Buhari’s row with wife signals Nigerian inertia frustrations
A row between the Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and his wife has brought cracks in the ruling party right into the open, as frustration grows over government inertia in trying to drag the country out of its first recession in 25 years. Aisha Buhari publicly criticized her husband’s record in office, saying she might not support him if he seeks re-election in 2019 unless he shakes up his administration, which she said had been hijacked by a “few people”.
The president tried to laugh off the rebuke from his wife of 27 years, saying “she belongs in the kitchen” - but without addressing the substance of her remarks, made last week in an interview with the BBC. The 73-year-old won last year’s election promising a new era in the West African nation, where graft has enriched an elite while most of the 180 million Nigerians live in poverty despite the OPEC member’s oil wealth.
Buhari came to power backed by his All Progressives Congress (APC) party, a broad coalition of politicians who united to remove his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, without having a joint plan on how to run the country. Now, 17 months into office, there are few signs of Buhari’s promised reforms to diversify the economy away from exporting crude, prices of which have halved since 2014.
Already the naira is down 35 percent this year, making it one of the worst performing currencies in the world, and the National Bureau of Statistics forecasts the economy will shrink by 1.3 percent in 2016. But criticism of the government goes beyond an apparent lack of urgency in tackling the economic crisis. A belief is growing that power is concentrated among Buhari’s chief of staff and an inner circle at the presidential villa, making it difficult for ministers to get the attention of the president.
The First Lady is not alone in her views. Senate President Bukola Saraki, the third most senior politician in Nigeria, took to Twitter to express his concerns. “It has become clear that there is govt within govt of @MBuhari who’ve seized apparatus of Executive powers to pursue their nefarious agenda,” he tweeted in June. Buhari’s spokesmen declined to comment while the president himself has defended his economic record in general terms. “I believe that this recession will not last,” he said this month. “We have identified the country’s salient problems and we are working hard at lasting solutions.”