My life as Buhari’s wife, First Lady in 8 years – Aisha opens up

For eight years, Nigeria’s First Lady, Mrs Aisha Buhari has remained an interesting newsmaker. On many occasions, the outspoken wife of Nigeria’s outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari has made bold and courageous statements that are sometimes seen as publicly criticising her husband, the President.

In an interview with the BBC in October 2016, Aisha had said Buhari did not know most of the people he appointed to top government positions.

Her words: “The President does not know 45 out of 50, for example, of the people he appointed and I don’t know them either, despite being his wife of 27 years. Some people are sitting down in their homes folding their arms, only for them to be called to come and head an agency or a ministerial position.”

That interview would lay the foundation to the popular phrase uttered by her husband– in the other room.

While responding to his wife’s claims at a joint press conference in Berlin, Germany with the then German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, Buhari had said: “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room.”

In this no-holds-barred chat with State House Correspondent, JULIANA TAIWO-OBALONYE, Aisha Buhari reflects on her time managing the home front of the First family; her passion for philanthropy through her non-governmental organisation, Aisha Buhari Foundation and why she launched Future Assured Initiative; her leadership role with the African First Ladies Peace Mission; combining her roles as a wife, mother, grandmother and First Lady, among others.

She speaks of lessons learned in her journey as First Lady with some advice for her successor, reports Saturday Sun.


After eight years in the Presidential Villa, what would you miss?

After eight years in the villa, I used to say that I would miss taking a walk in the evening. You know, they have a very long stretch and a beautiful garden, I think I’m going to miss that. Apart from that, we are leaving happily. And we thank God.

You have been used to all these meetings, security in the villa, attending to women. Your life for eight years has not really been private. So, how will you cope as a private citizen?

Yes, I think at the back of my mind, I know that I am going to rest. And then when women need my help, anytime, I am ready to offer assistance, but I know it is not going to be as busy as it is now.

To what extent have you achieved your vision through official and private activities as Nigeria’s First Lady?

As a woman, as a mother and grandmother, I am very passionate about women’s health, the newborn child and adolescent. So, I have achieved a lot in the area of health care, especially, and other areas as well. Through the Future Assured Programme and the Aisha Buhari Foundation, we have made a lot of impact with the help of development partners and wives of governors. We handed out palliatives during COVID pandemic, conducted open heart surgeries because as you know, the cost is too expensive for the average Nigerian to manage, leading to avoidable morbidity and mortality. We have also conducted skills acquisition programmes to give people the opportunity to learn trades. So we have made an impact and even after office Future Assured will still be functioning by the grace of God.

How much impact have you made as the president of the African First Ladies Peace Mission?

As the ninth president of the African First Ladies Peace Mission, we have done a lot but unfortunately, we’re having some crisis in some countries left, right and centre in which the African Union is still talking to the affected countries’ leaders, stakeholders, while I am with the African First Ladies, doing my best. We have done a lot of activities, especially sending some relief materials to African countries that need help. Although, the help may not be much, at least, it is just a gesture, you know. We have sent relief materials to about 10 to 11 countries. The materials also contain exercise books, with the mission and vision of the peace mission printed on them to educate the school children, so as not to allow themselves to be used as child soldiers, or things like that. And, for the malnourished children, we have some nutritional packs here in Nigeria produced locally. We have produced a lot and sent to various countries, and a lot of them want to come to Nigeria, to see how we produce them locally, and this is really making an impact. In fact, one of my grandchildren is using the nutritional packs and he is doing very well.

You have been known as a strong advocate of affirmative action for women. How did you feel when the National Assembly members killed the pro-gender Bills before them late last year? And what is the way forward?

I felt bad. But you know what? It is a matter of time. You know, very soon we are going to have our 35 per cent or even 40 per cent by the grace of God. But going forward, you know, unless you develop the communities, the nation will continue to suffer. Once communities are developed, you will consider you are living in a developed country. So when women are given a chance to participate at the decision-making bodies at the local level and at the state level, then the central level will speak for itself. You understand what I mean? So, we should not be aiming at you know, there and then saying that we want this, we want that, yes, we have the right to, to request for more. But we must insist on getting a space at the grassroots level in order to develop the communities.

For example, like Europe in general, the United Kingdom in particular, and then part of America, wherever we go, whether you are in New York, or you are in one of the counties it is still the same. You can have good access to medical healthcare. The same services rendered in New York and London, the same you will get in the local government or county, even in Europe. So why can’t we copy that? We must develop the communities by first putting women at the decision-making table.

