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Taking private matters into the public sphere

Certain things about Nigeria mystify me. Let me be forthright here. In the ongoing debate over whether President Muhammadu Buhari or his wife, Aisha, was right in taking their disagreement into the public domain, everyone has an opinion. This is understandable. Ordinarily, no one would be discussing Buhari and his wife at a time of economic recession but for the fact that both husband and wife took their disagreement to the court of public opinion. That provided a perfect platform for everyone to contribute constructively or mischievously or teasingly to the controversy.
There are clearly alternative pathways through which Buhari and his wife could have handled their family argument without attracting public interpretations.
Surely, the stoush between the president and his wife should not have been played out in the public domain. First, Aisha Buhari provoked the controversy by taking her case to the international arena. Now that she has done that, she should not be condemned. She meant well for her husband. She wanted the best for her husband but it would appear that she was frustrated to the point that she had to do what she did.
Let’s spit out the truth. Regardless of the manner and the forum in which Aisha Buhari expressed her views about her husband’s style of governance, she remains the president’s best and most trusted confidant, a sounding board, if you like. She is the only person who can tell the president genuine and unvarnished truth about the state of the nation and people’s perceptions of his performance. She enjoys the dual role of an observer of, and a participant in, the government. She is, therefore, equipped with superior knowledge of what people are saying about her husband. She wants the president to succeed and to leave a lasting legacy. That, in my view, was probably what prompted her to speak out. Whether she did so in an appropriate medium and in a fitting manner is a different matter. Still, she remains the president’s greatest asset.
In judging the president’s wife, we must be careful not to discard the messenger, the message and the channel through which the message was delivered. Even if the messenger used an inappropriate outlet to communicate her message, we must not toss the messenger and the message into a rubbish bin. We can denounce the channel through which the message was conveyed but certainly not the spirit and sincere intentions of the messenger.
The controversy generated by the public disagreement between Buhari and his wife is an unnecessary distraction. There is no marriage without moments of tension. In most marriages, there are good times and bad times. On reflection, both husband and wife must be wishing they had handled the situation differently rather than take their personal views into an open space in which just about everyone feels invited to comment on the first couple’s family dispute.
The debate is an unanticipated diversion from public discussion on the arrest of Supreme Court justices and High Court judges the previous week. More significantly, the dispute has disrupted ongoing public conversations about possible ways to recover from poor economic conditions that have pushed many citizens to a state of penury and hopelessness. Rather than talk about the deleterious consequences of people’s declining living conditions, as we approach Christmas and New Year festivities, we are absorbed in gossip about the president and his wife.
Another point worthy of mention is whether Buhari was tactful in the way he responded to the question that prompted him to make shocking comments about the place of his wife in his family. Indeed, was Buhari prepared, ahead of his trip to Germany, to be questioned about his wife’s comments? I didn’t think so. If he was, he should have been more discreet in his answer. I am not persuaded by the weak argument advanced by the president’s defenders, who said Buhari’s reference to the place of his wife in his “kitchen” was made light-heartedly because he was smiling. If he was smiling, it didn’t show clearly. He would have laughed in such a way to leave no one in doubt he was speaking in a tongue-in-cheek way.
You would expect that the president’s handlers would have prepared him about the possibility of being questioned on his wife’s comments before he travelled to Germany. I would argue quite forcefully that the president’s handlers did a great disservice to the nation when they left him exposed to badgering by foreign journalists. There are harmless ways Buhari could have dealt with the questions he was asked about his wife’s comments. He should not have referred to her as belonging in his “kitchen”, regardless of the subtexts associated with that concept. A kitchen manager, in our society, at least, is generally understood to be a second-rate person, who plays minor roles in the home. This is why it is inappropriate to refer to the president’s wife as someone who belongs (to) in the president’s kitchen. The analogy is demeaning. It degrades not only Aisha Buhari but also all women.
Although ours is a patriarchal society, we have refused to recognise that we live in the 21st century, an era in which some of our long held conservative attitudes and views are now anachronistic, as well as politically and socially incorrect.
The controversy over how Buhari portrayed his wife as a domestic aide and how his wife expressed her views about the weaknesses of the government her husband leads has raised serious questions about how women are abused and maltreated in our society. The controversy also raised serious issues about the dilemmas of managing/juggling government business and family matters.
There is no question that our culture perceives women as the ‘property’ of men. No woman deserves to be treated or referred to as a relic of the family home. Marriage was never meant to serve as a prison or as an institution for the subjugation of women. Humanity is diminished when women are subjected to hurtful treatment and described in unkind words on the basis of their gender. Perhaps, public education campaigns might help us to overturn the despicable way women are treated. Discrimination against women and girls are spawned by institutional, cultural, structural, and other forces that belittle the value of women in our society. These are the elements that must be identified and dealt with in order to overhaul the way we treat women and girls in Nigeria. We also need to work on our mindset, in particular, those deeply held attitudes and prejudices that most men hold about women and girls.
A former United States’ Ambassador to Nigeria, Terrence McCulley, once said in a letter to The Guardian: “Countries cannot progress when half their populations are marginalised, mistreated, and subjected to discrimination.” This applies to Nigeria and the way women are marginalised. We must learn to harness the valuable resources that women bring to our country. Nations that ignore the contributions of women do so at their own peril.
We must look at other countries to see how they treat their women. In Liberia, after years of violent civil war, involving no fewer than four factions, civil society decided it was time they took their destiny into their hands and retrieved their country’s future from naive warlords. The country conducted general elections in 2005. Remarkably, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a woman, was elected president. That significant milestone marked out Liberia as the first African country to elect a woman as president. Johnson-Sirleaf has held Liberia together since she mounted the presidency on 16 January 2006.
Apart from Liberia, there are other countries in which women once held top leadership positions. They include Britain (Margaret Thatcher), India (Indira Gandhi), Pakistan (Benazir Bhutto), Israel (Golda Meir), Sri Lanka (Sirimavo Bandaranaike), Germany (Angela Merkel), Norway (Gro Harlem Brundtland), Ireland (Mary MacAleese), Bangladesh (Sheikh Hasina Wajed), the Philippines (Gloria Arroyo) and Argentina (Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner). These are by no means all the female leaders the world has produced. These examples show the place of women is not really in any man’s kitchen.
While we mark with street celebrations the enthronement of democracy and half-hearted respect for human rights in our society, the position of Nigerian women remains at the bottom of the social ladder. At the heart of the current debate over Buhari and his wife’s public disagreement is not freedom of expression but lack of equal opportunities and the way society perceives and treats women. Could anyone argue compellingly that our social, political, economic, educational and cultural environments have offered women an equal platform on which they could debate and contest issues with men?
Consider this. Every time a woman expresses her views vigorously or disagrees with a high profile male politician, she is quickly shot down by men who remind her that she belongs to the “kitchen”, a highly offensive and derogatory term that degrades women in general. In many instances in the public sphere, women are silenced and snubbed with loud demeaning expressions such as “Sit down, you are only a woman!” or, more painfully, “Woman, go back to the kitchen!”
The reference to the “kitchen” reduces a woman’s educational attainment and upbringing to the domestic tasks she performs in her home. Expressions such as these are not only offensive but they also underline our society’s poor appreciation of the useful contributions of women. With this kind of mindset, it is hard to imagine how a Nigerian woman could be elected as president. These sentiments tell us unequivocally that we live in an intolerant, heavily gendered society in which many people believe inaccurately that men were pre-ordained by heavenly forces to rule over women.


Source: Today Trending News



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