So much has been said, written, gossiped, grumbled and backbitten about the office of the First Lady in Nigeria and elsewhere, but no one gives a hoot about the office of the First Gentleman, whether at the Federal, State, Local government, ward and unit levels, further underscoring the issue of gender inequity, inequality as it pervades our socio-political space.
Time was in Nigeria when the arguments nearly blew the glass ceiling to smithereens, that same glass ceiling which women have continued to aspire to reach and overshoot in their aspirations both in politics, and other work space, not until women civil society and gender coalition groups and other well-meaning individuals and groups, including politicians themselves whose overriding interest in the matter could not be overridden, rose to say that the office of the first lady, in as much as it is not constitutional, still has its very pertinent role to play in the socio-political ‘dynamics of development’ and should be at best ‘tolerated’.
For women generally, and that is the opinion touted by this writer, whatever demeaning qualifications that were put forward in describing that office should also be tolerated, so long as women are not entirely schemed out by the proposed abolition of that very important office. And if you ask advocates like this writer, you will be told that albeit the office may not have a space in the constitution of the Federal Republic, as amended, the ‘things’ wrought by occupants of that office are nonetheless constitutional, but there’s a snag: it depends on the occupant of the office.
Since Maryam Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, of blessed memory, who became the insignia for the corporate image of that office, which, to say the least, is significant today, those who occupied that office had left indelible footprints in the sands of time by the noble programmes they embarked upon, the lives they positively impacted and the policies and initiatives they rubbed off on by the witty deployment of the feminine touch.
For those who care, and it is unnecessary to begin now to inundate you with the extent of public service wrought by Nigerian First Ladies, from Better Life for Rural Dwellers to the good life which women now enjoy everywhere by the All Round Affirmation chants-in making poverty history, 50:50 chants in election/appointments, women adult literacy, entrepreneurial emancipation, et al, the office of the First Lady in Nigeria, like its counterparts in other parts of the world, cannot be easily wished away with the wave of the hand.
However, and since it is not constitutional, those under whose benevolence of grace women have become ‘appendages’, with due apologies to Prof. Wole Soyinka (you are in no way a chauvinist, prof!) would from time to time determine how to effectively utilize the office, or how to litter it! It is not for Nigerians, or politicians, to use the matter in scoring cheap political points, in mudslinging or putting it out as scare crow before the electorate. Gender Advocates would not mind to rise once again and demand the non-politicization of the unconstitutional office of the First Lady! Good enough, no one can go to court on an unconstitutional matter!
There’s however a worrying dimension to it all. Would the absence of a first lady on the campaign train also mean there would not be a first lady after the election? On assumption of office? Well, in so far as public offices go, men who do not privately or publicly enjoy the blessings of their wives may misfire in their administration in that office. That may just be the reason the United States President, Barack Obama negotiated and obtained an agreement with his wife, Michelle, that he would give up smoking in-exchange for her support of his decision to run and for her continued support in office.
To think that all the American system of campaign required her to do was ‘hand-shaking and fund-raising’, then one would understand there is more to spousal support than meets the eye.
There is an emotion, there is passion and towering spirit behind the solid stance of a woman beside her husband!
If Nigerians thought president GEJ wasn’t hard enough, they changed their minds when they saw Dame!
Now, let’s be more down-to-earth: The APC Presidential Candidate, General Mohammadu Buhari (GMB) may have his reason why he kept his second and current wife, Aisha (first wife died from complications of diabetes) away from public glare in his ambition to become president of Nigeria come May, 2015, and those who know history would recall if there was anytime in his military career he had a woman discharging public duties with him; if it is not a deliberate attempt to ensure his good tales will not be told with a woman by his side, let it be his own cup of tea, if it is not a deliberate attempt to ensure that the host of Nigerian women who are daily confronted by the hydra headed issues of life-maternal mortality, poverty, cancer of various kinds, marginalization and who suffer inequity, violence at home and at work, remain in their position of debasement, then let it be his own cup of tea.
Whatever reasons, moral, religious, or otherwise, that the General may have advanced for keeping madam Aisha Buhari away, he should remember these major concerns of women and ensure his grace is magnanimous enough to accommodate her when he assumes office, for by so doing, he would be accommodating millions of women whose concerns are also everyone’s headache.
Moreover, if she would be there later, why not start the orientation now? Above all, if she’s not there now, please, don’t keep her away later!.