The Nigerian presidency is scrambling to fend off attacks being directed at President Muhammadu Buhari over his shocking remark that his wife belonged to his kitchen, his living room and the other room.
“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 said Friday in the German capital, Berlin, in response to a remark by his wife, Aisha, that his government had been hijacked by a cabal.
The president’s comment, made while he was having a joint press conference with German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, one of the world’s most powerful women, immediately triggered anger and condemnation across the world.
In Nigeria, citizens took to social media to condemn the president’s ‘primitive’ and ‘misogynist’ remark about his own wife.
Kayode Ogundamisi, a social commentator and activist, who campaigned hard to get Mr. Buhari elected in 2015, said the president’s views were not compatible with modern ideals.
“The president should know that his distorted thinking that Nigerian women or any woman for that matter belong in the bedroom or kitchen is unacceptable,” Mr. Ogundamisi said in a statement.
But as criticisms mounted, the presidency moved late Friday to downplay the president’s remark, saying Mr. Buhari was only joking.
“My friends, can’t a leader get a sense (of) humour anymore? Mr. President laughed before that statement was made,” Garba Shehu, the senior special assistant to the president on media and publicity, said in a statement published on twitter.
“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 office today is headed by a woman, Mrs. (Kemi) Adeosun. This is an evidence of the confidence he reposes on women.”
But Mr. Ogundamisi said Mr. Buhari’s remark was “not the kind of joke that the President of any country should be engaged in.”
“The president should know that the world has indeed moved on and that women play a very key role in our society,” he said.
The activist demanded immediate apology from Mr. Buhari for his comments, which he said constituted an embarrassment to Nigeria.
Mrs. Buhari had irked her husband when she gave an interview to the BBC saying a cabal had hijacked Mr. Buhari’s government and that she might not back his re-election in 2019 unless he shakes up his cabinet.
In the interview, Mrs. Buhari also said the president “does not know” most of the top officials he appointed to office.
Mr. Buhari has not indicated whether or not he will seek re-election, and according to his wife, he has not told his family too.
“He is yet to tell me (if he’ll seek re-election) but I have decided as his wife, that if things continue like this up to 2019, I will not go out and campaign again and ask any woman to vote like I did before. I will never do it again,” she said.
The Nigerian leader is allowed by the constitution to seek re-election for a second term in office.
Should he seek re-election, he is expected to be the candidate to beat for his All Progressives Congress, APC, party; although he could be challenged by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who lost to him in the 2014 primaries.
Mrs. Buhari also gave indication of something which has caused silent anger amongst some leaders of the APC.
She said some of the president’s appointees did not share the vision of his party and were appointed because of the influence of a “few people.”
“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,” she said.
Asked to name those who had hijacked the government, she refused, saying: “You will know them if you watch television.”
One name that has been repeatedly mentioned as having a strong influence in Mr. Buhari’s appointments is his cousin, Mamman Daura.
Mr. Daura, who holds no official position, is said to be the most powerful man in the presidency and is said to have Mr. Buhari’s ears.
There had been rumours within the Aso Villa of him having clashes with Mrs. Buhari over his influence on the president.
On whether the president was in charge of his administration, Mrs. Buhari said: “That is left for the people to decide.”
Mrs. Buhari’s decision to go public with her concerns may shock many people, but it shows the level of discontent with the president’s leadership, the BBC quotes its reporter Naziru Mikailu, as saying Abuja.
Speaking further on the appointments, Mrs. Buhari said, “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.”
She also mentioned the improvement of security in the north-east as her husband’s major achievement.
“No-one is complaining about being attacked in their own homes. Thankfully everyone can walk around freely, go to places of worship, etc. Even kids in Maiduguri have returned to schools,” Mrs. Buhari said.