By Tope Templer Olaiya and Chukwuma Muanya
Beware of what you consume on social media. That space is a theatre of the absurd. From matters of no consequence to serious issues, when trends break on social media, one is guaranteed an inventive spin of all shades. This has given birth to one of the latest entries into the social media lexicon, which is Fake News.
Each trend and ‘Breaking News’ has its fake news version but usually, as with all things news, they have a short lifespan. The longest of them in recent times was the controversy that trailed President Muhammadu Buhari’s secondary school leaving examination certificate, which lasted for about a fortnight.
But one ‘Breaking News’ or ‘Fake News’ that has refused to go away after many weeks is the story of President Buhari’s body double conspiracy theory, one Jibril Aminu from Sudan, which is spreading like wide fire. What started as a gossip shared in hushed whispers has gained so much traction strong enough to elicit official reactions.
It was a story that broke on the clandestine medium, Radio Biafra, propagated by its promoter and leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, who earlier this month resurfaced in Israel many months after he was missing in action during the military’s Operation Python Dance in his home state of Abia.
Kanu has consistently asserted that there is an imposter in Aso Rock, Nigeria’s seat of power, with threats to expose how Jibril Aminu was transformed to replace ‘dead Buhari’ in London. He alludes that Jibril resembles Buhari except for a cleft ear, broad nose bridge and teenager fresh hands.
He further claimed that the Nigerian diplomat who was murdered in Sudan on May 10, 2018, Habibu Almu, was killed over his alleged involvement in the recruitment of Jibril. The IPOB leader, who promised to shock Nigerians with his revelation of how Jubril was transformed to replace ‘dead Buhari’, while sympathizing with the family of the deceased, urged the Sudanese police to uncover the killers of Almu.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs according to its spokesperson, Dr. Tope Elias-Fatile, at the time had disclosed that the Nigerian immigration attaché, Almu, was murdered in Khartoum, Sudan by a Sudanese woman of Nigerian origin.
Reacting to the allegation of an impostor in Aso Rock, the Personal Assistant to President Buhari on Social Media, Lauretta Onochie, said the intelligence of some Nigerians has been insulted by the outrageous lies that the president is a body double, taking a swipe at Femi Fani-Kayode, who also shares the same opinion with Kanu.
Yesterday, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) posted online, ‘President Buhari cancels his planned five-day ‘casual leave’ as a mark of respect for victims of Boko Haram attacks across the battlefields in the North-east zone of the country.’ Someone immediately posted: ‘Buhari or Jibril, which one? We play too much in this country. Buhari has been on technical leave since 2015, now Jibril is going on casual leave.’
Another quipped: “I am beginning to believe this Jibril story because the difference between the original Buhari and Jibril Aminu is so glaring. The body language of the real Buhari was said to work wonders like longer electricity supply and scaring potential looters, but we can’t say the same of this new Buhari.”
The Jibril story travelled like the speed of light when in the heat of the crisis rocking the All Progressives Congress (APC) after its primaries held, some leaders of the party began to vent their anger and speak in innuendos. Governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, was reported to have said: “If I say what I know about APC, Nigerians will burn down Aso Rock within 24 hours,” while governor of Ogun State, Ibikunle Amosun was rumoured to have said: “If APC provokes me again, I will tell the whole world what we were cooking that got the house burnt.”
But weighing in on the story, Shehu Sani, the Senator representing Kaduna Central reacting on his Twitter page, discarded such report, saying Buhari has no ‘double’. The Kaduna lawmaker urged Nigerians to see ‘Jibrin’ as an imaginative character.Sani wrote: “There’s no one and nothing like Jibril El Sudan. Buhari ‘Caesar’ is healthy and has no double. But you can literally refer to Jibrin as an imaginative and mythical character in Shakespearean Nigeria. It is natural to creatively invent characters and promote conjectures in our theatre of the absurd.”
While some Nigerians have helped in amplifying the rumour, using posts and comments to express their belief and disbelief in a ‘cloned’ Buhari, others have been cropping and magnifying recent pictures of the president in comparison with 2016/2017 images when the president was sick and feeble.
It would be recalled that after initially spending over 50 days on medical vacation in London, the president had in May 2017 returned to the United Kingdom, for follow-up medical check-up where he stayed longer than three months.
Those who buy the Jibril narrative fuss that since the last medical extended vacation, it was a young-looking, somewhat shorter Buhari that is in Aso Rock. The issue received some fuel last Saturday when former President Olusegun Obasanjo urged Buhari to “do the needful and stop inadvertently giving credence to the story.”
At the installation of Peoples Democratic Party’s presidential aspirant, Atiku Abubakar, as Turakin Adamawa, he said: “No matter how long we choose to feign ignorance, the news of a stranger running the affairs of Nigeria has gained international attention.”I have in the past few weeks received calls from different world leaders and some concerned global investors who sought for my response over this issue which is currently being talked about in almost every home in the country.
