First Lady Aisha Buhari’s Wristwatch and The Vanity of Nigerian Elites, By Adeolu Ademoyo

If true, the news about Mrs. Aisha Buhari’s wristwatch is highly disturbing. The reported news is that she allegedly wore a ten Million Naira Cartier Baignoire Folle 18-Carat White Gold Diamond wristwatch to her husband’s inauguration on May 29, 2015. Her defenders deny this. They claim that the wristwatch is a “knock down” version of the watch and the one she wore cost between $100-$130.
The responses of both Mrs. Aisha Buhari’s critics and defenders on this matter have been inadequate and unhelpful. Her critics seem to be raising ethical issues, one of which is that if Mrs. Buhari is hoping to step into the public sphere in any form, her handlers hope to package her, genuine and verifiable modesty, humility, a strong sense of ethics in public service consistent with the moral opposition that shoved Ex-president Jonathan aside and brought Mr. Buhari in is non-negotiable. Her critics on this matter have not clearly stated this (perhaps because they – the critics – are also morally compromised), neither have they shown that Aisha Buhari actually wore that vain watch (if actually she did) in a moment that can be described as an instance of public service.
On the other hand Aisha Buhari’s handlers have failed on two grounds. First, they dodged a legitimate issue, which is about requisite ethics in public service and role. It is possible Aisha Buhari’s handlers do not even see the seriousness of the grim moral problem Nigeria is in since many of Mrs. Aisha Buhari’s handlers probably belong – in a historical sense – to the same political, feudal, military, and ruling class that knocked the country down.
Let us put it starkly. It is unacceptable in a country where the average Nigerian lives on a dollar a day for anyone in a public service role to step into the public sphere in a vain ten million naira wristwatch. If Aisha Buhari’s handlers correctly understood the moral opposition that brought Mr. Buhari to power, then Aisha’s handlers must admit this ethical position unconditionally and proceed to either admit that she needed to draw a clear line between her legitimate right to her privacy (where she is free to use anything she likes since it is her money), and her potential public role (where her role ought be conditioned by public ethics), and apologise to Nigerians for such faux pas or deny it factually.
Aisha’s handlers chose the latter (i.e. they denied) and said what their principal wore is a knock down version of the original watch, which they claim, cost $129 in a flea market. But for Aisha Buhari’s handlers to dismissively claim that it is a knock down version of the original watch is a mere statement needing factual confirmation, which is similar to the claim of her critics which also needs factual confirmation. This is the point at which both Aisha’s critics and defenders/handlers may be playing on the genuine moral feelings of Nigerians who are determined to break with the silliness and vanity in Nigerian First ladyship.
Someone may ask: “what is the heck with Aisha Buhari wearing a ten million naira wristwatch if it is indeed true”? The simple answer is that “the heck” is that it reveals a moral mindset, if true a moral mindset which is out of tune with the new Nigeria we want to build where anyone in a public role is a genuine servant of the Nigerian people, and not a pretender. Mrs. Aisha Buhari is the latest brand in the lineage of first ladies of Nigeria. And here I will go for the broke with no holds barred. Why? Those who fought to change the old dispensation will not allow any President and his first lady to re-invent and take us back to the dark days of Goodluck Jonathan presidency and the useless First ladyship of the Nigerian presidency. To put it starkly, this mandate is not Buhari’s mandate. It is the mandate of the Nigerian people, and we are going to watch this very closely.
Those who worked selflessly (working to see radical break from the past and improved conditions of the people) for the election of President Buhari took a gamble and a risk. And Nigerian voters will remain watchmen and women of the risk they took because the voters did not work to institute another round of vanity in power because if true, to perform an official function with a ten million Naira wristwatch in a country where the average Nigerian lives on a dollar a day is morally unacceptable.
Mrs. Aisha Buhari is a private citizen. She should remain so in so far as she does not peddle influence, or go near the public treasury. To this end, she is free to wear any type of wrist watch – gold, silver, golden-silver, brass, diamond – anything. It is her right. It is not important to Nigerians the type of wristwatch she wears. She only needs to take it off the public sphere if she is hoping to step into the public domain.
A comparison of Nigerian ruling elites with their counterparts in other climes reveals a lot about vision and ethics. Take as an example Charles Feeny, one of the early movers of the now popular duty free shops where all brands of wristwatches are on display but who personally uses wrist watch worth less than $50! An Irish-American and alumnus of Cornell University, Feeny has this to say about himself: “I had one idea that never changed in my mind — that you should use your wealth to help people. I try to live a normal life, the way I grew up…I set out to work hard, not to get rich.” Since 1982, Feeney had given out grants totaling 7 billion dollars – the single bulk of it has gone to universities both in the US and his original country, Ireland. But wait a minute, Feeny, a billionaire, a signatory to the World Billionaires’ “The Giving Pledge” and pioneer mover of duty free shops where all manner of wristwatches are often on display for sale, himself, uses a wristwatch worth less than $50!
This ought to be a sober lesson for our usual Dubai bound vanity, gold plated phone and Carat wristwatch seeking members of the Nigerian ruling and feudal elites.
But it is conceivable that Mr. Buhari himself may just not be aware that her wife allegedly wore ten million naira worth wrist watch to his official inauguration; even if this is true, it negates in a fundamental sense the sense of seriousness and purpose we thought Buhari had and which we used to rally Nigerian people to his side in the last election. At least it is on record that ex-president Obasanjo said he was not aware that his wife, Stella Obasanjo was going for a tummy surgery, which sadly resulted in her death.
Nigerian people have the right to be on the alert because of the vanity of the so-called Nigerian First ladies. Always mistaking vain pomp and pageantry to be style and taste; lacking in deep and profound vision; failing to see the style, grace, nobility, honour and virtue in modesty and humility in service to the people; lacking in style and grace but full of vain pageantry and poor ethics that define members of Nigerian ruling and feudal elites, these tribe of so-called first ladies range from Mrs. Babangida, to Mrs. Abacha to Mrs. Stella Obasanjo, Mrs. Turai Yar adua, down to Mrs. Patience Jonathan.
The Buhari presidency must quickly define and clarify the relationship of the figurative position of the first lady to official public life and to the Nigerian public treasury – both formal and informal. While all “first ladies” and “first men” have rights (as private citizens) to their sense of vanity, including their multiple golden, silver, brass wristwatches, driving toys, phones, gold ringed eye glasses, and shoes, they must limit their vanity to their private lives. But if they change roles and officially step into the public domain with their vanity, the Nigerian people will subject them to the rigorous public scrutiny of the high ethics and high standards of the public sphere.
In the post-Goodluck Jonathan presidency, the first and last call of any state official is genuine, visible and verifiable humility, modesty in service to the Nigerian people as we have it in advanced democracies and civilised climes. There will not be less. There will be no sacred cow, goat, or sheep in this historic and moral duty of watchmen and women. This is the only condition the votes of Nigerian people and our deliberate call for Nigerian people to vote Buhari would not have been a waste.

Adeolu Ademoyo,, is with the Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.

Culled from

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