How will you rate your husband’s performance in the last 8 years as an active participant?

Compared to what we met on the ground, he has done wonderfully well. But if one is to compare with the zeal that we came into power, we have achieved 50 per cent in all the areas captured in his campaign promises. Especially in the areas of works like road constructions, bridges, you know, infrastructure in general. He has made a lot of difference.

Including security?

Yes, of course. You know, in every aspect. Yes, on security, I think maybe we scored 70 per cent. I say so because before now, there were a lot of barricades, a lot of roadblocks, but now there are no more roadblocks, nothing. Even the kidnapping that is happening now is being organised among the family members. It is a deliberate thing, you know. And then the insurgency or the banditry may be organised by some local people, you know. But if there is no connivance, I can say that we have achieved 90 per cent on security. Secondly, he received Nigeria intact, and he is going to hand over Nigeria intact.

You are in close proximity with your husband, and you see first-hand how he works. When you read papers and see criticisms, people saying he has not done enough, accusing him of human rights abuse, what do you say about that?

In terms of human rights or whatever, I think being a civilian president is different from the military one. And for the first time, we saw protesters coming to the doorstep of the presidential villa, to make a protest and then go freely. So which freedom are they looking for more than that? Really?

President Buhari is known to tell this story about how he won the fourth time after three previous attempts. Can you recall how you felt when he won?

Actually, it was mixed feelings because age was not on his side, and then there were a lot of expectations. So, it was from there I knew that we were in a different phase of life. Okay.

Were you mentally prepared for this?

I was not. Because I am sure whatever happens, I will tackle it and I have tackled it, at least the ones that concerns me. Right?

What are your most fulfilling moments as a First Lady?

One of my most fulfilling moments as First Lady was when 10 mothers lost hope that they were going to lose their children to heart disease. But we organised open heart surgeries led by a team from Italy. The 10 children were operated upon within the period of just one week. And today, seven of the 10 survived and they are doing very well. In fact, when I came back from a medical trip recently, you need to see the joy on the faces of the parents. And now the women are complaining that the children are keeping them on their toes all the time, unlike in the past that they were just lying down. But now they are all over the house. They want to go to school, you know. So, it is quite fulfilling. That is the most memorable moment for me.

Any regrets?

Not at all.

Any difficulties on the job you might want to share with others?

Not at all, because our job is voluntary. It is not part of the Nigerian constitution that we must do it or we have a budget. No, we are just doing it to complement the effort of the government.

How has your life changed in the last 8 years?

Yes, our lives have changed because we do not have enough time for our immediate family members, like our children. Before, we used to sit together, eat, travel together, spend holidays and so on but for the past eight years, you can hardly see us, you know, having a family moment. Maybe once in a month and so on. But it is even better now with just days until our departure. The pressure has moved to the president-elect. So now, we are having peace.

What lessons have you learnt in the State House, and which will you want to share with your successor?

You know, my experience with hers may differ, because the presidential villa is like a university or school without the teacher. You teach yourself everything. My experience and hers will definitely differ. So, she should just be herself. Already, I have given her a tour of the villa, and how it operates. The basics she needs to know, I have led her into it.

How were you able to combine being a wife, a mother, grandmother as well as the First Lady?

Well, we thank God. As you are aware, being the First Lady is not part of our constitution. You do not have a constitutional role to play. So that one is our burden. For instance, some few years ago, my children were having kids, one after the other. They started their families. So I had to create time for them. Two months for each one of them. Most of the time I was not around, and some people were making noise, oh she left her husband, or oh maybe they are divorced or no they are no longer together, all sort of stories, you know. But I have that culture of being with my children before and after they give birth, to stay with them.

What are your plans after leaving office?

Mostly to continue with the Future Assured. That’s number one. Number two, to be with my last born, who for the past eight years we never had enough time for.

How did you cope being an outspoken critic in the Villa?

For me, any decision that is taken for the interest of one person and not for the general public’s interests, I normally step aside and go against it. Because they did not know how we came in, we came in because of the love Nigerian people have for my husband, the trust, you know, and then after coming in, the expectations. So, I told myself we cannot afford that, I just knew my husband needed help.

So are you saying your criticisms were to help your husband?

Yes, to help us maintain the name that we came in with. Right? That is why I am here as a First Lady and as a wife. I don’t like people who want to make money to rubbish the image of the family, the hard-earned name of my husband, you know, and then we keep quiet and look at the person. So that’s why I normally step in and speak up

What would you want to be remembered for?

I want to be remembered for my humanitarian activities because I enjoy doing them.



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