Guardian Editor explains how Garba Shehu ‘conned’ the paper into using a ‘lying’ photo of GMB

Buhari-TranscorpIf I were the All Progressives Congress (APC), I would not lie about the health of General Muhammadu Buhari. If the man is actually ill and has gone abroad to seek medical attention, the party, through its national publicity secretary, Lai Mohammed, or any other spokesman, should simply say so, and not lie about it. To posture and make it seem as if Buhari cannot fall ill because there is a presidential election to contest and win is to make the man appear superhuman.

All human beings must cave in to ill health and ultimate death at some point. Everybody, including the politicians of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), knows this. That was why the party tried to disconnect itself from Governor Ayodele Fayose’s ‘death wish’ advertisement on Buhari.

Whether in Christian or Islamic theology, others are required to show sympathy through prayers to people who are ill. Even animists and atheists do same. But nobody has said Buhari is ill and has gone to London for medical attention. What the APC said was that its presidential candidate left for UK last week to continue his campaign to become Nigeria’s president by way of interaction with Nigerians living in UK. It was only Governor Fayose, who has been all over the old man like a gadfly that said Buhari was admitted to Cavendish Hospital in London.

Because people say Fayose is always shouting wolves when there are even no sheep in sight, nobody took him seriously when he said that the APC was on a mission to misinform Nigeria about Buhari’s visit to London. Soon, pictures were floated in the air to support the APC position that Buhari was in London for a different purpose, which included speaking at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, otherwise known as Chatham House, on his presidential ambition.

There was apparent desperation to create a scenario that never existed regarding Buhari’s visit to the United Kingdom. And this was where the publicity machinery of the APC got it all wrong. Dummies were sold to newspapers as photos of Buhari in London. One showed him with former British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, Ogun State Governor, Ibikunle Amosun and former governor of Kwara State, now a senator, Bukola Saraki. That was confirmed real by some people. But another captioned: Presidential Candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), General Muhammadu Buhari (right) with the Chief Executive Officer, All Eyes TV Show, Kemi Fadojutimi (left), during Buhari’s working visit to United Kingdom also came.

Coming from Mallam Shehu Garba, media director of the Buhari Campaign Organisation and a fine professional and Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the national publicity secretary of the APC, I did not probe to uncover any hidden motives. And I am sure most editors did not, which was why either of the photos made prime news pages last Sunday. When my Executive Director, Mr. Toke Ibru, first mentioned it that I had put a fake photo on the front page, I urged caution so that we did not hastily contradict ourselves on the right point.

But before the end of day, my phone had been inundated with messages from readers, analysing the graphics of the photo and saying why the shot was taken at the Transcorp Hilton Abuja, and not a location in the UK as claimed in the photo caption. I tried to piece together the puzzle, but nothing was adding up to anything meaningful. I mean, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Mallam Sehu Garba and then fake photographs of General Buhari in London coming from both of them. What could be the purpose behind that piece of propaganda? To prove that they could do better than a Joseph Goebbels in the art of misinformation when there was no Second World War to prosecute and win?

Ever before Ayo Fayose left for Hilton Abuja to conduct a ‘forensic’ investigation of the photograph of Buhari’s media interview in London, Pat Enechukwu, who follows this column every Sunday, had done his and sent to me his findings: “My brother good afternoon. Please look at that front page photograph of Buhari critically and watch issues I am raising. That bottled water on the table (Aquafina) is a Nigerian product. The newspapers are Nigerian papers with the one on top looking like The Guardian and I mean our own The Guardian and not London Guardian that I have bought and read severally in London. The magazine on top is DSTV Magazine. What’s DSTV in London and who uses DSTV in London?”

Governor Fayose did something far more comprehensive and after watching him debunk the controversial photo with striking facts, I was convinced that I had been used to push forth a lie to Nigerians. I was conned by the APC to put it lightly. I called Shehu Garba to reconfirm the photos. He did, dismissing the people raising issues, and I guess that should include my Executive Director, as Buhari detractors. We went ahead to correct the error in our Monday, February 23 edition, in spite of Mr. Garba and the APC. He has not called me to straighten issues one way or the other.

I cannot understand the point the APC media machinery was trying to make. Till date, nobody has explained anything to whatever effect. At least, let something, just anything, no matter how improbable, be said. For instance, something like the devil or more precisely the PDP, had hacked into the APC’s works to send the lying photograph to media houses to cause the recalcitrant APC this huge corporate embarrassment. They just kept quiet as if nothing was amiss. In their deafening silence, they seem to be saying ‘we are APC; we equate truth and positive change and nothing false comes from us.’ Or could the aloofness and lack of remorse, even when guilt is established, be flowing from the APC’s belief that it has converted all newspapers in the country to its official newsletters, where anything can be off-loaded and no questions will be asked?

Whichever, I am still not able to figure out what the APC was trying to hide. That Buhari wasn’t in London for medical checks? And if I may ask, what is wrong if Buhari falls ill and goes to London to seek medical attention? People far less than him in status do so even more frequently. This man we are talking about was a head of state 30 years ago. In case we are confusing issues, let me state clearly that in Nigeria, no former director in the civil service, not to talk of permanent secretary, state commissioner, state and national legislator, minister and governor treats even malaria at home. I mean malaria, which is strictly a tropical disease that does not attract good medical space in the operations of hospitals in Europe and America. They go abroad, even to India, to be given the same anti-malaria combination drugs that are readily available and more effective in Nigeria.

And so, I don’t understand the fuss about a whole Buhari at 72 going abroad for medicals. Is he not human? Or is it because people say he is the messiah God has sent to save Nigeria, he has now become a deity that does not fall ill? Buhari had withstood the rigours of about 60 days of intensive campaigns across the country to convince voters to give him the mandate to be president and just when he thought it was all over, ‘enemies’ conspired to shift the presidential election by six weeks, which means, more campaigns and jetting around. Not all young men can stand straight under such intense pressure.

Therefore, if the man ran to London to catch some breathe after the long stretch and also used the opportunity to run checks on his state of health while equally squeezing in some time to talk at Chatham House, in order to remain politically fashionable, nothing spoil at all. The APC should have simply said so and nobody would be hurt. Instead, the party embarked on a deliberate mission of misinformation to imbue Buhari with transcendental attributes of never-sick and never-die.

The APC can still make good points without intrigues. Not long ago, the intrigues were of a different colouration when news came that the Lagos Home of the APC’s national leader, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, was under surveillance by military men, apparently put there by the PDP controlled Federal Government. And then another piece of propaganda, saying General Buhari had braved all the odds to visit Chibok and had useful dialogues with the folks up there. This is not the way to represent change in Nigeria.
All said, I am still waiting for someone in the APC camp to mount the podium and explain with good reasons what caused the translocation that turned Hilton Abuja to some spot in London.
Garba was to later send what he conceived to be an explanation of the blunder yesterday, through a third party. It still does not add up and cannot vitiate my argument here.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Abraham Ogbodo/Guardian

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