Day by day, it becomes more and more obvious that whoever aspires to leadership in Nigeria, must take a course on how to identify the imprimatur of fake news, its diverse manifestations, its perils, and how to deal with the monster. Part of the package would also be for the aspiring leader to constantly have his antennae up, and sharpen his sense of discernment as often as possible. Otherwise, he, at the pinnacle of power, will spend more time pondering and responding to half-truths, outright lies and implantations of fifth columnists than he spends on governance. And the people would be the greatest loser.
Nothing better lends credence to this than what unfurled for most of the week that just expired. For most part of the week, the social media was awash with the ludicrous tales of President Muhammadu Buhari becoming husband again. The reports, even spread by credible platforms and people, had it that the President would tie the nuptial knot with Hajia Sadiya Umar Farouq, his Minister for Humanitarian Affairs.
To make the ‘news’ real, the purveyors flooded virtually all the social platforms with soft copies of the wedding invitations. There were two types – one with Nigeria’s coat of arms, and the other like the type quacks manufacture in Shomolu, the headquarters of printing business in Lagos. I even got one on my whatsapp handle inviting a mere mortal like me to the President’s wedding banquet scheduled for the International Conference Centre, Abuja, after the Fathia at the National Mosque, also in the federal capital. The ‘wedding’ was slated for 2p.m., after Friday’s Jumat prayers.
The carriers of the ‘news’ also released all sorts of videos and photos to boot. None of the materials had any direct bearing to the so-called wedding. To support their claim, some numskulls even shared photos that the minister had posted on her twitter handle, on September 15, 2009, where friends were celebrating her appointment as Minister.
The ‘bride-to-be’ captioned the photo boldly: “Yesterday, I attended a walimah organised by my family and friends to congratulate me on my appointment as honourable Minister by President Muhammadu Buhari.” As unambiguous as the caption was, the purveyors used the material to support their tale regardless of its apparent non-relevance to the issue at hand.
There was another faceless video showing a scene that could have been cut in any feuding household, in which an apparently agitated lady was ranting and ranting, both in Hausa and English, about some irritants. Nobody knew what was eating her. She was just ranting and ranting. And guess what? The purveyors created the impression that the faceless woman was the wife of the President, Mrs Aisha Buhari. Yet, the video neither showed the face that owned the voice nor the full ambience of the room where the episode was taking place. All we saw was a ‘headless’ female pacing up and down shouting as she talked.
There were several other posts and ‘publications’. From the authors’ level of engagement (misrepresentation, skewed presentation, illogical sequence, et al), it wasn’t so difficult for me to infer emphatically that: ‘this is fake news’. But my misgivings couldn’t and would not have stopped people from debating it. And boy, was the debate rigorous! The debate was so hot, its heat threatened to melt, and crash my phone. And despite the apparent flaws in the ‘news’, people, even my colleagues, fellow journalists, believed it was true.
Flaw number one, and perhaps the biggest is: while all the hullabaloo was going on, the two subjects in the controversial ‘wedding fathia’ were worlds apart. They were 8,623 kilometres from each other. While President Buhari was at his desk at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, the ‘bride-to-be’ was in New York, on official assignment. She was in the Big Apple, promoting a United Nations campaign against poverty as the wild rumour soared back home.
Flaw number two, and as reflected in our online newspaper, The Crest, there was nothing on ground, either in Abuja or Daura, to indicate that such an epochal event was about taking place. Finally, Friday came, and the Jumat prayers began and ended at the National Mosque without any sign of the President tying the nuptial knot with the Minister.
The Minister herself debunked the satanic rumour via a tweet she posted on her twitter handle from far away New York: “On October 17, join us as we #WalkOutPoverty. The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty is commemorated to encourage active participation by all to respect the rights & dignity of people living in poverty.#WalkOutPoverty#EndPoverty#Children @ossap_sdgs.” No mention of any wedding fathia.
Still, the rumour continued swirling and swirling like a whirlwind, gathering momentum by the second. To put the matter to rest, I called the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, to confirm the story, He replied with sarcasm: “Have you not received your VVIP invitation card?” And he burst into his signature roaring laughter. Of course, he too was at his desk in the Villa, just as the President.
Incidentally, my wife was in my office at this point and I asked her if she saw my missing VVIP invitation to the President’s wedding banquet. She too replied with a thunderous laughter. What the hell is going on here? I deliberately shouted, faking anger.
However, Ms Sadiya Umar Farouk, the woman in the eye of the storm, drove the last nail into the coffin of the rumour when she posted another tweet debunking the satanic hypothesis, emphasising her loyalty to the president, and her unalloyed deference to the First Lady and her family, which she vowed never to breach.
Of a truth, this was not the first time the First Family was targeted by fake news manufacturers. The other time, the so-called cabal was purported to have arranged an Igbo Lady for the President to marry as second wife and as a check to Mrs Aisha Buhari, who, the architects alleged, was getting too ‘powerful’ and ‘uncontrollable’.
In the heat of the campaign for re-election, some con artists went to town with a postulation that, if not handled carefully, would have set this country ablaze. They alleged that the President, who had previously suffered a serious health reversal, but later rebounded to vibrancy, had actually died in a London hospital in January 2017 and a “cabal” had cloned or brought in a body double, a look alike named Jibrin Al-Sudani, to replace him as a way of blocking Vice President Yemi Osinbajo from taking over as stipulated by the constitution.
Now, I don’t know how much the President enjoyed this expensive wedding joke, given its possible effect on his home and concentration on the job. Though I know the President looks like somebody who is still active in “the other room”, I do not think he would want to distract himself with another wife at this point. One, the timing is inauspicious. Nigerians are groaning under the prevailing economic situation, and taking a second wife now would be an insensitive way of showing empathy with the toiling masses. If Buhari so desperately needed a second wife, he should have taken one long before he returned as a democratic President, maybe a few years after he married Aisha (in 1989) following the collapse of his marriage to first wife, Safinatu Yusuf, in 1988.
Two, given his Spartan principles, and frugal life style, it is highly unlikely that he would succumb to that option at this point, no matter how tempting, and no matter how strained the relationship between him and his wife is. In any case, at close to 77, what would a man need a harem for, even if he is a super stud, brimming with energy and soaring libido. Admitted, you can never say ‘never’ with men, admitted his religion permits him to marry more than one wife, provided he can cater for and love them equally, but this Buhari looks too serious, and has his hands filled with Nigeria’s multifarious problems, to toy with such temptation at this point. Still, he is human. I concede that. And being human, he may feel nauseated by the rumours, even if he doesn’t admit it publicly.
I feel for the two women involved in the latest rumour; Aisha and Sadiya. Women, like any product of God’s creative explosion, love their territory passionately and protect same with the whole fibre of their being. Even if Aisha carries on with her advocacy for the girl child on a day like this, which the UN devoted for the that purpose, she, as a devoted wife and mother, cannot but feel disturbed by what happened this week, and which climaxed on Friday. He would definitely be disturbed. The same goes for the children. But who would they complain to? Nobody. They would nurse their wounds secretly, with all the pains and emotional trauma.
I also feel for the president’s image makers. Issues like these are very dangerous to handle. How do you confront your powerful principal to confirm or deny if he was taking a second wife? A tough and tall order. Yet, the safest route to the challenging situation would be to find a way of getting to know the big man’s mind on the issue and establish the truth. The truth you know, in the circumstance, would free your mind and give you a clear head to handle the situation. Then, you would act as directed, and do whatever would be in the country’s best interest, provided the President’s interest does not conflict with the country’s.
I think the presidential spokespersons handled this wedding issue well. They allowed the truth to speak for itself.
(To be continued)