Being shy around women
Iwas personally puzzled when the Presidency came out with guns blazing on Friday in order to refute a statement made a day earlier by Mr. Gideon Zamani, who was said to have represented Secretary to the Government of the Federation Babachir David Lawal at an event in Abuja. As often happens when top officials rush to “refute” something, I had not read what Zamani said before I saw presidential adviser Femi Adesina angrily refuting it. I then had to go looking for what Zamani said in order to see what was being refuted.
Zamani, a former speaker of the Kaduna State House of Assembly, is an experienced politician who knows that one can warm his way into the favours of powerful rulers by defending them in public against an accusation. At the event in question, the fifth annual lecture organised by the Change We Need in Nigeria group, Senator Chris Anyanwu was said to have expressed disappointment with the appointments made so far by President Buhari. She said despite the fact that he benefitted immensely from female voters, Buhari has relegated women to the background in his appointments.
Mrs. Anyanwu added that so far, no woman from the South East has been appointed to any political post under Buhari, and that “even the number of women in Buhari’s government is a far cry from what obtains worldwide.” Many a cynical observer would have taken note of Anyanwu’s complaint that South East women have not bagged any appointments under Buhari and seen it as clever self promotion, but never mind.
Now, if you are Zamani, who was said to have represented the SGF at the event, you will feel the need to rise up to defend the boss of your boss from Anyanwu’s attack. He groped around for something meaningful to say. So he said, “If you are close to Mr. President, you will know that he has the interest of the nation as his uppermost priority. He did not intentionally marginalise women. It is just that Mr. President is shy with women. He has been interacting mostly with men. I can assure you that in the shortest time, this issue of gender inequality will be dealt with.” The following day, newspaper reports of the event lurched upon Zamani’s explanation as the gospel truth, with one paper saying, “Some insight has been provided into President Muhammadu Buhari’s aversion for women and the low number of female appointments since he assumed office...”
It must be this kind of reporting that incited the presidency, which soon came out with guns blazing. Adesina’s angry statement said, “The claim that President Muhammadu Buhari is shy around women, purportedly made by one Gideon Samani yesterday and published by a national newspaper today is totally fallacious. The subsequent attribution of the supposedly “low number” of female ministerial nominees to President Buhari’s alleged shyness around women is therefore baseless and a figment of the imagination of the said Mr. Samani, who was falsely described as the ‘Senior Special Assistant (Political Matters)’ to the President.”
Phew. There are three things all rolled up together in this paragraph, and I was wondering which one of them it was that made Adesina and the president so angry. Beginning from the bottom, one is that Zamani is not the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Political Matters, which was how the newspapers that reported his comment described him. Whether he was so described at the event itself and whether he failed to make a correction, we do not know yet. He must however be close enough to the SGF, officially or unofficially, to be sent to represent him at an event. Chances are that after this fiasco, SGF will drop him like a hot iron.
Now, the second issue raised by Adesina in that loaded paragraph is the issue of low number of female appointees in Buhari’s councils. Adesina wrote “low number” in quotes, meaning the presidency does not agree that it has appointed a low number of women to major posts in government. Okay, that is a matter for Aso Rock to sort out with women’s groups. There are six women among the 36 ministerial nominees, or 17%. The proportion was higher than that in the Jonathan regime whose two most powerful ministers were women.
Of the three first-line charges made by Adesina, it appears that the one that angered the presidency the most was the one about President Buhari being shy in the company of women. This became clearer in the statement’s third paragraph where Adesina said, “The assertion by the alleged presidential aide that President Buhari is “very shy dealing with the opposite sex” because “he has been interacting mostly with men” was received by the President with shock and consternation.”
Shock and consternation, and that is Buhari himself speaking. Adesina could not have known that the president received the charge with shock and consternation unless the president himself told him so. So, what is shocking about that? All men, except the most outgoing ones, are to various degrees shy in the presence of women. For some men the presence of a large number of women at a place is an opportunity to show off, to speak and to do some visible acts in the hope that some of them will be impressed, as a stepping stone to higher things. Most other men however think the presence of women around calls for calm, caution, sitting properly, adjusting clothes, speaking in low tones, eating in small bites, drinking silently, belching softly and generally trying to behave well. It is therefore not a bad thing, I think, to be accused of being shy in women’s presence.
Even though we were told last May that Muhammadu Buhari no longer wishes to be referred to as General, we cannot forget too quickly that he was a soldier for 24 years. Maybe that is one explanation for his shock and consternation. By all accounts the president stayed close to his religious and cultural values during his years in the army but then, no one could have been an Army officer for 24 years without entering an Officers’ Mess. I do not know why soldiers call it a mess. Is it because that is where officers mess up every evening? I have been to a few events at officers’ messes over the years and I can testify that shyness in the presence of women is not one of their celebrated attributes.
A subsequent paragraph in Femi Adesina’s statement advanced some reasons to prove why President Buhari cannot be shy in women’s presence. He said, “President Buhari has a wife, many daughters and female relatives whom he loves dearly. He also had a mother that he adored. How then could he be shy in the company of women, to the point of allegedly not appointing them into public offices, on account of not being comfortable in their company?”
Let us separate two things here. Every man has a mother; many men have sisters; a lot of adult men have wives; and a lot of men have daughters as well. All that however does not stop majority of men from being shy or at least self effacing when they find themselves in the company of other women. This is because each of these categories of women is in a class of its own, from a man’s point of view. Even among one’s sisters, dealing with elder sisters requires a different approach from dealing with younger sisters.
It is on the second part of the statement that I tend to agree with Femi Adesina. If Buhari has not appointed many more women into his councils, it cannot be because he will be too shy to preside over the Federal Executive Council with stylish headgears all around. Women are disadvantaged in nearly every facet of Nigerian public life, especially in politics. If for example Buhari had asked each state APC chapter to nominate one person for minister, probably all 36 of them would have nominated men. And it would not be because every APC governor and state chairman is shy in the presence of women. England will have to smash the world record for a successful run chase if they are to avoid defeat in the second test against Pakistan in Dubai.
Younis Khan made 118 in the second innings as Pakistan reached 354-6 before declaring.
Misbah-ul-Haq made 87 and Asad Shafiq 79 in the second innings as the home side batted England out of the match.
The world record for a successful fourth innings run chase is 418; realistically, the challenge awaiting England is to bat for a day and a half to avoid losing the match.