhari-Idiagbo military regime. Funny enough, this is perhaps one of the series of inhuman treatments that morbidly gladdens the hearts of some mischievous elements among us –Nigerians – who often talk about or refer to Major General Buhari in retrospect as a so-called disciplinarian. Wonders, indeed, shall never cease!
Today, to say that the Nigerian women have come a long way in terms of participation in governance and politics is an understatement. And until the ascendancy of President Goodluck Jonathan, none of the previous administrations had ever availed the womenfolk in Nigeria the kind of representation they currently enjoy in government.
Incidentally, this is the first and only government in the annals of Nigeria that has made conscious efforts towards achieving near fulfillment of the thirty five percent global requirement of affirmative action on gender progression. Good enough, the role of the office of the first lady in the area of advocacy in this regard cannot be over-emphasized. Perhaps only a handful of critics will play down the pivotal role of the office of the first lady in the attainment of this noble goal.
Nevertheless, while it is key at this juncture to say that these critics are at liberty to take the argument from here and even go on to attack the President for allowing the office of the first lady or the latter herself to be exerting “undue” influence on his government’s policies on women affairs and empowerment, there is no gainsaying that given General Buhari’s chauvinistic or misogynist propensities as evidenced by his unwarranted pronouncement concerning the office of the first lady more will be lost by the Nigerian women in terms of their active participation in government/politics than they have gained so far or stand to gain if the General were to win the 2015 Presidential election. For Nigerian women therefore, the option remains – better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.
Onyiorah Paschal Chiduluemije writes from Abuja