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LongRead: So, where’s Aisha Buhari, the First Lady who dared the presidency?

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Nigerians slam Aisha Buhari as she asks IGP to release her staff

The gathering storm

When an online news platform reported in December 2020 that Nigeria’s First Lady, Aisha Buhari, had quietly relocated to Dubai since September shortly after the wedding of her daughter, Hanan, many Nigerians did not take the publication seriously.

And, as expected, the Presidency came out to deny that Aisha had fled the country, even when it was glaring that the usually boisterous First Lady, unlike she is won’t to do always, had not commented on any issue of national interest for a while.

That had never been in her character; Aisha Buhari had never been a woman to be cowed by those in the Presidency as she always had her opinion on matters without caring whose Ox was gored.

Her constant outbursts and confrontations with presidency officials endeared her to many Nigerians who saw her as a breath of fresh air from past First Ladies who could not stand up to searing intrigues within the seat of power.

It was natural, therefore, for her many admirers, and even haters, to interrogate Mrs Buhari’s silence and whereabouts. Has she been silenced by the so-called ‘Aso Rock cabal’ at last? Without clear answers from familiar quarters, her silence only told one thing: that she had either relocated as speculated, or that she had been cowed into silence.

Aisha had, on several occasions, stirred the hornet’s nest, often commenting on issues of national importance, taking on those she claimed would not allow her husband to do the work Nigerians elected him to do.

In the process, she had made ‘enemies’ in the Presidency with some seeing her as being meddlesome and interfering in their affairs. Quite notable were her husband’s family members who had moved into the Presidential Villa shortly after he won the 2015 election. Mamman Daura, the President Buhari’s nephew and some of his family members were most visible among the lot.

To make matters worse, President Buhari, in his characteristic manner of acting without a sense of urgency, had seemingly remained aloof while his immediate family and trusted aides in the Presidency continued to drag his wife.

War with the ‘cabal’

A pointer to the fractious relationship with the Presidency was an interview the First Lady granted BBC Hausa in 2017, where she stated without mincing words that “Buhari’s government had been hijacked by cabal who were behind presidential appointments.”

She also stated that if things did not change, she would not support her husband if he decided to run in the 2019 presidential election.

“I have decided as his wife, that if things continue like this up to 2019, I will not go out and campaign again and ask any woman to vote like I did before. I will never do it again.

“I may not back him at the next election unless he shakes up his government,” she said.

In the same interview, she lamented that most of the officials of the government were not known to the President and the First Family, as people she described as “usurpers who did nothing to help the All Progressive Congress struggle in 2015 have infiltrated the government.”

“The President does not know 45 out of 50, for example, of the people he appointed and I don’t know them either despite being his wife for 27 years. You will know them if you watch television.
“Some people were sitting down at their homes folding their arms, only for them to be called to come and head an agency or ministerial position.

“Some of them don’t even have voters card, and those who made sacrifice have been reduced to nothing and certainly not happy with the way things are going,” she lamented.

Reacting, President Buhari, during an interview with the Hausa service of VOA had said:
“That is her business,” and added that his wife “belongs to the kitchen and the other room,” an assertion critics interpreted to mean that he did not reckon much with the strategic place of a woman in the home. He also went ahead to challenge his wife to prove that a cabal had hijacked his government or shut up.

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Mrs Buhari first came into the consciousness of Nigerians in 2016 when she criticized the management of the Aso Rock Clinic which serves the First Family and top members of the Presidency. She had announced to Nigerians that the clinic could not provide ‘ordinary’ Paracetamol tablets or syringes despite a budget of N3 billion for the provision of drugs to the hospital.

While exposing the management of the clinic when she visited to seek medical attention, Aisha had said:

“I called the Aso Clinic to find out if they have an X-Ray machine; they said it’s not working. In the end, I had to go to a hospital owned and operated by foreigners 100 per cent.

“There is a budget for the hospital and if you go there now, you will see a number of constructions going on but they don’t have a single syringe there. They don’t even have common Paracetamol. What is the purpose of the buildings if there are no equipment there to work with?

“You can imagine what happens across the states to governors wives if this will happen to me in Abuja,” she had said.

Living with a ‘Suicide bomber’

The cold war between Aisha and the Daura’s had been an open secret.

