Virtually all the leading newspapers in the country reported on February 14 that President Buhari spoke to Donald Trump the previous day “at the request of the American President”.
Breaking News: Buhari Speaks to Trump on Telephone
Several of the reports quoted the Senior Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity Mr Femi Adeshina as saying that “President Trump encouraged President Buhari to keep the good work he is doing and also commended him for the efforts made in rescuing 24 of the Chibok girls and the strides being taken by the Nigerian military” (Punch, online February 14, 2017).
The story was naturally followed by scepticism – as had also been the case about the true health status of the President and the visit to him in London by two leaders of the All Progressives Congress, Alhaji Bola Tinubu and Chief Bisi Akande.
I had a robust conversation on the issue with some members of my sports club on February 14, 2017 after our morning workout: most people in the group were convinced that the report of the call was a dummy sold by Buhari’s media aides and supporters.
I chose to play the devil’s advocate.
I took the position that given Trump’s boast during the campaign to vigorously fight terrorism, it made sense to me that he would want to have telephone conversation with President Buhari since Boko Haram is regarded as one of the deadliest terrorist groups in the world.
Why was it necessary in the press release from Femi Adeshina to emphasize that the reported telephone discussion was at the instance of Donald Trump and that he praised Buhari for his “determined war against Boko Haram”?
Why did the press release make it sound as if Trump regarded Buhari as such a great African leader that he needed to invite and fete him in Washington D.C. – when he had reportedly made jest of him during his campaign for the US presidency?
I argued that while it might be difficult to prove precisely what Trump said to Buhari during the reported phone conversation, ‘spin’ and ‘massaging’ the real contents of the reported conversation could not be ruled out because it is part of the job of his media aides to ensure that the President reaps maximum political mileage from such situations.
In essence, I argued that even if Adeshina massaged the story to make Buhari look especially good in the press release, he had committed no sin (provided the spin is within reasonable bounds) because such is expected of Presidential spokesmen anywhere in the world.
If Buhari was well enough to speak to Trump over the phone, why is he apparently unwilling to address the nation though telephone conferencing to quell the rumour about his health status once and for all?
If Trump did indeed speak with Buhari, did that not amount to sidestepping protocol since Prof Yemi Osibanjo is the Acting President?
I countered that even if the President had appeared on television and spoken robustly, it would not have resolved the question of his health status “once and for all” because such would raise further doubts on whether it was indeed the President’s voice (or his voice makeover) or even whether the person that purported to be Buhari was indeed Buhari or his double.
On whether Trump breached protocol by sidestepping Acting President Osibanjo and speaking directly to Buhari, I argued that a distinction could be made between de facto authority (authority in fact) and de jure authority (authority in law).
My position was that while Buhari had transmitted a letter empowering Vice President Osibanjo to act as President in his absence (de jure authority), he remains the President in fact (de facto authority) and thus the legitimacy of the office still resided with him, and not with Professor Osibanjo.
I further argued that Osibanjo as a distinguished lawyer and wise leader has shown admiring sensitivity to the limits of his authority as Acting President – to the disappointment of those who are unable to appreciate the distinction between the two types of authority.
When I got home that day I decided to investigate further the issue of Trump’s reported telephone call to Buhari.
I Googled ‘Trump speaks to Buhari’ and used several variants of the search string to see whether international media organisations had also reported of the phone call from Trump to Buhari.
I was disappointed. The only one I found was captioned ‘Trump calls presidents of Nigeria, South Africa’.
The story was dated February 13, 2017 and was written by one Stephanie Busari of CNN.
Part of the story read: “According to Buhari’s aide, Femi Adesina, Trump assured the Nigerian president that the US is ready to help obtain “a new deal in helping Nigeria in terms of military weapons to combat terrorism.””
My suspicion was aroused. Why would a major international organisation like the CNN use Femi Adeshina as the source of such a story when they have ready access to the Trump team?
I suspected that the CNN website that reported the story was most likely a clone. I ‘googled’ CNN.com, selected its international edition and then searched for ‘Buhari.’
No story of Donald Trump’s call to Buhari came up on the website.
My suspicion was further heightened by a report in the Daily Post of February 14, 2017, which was entitled, ‘Trump silent on phone conversation with Buhari.’