Kassim Afegbua, a spokesperson for former military ruler, Ibrahim Babangida, said on Monday that he received no invitation from the police over a statement he signed on behalf of his principal Sunday afternoon.
“There’s nothing like that,” Mr. Afegbua, who had served as spokesperson for the former military ruler for over a decade, told PREMIUM TIMES Monday afternoon. “It’s a cooked up story.”
“Are presidential sources the Nigerian police?” Mr, Afegbua added in response to some national dailies, who cited an unnamed presidency source as informing them of the purported moves by the police to arrest him.
The police have kept mum about the arrest reports, which had been circulating since Sunday evening.
The Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, and Jimoh Moshood, the force spokesperson, did not respond to PREMIUM TIMES requests for comments for several hours Monday.
Also, Anjuguri Manzah, FCT police spokesperson, and Moses Nkombe, his counterpart in Edo State, both said they had no immediate details about any moves by the police to arrest Mr. Afegbua.
Mr. Afegbua was rattled on Sunday evening after another statement reportedly emerged from Mr. Babangida, countering the one he had earlier signed and distributed to the media.
The counter-statement, released by PRNigeria, a pro-government public relations firm, portrayed Mr. Babangida as rebuking his spokesperson, Mr. Afegbua, for putting out words that did not reflect his position.
Mr. Afegbua told Channels Television Sunday night that Mr. Babangida authorised him to release the original statement, a position he reiterated to PREMIUM TIMES Monday morning and which Mr. Babangida himself validated in his exchange with THISDAY.
The “original statement still stands,” Mr. Babangida was quoted by THISDAY aa saying.
I stand by my letter to Buhari, Babangida says
Meanwhile, Mr. Babangida on Sunday took full ownership of a statement calling on Nigerians not to reelect President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019, THISDAY Newspapers reported Monday.
Mr. Babangida, 76, called on Mr. Buhari to step aside after completing his first term in 2019 to pave way for the emergence of a younger, vibrant leader with the requisite ability to place the country at speed with the “digital” age.
The statement, signed by Mr. Afegbua, said the former dictator also expressed serious concerns about the latest farmers-herders killings across the country, lampooning Mr. Buhari for failing to curb the bloodshed.
Mr. Babangida also touched on restructuring in the statement, describing it as an idea whose time has come and reprimanding the ruling All Progressives Congress for failing to do anything significant about it within the last three years.
But shortly after the statement dominated the headlines and caught the attention of citizens, another counter release emerged.
The second statement, which was grossly watered down, was distributed by PRNigeria with Mr. Babangida as the signatory.
While the original statement emphasised the need for the younger generation to take charge of the country following the bad leadership Nigeria has endured in recent years, the counter press release downplayed the failings of the Buhari administration, especially the response to the farmers-herders violence.
The counter-statement also failed to expressly expound on Mr. Buhari’s 2019 ambition.
Some reports blamed one of Mr. Babangida’s son, Mohammed, for the second statement. The younger Babangida was said to have been angered by the tone of the original statement, which he reportedly worried could pit his father against Mr. Buhari.
Yushua Shuaib, the editor of PRNigeria, told PREMIUM TIMES Monday afternoon that the second statement he released was issued by Mr. Babangida.
“Our organisation has distributed several statements issued by the former head of state in the past and no one had ever doubted or challenged their authenticity,” Mr. Yushau said.
He said Mr. Babangida’s decision to own only Mr. Afegbua’s statement was “within his rights.”
Neither Mr. Buhari nor the APC has reacted to Mr. Babangida’s statement, despite repeated requests for comments from PREMIUM TIMES.
It was not immediately clear whether this could be attributed to the controversy surrounding its authenticity or because both versions came with a disclaimer that the contents were Mr. Babangida’s personal message to Nigerians on the state of the nation and not necessarily a letter to Mr. Buhari.
Yet, several newspapers quoted a presidency source as saying that Mr. Afegbua was being sought by the police for allegedly issuing a false statement. Mr. Afegbua debunked the report to PREMIUM TIMES Monday afternoon, wondering when the State House became the clearinghouse for police statements.
But the “original statement still stands,” Mr. Babangida told THISDAY of the version signed by Mr. Afegbua.
The paper also said the former dictator lamented how the media reported his original statement, saying headlines emphasised his rejection of Mr. Buhari’s reelection rather than his push for a new generation of leaders.
Mr. Babangida’s comments came as the Buhari administration was reeling from the public relation damaged inflicted on it by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who wrote the president last month to notify him that his time would be up by 2019.
In the January 23 open letter, Mr. Obasanjo said Mr. Buhari, within the last three years that he assumed office, failed to improve the country’s economy or foster unity.
Consequently, the former president floated a political movement, calling on Nigerians to join it as a viable vehicle to drive Mr. Buhari out of office in 2019.
The Buhari administration responded the next day with a detailed response that highlights its achievements in office, a remarkable rebuttal that many saw as a sharp breakaway from the often hostile approach in which spokespersons were known to ward off attacks.
Mr. Babangida’s message largely mirrored the import of Mr. Obasanjo’s letter, but the controversy around its authenticity has significantly diminished its potency, said political analyst Tosin Adeyemi.
“When Mr. Obasanjo released his letter, the whole country was on fire, even the administration was noticeably imbalanced,” Mr. Adeyemi, an Ibadan-based environmental consultant, told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone Monday. “But with Mr. Babangida’s letter, the presidency has been laughing since yesterday because Nigerians did not even know who said what.”
“I read last night on PREMIUM TIMES that the media was confused, that exactly captures the situation,” he added.
Mr. Adeyemi said Mr. Babangida should hold a media briefing to clarify the situation if his health situation could permit.
The former military ruler has embarked on frequent medical trips to Germany and Switzerland in recent months, returning from his last trip in May 2017 after spending seven weeks in Switzerland.
Mr. Afegbua, however, disagreed that his principal’s message might have gotten lost in the abyss of confusion generated by the contradictory statements.
“Since 1990, the former leader has been an advocate of introducing a new breed of politicians into leadership roles in Nigeria,” Mr. Afegbua said. “That message was not lost, it’s what the country has been discussing since yesterday and it is going to play a major role in 2019.”
“In fact, that there was a controversy over the authenticity further drew the attention of far more persons to the letter than would have otherwise heard or read about it,” he added.