No one can force Buhari to talk, says presidency
• Minister, Adesina insist president not ill
• Security agents to tackle fake news peddlers
President Muhammadu Buhari is not ill and admitted in any hospital in London as being speculated. But he cannot be forced to speak to Nigerians, the presidency declared yesterday.
The clarification came amid rumours that Buhari is critically down with an undisclosed sickness that may lead to his death. But according to the presidency, Buhari is in London on vacation.
This clarification may not stop the rumour mill being stoked by those who expect the president to speak out or appear in the public to dispel the speculation about his health .
Buhari transmitted a letter to the National Assembly to the effect that he would begin a 10-day vacation from January 23, 2017, but he actually began the vacation two days earlier, January 21. If the date to reckon with is January 23, he will be due to resume work on February 3. But if January 21 is the date to take, Buhari will be expected back at work on February 1.
The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, made the clarification yesterday in a live interview programme on CNBC Africa, which was monitored in Abuja. He said that the rumoured hospitalisation of the president was a figment of people’s imagination.
“The president is in London on vacation. He is not in any hospital and he is not ill. When he was travelling last week, the statement we put out was that he was going on vacation, and during the vacation he would do routine medical check-up and nothing has changed from what we pushed out last week. If anybody has fed something else into the rumour mill, that is just what it is – rumour,” Adesina said.
He said the president would decide if he wished to talk to Nigerians from the UK or not. “Despite the fact that he is a president, he still has his rights. Compelling him to come out and talk will be infringing on his rights. The president will talk if he wishes to, if he doesn’t wish to, nobody will compel him to talk. The truth is that the president is on vacation and he has given a date on which he will return to work.”
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed also refuted a media report alleging that governors were planning to send a delegation to confirm the health status of Buhari in London. He says there is no need for such an emissary since the president is in good health.
Receiving members of the Presidential Committee on the Northeast Initiative’s Sub-Committee on Economic Development yesterday, the minister stated that governors were not meeting in Abuja because there was no need for it and there was no plan to send any emissary to London to see the president.
Meanwhile, security agents are planning to arrest and prosecute those peddling speculative news about Buhari’s health. A recent report that Buhari died in a foreign hospital nearly swept the nation into mourning again, after the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in circumstances shrouded in secrecy. The report was later confirmed to be false.
The Guardian learnt that the government, in a bid to curb the trend, has tasked top security agencies in the country to fish out the troublemakers, especially unregistered online media organisations which, in seeking recognition and ‘hits’, publicise fake news.
When The Guardian contacted the Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), Don Awunah, an Acting Commissioner of Police (Ag.CP), to confirm the report, he said those behind it were “just mischief makers out to deceive the public.’’
“You know the online thing especially, it is gradually becoming a menace to the Nigerian society. People stay in the comfort of
their rooms and claim they are publishing online, whereas they peddle a bunch of lies,” he remarked.
He said the visit of the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Idris, to the United Kingdom to strengthen technical partnership with the London Metropolitan Police was also misrepresented by an online publication that he led a delegation of government officials to visit Buhari.
Asked if the police were tracing those behind the rumour with a view to bringing them to justice, Awunah said though they were not known, it would be proper to ask them to stop.
But a competent source told The Guardian on the condition of anonymity that those publishing and circulating the stories could be fished out within one week.
“But for now, there are some modalities being worked out, legislative frameworks and otherwise. The other way is that they would be charged with tax evasion, we all know it is a serious offence against the government for one not to pay tax, especially on a profitable venture,” he said.
A legal practitioner in Abuja, Cosmas Akighir, reacted thus: “The publishers of these alleged false stories have their freedom to circulate information, but it has to be credible in a manner that it is neither libelous nor seditious. If it is to inform, based on credible background, such a person is not liable.
“On the threat to democracy, it is two-folds: one is that, by circulating false information, like the one on the death of the president, you are fuelling the embers of insecurity and endangering democracy in the process.
“Where there is hunger for power in the military, like we had during the Gen. Sani Abacha days, some soldiers would have started playing martial music on national radio, announcing their takeover. So publishers or rather practitioners must be circumspect in what they publish.
“On another front, arresting these carriers of fake information would not go down well with the government. It is already unpopular among Nigerians. But if there are arrests, it would stem the tide of publication of false news.”
Dr. Anthony Igyuve of the Department of Mass Communication, Nasarawa State University, remarked: “Where a practitioner fails to send in credible and verifiable stories for publication, the whole essence of information dissemination is defeated. What is happening in the social media now is irresponsible and highly condemnable. Unfortunately, some of these so-called publishers were not adequately trained to practise, but the Nigeria Union of Journalists and the National Press Council (NPC) have failed in their role to standardise practice and ensure that quacks are weeded out.”