Home Opinion Aisha Buhari, Aminu Muhammed and social media trolling; By Kazeem Akintunde

Aisha Buhari, Aminu Muhammed and social media trolling; By Kazeem Akintunde

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On Friday last week, reason finally prevailed, and Nigeria’s First Lady, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, agreed to withdraw the defamation case she filed against Aminu Muhammed, a final year student of Federal University, Dutse, Jigawa State.

Aminu had, during the week, been remanded in Suleja Prison on the order of Yusuf Halilu, a judge of the Federal Capital Territory High Court sitting at Maitama, FCT, Abuja. His bail application was to be heard on January 30 next year. That would have put paid to Aminu’s ambition of graduating next year as his colleagues are expected to begin sitting for their first semester examinations today, December 5.

Aminu, 24, a student of  Environmental Management, incurred the wrath of the First Lady, when he posted a rotund picture of Aisha Buhari on Twitter with a caption in Hausa saying, ‘Mama is feeding fat on poor people’s money.’ The tweet was posted on June 8 and Aminu went about his daily activities, not knowing that he had stepped on the tail of a tigress. 

Security agents were dispatched to all corners of the country with the mandate to identify, trail, and arrest whoever was behind the tweet. They got lucky on November 18, when Aminu was arrested in his hostel in Dutse, Jigawa State, and whisked to Abuja. Aminu was allegedly presented before the First Lady in Aso Rock where he was allegedly beaten by security operatives. Not satisfied with the punishment meted out to the offender, the First Lady allegedly joined in beating Aminu but in the process, missed her step and landed heavily on the floor sustaining serious injury. She was rushed to a private Hospital in Abuja where she was treated. 

After nearly two weeks in detention, Aminu was arraigned in Court and remanded in prison. In the one-count charge marked: CR/89/2022, and dated November 23, the police say Aminu, ‘between May and June 2022 within the jurisdiction of the court, did intentionally open a Twitter handle with the name ‘Catalyst’ and screenshotted the photograph of her Excellency, Hajia Aisha Buhari and wrote on it in Hausa language some words which roughly translated in English language to mean ‘Mama has embezzled monies meant for the poor to satisfaction’ and posted same on his Twitter handle, knowing same to be false and capable of affecting her reputation.” The police said the alleged offence borders on defamation and cyber-stalking, and that it contravened Section 391 of the Penal Code.

But many Nigerians pleaded with the First Lady to tamper justice with mercy by releasing Aminu to enable him to return to school and join his colleagues in writing his examinations. The National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, led in pleading for mercy when Usman Barambu, NANS President, tendered an unreserved apology to the First Lady.

“We want to, on behalf of all the Nigerian students, tender our unreserved apology to the first lady, Aisha Buhari, for the action of Mohammed which might have caused her and her family pains. However, as leaders and public officeholders, we must overlook some criticisms if we want to really forge ahead and do the right thing. However, we are calling on our teeming students to be careful and apply decorum in dealing with people, especially our leaders. They should be mindful of what they post on social media. 

Indeed, many Nigerians hid within the four corners of their rooms to post uncomplimentary remarks about public office holders, believing that nothing will happen to them. Under the Cyber-stalking Act of 2015, a lot will happen to you if you defame any leader or public official on social media and one of those things that could happen to you is that you may end up in jail. 

Youths now derive joy in speaking anyhow to those in leadership positions, believing that nothing will happen to them.  One of such cases was that of a young man who took to Twitter to call Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, head of the Nigerian Diaspora Commission, NIDCOM, a ‘Mumu’ on the bird app. Rather than sit back and take the insult on the chin, Abike decided to respond and when she was through with the young man, he took a temporary break from social media. 

During the regime of former President Goodluck Jonathan, there was no name some Nigerians did not call him and his wife, former First Lady, Patience Jonathan, including ‘Shepopotamus’. It was not surprising when Jonathan said he was the most abused President in the history of Nigeria.

