By Azu Ishiekwene
It should have been a wrap, recession or not. I was nearing the end of a ThisDay print copy on Monday when the advert struck me.
It was an announcement that the wife of the Honourable Speaker of the House of Representatives, Gimbiya Yakubu Dogara, would be having a two-day retreat with the wives of all honourable members at the Sheraton, Abuja.
Such an important news item ought to be on the front page by merit. And if the newspaper did not understand the importance of the event, the promoters ought to have paid for a wrap-around in all the national and regional newspapers.
It’s a small step for gender sensitivity but a huge leap forward for womanity; it should not go unnoticed.
One might not see the benefits until you consider the theme of the retreat: “Role of spouses of members of parliament in a representative democracy.”
If you overlook the fact that the theme is about “spouses” and the invitation is addressed to “wives”, then you must not ignore the many non-semantic gains that should be expected from a retreat of this nature.
Since President Muhammadu Buhari said wifely boundaries were limited to the sitting room, the kitchen and the other room, there has not been any organised challenge, especially by women, to that executive stance.
A forum like the House of Representatives Members’ Wives Association (HORMWA) should be able to take advantage of their husbands’ collective experience in the House to mount a legislative challenge to Buhari’s controversial delineation of a woman’s role.
And we must thank the National Institute for Legislative Studies for the groundbreaking collaboration that finally produced this seminal retreat.
First Lady, Aisha Buhari, was supposed to give the keynote but she was unavoidably absent. She may appear to be the wrong woman for the job, but considering her radical credentials, the Reps’ wives could not have made a better choice.
From the First Lady, the world could learn a thing or two not only about how women can manage the three rooms in their lives, but also what they must do to keep over-reaching nephews and personal staff at bay, especially if they hope to get reelected.
The retreat covered a range of topics from politics and government to communications and PR, management toolkit, constituency relations, negotiations and leadership.
But the real deal is what the retreat did not cover. Before the event got under way, there were whispers by mischief makers around the venue that the retreat was a dress rehearsal for Speaker Dogara’s governorship ambition in Bauchi in 2019.
There’s no love lost between Dogara and Governor Mohammed Abdullahi Abubakar, who is in his first term. It’s been speculated that if it becomes difficult for Dogara to get the APC ticket – since the sitting governor may run for a second term – he could find another platform.
With the wives of 12 House members from Bauchi expected at the retreat, the battle for the Government House in 2019 has moved to the home front, the decisive turf.
On the sidelines of the retreat, another controversial subject was representation. How did honourable members who have more than one wife ensure fair representation? Did the honourable members decide for their wives or was attendance decided amongst the wives by a democratic process?
And given the importance of this retreat, why didn’t the Honourable Speaker grant a waiver for all wives – and even concubines – to attend, regardless of number?
I’m also concerned that in spite of its noble objective, the retreat might be haunted by cries of marginalisation. It’s true that the wives will be in majority – 364 wives were expected – but what about the 14 other female Reps whose husbands were excluded even by the framing of the group’s name?
If my wife were a Rep, my first point of order would be a motion to find a more inclusive name for the group, like Association of Wives, Husbands and Concubines of Members of the House of Representatives.
The word, “spouses” will not do for me. The group must spell it out.
Remember the story of the Reps who former US ambassador James Entwistle accused of chasing prostitutes during a tour to the US? I think it would not be a bad idea if the Reps wives included in their communiqué their unshaken and unshakeable confidence in their husbands, while also seizing the opportunity to warn other women who may be going about like roaring lionesses to steer clear!
The Reps wives should be wary of journalists. The fact that they tucked the announcement of the event far inside the newspaper will not prevent the press from asking some annoying questions, even after the event.
Some journalists, who are obviously green with envy, snapped the advert and posted it on social media, with mocking comments. Some wondered why the advert carried the seal of the House, while others asked who would pick the bill.
I’m happy to inform the mischief makers that participants at the retreat swore that it was organised through personal contributions, the only contribution of the Speaker and the House being the donation of the official seal used for the advert and the programme of events. No forensic audit will find any other trail to the contrary.
It is the height of ingratitude, jealousy or both, that some journalists failed to see that the Reps’ wives were motivated by nothing other than a patriotic concern to contribute their own quota to national development.
If you ask me, I think it was a mark of their personal sacrifice that they condescended to meet at Sheraton for only two days – when they could have met at Transcorp Hilton, Abuja, for a week or even the Nigerian House in London for only three or four days.
On a final note, I was a bit disappointed that the event ended without a phone call from President Buhari. Considering that this was perhaps the single largest gathering of women under one roof since Buhari travelled on medical leave on January 19, it would have been a great opportunity for him to say a word to them and reassure them that he is hale and hearty.
Even if he didn’t talk to them about the virtues of “the other room”, he would at least have encouraged them to try and keep their husbands honest as they process the 2017 budget.
Or maybe the best person for that message would have been Hajiya Labaran Mohammed Jibrin, the wife of the former chair of the House Committee on Appropriation.
Sadly, she was conspicuously absent and did not even send a representation, a snub which insiders say could earn her husband, Abdulmumin, final removal from the House.
*Ishiekwene is the MD/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview magazine and board member of the Global Editors Network