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Political Disagreement Shakes Nigeria's First Family

At a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari answered criticisms from his wife.
AFP/Getty Images
At a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari answered criticisms from his wife.

Aisha Buhari, Nigeria's first lady, says she may not back her husband, President Muhammadu Buhari, in the next election. That piece of news has caused the head of Africa's most-populous country and largest economy embarrassment while on a diplomatic mission.

In an interview with the BBC, Mrs. Buhari warned that she may not vote for her husband because he's lost control of his government and "does not know 45 out of 50 of the people he appointed."

In response, Mr. Buhari who's on a trip to Germany told reporters, while standing next to Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday, "I don't know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room."

Muhammad Buhari won a 2015 election in part because of the promise that he would deal with Nigeria's corruption. Buhari was a military dictator of the country during the 1980's. The BBC reports Mrs. Buhari is not a stranger to politics.

"However, she kept a low profile at the start of the administration and was barely seen or heard. She was restricted to her work on the empowerment of women and helping victims of the [Boko Haram conflict] in the north-east of the country where she is from. This is one of the reasons why this damning interview has caught the attention of many Nigerians.

"It is a significant blow for Mr Buhari, who has a reputation for being a tough, no-nonsense president.

"Her comments also bolster accusations that his government has been hijacked by a small group of individuals."

In Europe, and the U.S., the conflict between President Buhari and his wife has been reported with a comedic edge. However, Buhari faces dire problems in Nigeria including the Boko Haram conflict in the northern part of the country, which is at risk of famine.

Also, tensions over the country's oil have increased. A crude oil pipeline belonging to Nigeria's state oil was attacked this week, Reuters reports.

"It was sabotage by vandals," military spokesman Thomas Otuji said, when asked about a claim by a militant group called Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate of an attack of the NNPC pipeline near Iwhremaro on Thursday night.

"The group, which has claimed previous attacks, said in a statement it had carried out the attack at about 9pm on Thursday ...

"Now you shall know what uprooting of your cherished assets means," it said to the government and major oil companies that work in joint ventures with NNPC. "More to come in the coming days."

Recent attacks have reduced output by 700,000 barrels per day, around a third of its production, according to the wire service.

Buhari faces insurgents in the north and south of the country, and on top of it all comes the strife in his own household.

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Sonari Glinton is a NPR Business Desk Correspondent based at our NPR West bureau. He covers the auto industry, consumer goods, and consumer behavior, as well as marketing and advertising for NPR and Planet Money.
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