Last week, Nigeria’s First Lady Aisha Buhari made headlines for publicly criticizing her husband, President Muhamadu Buhari’s, government for yielding to a cabal that hijacked the reins of power and made all presidential appointments. She warned that if things stayed the same, she would withdraw all support for her husband in future elections.
Aisha’s comments came as a shock to many, immediately setting off a media storm and splitting public opinion. In the news cycle that followed, the focus soon shifted from her comments to speculation that all was not well between the first couple.
By chance, Aisha’s interview aired just as President Buhari flew out of Nigeria to visit with Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel. While in Germany, members of the press approached President Buhari, asking for his thoughts on his wife’s stinging comments.
While answering, President Buhari chuckled before saying, “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room.”
The Nigerian president clearly meant to be dismissive of his wife’s comments in order to steer the conversation away from his domestic issues.
Fuel to the Fire
However, his response only succeeded in offending more people and extending the media’s coverage of an issue he badly wants to put to bed. His comments have been described as misogynistic, demeaning, and symptomatic of a repressive era, where women were meant to be seen and not heard. If the first lady’s initial comments provoked a media storm, her husband’s insensitive, flippant response triggered a media avalanche.
Women and human rights groups in Nigeria and around the world have subsequently taken turns to condemn President Buhari for his comments. Some have compared his utterances to those made by U.S. Republican party’s presidential candidate Donald Trump who has been embroiled in a media scandal ever since recordings revealed him making sexually aggressive remarks about women.
President Buhari’s comments have equally served as fodder for his political opponents, many of whom have pivoted to promoting feminism and women empowerment to capitalize on his negative press coverage.
The Nigerian President’s comments may be crude and unpresidential, but they are harmless. It is obvious from the his comments — even as he was being hosted by one of the world’s most powerful women leaders — that he was clearly playing on the stereotype of the average African leader as a coarse, stubborn tyrant.
President Buhari’s case is an example of when a man tries but fails spectacularly to balance his domestic life, his position as the county’s No. 1 public officer, and the looming horror of having his intimate relationship spill in to the public domain.
In fact, both he and his wife’s comments should be regarded now as the “Father” and “Mother” of all gaffes and little else.
His unfortunate attempt at stand-up comedy rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, and if there is any lesson to be learned from the public response, it is that the he should reserve his jokes for members of his inner circle and close aides who are probably paid a special allowance to laugh at his off-color humor.