How Buhari’s COVID-19 speech leaked ahead of broadcast


• Presidency tracks suspect
The speech delivered by Muhammadu Buhari on Monday to update the nation on the ravaging coronavirus and the lockdown to prevent the spread of the disease was leaked hours before its broadcast, The Guardian learnt yesterday.

The fake version of the address, which found its way onto official platforms of the State House Press Corps and other social media channels, was filled with errors and information different from what was contained in the one read on national television by the president.

The development has sparked the anger of presidency officials who have since commenced an investigation to unravel individuals behind the leakage of the draft speech.

Specifically, as the president was about delivering his address to the nation at 8:00 p.m., the version laden with errors was already circulating on social media.

For instance, in the draft speech, the lockdown in Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) was to be lifted on Saturday May 2, 2020.

But in the broadcast, President Buhari announced Monday, May 4, 2020, as the date to begin a gradual lifting of the lockdown.

Also, while the president announced a total lockdown of Kano State for two weeks, the leaked draft only said: “the total lockdown recently announced by the state government shall remain enforced… for the full duration.”

Media reports yesterday alleged that the leaked version was “copied from a Microsoft Word document with the original text and edits included, leading to the repetition of many words and phrases, but the final version read by the president was found to have been corrected.”

But, Reuben Abati, a former spokesman to erstwhile President Goodluck Jonathan, dismissed the argument that the president’s speech could be hacked into. “How can somebody hack the president’s speech? I don’t want to hear that!” he said.

A mix-up should not have occurred in the first instance in the preparation of the president’s speech, Abati stated during a live television programme which was monitored by The Guardian in Abuja yesterday.

President Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, had while responding to enquiries from The Guardian on Monday, noted: “There is a statement given each time there is a broadcast. If there is going to be one, you will get such a statement.”

The media reports yesterday also had it that the draft was prepared by a member of the presidential task force on COVID-19 and sent to the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, who is the chairman of the task force.

A source, who is in the know of the untoward development in Abuja, told The Guardian yesterday that focus should be directed at the SGF office over the alleged leak.

A few days ago, a memo to Mustapha by the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) was allegedly scanned and leaked on social media.

In the letter, the forum had made recommendations on some issues, including the lockdowns nationwide.

Among the recommendations were the use of face masks in public, restriction of interstate movement and imposition of dusk-to-dawn curfew, which were adopted by the president.

Meanwhile, the presidency yesterday evening disclosed that it had traced the person who leaked the draft speech.

Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, made the disclosure on a television programme.

He was responding to a question on the draft version released but laden with errors and was already circulating in the social media long before the president’s official broadcast to the nation.

Shedding light on the confusion that trailed the broadcast and where some newspapers reported different dates on lifting the lockdown, the presidential spokesman said: “There is just one authentic copy of the broadcast which is the one released from the media office.

“But then, I recognise that a couple of hours before the broadcast itself, a copy of the purported speech had been circulating particularly on WhatsApp. If you compare the two, yes there are some similarities but then there are also wide differences.

“You have just mentioned the effective day particularly of the gradual easing of the lockdown. What happened was that somebody got hold of the initial draft of the broadcast and played hanky panky with it by releasing it through the social media.

“If you know the processes that a broadcast goes through before it gets recorded – the script will originate from the relevant government agency, department, parastatal or ministry, whoever heads that agency, ministry or parastatal sign up on it and then they send it to the presidential office.

“When it gets to the presidential office, it gets through a number of hands again, because the president’s thoughts must be infused and injected into that draft. There are some things that may be in it that the president may completely not agree with.

“Finally, it comes to the media office, and I sign on it which I also did yesterday before the broadcast was recorded – I signed on the final copy before the broadcast was recorded.

“So some hours before the recording was played back, I saw something circulating on social media, I knew that that was not the copy that I signed off on. Then we began to investigate. It has been found out that the original script from inception was what somebody laid hands on it and released to the social media.”

Speaking on some mainstream media who reported from the leaked speech, Adesina said: “Well, the mainstream media know how we release our statements – whatever document that we are releasing. They should know how to authenticate it.

“It comes from the media office. So if any mainstream media is now taking its information from the social media, that mainstream media is to be blamed because we duly released the authentic copy of that broadcast by 8:06 p.m. So the mainstream media should not have depended on a leaked copy which turns out to have many discrepancies compared with the original and final copy.”

On calls for the reopening of worship centres and schools and whether it was hasty considering the lives of the children, Adesina explained, “what Mr President said yesterday (Monday) was that, from Monday, May 4, there will be a gradual opening up and what that means is that the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 will give a guideline on what can be done and what can’t be done under that gradual easing up.

“Remember that the president stressed yesterday (Monday) that some other things will continue like social distancing, not congregating for religious events – it’s on the broadcast yesterday. But the Presidential Task Force will continue to advise on how we can open up and return to normal life gradually.”

Fielding question on whether the same rule applied to schools and school children, the spokesman said, “ if you look at what the army did about a week ago, it opened up its schools but not at every level. Those who are in senior secondary schools preparing for WAEC are supposed to return to school to write their exams and gradually it will go down to different grades.

“I don’t want to preempt what the guidelines of the Presidential Task Force will be like but definitely, there will be a guideline on how schools can begin to reopen. It may not be the whole school because if a school has a population of one thousand it may have an effect. But those who are going to write WAEC are the ones to resume.”

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