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17.01.2010 Nigeria

Nah! That was not Umaru & the BBC should investigate itself

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Ideally, Malam Umaru Musa Yar'adua should have turned down former President Olusegun Obasanjo's invitation to contest the 2007 presidential election.. Umaru knew, more than even his doctors that he was too sick to take up the most

challenging job in the country. The decent thing to have done was for him to have locked himself up in a room with OBJ and confessed his infirmity, and then offer a suggestion or two on who he thought would be the next best thing. Ideally.When he didn't do that and went on to collapse on March 8 2007 midway through one of his presidential campaign rallies, his party members, and indeed the rest of us should have there and then rejected his candidature and insisted that a healthy, or at least healthier, person should take his place. Again this is also referring to an ideal or at least normal country, where there is minimum respect for decency, law and order.

But neither Umaru, nor his party had sufficient consideration for the country to make the necessary sacrifice that needed to have been done. Even though it was an offer too tantalizing to resist, even though there is probably no Nigerian alive who could have had the strength of character and selflessness to do what Umaru ought to have done; the man shall remain indicted as someone that placed his personal ambition above the interest of his country. His party and the rest of us will also stand indicted for doing nothing while the present disaster unfolded.

Inevitably the truth is finally out now and the people that have hitherto ensnared the ailing leader, serially covering up one clumsy lie with a clumsier one, are at the end of their wits.

Wits? Do they have any? Umaru's people are witless, shameless, arrogant, daft and greedy. Even if we spare them now, History will not; eventually whoever has a hand in this self-serving, unpatriotic, ruthless manipulation of a national problem would pay with their legacy, tattered as it already is. That is assuming they escape the legal consequences of their acts; actions, actually, that border on treason.Umaru's people, numbering about three or four and all of them carry-overs from his days as the governor of Katsina state, have had plenty of opportunities to come clean with Nigerians and salvage what was clearly degenerating into a very dangerous national crisis. But every time the opportunity presented itself, that provincial bunch of blundering clowns will proceed to set new record in incompetence, against every grain of reason and common sense.

This brings us to their most spectacular and tasteless blunder yet. After days of whetting our appetite, of raising our expectations by promising us that Yar'adua would finally speak to the nation through the mass media; on…our clowns offered this very insulting anti-climax: first they chose a foreign radio station, the BBC Hausa service; then they chose only audio interview rather than a more convincing video (TV) interview; and then because people usually judge others by their own standards, those fellows expected us to swallow such mind-boggling absolute rubbish! The contraption is so pathetically porous, so bereft of any degree of ingenuity as to put a Nollywood movie to shame.

Consider some of the yawning gaps in this singularly unintelligent act of deception. First the most obvious of the flaws in this dumb plot. If those people wanted to genuinely reassure us that Mr. Yar'adua is alive and recuperating, the most obvious choice is a television station even if it's a foreign one. That they opted for a radio station could only mean one thing: they were still hiding something; they are still lying to us and doing it in a very clumsy way. The so called interview lasted one minute; but a 30 seconds' video clip would have achieved a far greater and convincing result. No matter how bad and how sickly the president looks; it is doubtful if he could look worse than some of the pictures that are now circulating freely in the internet. No, they were hiding more than a sick president.

Secondly, there was also the voice of the “President”. I had interviewed Yar'adua in 2003 while he was governor of Katsina state and I was editor of the Weekly Trust. The interview lasted almost three hours; I'd sat on the same settee with him and listened to him speak for most of that time. My conclusion is that the voice that spoke in that mysterious interview was not Yar'adua's. Yar'adua didn't have to struggle to sound sick, which is what that voice was doing. Yar'adua's struggle ought to have been that of a sick man struggling to sound healthy, not the other way round. And did you notice the occasional, involuntary cough? To me that was the clincher that that voice was 'studio-managed' by a good, but not a very intelligent actor. Yar'adua never coughed by the minute. Also check up on this: Even though his English carries an unmistakable Hausa accent, he does not pronounce the word “back” as “beck”.

Lastly the BBC itself. Isn't it curious that the BBC would conduct an interview and then struggle to convince its listeners that the interview was genuine? I read the rambling explanation offered by one Jamila Tangaza, who is the editor of the BBC Hausa service which aired the interview with “Yar'adua”. Rather than writing a whole essay, what the lady needed to tell us is simply this: “We stand by our story; our reporter saw Yar'adua in so so place and conducted the interview...”

But all Ms Jamila did was to inundate us with with nebulous phrases that explained nothing. Here is a sample of what Madame BBC said, as reported in the LEADERSHIP Newspaper of 14/01/10: “And on the Internet some new questions have been flying such as 'Was it really Yar'adua on the BBC' ?” Her answer was: “I and the interviewer thoroughly researched the interview before it was done. We dealt with people we know who are close to the president to set it up”.

Good God! Is the lady daft, or deftly trying to hide something? Who else sets up interviews with presidents except those close to them? But is she not aware that the same people that they “know are close to Yar'adua” have been the same set of blokes that have been orchestrating this grand deception all along? I know the BBC Hausa service head office is located in London, but the lady herself is a Nigerian, and I understand she is frequently in Nigeria on one business or other; is she ignorant of all the lies and half truths that have been fed to Nigerians on this issue? In her unconvincing explanation, she would come close to telling us something tangible, and then it would all dissolve into ambiguity..

For instance, what exactly does she mean by “we thoroughly researched the story”? Does an “informal chat” with Mansur Liman “who did the interview” constitute a “thorough research”? Formal or informal chat, did anybody from the BBC sight Yar'adua or not? Given the massive layers of conspiracy, intrigue and deception in which this whole issue has been shrouded, the BBC and Jamila ought to have shown greater respect for its “23 million” listeners than they have. Jamila should have known that under the circumstances, a mere telephone interview would not have been enough; one would have expected the BBC to insist on meeting the president and conducting the interview, or nothing. That would have been more honourable, more convincing and certainly more professional.

If the BBC had so insisted, and if the Yar'adua people then refused, that would have been a far better story to tell than a one minute interview lacking in substance and reliability. The BBC, both radio and TV does try to research its stories and report same with a commendable degree of honesty; but that still doesn't make it sacrosanct. The same BBC got mired in a scandal over the infamous Weapons of Mass Destruction scandal which claimed the life of a British scientist and the scalp of a number of its top management; so if we are skeptical of the BBC, it is with good reason.

That the interview is generating so much skepticism is enough reason for the BBC to take a second look at the “thorough research” that was done in doing the interview; with a view to convincing its listeners that it is not a partner in this conspiracy. As things stand its famous credibility is at stake.

Garba Deen is the publisher of The Companion. He can be reached at [email protected]

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