Presidency faults UK Telegraph on Nigeria’s terror war

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The Presidency on Wednesday faulted a report in the April 12 edition of The Telegraph (London) which accused President Muhammadu Buhari of allegedly using United Kingdom’s aid to persecute his political foes rather to fight Boko Haram.

The Presidency’s position was contained in a statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu.

Shehu said the piece was not only full of factual inaccuracies but also portrayed ignorance of Nigeria and the country’s ongoing war against terrorism.

He said it appeared that the writer who quoted unnamed sources sought out only those opinions which suited and reinforced his “disgracefully false headline.”

He noted that nowhere in the piece was anything that suggested that he attempted to contact the Nigerian government for its own side of the story.

He added that the writer indicated that American officials are angry that $2.1bn aid given to the Nigerian military to tackle Boko Haram has not been properly accounted for when it did not occur to him that the money referred to was budgeted for and wholly spent by the government that Buhari and his party defeated in the March 2015 presidential elections.

He said it was unfortunate that the writer also did not know that one of Buhari’s priorities has been investigating the misuse of those funds.

The statement read in part, “It also does not appear to occur to Mr. Coughlin that the ‘political opponents’ he is falsely accusing President Buhari of ‘targeting’ and ‘persecuting’ are actually on trial on account of how they spent the $2.1 billion in question.

“Mr. Coughlin is equally unaware of the fact that the investigating panel set up by Mr. Buhari to probe the $2.1 billion recently published a preliminary report that confirmed that much of that money was indeed looted or mis-spent by the accused persons, and that the government has started to recover the funds.

“Coughlin accuses President Buhari’s government of attempting to cover-up the abductions of 400 women and children ‘abducted last year by militants from the Nigerian town of Damasak.’

“This is absolutely untrue. The Damasak abductions he is referring to, which were recently widely reported, took place, not last year as he says, but in late 2014, well before Mr. Buhari was elected President of Nigeria. (And, by the way, President Buhari came to power on May 29, 2015, not July, as Coughlin reports).

“A simple search by Mr. Coughlin of his paper’s archives would have revealed these facts. A simple fact-check by his copy-editors would have spared the Telegraph the embarrassment of publishing this drivel.

“There are several other inaccuracies and baseless statements in the piece, but Mr. Coughlin is too enamoured of his anonymous sources to realise they might be misleading him, or be as ignorant about the situation as he is.

“The suggestion that Boko Haram is going ‘from strength to strength’ is an eminently laughable one; not even Nigeria’s opposition party would make such an absurd claim.

“Since President Buhari took office, schools in Borno State, shut for more than one year under the previous government, have reopened. The same applies to the airport in Maiduguri, shut down in December 2013 after a devastating Boko Haram attack on the nearby Air Force Base.

“Thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have now started returning home. Last Sunday, El-Kanemi Warriors Football Club played its first game in its home base of Maiduguri in more than two seasons.

“Until now they had been forced to play home games outside the region, on account of security concerns. There are several more examples of how the people of the region are finally getting a chance to rebuild their lives, as the Nigerian Armed Forces and a Multinational Joint Task Force continue their work of routing the terrorists.”

The presidential spokesman said the writer of the piece only sounded like a spokesperson for the  people whose corruption and mismanagement allowed Boko Haram to bring Nigeria to its knees – and whose disastrous legacy  Buhari has spent the last one year redeeming Nigeria from.

He also accused the writer of failing to observe the most basic rules of responsible journalism.

“Mr. Coughlin needs a refresher course on responsible journalism as much as he needs a crash course on Nigeria. Until he submits himself to these, we’re afraid he will continue to embarrass not only himself, but also the revered British media institution that is the Telegraph,” Shehu.

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