The unelected powerful First Ladies of Nigeria


May 3, 2022

By Suyi Ayodele

My first beat, in 1999, as a reporter in the Nigerian Tribune, was the office of the wife of Oyo State Governor. The woman then had a pet project called “Ilera Loro” (Health is Wealth). I did not last on that beat. Peter Onoche, who was assigned to replace me, lasted only three days on the beat. The two of us were new recruits of The Imalefalaafia School of Journalism (Tribune’s Head Office) and “our blood too dey hot’. We covered the beat as independent journalists and Madam Excellency never liked our “attitudes”. Within the two weeks or so I spent with “Her Excellency”, I saw raw power. I saw the ‘strong men’ of power we used to see on the television genuflect before the governor’s wife. Some of them waited for hours without seeing Oga Madam.

There was an old chief I knew years ago. He numbered among the first six kingmakers of his town. He was powerful and very loud. His presence commanded respect. His carriage was infectious. And he was also rich and showcased that with a harem of different shapes of women. He ruled his house with an iron fist and his wives coiled whenever he roared. But there was one among the wives. She was more powerful than the other women in the harem. In fact, she was more powerful than the old strong chief. Without exaggerating, the high chief knew his limitations in any issue concerning that particular wife.  

Ace comedian and merchant of jokes, Okey Bakassi, said in one of the shows that I attended that he feared nobody. He added a caveat though. He said: “the only man I fear in my life is a man who does not fear a woman. Whenever I see a man like that, I run”. Okey Bakassi uttered those words to emphasise the superior power women wield. My late father summed up the power of women to me this way: “A man is as powerful to the extent his wife wants him to be. You are only a strong man because your wife wants you to be strong”.

I have attended many marriage seminars. But the best marriage seminar I have ever attended did not last up to five minutes. In that seminar, the message was just one sentence. And guess who the keynote speaker was; my late mother; Maaami Alice Kehinde Ayodele. It happened when I took my fiancée, now my wife, to her for her consent. God bless Maaami. She had a sharp penetrating sight. And she was blunt to a fault. After the normal ‘feferity’ of the Ekiti ‘welcome’ party, Maaami called me to her room. Then she uttered these words: “Omo han re mi loo, ho si a s’omo ure ehi ni ko ba mo la lohun” – I love this child and she will be a good girl on the condition that you don’t open her voice. The meaning of the transliteration, “open her voice” is deep. My mother said that the girl I brought to her would only remain calm only if didn’t provoke her anger such that she would talk.

Our elders say every town has what ails it. For Lagos, they say it is hustling and bustling. Íbádán ailment, we are told, is street brawl. Likewise every man knows his strengths and weaknesses. I used to think I had the loudest voice in my house. Yes, yours sincerely can shout for Africa. But they are not deep-seated shouts. However, I learnt years into my marriage that I possibly don’t have the loudest voice in my family. The first day my Orente shouted at me, I was looking for where the voice came from! My goodness! So this Ijebu girl has this loud voice! Then my Maaami ( please don’t use the Isale Eko intonation to pronounce this) came back to me: “…Ho si a s’omo ure ehi ni ko ba mo la lo hun”. I borrowed myself sense. Women are indeed powerful and a man is as loud to the extent that his wife keeps calm.

Men in positions of authority usually have powerful women behind them. In the ancient and the conventional times, wives of powerful men are more powerful than their husbands. At creation, man was an obedient creature, who stayed within the limits set by God in the beautiful Garden of Eden. Then one day, Adam, the first man, listened to his wife, Eve, and ate the forbidden fruit God commanded him not to eat. That was the end of innocence for mankind and the rest is history. 

In contemporary Nigeria, some hundreds of school children were “kidnapped” in Chibok, Borno State in 2014. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, who was in power then, lost his manliness and was completely lost as to what to do. It was the iron lady of the Aso Rock Villa, Madam Patience Jonathan, aka Mama Peace, who rose to the occasion and summoned those who should know about the incident to Abuja. Unfortunately, Nigerians did not see the wisdom of the courage displayed by Mrs. Jonathan then and followed the clue that could have led the nation to where the children were “kept”. Rather, our concern was the phonological idiosyncrasies of the First Lady and we laughed out the very chance of nipping in the bud such ugly occurrence. Today, Nigeria has lost the number of school children that have been “kidnapped” and will never know the number that will be “kidnapped” in future.

Most Nigerian political leaders are captives of their wives. They are held bound in conjugal subjugation and they cannot talk. Their situations are akin to the proverbial “iso inu eku; a mu mora ni” – the one who carries the spirit mask  dare not fart! Most times, when His Excellency laughs in the public, don’t mistake that for complete happiness. Majority of them have troubles at Government Houses as First Ladies. If you see mostly regarded ‘strong men’ of power melt in the presence of their wives, don’t think that the men have eaten the Itsekiri “Igbilekokomiyo” (fowl no dey refuse corn). No. Women are naturally strong beings; pray they don’t use 10 percent of the powers they have. In the recently concluded primaries of the various political parties, we read that Mrs. Akeredolu, wife of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, went to her home state, Imo, to vie for a senatorial seat. I asked a friend in Akure, Ondo State capital, how Arakunrin Akeredolu, with his ‘spartan discipline’ would allow such a perfidy. The answer I got shocked me to my marrow.

