In Nigeria, Rumour Triggers Official Confirmation Or Denial, by Morakinyo Babajide-Alabi
Blog, Newspaper Column

In Nigeria, Rumour Triggers Official Confirmation Or Denial

by Morakinyo Babajide-Alabi

I had until now restrained myself from contributing to the never ending debate on the state of health of the Nigerian President, Muhammad Buhari. Not for any disrespect for him or his office or the fact that I am unconcerned about his health, but because of the anger and disappointment I feel towards the subject. I am totally repulsed by the way and manner this subject has been discussed and managed in various quarters.

What should have been a straight forward issue, has been turned into a critical mess, by principally the handlers of Mr President, followed by government officials, All Progressives Congress (APC) officials and supporters, the opposition and many rumour mongering Nigerians. They have all managed to confuse innocent Nigerians and in the process they do not know who to believe or disbelieve.

When Mr President wrote to the Senate informing members he was proceeding on a ten-day “working holiday”, there were a few eyebrows raised on his choice of location – the United Kingdom. Many Nigerians openly questioned this choice and wondered why Buhari could not proceed to Daura to have the desired rest and oversee the good health of his cows. But many also afforded him the opportunity of doubt that he probably had overworked himself thinking about all the problems of Nigeria and Nigerians that he wanted some days away from the country and the citizens.

The president had been an hard working man since he took over the reins of power in May 2015. His fight of corruption has been legendary with “victories” that have failed to improve the lots of the citizens. He has kept many sleepless nights to ensure the “bad dudes” that crippled our economy are brought to justice, but he has not hid the fact that he would be selective and play the favouritism card in the fight. He has worked assiduously hard to assure Nigerians that corruption is the bane of the country, but he would fight it the way he chooses with a few sacred cows.

Nigerians were understanding of the fact that Mr President surely deserve a “working holiday” to sort himself out and also unwind for some time. They took solace in the Yoruba adage that says “omo ti o nsise dede, oye ki o ni asiko igbadun, igba ti o ma jaiye” (translation – the child that works regularly, surely should have a time to relax and enjoy his life). Agreed!

The statement from Aso Rock announced that the Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbajo will be “in charge” of the country for the 10-day period. No worries, Osinbajo, as a man of God will not have strange ideas on taking over the government in the absence of the principal. But it did not take long before rumour emerged that some northern elements were holding Osinbajo by his balls and demanding he should sign a “hand over” document. Yes, rumour!

Nigerians “carry” rumour. And this is derived from the fact that we love stories. Which is a derivative of the paucity of information that our government officials feed us as citizens. All we need is one hearsay and we are ready to pass it on, until it becomes viral.

It was not long after the Osinbajo “hand over” issue, that rumour surfaced. This time it was about the reason why Mr President had chosen London as his “working holiday” office. Nigerians believed he had gone for major medical treatment. To be frank, there is nothing wrong in the president going abroad for medical examination or treatment. He is not the first president, federal or state official to do this. An average Nigerian looks unto the developed countries for medical help, even for small ailments such as headaches and colds. This is the lack of confidence in the poor state of the country’s health system. Nigerians understand that the President would not want to put his life at risk by checking into the Aso Rock Clinic not minding the huge yearly budgetary allocation to it.

What was strange was the immediate response of the publicity handlers of Mr President denying this obvious fact that he had gone to the UK for major health reasons. The rumour mills intensified. There was misinformation and denials until another clarification came in a form of justification, that actually, the President has been travelling abroad for his “health issues” well before becoming the country’s leader. How about that for a fact? “Alternative fact”.

Among the many annoying things about Nigerian government officials is their denial of the truth and in the process trying to protect basic information that would have eased the minds of the citizens. They go about in circles and at the end they look like fools. On this occasion, I sympathise with the officials as I guessed they were only trying to protect the integrity of Mr President for abandoning one of his campaign promises of ensuring all Nigerian hospitals are well equipped to handle any treatment. Who cares? He abandoned almost all his campaign promises in the first year of his regime.

The president has an history of medical visits to the UK, before and after he was sworn in May 2015. We can still recollect how much uncertainty his absence in Nigeria a few weeks before he was sworn in as the President caused. At that time the Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose insited Buhari had gone abroad for medical treatment for one ailment or the other. The secrecy surrounding the visit, at that time, gave room for all sorts of rumour.

This time was not different. Some ingenuous Nigerians realised (I guess) the only way these over protective officials could give further information on the president’s health was to “pronounce him dead”. No matter how repulsive this method may be, we should understand the plight of the citizens. They were concerned about the state of health of their president, whom they knew and could see from his physical state before he left Nigeria that he was not enjoying the best of health.

The rumour of death was very unfortunate and has left a sad commentary on the state of minds of Nigerians on their president. It is indeed sad that a man that was being celebrated all over the country a few years ago as the messiah to deliver Nigeria from collapse, has now become a subject of hateful rumour of death. It may be easy for APC supporters to say the death rumour was engineered by the opposition party of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Yes. But these supporters should also take time to reflect on the reaction of ordinary Nigerians to the rumour.

If they are honest with themselves, they will know a large number of Nigerians (irrespective of ethnicity) care less for Buhari unlike how they did some months or years ago. They believe his government, rather than improve their already battered conditions, has further impoverished them. They have not hid the fact that they would love to go back to pre-Buhari era and live averagely as they were used to.

All these, coupled with poor handling of information by Buhari’s men allowed the death rumour to gain ground as much as it did. It did not take long after this that pictures of Mr President “watching” Nigerian news on television in London surfaced in the media. Not to be outdone, the “messiah” of Ogun State, Ibikunle Amosun left his flood-prone state and fled to London for a photo opportunity. All of a sudden, pictures of Buhari are over the places, even with his wife and daughter. All to confirm he is still alive.

Most times I wonder why Nigerian officials are so gullible they let simple matters get out of hands before they react. A friend of mine explained, and I believe him, that these officials allow these to happen so they can make money pretending to clear the resultant mess created.

In respectable climes, the publicity handlers of Buhari would have sorted out the misinformation and thr rumour going round in more professional way. But in Nigeria, the less the information, the more the confusion, the more money to clear the mess they have deliberately created.

I wonder when all these cycles of corruption will end. The era of rumour is here upon us.

Mr President, get well soon. Oops! Come back very soon from your “working holiday”.

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I am an experienced Social Media practitioner with a strong passion for connecting with customers of brands. As part of a team, I presently work on the social media account of a leading European auto company. On this job, I have brought my vast experiences in journalism, marketing, search engine optimisation and branding to play.

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