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Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Of wives and First Ladies

Of wives and First Ladies

On Thursday, wife of the President, Mrs Aisha Buhari, announced that she should henceforth be addressed as First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Apparently, her original ‘Wife of the President’ title was causing confusion in certain quarters. Clearly, some clarification was called for.

“When my husband was newly elected, I personally chose to be called the wife of the President,” she said.

“But, I realised that it causes confusion from the state as to whether the wives of state governors are to be addressed as the first ladies or wives of the governors.

“So, forgive me for confusing you from the beginning, but now I choose to be called the First Lady.”

This is an interesting U-turn and I find her explanation less than convincing. If anything it still leaves some confusion in the air. Now that she is First Lady, does that automatically mean that governors wives can deign to pronounce themselves ‘First Ladies’ in their own lesser domains?

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The statement was revealing as she makes it clear it was her choice to be simply referred to as ‘Wife of the President’ in the beginning. I was under the impression that the change of nomenclature was a decree by President Buhari – conscious of the fact the constitution doesn’t recognise or make provision for the office of First Lady.

Obasanjo equally tried to prevent his late wife, Stella, from assuming the title – telling interviewers in the early days of his administration that she would simply be his wife. He didn’t know what he was talking about. In a matter of months madam steamrolled him and had a full-blown First Lady circus going.

I suspect that the decision to adopt the ‘Wife of the President’ title initially was an attempt to avoid some of the negative publicity which the excesses of recent occupants of the position attracted to their husbands. Add to that the fact that Buhari’s handlers had projected an image of someone averse to much of the pomp and circumstance that accompanies his high office.

But the Presidency and First Lady positions are borrowed concepts. In the United States there is a proper Office of the First Lady which is supported by official staff in the White House. She has a retinue of staff – including Chief of Staff, Press Secretary and Social Secretary, but doesn’t earn a salary.

Aside being hostess in the presidential residence, such spouses can be a force for good on many fronts – leveraging their privileged position by the president’s side. I think where the problem arises is when they overreach and forget that whereas their husbands were elected, they are not.

So if Aisha Buhari now prefers to be called First Lady good luck to her. What is important is that she recognises the boundary lines so that she remains an asset to her husband and not a liability like some became in the recent past.

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