Although the office of the first lady has never been constitutionally defined, the occupant plays a prominent role in the political and social life of a nation as wife of the president or head of state. In Nigeria, the office which had been in existence since the country gained independence became distinct between 1985 and 1993, during the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd).
It was the wife of the former military president, the late Maryam Babangida, who brought elegance, allure and flamboyance to the office. Since then every Nigerian first lady is closely watched for some hint of her husband’s thinking and for a clue to his future actions.
Even though she is not elected or paid, the prominence of the Nigerian first lady provides her a platform with which to influence behaviour and opinion, and popular first ladies have served as models for how Nigerian women should dress, speak, and make their hair.
They are also political partners to their husbands, from the campaign trail to Aso Rock presidential villa. While some first ladies support the presidency behind the scenes, others use their title to effect change in their own right, especially through their pet projects.
Completely inebriated by fecundity of the position of power defined as much by their own personalities and interests as by public perceptions and social expectations, some first ladies have even used their influence to affect legislation on important matters such as children and women’s rights.
But too much independence and the trappings of the exalted office had left some past Nigerian first ladies enamoured with the lure of power, sparking criticisms that some of them are arrogant and power-hungry.
With just about five days to the inauguration of the incoming government of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, LEADERSHIP takes a look at the contributions of Nigerian first ladies to their husbands’ administrations since the return of democracy in 1999.
In 2015 when her husband won his first term as president, many had hoped that the 44-year-old Aisha Buhari at the time would bring calm and harmony to the presidency. After eight years in the presidency, that perception is definitely not the same today, as later events would show.
The once humble and shy Aisha later turned out to be vocal, bloody bold and resolute. Throughout her husband’s eight-year tenure, she spoke up even when some people didn’t feel comfortable with her position.
She practically refused to be restricted to “the kitchen and the other room” where her husband, President Muhammadu Buhari, said she rightly belonged.
Aisha Buhari is not only known for her impeccable fashion sense but also for her strong political views and fearless challenges to government policies.
Her influential presence in the political arena and her commitment to societal change has made her a prominent figure in Nigeria.
One cannot discuss Aisha Buhari without acknowledging her elegant style and fashion choices. Her outfits consistently turn heads and set trends, showcasing a unique blend of traditional northern attire and contemporary fashion.
Aisha’s wardrobe is a reflection of her cultural heritage, often featuring vibrant colors, intricate patterns, Ankara fashion and traditional embellishments, Her sartorial choices have garnered attention, both locally and internationally, earning her the reputation of a fashion icon.
However, Aisha Buhari’s impact extends far beyond her fashion sense. She has actively used her platform to advocate social change, even if it meant challenging government policies. Her courage and determination to speak out on sensitive issues have won her respect and admiration from many Nigerians.
One notable instance of Aisha Buhari challenging government policies was her public criticism of the ruling party’s primary election process in 2018. In a series of tweets, she expressed her dissatisfaction, stating that the process was undemocratic and lacking transparency. Her outspokenness sparked debates and discussions within the political landscape, drawing attention to the need for fair and accountable electoral process.
Aisha has been vocal about matters such as gender equality, women’s rights and education, emphasising their importance in national development.
She has consistently emphasised the significance of education for women, believing it to be a fundamental right that can uplift communities and societies as a whole. Through her Future Assured Initiative, she has initiated projects aimed at improving access to education, healthcare, and economic opportunities for women and children in Nigeria.
Furthermore, Aisha Buhari’s advocacy for women’s rights extends to the fight against gender-based violence. She has condemned acts of abuse and violence against women, encouraging the government and relevant stakeholders to take decisive action.
By lending her voice to such critical issues, she has helped raise awareness and push for policy changes that protect the rights and well-being of women across the nation.
It is important to note that Aisha Buhari’s challenges to government policies do not stem from a place of opposition but rather from a desire to see positive change and progress in the outgoing Buhari administration. Her actions demonstrate her commitment to the well-being of Nigerians and her determination to contribute to the nation’s development.
While some may perceive her as a non-conformist within the political establishment, others view her as a voice of reason and an advocate for the marginalised. Her actions have served as an inspiration for individuals, particularly women, to use their voices and platforms for the betterment of society.
As she exits the office of Nigeria’s first lady on May 29, 2023 alongside her husband, whose 8-year tenure expires the same day, she remains a prominent figure in the history of Nigeria’s first ladies.
