Nigeria’s president denies he’s dead and has been replaced by an imposter

“I’m alive!”
“I’m alive!”
Image: Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde/File Photo
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Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari is denying rumors that he’s dead, but by doing so he’s committing yet another communications gaffe.

At a town hall session with Nigerians in Poland, Buhari told the audience he was the “real” president and that the rumors likely came from people who “hoped” he died during a bout of illness last year. Indeed, the rumors that the president had passed and was replaced by one “Jubril,” a Sudanese impostor, made the rounds among fringe political and religious groups on social media but the claims have increasingly gone mainstream in recent weeks in the run-up to February’s elections.

In part, the presidency has itself to blame for the speculation over Buhari’s health given its poor handling of the president’s illness. While away in London for over 150 days on “medical leave,” the presidency provided very little details of Buhari’s well-being. A frail audio message from the president did little to inspire confidence among citizens who have already experienced the trauma of a president dying in office this decade. More than a year after his return from London, the nature of the president’s illness remains undisclosed.

By denying the rumors of his death and the preposterous idea of being cloned, Buhari has only given new life to the rumors ahead of a competitive election campaign and now moves his health to the top of the agenda as a talking point for opposition candidates. His clumsy denial has predictably made headlines among local papers and—for the first time—an incredulous international media.

It’s the latest in a string of communications gaffes that have trailed Buhari’s presidency which range from blaming the country’s high unemployment on lazy youths to accusing Nigeria’s diaspora of sullying the country’s international image.

The president’s gaffes also tend to happen only on foreign trips given Buhari’s perceived preference for speaking to foreign press. Back home, Nigerians have typically only heard from the president during formal national broadcasts on public holidays. Indeed, since being elected, Buhari has largely shunned televised media chats with Nigerian journalists—a tradition among presidents since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999. President Buhari has so far only had one.

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