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Sefi Attah with Aisha Buhari.

Dear Aisha Buhari,
Last Christmas in Lekki, Lagos, where I live, I saw a street beggar and I thought about you.
She sat on a pavement near a busy junction. She was barefoot and wore a hijab. She breastfed her baby as pedestrians walked by. I was in my air-conditioned car with a hired driver and we were on our way to a shopping mall.

These days, whenever I see beggars at the road junctions they frequent, I have taken to looking down or putting my hand up to shield my eyes. Sometimes I murmur to myself, “Oh no,” over and over until they’re out of sight, then I let out a sigh.

I am no stranger to the moments of guilt that plague privileged Nigerians, and I’m sure you recognise that despite your recent health challenges and domestic troubles at Aso Villa, you are one of the more fortunate, and visible, women in our country. From my brief observation of the woman who caught my attention, you and she had nothing in common, except being a Northern Muslim and a mother.

I have followed news reports on you over the years, some of which have taken me by surprise. For instance, your October 2016 interview with BBC News Hausa in which you accused a certain cabal of hijacking the president’s administration and said you would not campaign for him if he sought a second term in office. I wasn’t overly surprised, however, when he, in response, said your place was in his kitchen and “the other room”. Nor was I amused by the general ribaldry and jocularity that followed, in the Nigerian press and on social media, over his choice of words.

Throughout this event, I never questioned your loyalty to your husband, but I had no idea what your motivation was in making those statements. I couldn’t decide whether you were speaking out of concern for Nigerians, or out of personal frustration with him.

In October last year, when the video of you giving your in-laws an ultimatum in Aso Villa went viral, it didn’t faze me one bit. The standards of conduct for first ladies are especially high, and I know wives who have thrown worse tantrums having had enough of their husband’s meddlesome relatives.

In December, however, after the president left Nigeria to attend a peace summit in Egypt, and you gave an interview to TVC News in which you said you no longer had pillow talk with him over how he ran the country and went as far as to name members of the cabal, I must confess that I was again in doubt as to why you shared all that information. I came to the conclusion that perhaps you just had to have your say and didn’t care about the consequences – the public speculation and castigation from all sides.

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