Nigerian President-elect Muhammadu Buhari will be sworn in May 29, which means there will be a new first lady of Nigeria at the presidential villa, Aso Rock in Abuja. Although there is no official role for the spouse of Nigeria’s elected ruler, the wife of outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan has notoriously played a very public part in Nigerian politics.
The incoming first lady, Aisha Buhari, stayed out of the public eye for much of the election campaign. But she will be able to exercise a different style of influence from Patience Jonathan, the current first lady of Nigeria. Here are eight things to know about the new first lady and the wife of Nigeria’s president-elect:
1. Aisha, now 44, married her husband in 1989 after Buhari, now 72, divorced his first wife. The couple have five children together, Agence France-Presse said.
2. She was born Hajiya Aisha Halilu into the family of Nigeria’s first defense minister, Mohammadu Ribadu, in Adamawa state. Aisha was raised by Fulani traditions and customs, Naijnews site said. The Fulani people are an Islamic African ethnic group spread across West Africa, primarily northern Nigeria.
3. Aisha is an educated woman who speaks fluent English and Arabic. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Ahmadu Bello University, the largest university in Nigeria and the second-largest in Africa. She later received diplomas and training in cosmetology and beauty from institutions in Paris and London. Aisha is currently a graduate student of international affairs and strategic planning, Vanguard news in Lagos said.
4. Aisha called for Jonathan’s resignation from office last year, following a suicide bombing and an alleged assassination attempt on her husband in July 2014. Buhari’s wife urged Jonathan to follow former South Korean Prime Minister Jung Hong-won, who resigned following the April 2014 Sewol ferry disaster, after her husband survived a dual bombing in Kaduna state that left dozens dead, Naij news site reported.
“As he saw grieving families suffering with the pain of losing their loved ones and the sadness and resentment of the public, he took responsibility as prime minister; he apologized to his country and resigned because of service to humanity,” Aisha said in a statement last summer. “Jonathan should emulate such a leader, because Nigerians have been dying daily, for the four years, hoping that government is going to do something, but we are tired of this insecurity and increased attacks on innocent people. Where is Jonathan? What is he doing? If action is not taken now, when? It is not enough to verbally condemn. Action is long overdue.”
5. Aisha said she and her husband will respect Nigeria’s rule of law when Buhari takes office at the end of May. That includes whether or not the office of the first lady is constitutionally recognized. But Aisha said she will still perform traditional duties as the president’s wife and hopes to support the development of Nigeria’s women and youth.
“The wife of the president has some traditional roles, like receiving guests, visiting orphanages, helping the less privileged people. Also, leading the fight for the right of women and malnourished children, infant mortality rate, kidnapping and girl child trafficking,” Aisha told Vanguard.
6. Aisha has been described by Nigerian journalists and acquaintances as calm, patient, beautiful, soft-spoken and unassuming. “I met Aisha Buhari three times, and she seems to be a very humble person, very friendly and a good listener,” lawyer Ebere Ifendu, head of the Women in Politics Forum group in Abuja, told AFP.
7. She has been compared in stark contrast with Nigeria’s current first lady, who is no stranger to scandal in the media and has been called power-hungry. Patience Jonathan fueled controversy during the presidential campaign by urging supporters of Jonathan’s ruling People’s Democratic Party to “stone” anyone shouting “change,” the campaign slogan of Buhari’s All Progressives Congress opposition party, AFP said.
“Patience has been like a bull in a china shop. No control whatsoever,” Yemisi Ransome-Kuti, head of the Nigeria Network of NGOs, told AFP earlier this month. “We are very hopeful that we will have a very different first lady, who will bring calm and harmony at the presidency.”
8. Aisha said Nigerians have nothing to fear from her husband, a northern Muslim who is a former military dictator. “I know him personally. Not as a leader of Nigeria. I know him as my husband, and I think Nigeria should feel comfortable with him. He will get there,” she told AFP earlier this month.