On Saturday, January 5, some secret tape recordings allegedly containing a portrayal of President Muhammadu Buhari's administration as a dismal failure by the minister of transportation, Rotimi Amaechi were leaked.
The tapes were released by the campaign team of the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar.
While Phrank Shaibu, the special assistant on public communication to the PDP candidate, released the tapes to media houses, Reno Omokri, a former aide of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan released the recordings on Twitter.
Amaechi is a key political ally of President Buhari and the director-general of the Buhari/Osinbajo Campaign Organisation.
The clips were allegedly made out of an informal interaction Amaechi had with journalists covering his ministry.
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Transcripts of the tapes
The transcript of one of the two tapes read: “This country can never change, I swear. The only way this country can change is if everybody is killed. This country is going nowhere, I swear.
“Even if you divide the country into 10, it will still not change. I’m not joking o. When Magnus (Abe) was my SSG, I told him that this country is hopeless and helpless.
“He said ‘Oga, stop it now. Coming from a governor, don’t be saying that. But two months in Abuja, Magnus said this country is hopeless and helpless. I said ‘why?’ He said, you are right, the only thing they do in Abuja is share money, they don’t work.”
The second tape said: “The president does not listen to anybody. He doesn’t care. You can write what you want to write. The president doesn’t care. Does he read? He will read, he will laugh. He will say ‘come, come and see, they are abusing me here’.
“In fact, there was one case of somebody in Onitsha, a trader in Onitsha who couldn’t sell his goats during Sallah. And I was with Oga on the plane and the man was busy abusing Buhari. He said, ‘Amaechi, come, what is my business with Onitsha goat seller?'”
Another tape said: “These are not things you publish ooo. If you publish them, you will never sit with me any day.
“Three years of Buhari oo, everybody is crying, crying…pressmen are crying, farmers are crying, workers are crying, politicians are crying, students are crying, three years oo!
“The rate of poverty is very high. The people are hungry. Nigeria will never change!”
How authentic are these recordings? What we know
At the moment of writing this piece, no Nigerian news media that have the reports have been able to independently verify the authenticity of the recordings.
In his reaction, Amaechi dismissed the audio recordings. When he was asked by Daily Sun for his comments on the tapes, Amaechi said: “Nothing. I am not aware of any audio recording.”
Further told that the audio was gaining momentum on different online websites, Amaechi asked: “Do I do website?”
President Buhari's aide reacts
Tolu Ogunlesi, the special assistant on digital/new media to President Buhari has also argued that the recordings were doctored.
In a thread of Tweets, Ogunlesi claimed that the recordings were doctored, in direct response to Omokri’s tweets.
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Amaechi's former aide reacts
Similarly, Ibim Semenitari, a former Rivers state commissioner for information under Amaechi, appeared to accept the voice in the tape is Amaechi’s.
She, however, insisted that the minister’s comment had been twisted out of context.
Semenitari reacted through an update she posted to her Facebook timeline in the evening of Sunday, January 6.
"The Amaechi tapes
"Let me first make it clear that I am not speaking for the Honourable Minister nor for his media team. He has quite competent hands who can do so.
"However, I feel compelled as someone who had sat in at myriads of interviews granted by the Honourable minister both when he was governor and a little while after that to correct what I believe is deliberate twisting of what he had said. First a bit of background to put things in context.
"1. Anyone who has sat with Amaechi in private discussions or at a media interview will agree that he has been consistent in expressing the belief that most Nigerians do not hate corruption but simply hate the fact that they are not the ones perpetuating the corruption. This has been his view expressed at different times in press interviews. It is for this reason that he has maintained that only a bloody revolution somewhat like the Rawlings revolution in Ghana will change Nigeria.
"2. During the Jonathan era, he had made these comments at various media discussions during which time he had also lamented about the former President’s refusal to listen and take counsel. Media colleagues at these events I am sure will remember. It is for this reason that I am certain the first recording was from one of those parleys.
"3. It is possible that the Honourable Minister has also on some occasions spoken about the frugality of the Buhari regime but he did so not in the context of negativity but as a positive indication of a new Nigeria where pain will ultimately translate to gain. Again I say this with the privilege of knowing his governance worldview in this regards.
"The reason I have bothered to speak about this is because
"1. This is a clear case of cut and paste. Different conversations taken out of context and brought together to create a narrative that is far from the truth.
"2. I am saddened by the fact that a purported conversation meant in the first place to be not for reportage and in strict confidence is being peddled. Though I wasn’t present at this so-called meeting but I gleaned this from the supposed comments of the minister in the peddled tape itself.
"Like I said, I do not hold brief for the minister nor can speak for his media team but I do owe my country, my profession and posterity the truth that I know. Happy new year again and may Nigeria prosper."
Smearing opponents as a political tactic in Nigeria
Election period in Nigeria is when politicians come up with claims and counter-claims to discredit their opponents with the purpose of influencing public perceptions.
In March 2014, prior to the 2015 general elections, Financial Times reported how one “Wendell Simlin”, in a document sent to several Nigerian websites, attempted to link the former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, to the upsurge in violence by Boko Haram insurgents.
Some cyber specialists tracked the identity of the mysterious Simlin behind the slur and discovered that the properties of the word document he used stated the author as Reno Omokri, ex-President Jonathan’s social media adviser.
The authenticity of the recordings have not been verified by any independent organisation. While the PDP claimed that the recordings were intact, media aides from the ruling APC have come up with counter-claims that the recordings have been doctored.
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