Presidential Marriages, First Ladies, and Foreign Policy: PMB’s Infatuation or Love with Sadiya Farouk?


By Bola A. Akinterinwa

The notion of a presidential marriage can be very ambiguous The words, ‘president’ and ‘marriage’ are important concepts in international relations, and particularly in the sociology of international relations. When people come to power by coup or by coup d’état, the leader is not considered a president, but as a military Head of State. To be considered a president of a sovereign nation-state, one must have been duly elected. This means that, when General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida came to power and called himself a president, it was a misnomer, and that was why many scholars described his presidency in their various analyses as ‘military presidency.’

In other words, General Babangida was a military president, and not a president in its politico-diplomatic usage
Marriage, again, is no longer having the Biblical or Koranic meaning, according to which it is the union of a woman and a man. The association of man and man, or woman and woman has been officially recognised by many Member States of the international community and this recognition has also been factored into their foreign policy. We are certainly not talking about people in this category, but about normal marriages between males and females as ordained by God.

Perhaps more interestingly, when the issue of a male-male couple is raised, there is problem with the placement of ‘First Ladies.’ There is nothing like ‘First Man’ in international relations. By convention, the president of any country is necessarily the First Man. It is because the First Man has a spouse that there is a tenable rationale for a First Lady. Consequently, ‘presidential marriages’ in this column simply refers to marriages contracted when the groom that the president is, is in power. Conceptually, there is no presidential marriage per se, in the sense of protocolar mania of celebrating a marriage. Marriages are either celebrated religiously, legally, or traditionally. Besides it can be done secretly or openly celebrated with fanfare. However, in whichever way a marriage is celebrated, there are always implications for the society at large. Vie internationale takes much interest in the presidential marriages in Nigeria, with particular emphasis on PMB’s marriages and implications for foreign policy and institutional corruption.

It is argued here that the political governance of Nigeria under PMB breeds unnecessary controversies, dishonesty of purpose, and perhaps, more disturbingly, deliberate institutional corruption, all of which, though unwanted, militate against good governance, on the one hand, and economic growth and development, on the other. This is more so because PMB is generally and wrongly presented to the Nigerian public as an ordinary private person, rather than as a public figure whose private life is actually public. The Nigerian public has the right to know much about his private life.

PMB’s Marriages
Trending news has it that Nigeria’s elected President, Muhammadu Buhari, was to have a new wife, reportedly scheduled to hold on Friday, October 11, 2019 in Abuja. The news, fake or genuine, raises the type of issues in the political governance of Nigeria, especially in terms of seriousness of purpose. News can be faked in origin, but it always has its own originating dynamics.

Put differently, the marriage might have not eventually taken place on the very day scheduled for it. However, there is nothing to suggest that it might have not also been intended. This is why it is said that there is no smoke without fire. The point is that political governance in Nigeria is often shrouded in secrecy and dishonesty of purpose, all forgetting that PMB is not a private person. If PMB is getting married, will the marriage be private and individual, without national dimensions? Will such a marriage strictly not be funded by public funds in one way or the other? Will official facilities not be involved in the event of a presidential marriage?

Without doubt, if PMB has to have a new wife, the national dimensions of it should quickly be always borne in mind, especially at both the national and the international levels. The reason is simple: PMB is President of the country. Presidential marriages are taken seriously in international relations because of the aspects of protocol. The wife of any president of a country is considered the First Lady, that is, as the primus inter pares amongst the whole women. She is given the honour and considered as the mother of the nation.

If a president was married before his election, the whole nation does not have any reason to quarrel with whoever he presents as his wife to become the First Lady. But when a president is getting married while in power, and particularly in an environment that is not quite conducive to it, or does not call for it, there is the need to tread cautiously in such a situation.

In 1971, President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) got married to the then former Miss Safinatu Yusuf, at the age of 18, meaning that she was born in 1953. PMB divorced her in 1988, when she was of 36 years of age. Was PMB married happily or unhappily in the 18 years in question? Safinatu Yusuf was educated at the Women Teachers Training College in Katsina where she obtained the Grade II Teacher’s Certificate. She was literate in Arabic and also well grounded in Islamic education.

However, for reasons not generally known, PMB divorced her in 1988 to begin a new marital life with Aisha Halilu as from 1989. Safinatu Yusuf died seven years later, that is, in 2006 reportedly for reasons of diabetes and not deductively as a result of a break in her marriage. Another school of thought believes that the divorce might have been traceable to the financial assistance given to Safinatu Yusuf by General Ibrahim Babangida when General Buhari was under incarceration by General Babangida who toppled the government of Buhari.

