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Happy Bashorun: The First Lady Nigeria Deserves

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Dame Patience BellaNaijaRemember Mummy Patience?

Our Patron Saint of Unfortunate First Ladies was dragged through mud for defending the President when he failed to attempt to find the Chibok girls. In 2014, Mrs. Patience Goodluck Jonathan summoned to a meeting leaders of the Chibok community including the school principal, the gateman, and the washerman, and wailed about how they were to blame. She then implied that the whole jihadist child sex trafficking ring had been engineered to embarrass her husband. Educated Nigerians and some government officials went off on social media and in the press. They marveled, how could our first lady be so unintelligent?

Two years later, people are chomping at the bit to get at Aisha Buhari. Did you see that $70,000 birkin bag? She sounded so slow in the press conference. This woman is so unintelligent, she must have masterminded a contracting scandal between Halliburton and a U.S. Congressman. Personally, I think this pastime of first lady bashing is hypocritical.

What do know about our two recent examples? Patience Jonathan was born in 1957. I don’t know what kind of education her parents had. She received a bachelor’s degree in Biology at the University of Port Harcourt. She was a teacher, then a community banker. She worked at the Bayelsa State Ministry of Education, but it is not clear what she did there. I couldn’t find a specific date for when she married Mr. Jonathan. All I know is that after her husband became deputy governor of Bayelsa state she achieved her most note-worthy job as permanent secretary of Bayelsa. She has two children.

Mrs. Aisha Buhari is much younger – she was born in 1971 in northern Nigeria. Her father was a minister and civil engineer. It’s not clear if her mother was educated. Aisha was 18 years old when she married Mr. Buhari, who was 47 years old. At the time, Mr. Buhari already had five children from a previous marriage. Aisha proceeded to get a BA from Ahmadu Bello University in Public Administration – I assume with the sponsorship of her former head of state husband. This must have taken place in the 1990s. She gained a Masters degree from “Nigerian Defense Academy” in Kaduna. Aisha has several diplomas and certificates in beauty. Since she owned a spa and salon up till recently, and wrote a book on the subject, I assume that beauty and fashion are her true passions. Aisha has five children. In a profile published by an international newspaper, our Nigerian journalists described her as “calm, patient, beautiful, soft-spoken and unassuming.”

When I look at the life arch of Mrs. Jonathan and Mrs. Buhari, I see two normal, traditional women of average intelligence who were smart to marry presidents of Nigeria. These are not women who are prepared to engage in reasoned, rational discussion about pressing social issues in a complicated, taxing country like ours. Frankly, Nigeria’s first ladies are not chosen for their wit, intellect or achievements. Their husbands choose them, and Nigerians accept them because they are “good women,” dress well, raise children, create a calm (or fun) household and happily support whatever agenda the man has.

Everything that people who dismiss gender equality should want is embodied in our first ladies.

Oh, I’m sure someone will say, we’re not asking her to be the most intelligent person in the room, we just want our first lady to string together a coherent sentence in English on camera, to not retreat into insults and religious entreaties in a socio-political crisis, and to be able to provide a reasonable justification for actions like travelling to the U.S. with an entourage during an economic recession. We just want the First Lady to not embarrass us. We’re not asking for much.

Actually, you are. You are surprised that a beautician who married a man 29 years her senior at age 18 for god’s sake does not speak like a person who put herself through Lagos Business School.

You want coherent articulation in English? That requires years of reading books in English, writing arguments in English, and discussing social and political issues in English with someone who will call you out if you are wrong. You want a little bit of critical thinking? That demands the courage to sometimes disagree with elders, husbands, the Bible or the Koran. You want the ability to forsee the political implications of an individual action? That takes knowledge of the power of the photograph in the age of social media, and curiosity about the behavior of admired First Ladies like Michelle Obama.

Well, you say, “why can’t people advise her?” Do you really believe the kind of person who gets close enough to the First Lady’s trusted circle can do any of the above? Ask yourself, does our culture encourage people to challenge or advise those who are senior to them in age or rank?

Our First Ladies are a product of that which is valued in our society. If we don’t like our First Ladies, we better change our society.

18 Comments

  1. Dr. N

    August 15, 2016 at 6:50 pm

    I found this interesting. Maybe people are asking for too much. Lol.
    Then again…if the economy and infrastructure are fixed the citizenry will be too busy making and spending money to bash anyone
    Maybe…

    • Nkechi

      August 15, 2016 at 9:45 pm

      Intellectual article. I can disagree with anything or anybody but not the WORD- The Bible.