Perhaps, the most visible evidence that Aisha and the Buhari family, and close Presidential aides, did not enjoy a cordial relationship came in the form of a leaked telephone conversation in 2017, between two of the most influential members of President Buhari’s kitchen cabinet, his late nephew, Mamman Daura and Dr. Mahmud Tukur, where they gave their opinion of what they thought about the First Lady.

In the leaked conversation, the two top ranking kitchen cabinet members are reported to have called Aisha Buhari ‘the Suicide Bomber from Yola,” a reference to her hometown in Adamawa State.

The conversation which was allegedly initiated by Tukur, speaking in Hausa, dealt with a lot of issues, especially the President’s health as he was in London receiving treatment at that time.

The discussions then moved to Aisha Buari and the two men were reportedly heard saying:

“Is there any improvement from the “Suicide Bomber from Yola?” Tukur allegedly asked.

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“Suicide Bomber?” Daura asked hesitantly, seemingly unsure who Tukur was referring to as the Suicide Bomber.

“Suicide bomber mana. You know that’s the way that person is referred to,” Tukur answered.

“Walahi, she is getting worse. A hundred times worse than what you know.”

“Allah kiyaye,” Tukur exclaimed.

“Wallahi,” responded Daura.

“Do you think Baba will be able to talk to the Suicide Bomber again?” Tukur wondered.

“This is the problem. That person does not listen to anyone. Sani Zango spoke with her just before he passed away but she would not listen. Then, Baba also tried. But then, it turned out the same thing,” Daura explained.

“Baba is very patient when it comes to such issues and has resigned to fate in matters concerning her. There is virtually nothing you can do again at this point,” Tukur interjected.

“It’s an absolute truth. She is like a fixed breakfast. There is nothing that can be done. You can’t stay. You can’t go. That’s it. Wallahi, it is quite tragic,” Daura agreed with Tukur.

“It is like a luxury breakfast,” Tukur said with a hearty laugh.

“This is more than a luxury breakfast. It’s an absolute fixed breakfast. This one does not listen to anyone, even Baba or his family members,” Daura said with finality.

Pulling no punches on Daura

The closest Aisha and the Mamman Daura family came to punches was another video leak in which the First Lady was seen arguing with Fatimah, Daura’s daughter, over her access to the Villa.

The First Lady had demanded that Daura and his family should vacate their apartment in the Villa where they had stayed for four years as they were neither members of the Presidency or appointees of the government.

She was to later apologize over the viral video with the words:
“I use the opportunity to apologise for the embarrassment I might have caused my children, my immediate family members, well-meaning Nigerians and the institution I represent, on the circulated leaked video clip.”

The President’s niece, Fatima, later also came out to ‘clear the air’ and explained that though she was the one who made the video, it was actually in 2018 and that it was not circulated by her.

The ‘uppercut’ on Shehu Garba

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In December 2019, Aisha had an altercation with Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to President Buhari, Garba Shehu, when she accused him of taking instructions from some people in government rather than from the President.

Though her accusations were veiled, Aso Rock sources claimed the persons she was referring to were the late powerful Chief of Staff to President Buhari, Abba Kyari and the late Daura.

The First Lady went ahead to accuse Shehu of various professional misdemeanors and working against the First Family.

In a statement titled ‘Garba Shehu has gone beyond his boundaries,’ the First Lady pointedly accused the Presidential spokesman of not facing his duties but instead had shifted his loyalty from President Buhari.

She had said, “As spokesperson of the president, he has the onerous responsibility of managing the image of the president and all the good works that he is executing in the country. Rather than face this responsibility squarely, he has shifted his loyalty from the president to others who have no stake in the contract that the president signed with Nigerians on May 29, 2015 and 2019.

“To make matters worse, Mr. Shehu has presented himself to these people as a willing tool and executioner of their antics, from the corridors of power even to the level of interfering with the family affairs of the president. This should not be so. The blatant meddling in the affairs of a First Lady of a country is a continuation of the prodigal actions of those that he serves.”

She added, “We all remember that the chief proponent appropriated to himself and his family a part of the Presidential Villa, where he stayed for almost four years and when the time came for him to leave, he orchestrated and invaded my family’s privacy through a video circulated by Mamman’s daughter, Fatimah. The public was given the impression that on arrival into the country Mr. President locked me out of the villa.

