You would still be right that President Muhammadu Buhari has become the other barber. Two years after the promise of change and uplift in standards and quality of life for Nigerians, majority are still clean shaven and catching more cold.
But the more damning report on the Nigerian President is that he is no longer as popular as his media aides would have you believe. That ‘Sai Baba’ ship of 2015 has sailed and we did not necessarily need Mrs Aisha Jumai Alhassan’s public support for a potential opponent to Buhari in 2019 to affirm that.
After a video of her visit to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar surfaced on the web, in which she pledges allegiance to an Atiku Presidency in two years time, Mrs Alhassan, who is Buhari’s Minister of Women Affairs, doubled down on her loyalty to Atiku in an interview with the BBC Hausa service. Emphasizing Atiku as her godfather and without whom she would probably have retired as just a civil servant, the Minister swore that she would abandon Buhari should he declare intention to continue in office beyond noon on the 29th of May 2019.
It is the kind of bold assertiveness uncommon to female politicians in the country which one would hope would make women rise above the status of being merely placeholders for men. But then, the episode shows that the messiah from Daura has not had the strongest base all along. Raised to the throne out of an arranged marriage between at least two big political parties, Buhari was not necessarily the best President that could have come from the AC and CPC but was the best candidate. Now, the President part does not seem to have worked as planned but he has broken a kind of jinx. Hence, some in-laws and kinsmen will scheme for alternatives for the candidate part next time.
Nigerian elders love their titles, and their godchildren, subordinates and cheerleaders do not hesitate to flatter them with it. So Olusegun Obasanjo is ‘baba’; his Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, is also ‘baba’. Goodluck Jonathan, who served one term and a half before Baba Buhari is not from that part of the country where people use Baba to address their elders, and he is still under 60 anyway. ‘Baba’ is the go-to title of respect and affection given to a former Nigerian leader of influence, especially from the North, but it is not enjoyed as much by former Heads of State like Yakubu Gowon, Shehu Shagari, Ibrahim Babangida, Ernest Shonekan, and Abdusalami Abubakar. When a former leader is called ‘Baba’, it is more than being called ‘father’ or ‘elder’ but a very affectionate way of saying that ‘you are as important to us as any person currently active on the scene today’.
So that when Mrs Alhassan swings between using same ‘Baba’ for Atiku and Buhari, trying to balance her loyalty to her godfather with service to her present boss, she is in fact stating that there is not much of a difference between both men. She did not canvass for the Ministerial job, she says, and it would only be God’s will if it came to an end at this time. Provided she has declared for the main ‘Baba’ in whom she is well pleased, nothing else matters.
To avoid the appearance of embarrassment and looking as if it was provoked to action, President Buhari may finally undertake a cabinet shuffle severally called for by most commentators, and we can expect the Minister to be freed to enable her take up a lead role in #AtikuSeesTheFuture. That shuffle should really have been done in that resumption address of August 21, instead of the riot act read to Nigerians about crossing “national red lines”. Buhari probably chose to read that popularly rejected address because of the clips shown him by media aides, of (paid) cheering crowds as the motorcade made its way from the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport to the State House two days earlier. He got carried away that (paid) people were chanting ‘Sai Baba’ but was oblivious to those on his cabinet whom he pays, already vying for other persons to become the Baba.
Last, President Buhari (in)famously referred to First Lady Aisha as belonging to the other room; lo, another Aisha has rechristened him as the Other Baba.
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