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Where is Mrs Buhari?

 The photograph of the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), at the Lagos State interdenominational thanksgiving service standing with his running mate, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo; the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, and Governor Babatunde Fashola on the front row says something about the APC presidential candidate.

There have been murmurs about his donning a fez cap in church – that he is a Muslim disrespecting Christian tradition. For me, his forgetting to take off his cap shows he has yet to fully master the nuances and rituals of spaces he is treading for the sake of his political ambition. If I were a Christian, I would pardon him. What is not so easily dismissable in the photo-op, however, is much more telling than his cap. In the picture, all the aforementioned men had their wives by their sides except Buhari.

For a man who preaches “change” and desires to rule a country made up of men and women in almost equal halves, I wonder why he finds the anomaly of an “invisible wife” wholesome. Interestingly, this is not the first time that Mrs Aisha Buhari would be left behind in her husband’s aspiration.

In 2003, she was not prominent when he lost to Olusegun Obasanjo’s “moonslide.” Four years later, not much had changed though one could argue that his biggest opponent, Umaru Yar’Adua, did not “use” his wife to campaign either. In 2011, when the presidential election was on, I asked one of Buhari’s closest aides where Mrs Buhari was and why she was practically unseen in her husband’s various campaign efforts.

My query sprang from his image: If you are being termed an ogre, furnish reasons why you could not be one. His wife standing side-by-side with him would, I told the aide, soften his unimpressible image.

This Buhari’s aide agreed with me that his wife would be strategically invaluable for his persona. He said she was coming to Lagos at that time and he would arrange press interviews to introduce her to the public.

The aide called shortly after to say Buhari was not sold to the idea. The aide was apologetic while explaining why Buhari did not want his wife displayed like a ware even in the heat of campaigns. He said Buhari himself could be rather reticent; then, I should consider the religious factor, and that the General was too disciplined for such and several etceteras. I wished him the best and left it at that. By then, Patience Jonathan was criss-crossing the country and canvassing votes for her husband in her peculiar ways. Even though she was being mocked for her lack of sophistication, she was winning some hearts because of her confidence.

By the time Buhari’s wife would surface to sell the “softer” side of her husband; by the time people saw her on TV expressing herself more articulately than the woman who would become the First Lady, the election had practically been won and lost.

We were eventually availed her credentials: she is not just a housewife who sits at home making “Fura de Nunu” for her husband but a distinguished person in her own right. I do not claim Buhari’s loss of the 2011 election had to do with his wife but I think the belatedness of her emergence was a flaw.

If your own spouse is not at the forefront of your dream, it could be interpreted in several ways. One is that the woman does not believe in you enough, or that you do not have faith in her abilities, or you are the alpha male who believes women should be seen and not heard. Any which way, it does not look good.

After three defeats, you would expect Buhari’s packaging to prominently include his wife. You would expect an image of him as a loving husband and devoted husband to be part of his virtues marketed to the public. You would have thought he would take his wife with him for the photo-ops he is garnering in churches and elsewhere. But no, she is still missing in the picture.

When Buhari had a photo-shoot recently where he was dressed in the attire of various cultures of Nigeria, I wondered why he was the only one in the picture. How does a man run for president, take pictures of himself at a desk with the Nigerian flag in the background but his partner of many years would be missing from the shoots? They decked the General in suit and even had a picture of him “hi-fiving” a child but there is none where his wife appears? Why? I do not want to speculate on his private life as a married man but I think those images portray him as a self-centred person who does not share space.

When the picture of his family appeared, eventually, we saw his wife, children, son-in-law and even grandchildren but this time, Buhari himself was missing. I am still trying to wrap my head around the kind of PR that misses the simple fact that Buhari should have appeared in his family picture.

There are several reasons one can adduce for Buhari and his wife’s photo hide-and-seek. One, the culture of lovey-dovey is simply not him. Like the Igbo proverb that says a man cannot learn to be left-handed in old age, I wager that this is a left-handedness that Buhari has not learnt and is probably a far harder lesson than removing his cap during a church service. Two, he probably thinks being seen with a woman will detract from his famed militarist discipline and Spartan image. He has done a lot of bending just to project himself as a non-Islamic fundamentalist pan Nigerian statesman but the woman aspect just does not resonate well with him – yet. Third, the religion and culture Buhari has known all his life do gift a second-class citizen status to women.

As if the invisible wife syndrome is not grave enough, he even threatened to abolish the office of the First Lady. Did he think the “First Ladyship” is all about frivolity and has no symbolic and cultural value that redeems it? Did he consider the implication of such a move for his image and ultimately, ambition? His manifesto promises women empowerment but I wonder how he proposes to empower Nigerian women when his own wife is tucked away from view.

True, Nigeria has had First Ladies who have turned out as a real nuisance; Area Mothers who have their aliterate fingers spotted in every political conundrum. The classlessness of some, however, should not overshadow the beauty of others who reinvented themselves and rose to the status of a genuine First Lady.
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