This is how public figures get themselves into trouble unnecessarily. They get unnecessarily defensive and enter the default denial and evasion mode instead of responding directly, clearly, and contritely to allegations made in media reports. Saharareporters’ accused the Nigerian High Commission in London of spending the commission’s funds on the visits of Mrs Aisha Buhari, mentioning in particular the purchase of air tickets for her entourage, the provision of accommodation, and other expensive services even while failing to fulfill its obligations to Nigerians in the UK on account of “lack of funds.”
If anything, the report was an indictment of the High Commission and not necessarily of the wife of the president. The only allegation against the latter is that of probable double dipping and perhaps accepting official funds for the personal visit of a person with no official constitutional designation.
Mrs Buhari’s response was to evade, deny, and change the subject. It was wrapped in the familiar bluster and excessive defensiveness typical of Nigerian public officials with a guilty conscience. She did not travel with as many people as Saharareporters alleged, she said. Her family only eats food made by state house chefs sometimes as she likes to provide healthy meals for her children? And by the way, on those visits, I always made my own private arrangement for a driver, she said. What? What have all these got to do with the main issue raised, that the High Commission was using revenue raised from fees and services to cater to you and your entourage during your visits? This is just empty, diversionary TMI (too much information).
Well, Saharareporters came back and provided proof that Mrs Buhari’s entourage was as large as alleged, and that the High Commission indeed spent the monies on Mrs Buhari’s several visits.
This new Saharareporters story has promoted a new, dramatically different response from the president’s wife. She now says that, 1) the amounts the Commission spent on her visits are a “far cry” from those spent on the visits of previous presidents’s spouses. Secondly, she now says the Commission’s memos did not directly link her to the requests, in other words “yes I enjoyed the comforts and products bought by the loot but I did not ask for them.” So basically Saharareporters was right all along and the Initial Gra Gra (IGG) response was just to muddy the waters and confuse the undiscerning. Mrs Buhari could have saved herself all this melodrama and the shame of these multiple circuitous and changing explanations by simply issuing a simple statement thus:
“the president’s wife did not solicit for these expenditures from the High Commission and in hindsight should not have accepted them, especially as it is now clear that this spending may have affected the Commission’s ability to fulfil its obligations to Nigerians. Mrs Buhari was under the impression that such protocols were normal and within the Commission’s budget. Apparently this is not the case. She regrets this misunderstanding and would be happy to refund these expenses to the High Commission.”
And by the way, is this not supposed to be a government of change, and didn’t Buhari say he would depart from previous practice and not endow or fund the office of the First Lady? Did previous presidents make such a pledge regarding their wives? And since when is it acceptable to defend yourself against allegations of wrongdoing by saying “other people did it worse than me”?