The Nigerian government has rebutted claims by the British-owned Telegraph that it diverted funds from foreign donors to persecute political enemies. Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari, penned the rebuttal to the article. He said: “our attention has been drawn to a piece published on April 12, 2016 in The Telegraph (London) paper by one Con Coughlin (identified as ‘Defence Editor’), titled “Nigeria using UK aid to persecute president’s political foes rather than to fight Boko Haram.”
“The piece is not only full of factual inaccuracies, it also betrays a shocking ignorance of Nigeria and the country’s ongoing war against terrorism.
“Mr Coughlin’s editorial tactic is to quote unnamed senior officials’ and `western diplomats’ and `western officials’ and `political opponents’, making fact-free and unfounded statements.
“It also appears that he sought out only those opinions which suited and reinforced his disgracefully false headline.
“Nowhere in the piece is there anything that suggests he attempted to contact the Nigerian government for its own side of the story.
“Coughlin writes that “American officials are also angry that 2.1 billion Dollars of aid given to the Nigerian military to tackle Boko Haram has not been properly accounted for.
“It does not occur to him that the 2.1 billion Dollars he refers to was budgeted for and wholly spent by the government that President Buhari and his party defeated in the March 2015 presidential elections, and that one of President Buhari’s priorities has been investigating the misuse of those funds.
“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 dollars in question.’’
Shehu, Coughlin is equally unaware of the fact that the investigating panel set up by President Buhari to probe the 2.1 billion Dollars recently published a preliminary report that confirmed that much of that money was indeed looted or mispent by the accused persons.
He said that already, government had started to recover the looted funds.
The presidential aide also dismissed Coughlin’s accusation that President Buhari’s government was attempting to cover-up the abduction of 400 women and children “abducted last year by militants from the Nigerian town of Damasak.’’
“This is absolutely untrue. The Damasak abductions he’s referring to, which were recently widely reported, took place, not “last year” as he says, but in late 2014, well before Buhari was elected President of Nigeria.
“And by the way, President Buhari came to power on May 29, 2015, not July, as Coughlin reported.
“A simple search by Mr Coughlin of his 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.
“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, shut for more than one year under the previous government, have reopened.
“The same applies to the airport in Maiduguri, shut in December 2013 after a devastating Boko Haram attack on the nearby Air Force Base.’’
Shehu noted that thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) had now started returning home, while on Sunday, El-Kanemi Warriors Football Club played its first game in its home base of Maiduguri in more than two seasons.
He said “until now, the club 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.
“Coughlin not only sounds like a spokesperson for the very people whose corruption and mismanagement allowed Boko Haram to bring Nigeria to its knees – and whose disastrous legacy President Buhari spent the last one year redeeming Nigeria from – he is also guilty of failing to observe the most basic rules of responsible journalism.
“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.”