“Garba Shehu, as villa spokesperson, knew the truth and had the responsibility to set the records straight. But because his allegiance is somewhere else and his loyalty misplaced, he deliberately refused to clear the air and speak for the president who appointed him in the first place. Consequently, his action has shown a complete breakdown of trust between the First Family and him.

“In saner climes, Garba Shehu would have resigned immediately after going beyond his boundaries and powers.”

The audacity of Hanan

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One controversy that showed how much Aisha Buhari is attached to her children occurred in January 2020 when her youngest daughter, Hanan, a certified creative photographer who graduated from Ravensbourne University in London with a first-class degree in Photography, flew the presidential jet to Bauchi State to take photographs at a special Durbar organized for her by the Emir of Bauchi, Rilwanu Adamu, at his palace.

Hanan was accorded the courtesy that would have been accorded to her mother Aisha, as she was received at the Tafawa Balewa Airport by Bauchi’s First Lady and other government officials.

While Nigerians fumed at the audacity of the President’s daughter using the Nigerian Airforce jet serviced and maintained by taxpayers’ money for her personal use, her mother and the Presidency quickly jumped to her defence, effectively telling Nigerians that they had no right to question a President’s daughter.

Aisha subtly told critics of the First Family to keep shut with a cryptic tweet she put out in the heat of the furore.

“#HananBuhari, #richculture, #heritage, #nigerianairforce, #PAF (Presidential Air Fleet),” she tweeted.

Living lavish

Another controversy that got Nigerians talking was in December 2020, when Aisha Buhari’s last daughter, Hanan, got married to Turad Sha’aban, the son of a former lawmaker, Mahmud Sani Sha’aban, and a Presidential aide at the Aso Rock Villa.

The First Lady, in her characteristic manner, shared the first photos of the couple on her official Instagram page, with the wedding hashtag, #HamadForever Alhamdullilah, trended for a long time.

The opulent wedding which came at a time Nigerians were still reeling from the effect of the coronavirus-induced lockdown and the battered economy, drew a lot of anger from Nigerians but the First Lady could not care less as long as her beloved daughter got her dream wedding.

Riding the ‘tiger’

Perhaps, the last event that sent Aisha underground, leading to speculations that might have relocated from the country occurred in July, 2020, after a faceoff between her and President Buhari’s Private Secretary, Sabiu Yusuf who is the President’s nephew and a very influential member of the Presidency.

Trouble started when Yusuf allegedly returned to Abuja from a private trip to Lagos which had been the epicenter of the rampaging coronavirus at the time.

Upon his return to the Villa, President Buhari’s Aide De Camp, Mohammed Lawal Abubakar, and the Chief Personal Security Officer, Abdulkarim Dauda, reportedly requested that Yusuf should self-isolate in order to protect the President, the First Family and the entire State House Staff.

But instead of observing self-isolation as required by the protocols, Yusuf, allegedly ignored all entreaties which led to an altercation between him and the First Lady’s ADC, Usman Shugaba, who had to force him to leave the Villa on the orders of Aisha.

The squabble soon spilled out of control, leading to a shootout involving security personnel attached to the First Lady and those loyal to Yusuf.

Angered by the incident, Yusuf reportedly called President Buhari’s Chief Security Officer, Idris Kassim and the FCT Commissioner of Police, Bala Ciroma, who arrested Aisha’s ADC, Usman Shugaba, and other policemen attached to the first family.

Since the incident, the President’s wife has stayed out of public glare, lending credence to rumours that she may have gotten fed up with the shenanigans going on in the Presidential Villa and decided, for her peace of mind, to leave the country to a saner clime where she would live in absolute comfort and serenity.

Many are also of the belief that with all that she has been through at the Presidential Villa, Aisha Buhari may have given up as there seem to be no love lost between her and her husband, as well as his immediate family members.

At the moment, Aisha seems to be more concerned about her children and is taking solace in the fact that she has them around her, even if her husband is not presently part of her life.

But for how long will she hide away in a foreign land? And at whose expense is she hibernating in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates which has been speculated to be her new abode?

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