It was Nancy Reagan, an actress and wife of Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States of America (USA), that once said: “There is no job description for the first lady and she’s only there because her husband got elected as president.”
But make no mistake about it – Nancy Reagan, who served as first lady from 1981 to 1989, was a fabulous first lady. During her time as the president’s wife, she put in a lot of effort into promoting drug education and prevention programmes. She started the “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign and was very influential in the passage of the 1986 Crusade for a Drug-Free America anti-drug drug abuse law.
Her efforts were recognised because in October 1988, she became the first first lady ever to address the United Nations General Assembly. In her address to the world assembly, she asked the US to initiate stricter drug law enforcement and education, noting that America must stop putting the blame of drugs consumed by Americans on developing countries that produced most of the drugs.
It is indeed incredible that Mrs Reagan could make such a statement at a time the American government, headed by her husband, was blaming the developing countries for America’s drug woes. Mrs Reagan was having none of that and she was ready to say it at the UN general assembly. That takes courage.
Nigeria, since independence, having had a motley of presidents and head of states, has equally had a number of first ladies with different character traits, from the amazing to the amusing. However, with the incumbent first lady, Aisha Buhari, Nigeria is having a totally different kind of first lady – an activist or, I dare say, a whistleblower.
The love of activism by Aisha first came to the fore when she granted an interview to the BBC in 2016 and alleged that her husband’s government had been hijacked, warning that she might not back his re-election in 2019 unless he did something about his cabinet.
What followed that bold gauntlet thrown by the first lady was the tongue-in-cheek infamous statement by President Buhari that his wife belonged to no political party but to his kitchen, living room and the other room. Quite a number of public commentators also flayed Mrs Buhari for the BBC saga, saying she should have tackled her husband privately and not publicly. It was assumed that President Buhari, being a man that seems to detest opposing views, would privately warn his wife to stay off making public statements on national issues.
However, whoever thought the first lady could be cut down to size must have been startled by her latest heroics. Her focus, this time was on the healthcare system in the country, as she decried the poor condition of the State House Clinic, which she said lacked basic equipment for medicare.
While speaking at the stakeholders’ meeting on Reproductive, Maternal, New Born, Child, Adolescent Health and Nutrition (RMNCAN) in Abuja, the first lady called for a probe of the budget utilisation at the clinic. What’s more, the first lady decided to make this bold statement at the event knowing that the Chief Medical Director (CMD) of the State House Clinic, Dr Hussain Munir, was in attendance.
According to Mrs Buhari, when she needed medical attention recently, she had gone to the State House Clinic for treatment but was advised to travel to London for proper treatment. She had bluntly refused. Her words: “I said I must be treated in Nigeria because there is a budget for an assigned clinic to take care of us. If the budget is N100 million, we need to know how the budget is spent. I had to go to a hospital that was established by foreigners in and out 100 percent… I am sure Dr Munir will not like me saying this but I have to say it. What does that mean? I think it is high time for us to do the right thing. There are lots of constructions going on in that hospital but there is no single syringe there. Who will use the building?”
These questions by the president’s wife surely are fundamental. More importantly, they have begun to generate positive reactions. Nigerian lawmakers have set up a committee to look into the financing of the country’s presidential health facility. The lawmakers now want to know how the money allocated to the clinic in the last three years was spent. It is ironic that it took the first lady blowing the whistle on the poor state of Aso Rock Clinic for the lawmakers who are among the public officials enjoying free medical treatment at the hospital to begin to ask the necessary questions.
I am beginning to like this woman for her boldness to speak out the minds of ordinary Nigerians. She is, like Nancy Reagan, showing that what she is concerned about is not political correctness but what is good for the public and her nation. I like her for her wise forthright words. Nigerians and president Buhari should be proud of this whistle blower First Lady. We also need more Nigerians to be like her.