    • Happy Bashorun

      August 17, 2016 at 2:00 pm

      Care to explain?

    • oversabi

      August 15, 2016 at 11:34 pm

      I got that too from the article. well when we cant seem to receive bright brains for our first ladies, perhaps we reset expectations downwards – Lower them that is. Hmmm. But why am I surprised? Happens all the time in Nigeria. Things not working, lower expectations. It relieves you of high blood pressure and the stress of disappointments.

  2. June

    August 15, 2016 at 6:58 pm

    You have said it all. I couldn’t have said it better.

  3. A Real Nigerian

    August 15, 2016 at 7:02 pm

    And who is going to change this rotten society?
    A society where there is rampant lawlessness, greed and a lack of basic morals?
    A society where mediocrity is accepted and encouraged in all works of life?
    A society where parents subconsciously train their male children to treat their spouses like trophy wives?
    A society where girls grow up believing that their lives revolve around marriage, money and motherhood?
    Where are you even going to start?

    • Happy Bashorun

      August 17, 2016 at 2:03 pm

      Good question. I think everyone has a part to play. But I don’t know if we will succeed anytime soon.

  4. Las

    August 15, 2016 at 7:13 pm

    I find that sometimes people mix issues – having an accent, especially a heavy one and massacring the English language are two completely different things. A lot of people from the North had basic/primary education in Hausa, so could adequately express themselves in speech and writing in Hausa. In the south, there are fewer people who actually had basic education in their native language. I find that generally people who had a good base, be it Igbo, Yoruba, Benin, usually speak better or express themselves better in English than those who had a half baked English base. I could be wrong, just my observation.

  5. mimi

    August 15, 2016 at 7:56 pm

    Do not judge a fish on its ability to fly. Speaking English coherently or eloquently is not a determinant of intelligence…that being said, i do agree with this write up. Th problem is much deeper than we think and we as a society, whether it arose from frustration, anger or a laissez faire attitude (& understandably so), we are not ready to be the change (i mean, we make up the society).

  6. fashy me

    August 15, 2016 at 10:31 pm

    I could really get d point cos ther were some silent shading and good point all mashed up anyway
    I just have to say dis, to whom much is giving much is expected we can’t keep making excuses for our leaders
    And for our first ladies whether d speak hausa, yoruba igbo, chinese or punjabi, there should be a level of intergrity, poise, articulation and knowledge expected from them,
    My grandfather didn’t go to school for one day but when u r with him you know that dis man is intelligent, he has depth, well articulated.
    Shakara. Phoney, human hair ,make up, been glamourous and having accent and all dat does not make one intelligent ( I think that is d yardstick for bn intelligent in our society and today woman)

  7. lacey

    August 15, 2016 at 10:42 pm

    Thank you for this excellent piece! This clearly shows the quality of our leaders,as your spouse reflects your personality! We just happen to have very dull leaders who have very low critical thinking imposed on us everytime! Even with their so called level education ,no proper reasoning!

  8. Chinma Eke

    August 15, 2016 at 11:15 pm

    This article; I like.

  9. Nunulicious

    August 16, 2016 at 4:04 am

    Hmmmn. I have a slightly different view.

    If you Google interview with aisha buhari, wife of president buhari on YouTube which was posted by TVC you’ll realise she’s more well spoken and articulate than you think.

    Her lack of fluency/articulation is similar to what all first ladies exhibit in thier first few public engagements. Most of them have improved as time progressed aside I dare say, madam pay pay.

    I can understand the viewing lens of the author and the most Internet savvy citizens. You seem to suggest poise, articulation, social media saviness and a need to “engage in reasoned, rational discussion about pressing social issues in a complicated, taxing country like ours” rank high on our list of qualification for the wife of the president of Nigeria or at least is important for some degree of acceptance. Hmmmm.

    Sadly it’s not for the reality of most Nigerians. Remember three things 1. The west/USA is not the standard for democracy. 2. When urging us to greater heights, it’s only fair to use similar heterogeneous nations as benchmarks. 3. Historical perspective and context makes for quality discuss.

