Photograph — The Guardian Nigeri

One of the things that have defined the Nigerian government over the years has been the typical inability to tackle emerging issues effectively and efficiently. That inability to judiciously take potential national problems out while in their formative stages has been the root cause of a number of the problems facing the country. If the terrorist Boko Haram group had been tackled the right way during its formative years, especially in 2009, we probably would not have to be spending a big chunk of the country’s fortune on fighting the war on terrorism.

Before the Southern Kaduna killings that has claimed the lives of over 800 people began, there was the Fulani herdsmen menace in different parts of the country which was never tackled. The continual detention of the leader of Shiite Islamic Movement, Mohammed El Zakzaky echoes the events that led to the death of the founder of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf, who died in police nest in 2009. Now, each of these problems has escalated because government either failed to act quickly and rightly or they acted late and the wrong way.

Today, there is something the presidency is not doing right, actually doing the wrong way, and it is their unpresidential efforts at quenching the rumours of President Buhari’s death and ill health. Instead of having presidential aides dissing people on social media or the minister of information threatening to sue those found guilty of spreading false news, there are better ways to go about quenching rumours that supposedly have no element of truth. We must first establish that the news is false. But until now, the presidency has not done that.

The rumoured death of the president first made way to social media on the evening of January 22nd. The report was that the president had died in Germany, just about 24 hours after leaving the country for a vacation cum medical check in the UK. In all fairness, the report was odd and out of place, and one could at best imagine how it made its way to the mind of Nigerians so much that it was rapidly reproduced in different forms.

Unfortunately, in response to the rumour, with the whole country waiting to know the true state of health of the president, the best the media aides could come up with was a string of tweets that were more combative than informative. Soon after, reports started coming out that the president was not dead but that he was ill, some saying he was terribly ill. Even though the media aides to the president have come out to tag the news fake, they have, until this moment, failed to quell reports of the president’s ill health because they are going about it the wrong way. Even if the rumours dies this moment, it will resurface in the nearest future. This is not about wishing the president dead, it’s about wanting to know the true state of health of the president which should never have been a secret issue in the first place. If the health status of an individual like the president is made public upon their coming into office, we will not be witnessing this sort of ugly episode. The issue of the health of the president is something that has everything to do with everyone. We cannot afford to toe the path leading to the eventual death of former president Umar Musa Yar a’dua.

In a world where technology provides us an endless possibility of ways to quench such soul poisoning news, we expect the presidency, if nothing is wrong in truth, to do better than put out a statement on the state of health of the president. Statements can be put out from anywhere. A call can be made from anywhere. A picture can be created out of nothing. After all, we heard former president Umar Musa Yar á’dua was speaking with his cabinet while in actual fact the president was dying in the hospital.

The fact is until the presidency comes out with a concrete report on the state of health of the president, people will continue to feed on the rumours, and there is little or nothing the presidency can do about that. In fact, the recent threat of the Minister of Information threatening to sue producers of fake news is nothing but needless aggression. As a matter of fact, it only tells us the possibility of an anomaly somewhere. There is a better way to shut rumour mongers up.

Facebook, Twitter and a number of social media applications and platforms now have the capability to stream live videos. As long as the presidency itself is telling us the president is in good health, all the people need is a proof, which should not be hard to come by.

All the digital arms of Aso Rock media need do is set up a 15 minute or so address from the president on Facebook Live or Periscope. If the concerned lots and the mischievous ones could see the president well and fine, then the government can proceed to sue anyone who produces or reproduces such news. First, the news or reports must be proved to be false, totally, else no one can blame the masses for feeding on rumours.

In all, media officers that are connected to the presidency need to revamp and refurbish their archaic method of presenting information to the people. They need not necessarily attack people, their job is to inform and they can do that without causing any unnecessary drama.

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