Buhari's comment and the Nigerian inferiority complex
By Tochukwu Ezukanma
One of the legacies of colonialism in Nigeria is the inferiority complex of the Nigerian society. The justification for colonialism (an unjustifiable usurpation) demanded myth–making that extolled the superiority of the colonial master and his ways of life and denigrated everything about the indigenous people: their culture, traditions, religion, etc. Many years after our independence, we are yet to snap out of the sense of inferiority that that systematic colonial disparagement of our people and culture instilled in us. Not surprisingly, most Nigerians believe that anything said or done that does not conform to American and European standards must be wrong or misguided.
Recently, in response to the First Lady's, Aisha Buhari, criticism of his government in an interview with the BBC Hausa program, President Buhari said, “I don't know which party my wife belongs to but she belongs to my kitchen and living room and the other room”. Surprisingly, that innocuous comment by a man on the role of his wife engendered an outrage among Nigerians. It spurred contentious debates replete with acerbic characterization of the president on the social media, newspapers, radio and TV. Some considered it an inexcusable faux pas and others think it was reprehensible and indicative of his misogyny; and contempt for women's right and disdain for gender equality. As far as I am concerned, there is nothing wrong with the president's statement. It was his personal view of how things should be done in his house.
It was exhilarating that Mohammadu Buhari stated his real personal feelings about the role of his wife, even if it was to bruise the sensitivity of his German hosts. The president's hostess, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who stood next to him, as he made the comment, was said to have given him a “short glare and then a laugh”. What Angela Merkel thinks about Buhari's notion on the place of his wife is most irrelevant. The president's expressed view on his wife was at variance with Western expectations. Therefore, like many other Nigerians, the president's media aides instinctively believed it must be wrong. And to right the wrong and possibly, assuage the rattled European and American susceptibilities, the presidential spokesman tried to put a spin on it. He said the president was being facetious and should not be taken literally. And the governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, one of the governors that accompanied the president on the German trip, joined in on the supposed damage control. He said the president's comments on his wife “were jokes taken too far”. Refreshingly, the president, despite the intense criticism that trailed his comment, reiterated his position on the role of his wife.
Undoubtedly, a wife needs to be treated with utmost respect and civility. However, the function a man chooses to assign his wife in the home is a personal issue. Different men have different opinions on the issue. To some men, like Ben Bruce (as he told us), his wife “belongs to his side (not behind)”. And the likes of Reno Omokri “enter the kitchen to cook for” their wives. However, there is no indication that those that want their wives by their sides and those that enter the kitchen to cook for them always make better husbands than those that expect them to belong to the kitchen and the other room. The place of a wife in Western culture, that the likes of Ben Bruce and Reno Omokri have successfully imbibed, is magnificent but it is not the only magnificent concept of the place of a wife. Other peoples of the world, in line with their own cultures and traditions, reserve the right to their own beliefs on the roles of the wife.
Nigeria is a male chauvinistic society. It approves of polygamy, tolerates male marital infidelity and condones the marriage of under-eighteen teenage girls to older men. Essentially, the indigenous cultures and institutions tend to relegate wives, even the well educated, to the kitchen and the other room. So, why is this outrage (or feigned outrage) over the president's comment in Nigeria? Why are Nigerians more peevish and vociferous in their denunciation of the president than the Germans and Europeans that are more respectful of women's rights and more successful in gender equality? It is because Nigerians, in their inferiority complex and characteristic hypocrisy, are pretending to be more Catholic than the Pope.
The controversy the issue generated in the Nigerian media overshadowed the object of the president's visit to Germany. He was in Germany to woo German investors to Nigeria. It is most unlikely that the president's supposed faux pas will deter German investors from investing in Nigeria. The willingness of prospective German investors to invest in Nigeria will, for the most part, be determined by the economic viability and political stability of the country. After all, the Japanese idea of the role of women does not conform to the West's; Japan is a conservative patriarchal society. Yet, it is a very important economic and strategic partner of the West. Saudi Arabia is a bastion of feudal obscurantism and retains a medieval leash on its womenfolk. Still, it is one of the most important Western allies in the Middle East.
Actually, it is the outcome of his trips to Germany that is important and should rivet our attention. Was it a successful trip that will attract German investment to Nigeria, and then, by extension, bolster the Nigerian economy? Ultimately, it is leadership as personified by Mohammadu Buhari that is important. Nigeria has, for long, been a leaderless country in a desperate need for leadership. And President Buhari does not have to be steep in Western etiquette or an aficionado of gender equality to offer Nigerians this needed leadership.
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
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