    The power which the wife of the president of Nigeria welds is in my opinion, what you need to pay attention to.
    Mariam Babangida despite her inital gaffes was probably the only first first lady who used her status/office/power to identify what Nigeria women want or need in form of her grassrooots intervention-Better life for women.
    Stella Obasanjo had all the poise and articulation…who that one epp? Yet we know how much power she had.
    Turai Yaradua was the epitome of the adage BEHIND every succesfull man… yet, even the kitchen cabinet could dent her iron clad will when y’ardua needed shielding. We know how much power she had.
    Patience Jonathan was as Nigerian as they come, confident, loud and brash. She had power…slapped the present minister of transport, Rotimi Amaechi, took charge when her husband was reported to be in liquor induced doldrums and was probably more determined to win the 2015 elections than GEJ himself. We definitely know how much power she had.

    As I wrap up my long epistle, Mrs aisha buhari and Mrs osinbanjo I don’t need you to speak English or tick the criteria set by western folks. What I need you women to do is to use your power to improve the lot of the Nigerian populace. We know you have that power, to stoke or reign in your spouses. Use it.

    • Happy Bashorun

      August 17, 2016 at 2:07 pm

      You’re actually making my point for me 🙂 . I am criticizing the expectation some internet savvy Nigerians have that our first lady be poised and very intelligent. My point is I don’t think it’s realistic.

  10. la

    August 16, 2016 at 9:58 am

    I wonder why we keep making excuses for these women.

    For example if we were offered managerial positions or upgrades in our individual careers wont you want to live up to the expectations required of you in that new position? Would you still act like a graduate trainee on the job or would you make the required adjustments to put your very best foot forward and make everyone know that they put the right person on the job? You would likely gain new knowledge and obtain new certifications if possible, that would equip you for the responsibilities ahead.

    You see I dont care the background or the front-ground of which they were brought up. The thing is they found themselves in a position called the First lady of a nation.
    No, it is not too much to ask that they learn to hold themselves in the high regard that is required of that office.
    No, its not too much to ask them to enrol in some crash classes or sessions that would have helped them improve in areas of public speaking, poise and yes, help them string together coherent sentence in English on camera.
    No! it is not too much or too late for any woman to work towards continuously improving herself even for the sake of representing a national office.

    Cant talk about Aisha just yet but Patience represented the female face of Nigeria. So, I dont get this excuses u guys keep talking about.
    Didn’t you feel a tad bit dissapointed in the way she always handled herself in front of the camera.
    She became the butt of jokes everywhere. I felt so bad for her. And yet you said she was a teacher and worked at the ministry of education. She studied Biology at Uni-Port?

    Come on guys. Stop defending this nonsense and making it seem like our expectations was too much for her to handle. She didn’t need to be qualified to be the first lady. However, upon assumption of the position, nothing stopped her from soliciting some support to equip her for the position.

    Meanwhile, this doesn’t hinder her from performing the grassroots initiatives and others like that.

    • Nunulicious

      August 16, 2016 at 12:35 pm

      Well said La.
      Well said.
      It’s not an excuse. And just so you know, the wife of the president and VP (The constitution does not allow/recognise first lady position as at the last check) do have etiquette and public speaking and what not training as soon as their spouses attain the office. I guess some are more malleable than others.

    • Happy Bashorun

      August 17, 2016 at 2:24 pm

      Trying to understand something is not the same thing as making excuses for it.

      Your example about being offered a management role is a great one because it illustrates a profound problem I have with the expectations placed on Aisha, et all. A First Lady does not apply to be one. She becomes first lady because many many years ago she married a man who decades later became president and she had to support him.

      It is not the same thing as being promoted by a boss at work. That job is confined to work. A First Lady position affects everything – your entire life, your children, your clothing when you’re at a party, your every word is observed and analyzed. You are first lady 7 days a week and while in church or at the mosque. You are manager 5 days a week.

      I think the expectation that a Nigerian woman in her late forties or fifties suddenly become articulate and poised (even with coaching) is unrealistic. I don’t think the kind of woman who in middle age will hire a speech and poise coach is the kind of woman that would be married to Goodluck Jonathan or Buhari. Do you?

      I do agree that they should be involved in helping the less fortunate.

  11. mrs chidukane

    August 16, 2016 at 1:01 pm

    @La, I totally agree. We always make excuses. My mother married at 17 but she has taken the time to update and upgrade herself. They don’t have any excuse. OAN, Aisha Buhari, if she made some gaffes, was probably nervous which is natural. I’ve seen some of her interviews. She speaks and carries herself well.

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