When he married Aisha Halilu in 1989, PMB was 29 years old, in other words, about 28 years older than the wife. The declared age of PMB is December 17, 1942. Former Miss Aisha Halilu was born on February 17, 1971 in Adamawa State, North East of Nigeria, similarly at the age of 18. She earned a first degree in Public Administration from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and a Master’s degree in International Affairs and Strategic Studies from the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna. She topped it with a diploma in Beauty Therapy and a post-graduate diploma in Cosmetology and Beauty from the Academy Aesthetic Beauty Institute of France.

From the experience of the first and second wife, it appears that PMB likes 18-year old girls, that is, catch them young policy. But what is the age of the controversial or would-be bride, Sadiya Umar Farouq, Honourable Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development? She was born on November 5, 1974, meaning that as at October 11, 2019, she would have been married to PMB at the age of 45 years, also meaning that PMB is 32 years older than her. She was educated at the Federal Government College, Gusau, Zamfara State and in Ahmadu Bello University. Zaria, Kaduna State, graduating with a First Degree in Business Administration (Actuarial Science) in 1998.
Like Aisha Buhari, Sadiya Umar Farouq also obtained a Master’s degree in International Affairs and Diplomacy in 2008 and an MBA in 2011 from the Ahmadu Bello University. In essence, PMB appears to be interested in wives with international relations background. But how do we explain presidential marriages in international relations? What does PMB’s new marriage imply in terms of foreign policy?

Presidential Marriages in International Life
Grosso modo, presidential marriages hardly occur during the tenure of a sitting president, unless it is as a result of force majeure. First, by virtue of the conditions required for qualification to contest for the presidency of a country, a candidate is supposed to have reached the age of maturity and have certain experiences, meaning that the candidate would have been normally married before contesting. And true enough, presidential candidates are mostly married before seeking election into the presidency. Secondly, the rarity of presidential marriages can also be explained by the fact that spouses do not often die in office. It is only when such occasions arise, and they are quite rare, that there can be a basis for marriage.

And thirdly, where a president or Head of Government is not married before getting to power, the presidential responsibilities, especially in terms of reception and food diplomacy, require the leader to quickly get married. We all witnessed the marriage of General Yakubu Gowon to Victoria at the height of prosecution of Nigeria’s civil war. There was need for a First Lady to keep the home end of Gowon’s public outings. We can illustrate this point briefly with the case of the United States.

In the whole presidential history of the United States, there were only three cases of presidential marriages. Cases of presidential marriage divorce are quite rare in international relations. They only occur as a result of desideratum. On June 26, 1844. President John Tyler, the tenth President of the United States, got married to Julia Gardiner in New York City, following the death of his wife, Letitia, twenty-one months earlier. In other words, he got married in less than two years. State responsibilities necessarily so required. Julia Gardiner was the First Lady of the United States from June 26, 1844 to March 4, 1845, in other words, for less than a year.

On June 2nd, 1886, Bachelor Grover Cleveland married Frances Clara Folsom, the daughter of a former law partner, in a White House ceremony. He is on record to be the only US president to have done so in the White House. The wife, Clara Folsom, lived from July 21, 1864 to October 29, 1947.She was not only the US First Lady from 1886 to 1889 but also the First Lady from 1893 to 1897 as wife of President Grover Cleveland. She became the First Lady at the age of 21, and by so doing, was the youngest wife of a sitting US president. Perhaps more noteworthy about the marriage are two factors. First, when the father of Frances died in a carriage accident on July 23, 1875, ‘without having written a will, the court appointed Cleveland administrator of the estate. This brought Cleveland into still more contact with Frances, then aged 11.’

Secondly, and most significantly, ‘while she was in college, Cleveland’s feelings for her took a romantic turn. He proposed by letter in August 1885, soon after her graduation, but they didn’t announce their engagement until five days before their wedding. It is this notice of only five days that is quite significant, as it was meant to get many people cut unawares.
In the same vein as John Tyler, President Woodrow Wilson wedded Edith Bolling Galt at the bride’s place in Washington on November 16, 1915, after the demise of his wife, Edith, sixteen months earlier. This is the story of presidential marriages in the United States since 1776 as told by the White House Historical Association.

It is useful to note the role of Edith Wilson here. Edith Wilson, who lived from October 15, 1872 to December 28, 1961, as second wife, was the First Lady of the United States from 1915 to 1921. She was formerly married to Norman Galt who died in 1908. More important, when her husband suffered a stroke in October 1919, she became the de facto ‘steward’ and largely determined ‘which communications and matters of state were important enough to bring to the attention of the bed-ridden president.’

