While responding on Friday to his wife, Aisha’s claims that his administration has been hijacked by a cabal, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari 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.”
Mr. Buhari’s comment immediately went viral on the internet.
The comment made big headline in almost all the major newspapers in the country, and Nigerians were quick to push to the back burner, the release of the 21 Chibok girls, and everyone got talking about the impropriety or otherwise of the comment.
Mr. Buhari’s comment was made in far away Berlin, Germany, while standing next to his host, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel who, as one foreign newspaper noted, “seemed to glare at him”.
By Friday night, a search for ‘Buhari + my wife + my kitchen’ on Google propped up 134,000 results! It climbed up to about 232,000 on Sunday afternoon.
Some Nigerians, with a wicked sense of humour, went further to pick the phrase – “the other room” – from the president’s comment, hashtaged it, and then set in motion a deep conversation on what the president actually meant. By Friday night, #TheOtherRoom was trending on Twitter.
The name of the presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, was also trending, Friday, on Twitter, and so was ‘Aso Rock’, an alias for Nigeria’s Presidency.
The First Family had also become the focus of hot debates and gossips on several Whatsapp groups and blogs.
Some Nigerians also kick-started #iStandWithAishaBuhari and #AishaMustNotBeSilenced campaigns on Facebook.
By Sunday afternoon, there were more than 54,000 people talking about the First Lady on Facebook, a check on the social media site showed. About 1,000 people were talking about #TheOtherRoom.
“President Buhari can say his wife belong to his kitchen & living room, but can’t bring himself to say ‘bedroom’ in public. Lol #TheOtherRoom,” Ayo Shonaiya, a filmmaker and TV producer, tweeted.
“If your wife start addressing you in public then is clear that there are unsolved issues in #TheOtherRoom,” another Nigerian tweeted from the handle @mr_muftyy.
A popular Nollywood actress, Nse Ikpe-Etim (@NseIkpeEtim), tweeted, “We are finally getting to the root of #TheOtherRoom.”
Some Nigerians saw Mr. Buhari’s comment as promoting the stereotype that a woman’s place was in the kitchen, and that an average Nigerian woman wasn’t expected to be part of national politics. Some went as far as comparing Mr. Buhari with the Republican presidential candidate in the U.S, Donald Trump, exposed recently in a video for his 2005 lewd remarks about American women.
“My friends, can’t a leader get a sense (of) humour anymore? Mr. President laughed before that statement was made,” presidential spokesman, Mr. Shehu, responded to the attacks against Mr. Buhari.
“He was obviously throwing a banter.
“Mr. President respects the place of women in our society. He believes in the abilities of women.
“Politics sometimes should be spiced with humour. Those of us around him know there is never a dull moment with him.
“One of Nigeria’s most sensitive offices today is headed by a woman, Mrs. (Kemi) Adeosun. This is an evidence of the confidence he reposes on women,” Mr. Shehu said.
Some Nigerians did not accept that argument.
“There is no joke or sarcasm in what he said. Stop trying to find one,” said a young female legal practitioner from Akwa Ibom State, Enwongo Cleopas, who took on Mr. Shehu and others defending Mr. Buhari’s comment as being a joke.
Ms. Cleopas said on Facebook that she was incensed and disappointed with the president.
“You look at me in all my glory and splendour and all you want is to box me into a kitchen or the bedroom.
“The church is a part of this. All your religious centres are part of this. The government is a part of this. Your traditional groups are part of this. Your worth as a woman is attached to your skills in the kitchen or anywhere else they deem fit. Not because you’re human.”
Ms. Cleopas shared her personal experience to buttress her point that the president’s comment could only help to re-enforce existing stereotypes against women.
“I still remember a family friend who came to stay with us and told me that I shouldn’t be watching the news in the evening rather I should be busy in the kitchen. God helped him, my dad was around and my choice of words had to be flowery and so polite but I shocked him that day.
“Whenever I meet a guy and one of the first thing he asks me is ‘can you cook?’, I always go north coast with my reply. Of all the amazing and interesting things we can talk about, your interest is my skill in the kitchen or my humility. Miss me with your silliness.”
Inibehe Effiong, another young lawyer and human rights activist, condemned the president’s comment as being “repulsive to civilization”.
“A woman’s destiny is not in the kitchen, living room or (the) other rooms,” Mr. Effiong said on Facebook.
“President Buhari could have responded to his wife’s outbursts in a more decent, mature and respectful manner. His choice of words was wrong.
“What Aisha Buhari said is not novel. She may have taken it too far by doing so publicly but who knows whether she had a better alternative?
“In the long run, the comments will affect the President badly. Donald Trump is suffering today because he made similar comments in the past.”
FIELD DAY FOR CRITICS
The president’s critics are already having a field day, everywhere on the Internet – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and so on.
Reno Omokri, a social commentator and one of Mr. Buhari’s fiercest critics, uploaded on Twitter, Friday, a photo of him (Omokri) kissing his wife.
Mr. Omokri said of the photo, “This is me kissing my wife. She belongs by my side. I enter the kitchen to cook for her. She has added value to me!”
The next day, Mr. Omokri uploaded several ‘nuggets’ tweets, apparently aimed at picking hole in President Buhari’s “my wife belongs to kitchen” comment.
“Never attack your wife for saying your mouth stinks. Others may say it smells nice, but she’s the one who visits it regularly,” he tweeted.
“The first place man displays leadership ability is in his home. If he can’t lead well there, he can’t lead well in other areas,” he said in another tweet.
And another, “Don’t just treat your wife the way your dad treated your mum. Instead, treat her the way you wanted your dad to treat your mum.”
Just like Mr. Omokri, another fierce critic of President Buhari, Ben Murray-Bruce, posted on Twitter, a photo of himself (Murray-Bruce) kissing his wife. Mr. Murray-Bruce, a Peoples’ Democratic Party senator from Bayelsa State, said of the photo:
“This is my beloved wife Evelyn. She belongs by my side because beside (not behind) great men are even greater women!”
A former minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, also took to Twitter to criticize the president.
“When our President can get up and tell the whole world all the way from distant Germany that his wife ‘belongs to the kitchen, the living room and the other room’ simply because she dared to speak her mind to the BBC then you know that he is in the grip of something evil and that demons are speaking through him,” Mr. Fani-Kayode said.