On Tuesday, September 9, 2019, Mrs. Bisi Fayemi, wife of the immediate past governor of Ekiti State, Dr Kayode Fayemi, was somewhere in Ikole Ekiti for a function. While returning to Ado, we were told that she was advised to take the Ijesa-Usu-Ado route because the students of the Federal University, Oye Ekiti were on the streets, demonstrating against one of the bad policies of this present government. Her Excellency would have none of that. She would not change her route because of some “silly children”. Meanwhile, those familiar with that axis will agree  that the Ikole-Ijesa-Usu-Ado route is shorter than the Ikole-Oye-Ifaki-Ado route. Mrs. Fayemi plunged into the Oye Road and encountered the students in their thousands on the streets. The security men in her convoy engaged the hapless students in order to “clear the road for the woman wey sabi”. When the dust settled, two young undergraduates were on the ground stone-dead, courtesy of the bullets from Mrs. Fayemi’s police guards. Her husband, the real ‘His Excellency’, Governor Fayemi, was in Ado Ekiti, where he did nothing. The parents of the two slain children nurse their pains till date while the Fayemis have since collected their severance allowances as ex-governor and ex-First Lady and moved on with their lives. That is how powerful and brutal the wives of Nigerian political leaders are.

It is therefore not a surprise when the news filtered in that Her Imperial Excellency, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, wife of General Muhammadu Buhari, President and Commander-in-Chief, had an issue with  Aminu Adamu, a 500 level student of the Federal University, Dutse, Jigawa State, who was alleged to have body-shamed the first lady by calling her a fat woman who became bloated after eating  poor Nigerians’ money. The first person who drew my attention to the issue claimed that the reported ankle injury Mrs Buhari was said to have suffered some weeks ago happened when she kicked the suspect. I didn’t believe that. However, I gave that piece of information the life of truth when I later got to read that Adamu was actually arrested and brought to Aso Rock. What for?

Adamu’s tweet that led to his ordeal was posted in June this year. The First Lady saw the tweet and set the nation’s security architecture after the undergraduate. If you have ever wondered why it has been so difficult or almost impossible for our security agencies to trace and track the felons that have held the nation bound to violence in terms of banditry, kidnapping and gratuitous killings, seek no further. It took Nigeria’s security agents acting on the orders of the most powerful woman in the country, five good months to be able to track Aminu. Yet the poor child used a network service provider to post the “offending” tweet. The service provider has coordinates scattered all over the place. Aso Rock spent five good months achieving that feat; you can imagine how much ‘logistics’ went into that exercise! 

Now you may wish to ask: while the whole issue was ongoing, did General Buhari not hear about it? I have asked that question several times myself. And on each occasion, I came to this conclusion: is General Buhari himself not at the mercy of Mrs. Aisha Buhari?  How many crises in Aso Rock involving Aisha Buhari has the retired General been able to resolve? When the video of the First Lady surfaced the other time banging a door and complaining of being locked out of a part of the Villa, did the president not see it? How many months did Mrs. Buhari disappear to God-knows-where before we saw her at the APC presidential primaries? Did anybody pay attention to the obvious wedge and distance between the president and his wife at that primaries? How else does one define the phrase, “two strange bedfellows”? 

Mrs. Buhari is a mother. Mothers are kind and compassionate, supposedly. An “offence” was committed in June. A mother nursed the animosity for five months. She did not rest until the ‘culprit’ was brought to justice; first in her presence, and later before a judge, who remanded him in a correctional custody. Then you would want to exclaim: “Some mothers”; as a national newspaper exclaimed in 1996 when Mrs. Adekunbi Ero, then Editor, Nigerian Observer, was sacked by the military administrator of Edo State, Group Captain Baba Adamu Iyam, and his Information Commissioner, Lady Winifred Onyeonwu (of blessed memory) said “Adekunbi is my daughter”.

Granted that Mrs. Buhari stays in Aso Villa, the presidential lodge. The last time I checked, the Villa is not listed as a police station. Why was Adamu brought to Aso Rock? When the poor boy was brought in, what did the Villa intelligence unit do? The personnel there did not deem it fit to alert the president that a fundamental human right was about to be breached? What lawlessness rules our political landscape? What was Adamu”s crime? 

That he said Mrs. Buhari is fat? So? Is the First Lady not fat? Has she not added some weight? Is she as she was when her husband moved to Aso Rock Villa in 2015? The boy said Madam President’s wife got fattened up because she has ‘eaten’ poor people’s money? Is that also not correct? Mrs. Buhari does nothing in terms of any vocation except being the president’s wife. The president and his family live on Nigeria’s money. Nigerians are damned poor and nobody can deny that. They said we are 200 million people. Experts, Nigerian Tribune reported on Monday, December 5, 2022, that 133 million of us “languish in poverty”! If Mrs. Buhari’s feeding allowance is from the nation’s patrimony and the owners of the money are poor, is it not logical that the First Lady is fat because she derives her sustenance from the poor people’s pocket?

The argument that the young man is impudent is as unsustainable as the charge of “defamation of character” preferred against Adamu. Our elders say a man who does not want anyone to talk while preparing his pounded yam should not buy the yam on credit ( Eni ti a ko ni soro nigba ti a ba ngun iyan e kii ra isu awin). If Madam Excellency does not want anyone to talk about the state of health of the First Family, she should have impressed on her husband to fix our economy as he promised. From the health of General Buhari to the educational attainments of Aisha’s children, and the physical appearance of the First Lady, everything about the Buharis have improved to the disadvantage of the average Nigerians who are confronted, daily, with acute poverty. How on earth did uttering that obvious fact become a crime in the dictionary of a woman we did not elect to rule us? 

I will not blame General Buhari on this; at least for now. I will wait to see how the retired General and Mrs. Aisha Buhari live together after May 29, 2023. Thankfully enough, it appeared someone spoke sense to Mrs. Buhari. Last Friday, we were told she withdrew the charges preferred against the student. And Justice Yusuf Halilu of the Federal High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, was said to have “commended” Mrs. Buhari, possibly for her ‘magnanimity’. Justice Halilu equally imposed on parents and intended parents to “monitor their children and wards”; possibly too, because our landscape is populated by unelected First Ladies with over bloated egos!

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