Meanwhile, the pretty and elegant wife of the president-elect, Senator Remi Tinubu, is known for making a fashion statement with her simple but gorgeous appearance. The incoming first lady is a female politician with a large heart, whose sterling qualities as astute administrator and philanthropist send jitters down the spine of her male counterparts.
Senator Tinubu represented Lagos Central senatorial district at the National Assembly from. Her legacies as first lady of Lagos State from 1999 to 2007 when her husband was governor have remained indelible. Mrs Tinubu shows simplicity and modesty in choosing her dresses and fashion accessories. Despite being moderate, she never fails to make the ‘wow’ statement and always be the centre of attraction.
Lagosians describe Remi’s fashion sense as a reflection of class and glamour, while attributing her simplicity to her spirituality.
A broadcast journalist with Lagos Television, Kemi Muyi-Adeniyi, told LEADERSHIP that Mrs Remi Tinubu is a very simple but elegant woman.
She said, “I have had the opportunity of discussing with her on my show. She is a simple woman who is very brilliant. To show how simple she is, I was preparing for a wedding celebration and didn’t know what to wear. I wanted something simple and the only style that came to my mind was how Mrs Remi used to dress. So I just thought of one of the dresses she once wore to my show. It was simple but lovely.
“Mrs Remi does not dress expensive or put on expensive jewellery. She is always looking simple and you would hardly see her wearing foreign clothes. She wears our locally made dresses. That is why I respect her so much.”
Also, a renowned journalist, Busola Kukoyi, said one thing people don’t know about Mrs Remi Tinubu is that she is very compassionate.
According to Kukoyi, Remi hates to see people suffer, in pain or in sorrow, adding that the incoming Nigeria’s first lady does not care who you are before going out of her way to help you.
She told LEADERSHIP: “I remember a particular incident. I was at her place on a Saturday morning. There was this group of young boys who were going to London for a football tournament. They were between the ages of eight and 12 years. Their coach did not have money to buy their flight tickets and then they came to Mrs Remi Tinubu to assist them. I remembered her saying that the children would be so disappointed if they don’t go to the tournament, just because of no money for flight tickets.
“Though she didn’t have enough money at home to buy tickets for all of them, she decided to call her own traveling agent to get tickets for all the children and ensure they don’t miss their flight.
“While I was still there, she looked at the children and noticed they may need to eat. So, she told one of her staff to go to a place close to Falomo Bridge in Lagos to buy food for all of them. While they were eating, her agent bought the tickets, and she then called her pilot to lead them to the airport and ensure that they didn’t miss their flight.”
Kukoyi said she was amazed at her swift effort to assist the children, noting that is who Remi is, but most people don’t know about her.
On her expectations from her as a first lady, Kukoyi said, “I know she is going to be a great first lady of Nigeria.”
Stella Obasanjo’s tenure as first lady during her husband’s presidency was not particularly noteworthy, likely due to her husband’s dominant presence, leaving little room for her to take center stage. However, she managed to make her presence felt with her shiny afro hairstyle that accentuated her petite face.
One distinguishing factor that set Stella apart from other first ladies in Nigeria’s history since the return of democracy was the lack of controversy surrounding her character. Although her alleged tummy-tuck procedure that resulted in her death tarnished her image, she wielded political power with elegance that earned her the admiration of many.
In contrast, Turai Yar’Adua’s time as first lady was more eventful, as she exerted significant state power despite her small stature. Even when her husband’s health condition became worse, she continued to carry out her duties as usual. Some accused her of leading a cabal that protected certain individuals from prosecution.
Patience Jonathan arguably remains the most controversial first lady, owing to her perceived lack of sophistication and bluntness.
The former first lady was a highly visible and controversial figure who kept Nigerians entertained for many years with her grammatical blunders. She was the crooner of the popular catchphrase, “There is God o,” a clause that has become a household joke on social media.
Mama Peace, as she is fondly called by her admirers, wielded significant influence in the former PDP-led federal government. Her influence traversed the length and breadth of Aso Rock to her home state, Rivers.
One of the landmarks of her tenure as the first lady was on July 12, 2012, when she was appointed as a permanent secretary in Bayelsa State by former Governor Seriake Dickson.
Although the role of the first lady has no constitutional power and has been more ceremonial than anything else, Nigeria has witnessed first ladies who had wielded some power within the presidency.