Apart from the foregoing, there has not been cases of divorce while still in office. There have also not been cases of marriages, except as a result of necessity driven by death and need to ensure continuity of governmental services in the White House. What can we say about presidential marriages in the context of a country like Nigeria? Why are such marriages kept secret when, indeed, they are celebrated using directly and indirectly government facilities? Is the factor of secrecy not a dynamic of corruption and insincerity of purpose on the part of the President of Nigeria?

In an attempt to respond to these questions, the notion of a First Lady in Nigeria does not mean much. It does not have much respect. This observation is first explained by the fact that the Office of the First Lady is not constitutionally provided for. Secondly, the so-called cabal in the Presidency appears to be the first instrument of bastardisation of the Office of the First Lady, especially in terms of media reports showing the dynamics of the rumoured new marriage between PMB and Sadiya Farouk, his Humanitarian Affairs Minister.

Foreign Policy and Institutional Corruption
In international diplomatic practice, the tradition is to have one First Lady. A president can have more than one wife but only one of them can be presented to become the First Lady. In the context of Nigeria, if it is true that PMB has opted to wed his humanitarian affairs minister, many issues are necessarily raised.

First, will the first wife, Aisha, remain the First Lady? Will she be replaced? Secondly, the president does not pay house rent and does not pay for food. He and his survival is catered to by the nation. In this regard, a second wife cannot but be another burden on the nation. Already, with the first wife, the nation has invested much in her. It will be another ‘begin again,’ in the event the first wife is pushed aside. Thirdly, pushing aside the first wife has the potential to make political governance more difficult in the foreseeable future.

It is on record that Aisha Buhari had once complained to Nigerians that her husband was actually not directly in charge of the governance and that a cabal was in charge. She made this point in an attempt to defend her husband in the face of mounting criticisms against him. It has also been said that the same cabal prefers the intended new wife, who, allegedly, is good in massaging the Nigerian leader. In this regard, the misunderstanding between the cabal and Aisha Buhari cannot but remain until the end of tenure of PMB in 2023.
Fourthly, in the event that Aisha Buhari is no more the First Lady, her official and diplomatic stature might be lost and the international implications may be difficult to control. On the basis of the alleged release by President Donald Trump of the list of Nigerians having ill-gotten funds in the United States, the name of Aisha Buhari is on the list. In fact, The has not only been drawing public attention to the alleged laundering of billions of naira by Professor Charles Quaker Dokubo, the Presidential Adviser on amnesty matters, but also to the very close collaborators of PMB who allegedly got paid for contracts not executed. The torch light can only focus more on Aisha Buhari, and her dispute with the close collaborators of her husband. Then, the whole misunderstanding can only become heightened.

Fifthly, the international community is monitoring developments in Nigeria on daily basis. What will happen to the pet project of the incumbent First Lady, ‘The Future Assured Project’? It is on record that she empowered 1000 youths in Bauchi State in 2017 and 2000 Adamawa youths on June 12, 2019. It is also on record that the Chinese government supported her pet project with N60 million in June 2017. She has pet projects in Cross Rivers and in Akwa Ibom states. The aim of the project is to enhance the quality of life of children and women. What will happen to the pet projects? Will they be stopped, replaced?

Sixthly, if Madam Sadiya Umar Farouk, the Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development Minister becomes the First Lady, will she resign her position to be able to manage the domestic end of the country’s diplomacy? The presidency has denied that there is nothing like another marriage for the president. But it is a truism that the Minister has been a ‘long time friend’ of PMB reportedly massaging him well. What is the meaning of a ‘friend’ in this case? It is reported that Aisha has been away to Saudi Arabia on hajj and to Europe since August 2019. Who has been looking after the Nigerian president?

Seventhly, if truth be told, Nigeria is a terra cognita for the wickedness of man who God Himself complained about when He regretted having created man. When PMB was half dead and half alive, it was Aisha that was there. Now that PMB has become a man again, Aisha is not there. It is most unfortunate. Nigerian women generally stay closely by their husbands at the time of struggling for survival. When the husband is good, hailed and hearty, he easily forgets the first wife and begins to look for another woman. This is an act of wickedness that God ought not to pardon. One of the very few people speaking to the truth in Nigeria in terms of political governance is Aisha Buhari.

Her revelations about the cabal can be annoying, but that is precisely what makes her honest, good and a befitting wife and First Lady that Nigeria must continue to have. Sadiya Umar Farouk should remain the best First Lady that Nigeria will never have. If, as reported, the cabal loves her, any member of the cabal can marry her, rather than recommending her to PMB. Indeed, PMB should focus more attention on national security than on issues of marriage. For how long will the marriage of PMB and Sadiya Farouk be when PMB is not less than 77 years and when Sadiya Farouk herself is also not less than 45 years. The prospects of child bearing is already becoming remote. Any intention of marriage can only complicate the existing institutional corruption which is begging for solution that is still far-fetched.