• Saturday, June 22, 2024
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Tinubu’s “proof of life” video – a portent of terrible things

Tinubu and the seven principles of public life (1)

In the amnesiac world of Nigerian political engagement, 7 years ago might as well be 70 years ago, but some of us remember things. Apart from remembering things, we also make deductions and projections based on the things we remember, and use these to make decisions about the future. I know that to some, this may be a revolutionary concept, but hear me out here – extrapolating from the past could be one of the most accurate ways of visualising the future.

One of the things I remember vividly from 7 years ago was a social media spectacle involving then Candidate Buhari’s WASSCE certificate, or lack thereof. Several prominent voices had publicly claimed that Candidate Buhari did not in fact possess such a thing, and hence was not constitutionally qualified to run for the office of president. There were several things said the candidate could have done to clear his name, but the option he chose is why you are reading this article today.

Credibility trolling: The Buhari Method

Anyone who is versed in internet culture is familiar with one of the ubiquitous features of all forms of online public discourse, be it on 4Chan, Reddit, Nairaland, Twitter or website article comments – everything on the internet is apparently true until it is flagged as false, in which case the person who posted it either did so ironically, or was “hacked.”

How this works is that in the course of a conversation Party A posts false information so that they can win an argument with Party B. If Party B is not able to flag the information as false, Party A gets to win the argument. If Party B does flag it as false, Party A simply claims they posted the falsehood as a “joke,” or they claimed they were “hacked” and it was in fact not them who posted it.

While this might sound like nothing more than a juvenile feature of internet culture, this phenomenon is regularly deployed in information warfare at state level by actors such as the Russian Federation.

The infamous “Internet Research Agency,” the St. Petersburg-based Russian troll farm that influenced major decisions like the 2016 US election and the Brexit referendum, regularly deploys this tactic across its millions of sock-puppet social media assets.

In this way, it seeds public discourse and controls narratives using a complex tissue of lies which when exposed, are simply ascribed to “humour” or bad faith on the part of some unspecified “other.”

This was the method deployed by Candidate Buhari in 2015 when dealing with questions about his missing WASSCE certificate. Rather than come out to publicly show proof of the (nonexistent) certificate’s existence or admit to its nonexistence, the Buhari campaign instead used one of its multiple nondescript Twitter accounts to post an image of a clearly inauthentic certificate where “Muhammadu” was even misspelt as “Mohamed.”

The official Buhari Twitter account then retweeted this post to its massive audience. Being that this was 2015 and Nigerians had collectively taken temporary leave of their senses, the clear forgery was somehow allowed to fly as evidence of Candidate Buhari’s qualification, and he got away with it.

A few months thereafter, once the election had been won, the retweet was quietly removed and the sock-puppet account used to make the initial post was taken down by the campaign. Job done.

It is important to note that Buhari’s official account never made a direct post or comment about the forged certificate. That way, even if someone was able to suspend the thick veil of mass psychosis long enough to alert the public about the “certificate’s” lack of authenticity, the campaign could simply claim that it did not know where the forgery originated from, and that it did not endorse it.

Tinubu 2023: The Buhari Method redux

I used the 2015 certificate saga to build up to this because save for a few details, the exact same story archetype is playing out again.

Read also: Tinubu whose mistakes made Buhari warns us against another mistake 

This time around, rather than the candidate’s educational qualifications (which are also in question incidentally), it is the candidate’s state of health that is under scrutiny.

If indeed, Candidate Bola Ahmed Tinubu was in good health, there would be exactly zero controversy about it, more than a week after the official start of the campaign season. He would be out and about in Nigeria, doing what a presidential candidate does 5 months to an election – campaigning.

Instead, because he is in fact stuck in a hospital somewhere in the UK, and his campaign team on the ground cannot defend his embarrassing lack of absence, the tactic deployed was the Buhari method from 2015 all over again.

This time around, an old video of Candidate Tinubu riding an exercise bike – a video that has been seen on the internet as far back as 2018 – was put out on his official Twitter account as proof of his current state of health, accompanied by a message that seemed to be written in the voice of a 19-year-old JAMB UME candidate.

Even after this video has been proven to be strategically dishonest, the Tinubu campaign team can fall back on “credibility trolling” by claiming that nowhere was it directly stated that the video was taken recently, and that anyone making an issue out of it is nitpicking, etc, etc.

In the “post-truth” era of public discourse, this means that after 8 years of Buhari’s pernicious credibility trolling, if Nigeria makes the choice of voting for Buhari’s ideological and political ally, use of lies and strategic dishonesty as primary tools of governance will be deepened and entrenched even further than what is currently obtainable. If anyone needs me to explain why that is bad news at this point, then there is no need.

There is no need at all.