Unpacking President Buhari’s Perspective On Women

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Unpacking President Buhari’s Perspective On Women, By ‘Tope Oriola

President Muhammadu Buhari’s comments about the proper role of the first lady overshadowed his recent visit to Germany. Buhari was asked to respond to the explosive interview granted the BBC by the first lady, Aisha Buhari. Mr. Buhari stated that: “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room. I claim superior knowledge over her and the rest of the opposition”. Presidential media aide, Garba Shehu, was quick to respond that the president was merely joking. To be fair to the president, his demeanour did suggest that he was joking. Nonetheless, jokes are indicative of a person’s state of mind and worldview. Therefore, that would not have minimised the inappropriateness and damage of his comments.

This piece was written by Tope Oriola. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of 360Nobs.com.

As I returned to the initial draft of this article, I read that the president had granted an interview to Deutsche Welle, a German broadcaster and was asked to flesh out his earlier comments. This time, there was no garb of humour. Buhari argued that: “I am sure you have a house. You know where your kitchen is. You know where your living room is. And I believe your wife looks after all that even if she’s working”. He dug deeper into the quagmire when asked if he thought “that is your wife’s function?” Buhari stated that: “Yes, to look after me”. Once again, oga patapata cannot be saved from himself despite Garba Shehu’s best effort to spin the narrative.

READ ALSO: The Unaired Part Of Mrs Buhari’s Interview, By Jaafar Jaafar

This is another self-inflicted PR disaster. Buhari had in a space of two days clearly embarrassed himself and disgraced Nigeria. To argue otherwise is to accept that his anachronistic views represent our perspectives. It is quite ironic that the initial comments were made in the presence of the female leader of Germany, the European powerhouse. His tone deafness and decision to reassert the comments demonstrate once more that President Buhari is out of depths vis-à-vis the substance and optics of governance in late modernity. Given that Buhari was widely acknowledged as the best among the major candidates in the 2015 presidential elections, he is doing an excellent job of making Nigerians a laughing stock around the world.

It appears that Buhari would have genuinely made a “fine” 19th century leader. President Buhari ought to have, prior to the press conference, prepared for a barrage of questions about the first lady’s comments. Leadership means preempting and preparing for multiple eventualities. He ought to have had a nuanced answer to the simple question about Aisha Buhari’s comments. The follow up interview with Deutsche Welle was, in fact, worse than the initial comments. He just does not get it!

President Buhari appears completely lost in the labyrinth of technological advancement, the dizzying and frenetic ideational change and tectonic shifts in gender relations and the peculiar rhizome called globalisation. The world was much simpler in his hay days. Mr. President, times have changed and certain practices and discourses are no longer acceptable. For instance, anyone who tries to offer his or her son as sacrifice as Abraham attempted to do in the Bible will be sentenced to a long prison term.

‘My Wife Belongs To My Kitchen’ – Buhari Reacts To Aisha’s ‘Controversial’ BBC Interview

There are three major factors that may help understand Buhari’s views on the role of the first lady. First, like all of us, Buhari grew up within a specific socio-cultural background and discursive milieu. Comments on women’s roles and “place” are constituted by and constitutive of broader social relations. Buhari’s comments expose the challenges facing women in Nigeria in general and northern Nigeria, in particular. Some may recall the case of 13-year old Zahharau Babangida, who was arrested in December 2014 after abandoning a suicide vest in a taxi. Zahharau claimed that her father donated her and her mother to Boko Haram. Of course, this was a fundamentally gendered “gift”. The incident, just like Buhari’s perspective on women, accentuates women’s social positionality relative to men and symbolises where power resides. As I argued in a recent peer-reviewed publication in “Studies in Conflict and Terrorism”, we are dealing with a cultural climate in which women and young girls are perceived as expendable material, beasts of burden and/or objects of pleasure. These issues encompass entrenched undervaluation of the girl-child, presumption that parents’ basic responsibility is to prepare a girl-child for marriage and that a wife is an appendage to the husband.

Read Full Text Of Aisha Buhari’s Interview With BBC That Got Buhari, Everybody Talking

The fecundity of the socio-cultural context within which the president’s comment was made is evident around us. This context allows a senator of the Federal Republic to have prepubescent brides. I recall boarding a domestic flight with the senator a few years ago. He carried one of his daughters in his hands as she slept. I kept wondering right behind the seat of the senator: Why does he hold his daughter so lovingly and yet marries other people’s daughters before they reach maturity? When will he marry her off? Will she be allowed to attain her capabilities in life?

Contrary to what some of my highly educated female research participants in the North have told me, I am not convinced that such attitudes are absent in the South. I think the difference is in degrees and not in kind. Gender discrimination is real in the whole of Nigeria.

Some have pointed to Buhari’s age as a contributory factor. I respectfully disagree. The fact that Buhari is in his 70s is not the problem; the problem (and this is my second prognosis) is that he has learnt very little since his military government was toppled. The president would do well to reduce the hangers-on, and find time for critical reflection. I am also tempted to remind the president, as I did the Senate president, in November 2015 that it is imperative to find time to read books. I have always maintained that there is no expectation that a leader must know everything but a leader has to be a mop of knowledge.

Those who claim to be leaders but for several months or years never find the time to read a book are merely deceiving themselves. The emptiness of such persons is generally transparent. It manifests in governors organising mass weddings for impoverished citizens rather than implementing policies to create employment in the private sector or buying aircrafts despite unpaid salaries of civil servants. We know them by their priorities. They are marked by intellectual vacuity, confusion over basic issues and failure to grasp the zeitgeist of the time (discourses, local and global issues, how to talk about an issue and how not to).

The president also needs to be teachable. Returning to the airwaves to contradict Garba Shehu is a glaring indication that Buhari is giving some of his relatively more reasonable handlers a hard time.

I May Not Support You In 2019 Election – Aisha Warns Her Husband, Buhari

Buhari’s comment is a testament to the quality of those who are governing Nigeria in the 21st century. We are in deep trouble. They seem to have the mindset of the middle ages; the arrogance of the untutored and the shallow braggadocio that comes from having learned little of substance. Mr. President, no serious person talks like that anymore. Please, keep trying hard for the benefit of our country. But in trying, kindly make efforts to be a good listener and learn from those who are paid to advise you.

‘Tope Oriola is professor of criminology at the University of Alberta, Canada. Twitter: @topeoriola

This piece was written by Tope Oriola. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of 360Nobs.com.



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