Today is my busiest day here, so I have little time to participate in the conversations that my interventions have inspired. But here is a quick reaction to presidential spokesman Malam Garba Shehu’s response to my column and Facebook status update. As I’ve stated many times already, including in my Daily Trust on Saturday column, the allegation (actually news report) that President Buhari spent 6 million pounds to treat his ear infection has been published in Vanguard, Nigeria’s most visited news site, for more than 3 months, and has circulated widely in Nigerian cyberspace.
This is what the report says: “Checks at the presidency claimed that, the cost of the trip which includes aviation fuel, accommodation, allowances for aides and medical treatment amounts to about £6 million.” In other words, Vanguard claimed to have made “checks” at the presidency, and nobody from the presidency denied it–for more than three months!
Why does anyone want me to assume the falsity of the report merely because it discomforts some people? People who work for the president read all of Nigeria’s major newspapers on a daily basis, and they must have seen this story in the Vanguard. I know this trade well enough to know that if a negative report goes unchallenged for more than 3 months, the report is probably true, and the people affected by it are simply practicing the age-old PR principle of not reacting to a reputationally harmful and embarrassing story so as not to lend it wings, in the hope that people won’t notice–until, of course, opinion molders pounce on it and make it an issue.
Some people said I should have verified Vanguard’s claims before citing it. Why is it my responsibility to verify the report from the presidency when the presidency that is directly implicated by the report hasn’t denied it for more than three months? Which ethical journalistic canon requires me to do that? Why is that my job? Isn’t it the same presidency that reacts to every inane, obscure attacks on the president even from the gaunt fringes of the Internet? Didn’t the presidency once issue a statement denying an unmentioned libelous allegation that Radio Biafra made against Buhari, causing the profile of the station and the cause it espouses to rise exponentially? If it reacts to every irritation against the president, why didn’t it react to a report that makes the weighty claim that the president spent 6 million pounds for his ear treatment?
But, most importantly, some people assume that just because the presidency has denied the allegation, it must be false. That’s unbelievably shallow and credulous. First, Malam Garba Shehu’s statement merely told us the medical bill Buhari incurred for his ear treatment. It said nothing about the cost of taking the presidential air fleet to London, accommodation for a coterie aides and government officials who went to London with the president, the “advance team” that went to London before the president’s arrival, “estacodes,” the cost of fueling aircraft, and so on and so forth. When you add all that, a 6-million-pound figure isn’t a wild conjecture.
And remember British journalist Francis Claud Cockburn’s famous cynical quip that you should “Never believe anything until it has been officially denied.”
Finally, can anybody in good conscience defend the action of a president who allocated N4 billion to Aso Rock Clinic (which is more than the budget of all Nigerian teaching hospitals combined) but goes abroad to treat an ear infection less than a month after he banned government officials from traveling abroad for medical treatment? Let’s not allow our emotions to get the better of our judgment.