“Fake news is real, but this story, whether false or true can only be put to rest by the accused who happens to be President Muhammadu Buhari. In 2010, many of you, I believe, still remember how it was rumoured that I was shot dead by assassins. The news understandably went viral immediately, and on learning about it, I came out and said I was alive and well.”
Another Senator representing Ondo North, Ajayi Boroffice, on Monday reportedly gave an intellectual bent to the discourse in his piece titled ‘Buhari, the imaginative clone and human genetics’. It was not as if Boroffice held a conference anywhere to release his alleged statement. Again, it was a glean from the social media where he said: “Ordinarily, I wouldn’t like to involve myself in the nauseating debate about the rumoured cloning of President Buhari and the imaginative Jibril Aminu of Sudan because it is rubbish in the face of scientific realities.
“As a Nigerian who bagged Ph.D degree in Human Genetics in congenital malformations arising from chromosomal aberrations in 1975 and had Post-Doctoral Research in mutagenesis and carcinogenesis, I consider myself as competent to comment on the needless controversy. For a 75 years old adult to be cloned, a living cell must be obtained and subjected to some manipulations that will convert it to totipotent cell. The totipotent cell will now undergo embryological development that will produce a young human fetus.
“Therefore, for the clone to look like the same man, it must be exposed to the exact environment for a period equivalent to 75 years. It is therefore ridiculous for anybody to think Mr President has been cloned and that the person who is the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a clone from Sudan.”
But cloning is not the dominant narrative. First, it is not logical to clone a 75-year-old Buhari, as the science of cloning must yield to the natural process of growth. The narrative instead is that a Buhari look-alike is in charge at Aso Rock
Amid the rising suspicion of a Buhari double, peddlers of the Jibril story refer to a particular incident in history. For decades, rumours circulated in Russia that former President Joseph Stalin had a “twin” who replaced him during certain situations. Decades after Stalin’s death, the decoy finally decided to talk. Felix Dadaev, a former dancer and juggler, had been ordered to work at the Kremlin as Stalin’s body double.
For more than half a century, Dadaev remained silent, fearing a death sentence should he dare to open his mouth. But in 2008, at the age of 88, and with the apparent approval of the Putin regime, he finally came forward to write his autobiography, where he explained that he was one of four men employed to impersonate the supreme leader, taking his place in motorcades, at rallies, on newsreel footage etc.
When the Second World War started, Dadaev was required to fight and was so badly injured during the war that his family was told he had been killed. Fortunately, he survived, though that “death” was the start of a strange double life. Soon his resemblance to 60-year-old Stalin (which got him teased in school) caught the eye of Soviet intelligence agents, who started using him to save the real Stalin from assassination plots and tedious public ceremonies.
Just into his 20s, Dadaev was a great deal younger than Stalin, but make-up and the strain of war meant that he could pass for the 60-year-old. “We had all experienced so much suffering that I looked much older than I was”, Dadaev said. Trained at the personal request of Stalin, Dadaev attended rallies and meetings across the Soviet Union wearing the leader’s trademark Red Army cap and heavy overcoat encrusted with medals. He watched movies and speeches of Stalin to perfect the mimicry of his movement and intonation.
“By the time my make-up and training were complete, I was like him in every way, except perhaps my ears. They were too small”. In an age before media dominated, he didn’t have to mimic perfectly Stalin’s vocal inflections, just his look and mannerisms. He pulled it off so well even Stalin’s closest comrades couldn’t spot the imposter.
United States and Korean scientists in 2014 cloned claimed a 75-year-old human was cloned for the production of stem cells. The study was published in the journal, Cell Stem Cell.
This technique was recently used to create embryonic stem cells from an infant donor. The team managed to perform the technique successfully with two male donors, one 35 years old and the second 75. The primary change needed was simply to extend the period in which the donor DNA is reset by the proteins present in the egg.
So can Buhari also be cloned? The Guardian put the question to president of the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS) Prof. Kalu Mosto Onuoha. “I don’t know. I don’t believe so. What I do know and what I have read is that many former leaders had several look-alikes, like President Winston Churchill of the United States, even some actors. The double or look-alike is used sometimes to protect the original person,” he said.
President of the Nigerian Medical Association, Dr. Francis Adedayo Faduyile, on his part, said: “They cannot clone an adult person and it is not possible. The only thing is to have a look-alike.”
This is one reason why folks are skeptical and slow to shake off, no matter how far-fetched, the tale that Aso Rock’s power brokers organised a Buhari double to continue control over power. Another is the Umaru Musa Yar’Adua saga.Eight years ago, Yar’Adua was pronounced dead after long months of speculations about an illness that led to his being flown, in November 2009, to a Saudi Arabia hospital. It was one of the most vicious and dangerous power intrigues in Nigeria’s history, where a small knot of family and close-knit power brokers held the nation to ransom. There were no updates on treatment progress. There was no word on the wild rumours flying around that Yar’Adua was already dead in Saudi Arabia and in February 2010, he was secretly brought back into Nigeria under the cover of darkness.
Just like Yar’Adua’s case, the nation is on the tenterhooks over a Buhari double story that refuses to fade away. And that is because everything about the president, including his state of health is a classified official secret.