The Director of Information to the First Lady, Mr Suleiman Haruna, debunked the speculations and said the President’s wife had the freedom to travel to wherever she wanted, as a free citizen.
Aisha has not been in the country for nearly two months since the completion of the Hajj. She reportedly jetted out of Saudi Arabia, where she went in company with her husband, to London at the completion of the religious pilgrimage in August
She has not returned to the country since then, fuelling concerns that she deliberately left the Aso Villa in protest against certain issues at the seat of power.
The First Lady’s prolonged absence at Aso Villa became pronounced as she did not attend public functions that she ordinarily would have attended.
She was said to have been absent during the mid-August Eid-el-Kabir celebration in Daura, Katsina State, even though his husband was around to welcome world leaders such as the President of Guinea, Alpha Conde.
It was reported that the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Administration, Dr Hajo Sani, had been representing Aisha on a number of occasions recently, including an event of the Organisation of African First Ladies for Development, which held on September 25, 2019, on the sidelines of the 74th United Nations General Assembly in New York, United States.
The event was said to have been attended by the first ladies of Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Niger Republic.
Although Mrs Buhari’s office confirmed to Sunday PUNCH that she was indeed away from the country, it said it had nothing to do with issues she had with anyone at the seat of power in Abuja.
The office said as a free Nigerian who was not a government official, Mrs Buhari could travel for private engagements both within and outside the country, adding that the reasons for such trips must not be tied to “needless speculation or rumours.”
Speaking to Sunday PUNCH after the case of Aisha’s absence from the country was raised, her spokesperson, Haruna, insisted the President’s wife had the freedom to be wherever she wanted to be.
He said, “It’s a free world and people have been speculating about everything in this country and it is allowed.
“She is a free Nigerian and does not work for the government. So, if she decides to stay somewhere in her village for two months or to go somewhere and stay for two months, why should it become a national issue?
“She is a free Nigerian and has absolute freedom to move round for however long she wants.”
Asked to comment on the speculation that Aisha was no longer comfortable with how the affairs of government were run and her alleged frequent brushes with some top administration officials, including the Chief of Staff to the President, Mr Abba Kyari, the director dismissed them as rumours.
“I am in shock when I hear all these things. I don’t believe in all these rumours about the President’s wife because they are not true.
“That is why, most times, the office does not bother to react to these speculations,” Haruna added.
Aisha had publicly raised issues with her husband’s administration, including the one where she stated that persons who did not contribute to her husband’s election victory were calling the shots at the Presidency.
She had also canvassed more roles for women in government, specifically asking the leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress to ensure that more women and card-carrying members of the party were given prominent positions in the government after Buhari won a re-election in February.
In March 2019, she hosted a programme in Buhari’s Daura hometown to thank women for supporting her husband. She promised them that the President would recognise them more this time round and also make Nigeria a better place.
The President’s wife had also criticised some of the administration’s policies, including the N500bn Social Investment Programme, which she said had failed “woefully” in the North in particular.
Aisha, who hails from Adamawa State, had noted in May this year that the situation in her home state, as far as the implementation was concerned, was pathetic.
She also cited Kano, a highly-populated northern state, as another example where she believed the programme failed, despite the huge funds the Federal Government budgeted for it.
Speaking during an interactive programme she organised for women at the Presidential Villa, she disclosed that after four years of implementing the programme, the 30,000 women who were supposed to benefit from it in Adamawa State had yet to do so.
However, in a reaction to Aisha’s comments, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Social Investment, Mrs Maryam Uwais, said the programme did not work the way the President’s wife understood it.