In Nigeria, Twitter has been identified as one social media platform where people believe they can spew rubbish and get away with it. If you are not strong willed, the kind of language deployed on Twitter is enough to drive many to the bend once you fall a target. Most Twitter users of young to middle-age descend on people like hyenas and many have been forced to deactivate their Twitter accounts. 

As expected, the heat from Twitter ‘savages’ has forced Aisha to deactivate her Twitter account for the time being, but it is hoped that she will return to the social media app once the heat cools off. While this is not her first time facing ‘fire’ on Twitter, our First Lady should by now have grown a thick skin and try not to respond to criticisms coming her way. She felt hurt by the tweet from Aminu and decided to teach him a lesson. There was a time last year when social media was agog with rumours that the First Lady could be heavy with a baby.  Though it is not unlikely for a woman in her 50s to get pregnant for her 79-year old husband, the rumour did not die until her office was forced to issue a statement denying the conception of any baby for the First Family. It was therefore not surprising when Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, described many Twitter users as ‘Children of Anger’.

The activities of Nigerians on social media have led to the call for some form of regulation so that it would not become a tool for abuse and other unwholesome activities. Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed has been at the forefront of the call, and has actually set up a number of committees to work out modalities for the regulations of social media in the country. However, many Nigerians are against it and have vehemently opposed the move. Perhaps it is time for both parties to sit at a round table and work out a compromise in tackling the abuse of social media in the country.

If the First Lady had insisted on prosecuting the case, however, she and the first family would come out worse for it. Aminu has alleged that the First Lady has become fat after eating masses money. He will have to prove before the court that indeed, Mrs. Buhari did actually dip her hands into Nigeria’s coffers and took money not meant for her. I doubt if the young man has any evidence to substantiate his spurious claim. Even if he has a very good lawyer, the First Lady, and the First family would have been embarrassed in court.  

Has the First Lady gained weight? Was the weight gain due to the fact that she fed fat on the money meant for the masses? Did Aminu think before making the tweet? Was he abreast of the law of defamation, or, as we say in Nigeria, was he just catching cruise? Could the First lady have allowed the insult to slide and forgive the young man? 

Even the blind can see that our First Lady has put on weight in the last couple of months. The Aisha Buhari with whom I had close interaction in Qatar in November 2018 during the World Innovation Summit For Health, WISH, is not the same Aisha Buhari I see now, but that does not mean that she gained weight due to her feeding fat on the wealth of the nation. Her rotund look may be due to several factors, particularly for a middle-aged woman. A medical Doctor once informed me that poor sleeping habits, a sedentary lifestyle as well as eating too many processed or sugary foods are some of the habits that may lead to weight gain. Again, the onset of menopause in women quite naturally predisposes them to add weight here and there. 

Be that as it may, Aminu’s lawyer may want to know the kind of job Mrs. Buhari has done in the last seven years and where the money for her feeding was coming from. Is it the dutiful President Muhammadu Buhari that has been feeding his wife and how much does he provide for the first lady as feeding allowance on a monthly basis? Is it the state that has been feeding the first family? How much has been budgeted for feeding in Aso Rock in the last seven years? Is the office of the First Lady recognized in the Constitution? Has any fund been allocated to that office in the last seven years? And so on and so forth.

These, and many other questions would be directed at Mrs. Buhari once she takes to the witness box and believe me, the outcome will not be palatable for the First Family. Agreed that she was hurt by what Aminu wrote, she should have shrugged it off as one of the prices she and her husband have to pay for leadership. In law, truth is a strong defence in a defamation case, and Aminu, with a smart lawyer, can potentially escape with a slap on the wrist. 

Aisha Buhari has eventually yielded to pressure from many Nigerians and Aminu has been released. It is hoped that a lesson or two would have been learned by many of our youths who now see trolling of our leaders on social media as a pastime. 

Justice Yusuf Halilu, while ruling on the matter, commended the First Lady for her motherly love and called on parents to always monitor the activities of their children to avoid a recurrence.

I pray that they listen.

See you next week.

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