2019: Messy battle between facts and fake news

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By Emmanuel Aziken

Chief Audu Ogbeh’s middle name is Innocent and it was remarkable that he was for long, revered for a kind of innocence that could not be seen in the everyday politician. However, his latter day innocence is now the subject of political interrogation.

Chief Ogbeh was one of those who came into the present government with a solid moral pedestal. A literary icon, academic and political philosopher, he had paid his dues since his days as minister of communication in the Second Republic.

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When President Olusegun Obasanjo forced him out from his position as national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in January 2005; shortly after they shared a meal of pounded yam in his Abuja residence, his moral balance in the reckoning among men of right standing was definitely not affected. One of Ogbeh’s sins as it was alleged at that time was his association with the then out-of-favour Atiku Abubakar, the vice-president of the country.

Since then, Ogbeh and Atiku had almost partnered in their political jaunts and were together in the plot that sacked the PDP from power in 2015.

However, politics that brought them together significantly separated them this week when the Atiku campaign took issues with what the campaign alleged to be astonishing claims of the minister on the success of the administration in agriculture.

Ogbeh had at a meeting of the

Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (PFI) and the Fertiliser Producers and Suppliers of Nigeria (FEPSAN) held at the Presidential villa, Abuja, last March, declared that the Muhammadu Buhari administration’s success in cultivating local rice production had led to seven rice mills closing down in Thailand.

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At the meeting presided over by President Buhari, the minister declared as his source, the Thai ambassador to Nigeria, Wattana Kunwongse. He said the ambassador visited him in his office in the course of which he also declared that Nigeria’s success in agriculture had caused unemployment to rise in his country.

It could have been good news. But the Thai ambassador embarrassingly came out days later to deny the claim putting the minister and nay, the administration, in bad light.

Atiku recycled the issue last

Tuesday in a press statement where he chided Ogbeh for allegedly making phony claims about the country’s rice production.

He went on to drag Buhari into the issue saying the president even told visiting British Prime Minister Theresa May last April, that his government had cut rice importation by about 90%, and through that, made lots of savings of foreign exchange, and generated employment.

Atiku relied on what he claimed as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) World Markets and Trade Report which alleged that Nigeria in 2018, has imported 400,000 metric tones of rice more than what was imported in 2017.

Lai Mohammed was quick to intervene as he declared the document claimed by Atiku as fake. He urged observers to rather rely on the data provided by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN and other government institutions.

For now, efforts are on to know who is lying. But the fact remains that as the elections approach more of such contradictory claims are going to surface. Politicians would burnish their records to deceive the unwary citizens and journalists would have to interrogate many claims that come their way.

Since Buhari is the one in power, the pressure would be more on him to defend his records against the reality on ground. As his top aides and even critics have repeatedly said, he did not say that he would do more than fighting corruption, economy and fighting insecurity.

Just as the issue of rice, the administration’s claim on security is likely to become an issue during the campaigns. The government claims to have degraded, decimated and technically defeated Boko Haram. However, the fact that the insurgent group has upgraded its capacity to now go after soldiers in their barracks in recent times will be an item for discourse.

If truth is relative to politicians, facts should be sacred to the voter who should be able to sift out propaganda out of issues of life as they affect him.

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