We live in a hyper-partisan time, in which the desire to score political points and spruce up the record of one’s political camp has replaced responsible citizenship. We concede that misinformation, distortion, overzealousness, and exuberance grow naturally from excessive partisanship. Even so, the current situation in Nigeria is uniquely depressing.
Truth has taken flight, replaced by propaganda, lies, and exaggerations. Propaganda has become the political currency of the time, traded, exchanged, and valued by partisans on both sides of the political divide. And the biggest culprits at this time are Buharists. This is ironic because President Buhari, the man whom the Buharists adore and are eager to present in good light, has a reputation for truth-telling, candor, and self-effacing bluntness.
During the last government, Jonathan’s supporters were given to exaggerations of his successes — if they can be called that. They were also notorious for downplaying or refusing even in the face of evidence to acknowledge his failures.
It was under that government that the Chibok kidnapping and other tragic failures were shamelessly denied or trivialized while routine government businesses were elevated to acts of transformative success.
In truth, the Jonathanians were sometimes responding to the taunts of critics, mostly supporters of the APC, who would not acknowledge any achievements of that government and were eager to exaggerate its failures. Even in the domain of terrorism where people were dying, many of the former president’s detractors sounded like cheerleaders for Boko Haram, while the Jonathanians, who trafficked denials and willful ignorance, sounded like mean-spirited people who did not care about human life.
To compound matters, the Jonathanians were embellishing or outright fabricating achievements to make their hero appear more competent that he actually was.
Unfortunately, we are seeing the same with Buharists.
The exaggerations of the Buharists have been as nauseating as they have been deceptive. I have encountered many, but a few examples from just the last few days will do. Two days ago, Leadership newspaper published a story claiming that Nigeria had been deleted from Transparency International’s corruption index.
The story went viral in the APC universe. It was widely and enthusiastically shared by Buharists, who marketed it as proof that their man had miraculously cured Nigeria of its corruption ailment. None of them stopped to interrogate the story’s veracity, or its premise. None paused to reflect on the fact that countries CANNOT be deleted from the index, that they can only move up or down on it.
It turns out that Nigeria only moved a few spots down but is, of course, still ranked very high on the index. If Leadership was guilty of journalistic sloppiness, it gave Buharists an elastic platform to propagate their hero’s supposed miraculous anti-corruption touch. Their intention was clear. They were trying to make more from a routine fluctuation in Nigeria’s ranking on that index. They were trying to insinuate Buhari’s anti-corruption drive into the index. They were claiming that Buhari is the reason Nigeria was “deleted,” never mind that no such “deleting” had occurred.
When the president went on vacation recently and handed over to the vice president as the constitution requires, Buharists saw an opening for another propaganda opportunity. My Facebook timeline was flooded by praises and paeans to the president for “being the first president in Nigeria’s history to hand over to his deputy when going on vacation.” The claim is an outright lie as the late president Umaru Yar’Adua similarly handed over then vice president, Goodluck Jonathan, when he went on vacation. But truth and history cannot stand in the way of Buharists. They care more about controlling the narrative on their hero than about perspective.
Two days ago, someone posted a Facebook update that the Nigerian Customs had recovered 160 billion Naira in two days from the Seme Border alone, and that Buhari had recovered $2 Trillion through the TSA. The post was then widely shared, garnered many likes, and made its way to my timeline. The Facebook posters provided no links and no direct quotes, so I knew I had to do some digging. I regarded both claims with skepticism as both seemed implausible, but I remained open-minded and wished that they were true for our country’s sake.
Then I read the actual news stories depicting the true state of things. I also watched a clip of the president’s speech to the Nigerian community in London, where he made the 2 trillion revelation.
It turns out that the customs figure is actually 160 million Naira, not billion. The 2 trillion figure is 2 trillion Naira, not dollars as the Facebook Buharists had claimed. In the propagandist hands of Buharists, millions became billions and Naira became dollar — all in order to magnify Buhari’s success.
Not only that, the Buharists, perhaps following the example of Nigeria’s incompetent journalists, reported that the government had “recovered” the said 2 trillion. This is at best an embellishment, an attempt to deceive at worst. The monies were not stolen or missing and so could not have been “recovered.” They were in many bank accounts maintained by MDAs in different banks. TSA implementation simply identified these accounts and then collated the monies in them in one single federal account with the CBN. To use the language of recovery is to insinuate that the monies had been stolen. It is also to suggest that the monies would have been stolen or lost had they not been collated, or that the mere fact of being collected in one single treasury account insulates the monies from being stolen in parts or wholes. Unless we have the power of divination, we simply cannot know that.
In this particular case, it is hard to tell whether ignorance or intentional deception is responsible. It is probably both; with the unthinking Buharists fueled by ignorance and the Machiavellian ones embracing deception as a fair weapon in political warfare. Much of the blame in this particular case has to go to Nigerian newspaper headline casters, who went with the “recover” verb.
The president himself did not use the word “recovered.” He used “mopped up.” Mopping up means collecting or collating. Nigerian newspaper subeditors, either out of an instinct for sensationalism or an inability to discern the difference, went with “recovered.” The Buharists were all too happy to extend the narrative, to give life to the misleading trope.
It is also interesting that, unlike his fawning, overeager supporters, the president correctly and honorably stated in his London speech that TSA was in fact the initiative of the last administration but that its implementation was stalled because that government succumbed to bureaucratic pushback. The president is apparently unaware that his diehard supporters have already constructed an alternative history for the TSA. That version of the narrative credits the Buhari administration with both initiating and implementing the important reform. Buharists need to emulate their hero’s truth-telling ways if they truly love him.
We are too desperate to make our favorite political figures look good or to insulate them from legitimate criticism when responsible, critical followership is what they deserve and need from us. As it was with the Jonathanians, so it is now with the Buharists.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org