It might have been a case of mistaken identity as the Presidency claims, but now that the shouting match seems to have abated a bit, it is pertinent to point out that the public spat between First Lady, Aisha Buhari and Ekiti governor, Ayo Fayose over the former’s alleged involvement in money-laundering activities, points to a baffling and scandalous expression of indecorum and a shameless reminder that Nigeria’s governing class, cannot even self-govern. Of particular interest is the fact that the lady claimed by EFCC to be the indicted Aisha Buhari has come out to deny any involvement and is threatening to sue the Nigerian government for defamation of character. It is for this reason that the government must establish the true identity of the culprit and clear the first lady’s name.
Some stories are better told straight. A series of media reports alleged Aisha Buhari, wife of President Buhari and Dumebi Kachikwu, younger brother of Nigeria Oil minister, Ibe Kachikwu were involved in bribery and money laundering with disgraced US Congressman, William Jefferson; convicted in 2009, and currently serving a 13-year jail term for abuse of office involving business ventures in Africa. US Department of Justice documents showed that one of those African ventures from which $170,000 was wired to Mr. Jefferson on June 26, 2002, belonged to the said Aisha Buhari. Kachikwu cooperated with the investigation and testified against Jefferson and no charges were filed against him.
When the story broke, Ekiti governor, Ayo Fayose came out publicly to say the Aisha Buhari in media reports was the wife of the President. But even before the Presidency dismissed as laughable, the attempt by Fayose to link Buhari’s wife to the bribery scandal, the first lady; in a fit of bad judgment and anger went on a twitter casting banal aspersions on Fayose and calling him an “unchained mad dog.” As if that was not enough, she tweeted that at 45 years she has the stamina and energy unlike her 75-year-old husband, to take Fayose head-on; in the ongoing war of attrition between the embattled governor and the Buhari administration. The indecorous tweets which were later deleted from her twitter handle went viral on social media. Fayose has remained unapologetic; daring the First Lady to travel to the USA; suggesting she will be arrested upon entry.
Fayose’s challenge to the first lady came after Ibrahim Lamorde; former EFCC Chairman, who was Director of Operations at the anti-graft agency at the time of the Jefferson trial, circulated the Nigerian passport of the purportedly indicted Aisha Buhari, to prove she was not the current first lady. But the lady whose passport was circulated, has come out to strongly deny any involvement. She accused government officials of falsifying her passport and using it in a vicious smear campaign, ostensibly to save the first lady and president further embarrassment. Obviously, if the said Aisha Buhari was an indicted criminal, she would have been prosecuted by the US Justice Department since she lives in Washington DC. The government’s silence in the face of this embarrassing denial has been deafening. Either way, the government’s credibility has been undermined and it remains unclear whether or not the President’s wife had engaged in money laundering. This begs the question: who is the indicted Aisha Buhari?
On the face of it, it is bad enough that such a scandal allegedly involving the first lady should be manifesting in the President’s household, it is doubly sad that Mr. President has seen nothing wrong with the cavalier manner in which the Presidency handled the issue. The first lady’s status is a moral pulpit from which the highest of values cherished by a nation are expected to be espoused, especially by example. Her fulminations against Fayose certainly call to question, her temperament. Angered as she may have been by Fayose’s accusation, her twitter response was not only unnecessary; its language was patiently un-edifying and mind-boggling. In the judgment of an average sense of decency, Madam Buhari’s conduct, only impoverished the sobriety and dignity of the office of the President of the Federal Republic and shifted attention from the message to the messenger.
Whatever the case, this saga is a clear demonstration of how much erosion, dignity and decorum have suffered in the nation’s seat of power. For the wife of the President, occupying a ceremonial office unknown to Nigeria’s constitution, to engage a sitting governor on social media with comments ornamented with harmful grandiloquence is beneath her public standing and a weakness of asinine proportion. Notably, this is not the first time Madam Buhari is involved in conducts unbecoming of her station as the President’s consort. Her temper tantrums are now well documented in an unedifying diary of her person and position. She is behaving like an all-conquering empress as she takes on political opponents of her husband at the slightest opportunity.
It is surprising that these indiscretions have escaped the attention and advice of the president’s handlers or, perhaps, worse still, enjoyed their approval. But, if those who are expected to guide the first wife failed in their duty, can the President himself claim ignorance of this? If Madam Buhari truly called the elected governor of a state “an unchained mad dog”, and it has not been denied, then she committed a blunder. The unconstitutional office of the first lady should not be competing with, if not outrunning, the Office of the President in terms of political clout.
While the behavior of Nigeria’s first lady rankles, the damage to democracy is incalculable. And it must stop. The point must be made with all emphasis that such confrontational antiques can negatively impact on her husband’s political fortunes. For, after all is considered, the depth of ill feelings to her husband’s political opponents, is unhealthy for a nation in distress. She needs to learn and understand that leadership is not about ethnic domination or selfish power equation; it is rather a disposition of moral strength to genuinely carry out a mission for the common good.
It is high time Madam Buhari comported herself in the way other first ladies in and outside Nigeria are known to do. Her quest for stature as Nigeria’s first lady will be helped by a huge dose of circumspection but will be doomed by hubris. She craves to be seen as the mother of the nation. There is really nothing wrong with this aspiration except that it comes with responsibility. Her public altercations with her husband’s critics, whom she unwittingly considers as personal enemies, do no good to the reputation of the President or the image of the country. The President should take a hard look at these issues but more important, he should not, and must never condone in his wife, the conversion of her public station into a platform to advertise her personal weaknesses. Nigeria’s democracy can do without this.