'Comrade' Aisha Buhari: Beyond the Other Room by Oke Umurhohwo
Sometime in 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari sparked a controversy when his comment downplayed the potentials of women and gave the impression that the seclusion of a man's house is the place most suitable place for them. The president had shocked his audience, including his host, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany when he said "I don't know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen, the living room and the other room."
Buhari was reacting to criticisms of his government by his wife, Aisha Buhari, who alarmed that her husband's government has been hijacked by a "few people" who are preventing him from meeting up to electioneering promises. But that weighed less on Mrs. Buhari conviction to speak truth to power, no matter whose ox is gored– an unusual trait exhibited by most people in the corridor of power.
While Buhari may as usual, be “unaware of things” even to the extent of not knowing "45 out of 50 of the people" in his government, the first lady has consistently shown courage to advocate for the well-being of ordinary Nigerians. This uncommon bravery was more pronounced on Saturday, 25th of May, 2019 when Mrs. Buhari declared that the implementation of Social Investment Programme (SIP) has failed.
According to her, the intended purpose of the scheme have been largely unfulfilled and wondered how the huge fund voted for the scheme have been utilized. Though, she seemed to be particular about the impact of "the N500bn voted for SIP, that was part of the 2015 campaigns where they promised to give out N10,000, feed pupils in primary schools and give N5,000 to the poorest of the poorer," in the North but she succeeded in subjecting the scheme for public scrutiny.
Shortly after the anniversary of his inauguration on May 29, 2016, President Buhari introduced the SIP programmes towards eradicating poverty and augment the scourge of unemployment and boost enrollment in schools. But as observed by Mrs. Buhari, the implementation of the Programme have made no real impact. From increasing unemployment figures to rising poverty index which have made Nigeria the poverty capital of the world, the experience have been hellish .
Though, government regularly makes bogus claim about the impact of the SIP programmes but that have failed to tally with the reality of the situation faced by Nigerians. From public gatherings to social media platforms, Nigerians oftentimes scrutinized most of those claims and usually conclude that they are mostly inaccurate or exaggerated– which has prompted an increasing concerns on the government's precept to the truth.
For those who have paid close attention to the worsening situation of Nigerians in recent time, it will be almost impossible to discard the concerns raised by Mrs. Buhari on the implementation of the SIP programmes. To examine the issue raised in the right perspective; poverty, hunger and unemployment, which are the main focus of the scheme, have not really shown any improvement, if anything, it is now worse than before.
The statistics of Nigerians wallowing in extreme poverty is frightening. Every day, Nigerians continue to slip into extreme poverty and one wonder whether any Programme was ever initiated to tame the tide.
Interestingly, one of the programmes of SIP is the National Conditional Cash Transfer (NCT) Programme, which Mrs. Buhari recalled "is to give the poorest of the poor, N5,000 every month", but as with other programmes, the implementation raised so many questions. Instead of serving as a buffer for the poor and helping them to escape their discomforting situation, the poverty bracket keep surging, hence, fuelling agitations like Mrs. Buhari quipped that "So, I don't know where's the social investment."
Almost every day, we continue to experience shrink of the middle class and more than 8,000 Nigerians go deeper into the extreme poverty line. As of February 13, 2019, World Poverty Clock, a Vienna-based World Data Lab, projected that 91.6 million Nigerians were living below a dollar a day– a sharp surge from the 86.9 million quoted by Brookings Institute in June last year as Nigerians wallowing in extreme poverty.
As clearly illustrated from these data, it is no doubt that Mrs. Buhari assessment of the intervention schemes under her husband has failed. It became even more glaring from the response of the Senior Special Assistance to the President on SIP, Maryam Uwais, who tried to dismiss the issues raised by Mrs. Buhari by saying "I believe that if she (Aisha) were to listen to the information they have there, if she were to check our data, she would be able to find all the beneficiaries."
I'm sorry to admit it but Mrs. Uwais really missed the issue at hand. Checking SIP data would not answer the doubts agitating the minds of Nigerians on the scheme, which Mrs. Buhari only echoed on their behalf. Infact, ordinary Nigerians on the streets do not require a PowerPoint or pages of newspaper to gauge the progress made by the scheme. They can see with their eyes and can easily tell if they have been really impacted.
It is the same data which Mrs. Uwais flaunt, that have seen the SIP expended $185 million for the Home Grown Feeding Programme, yet, no fewer than 13.2 million children are still outside the wall of classroom– the highest in the world. Or, that despite spending N6bn on N-Power every month, more than 20 million Nigerians still remain unemployed. It's obvious that not data but real action can give Nigerians the expected results.
The truth as aptly captured by Mrs. Buhari is, the scheme has failed to meet the desired impact. Although, SIP may presents bold and practical mechanisms to improve the lives of Nigerians but the implementation has created much doubts than answers. That is what Mrs. Buhari has courageously pointed out and that bravery will take a long time in the minds of Nigerians.
Oke Umurhohwo is a Political Analyst and Strategist. He tweets via @OkeStalyf and can be reached via [email protected]