A statement issued in Abuja by Malam Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the President, Wednesday, said the article was full of factual inaccuracies and a clear ignorance of Nigeria and the country’s ongoing war against terrorism.
The statement read: “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.’’
According to 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.’’
According to Shehu, there are several other inaccuracies and baseless statements in the piece, but Mr Coughlin is too enamoured of his anonymous sources to realise they might be misleading him, or be as ignorant about the situation as he is.
“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.”
The London Telegraph newspapers had, it would be recalled, had alleged that of millions of pounds of British foreign aid given to Nigeria to help combat Boko Haram terrorists is instead being used to fund a witch-hunt against opposition politicians, it is being claimed.
Britain has committed to spending £860 million in foreign aid to Nigeria, which now boasts Africa’s largest economy, to help support the country’s efforts to crush Boko Haram terror group, which has been responsible for a spate of outrages, including the kidnapping of hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls.
But Western officials are now raising concerns that the government of the country’s recently elected leader, President Muhammadu Buhari, is misusing the funds to persecute political opponents. Since Buhari came to power last July, a number of prominent members of the former ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP, have been arrested and imprisoned without charge.
Among those detained was the party’s official spokesperson. Most of the arrests have been sanctioned by the government-controlled Economic and Financial Crime Commission, which was set up to tackle corruption and receives funding from the Department for International Development. But while Buhari’s government continues to use British aid money to target his political opponents, it is proving less effective at tackling the Islamist-run Boko Haram terrorist group.
Much of the aid Britain provides to Nigeria is aimed at helping the country’s security forces to become more effective at tackling Boko Haram, which boasts of its links with Islamic State and achieved international notoriety two years ago after kidnapping 276 schoolgirls in northern Nigeria two years ago. Scores of British military personnel – including members of the Special Forces – are based in Nigeria helping to train the military to tackle Boko Haram.
Accusations that Nigeria is abusing British aid will add to the growing controversy over Downing Street’s commitment to spend 0.7 percent of GDP on the foreign aid budget. Last week the Telegraph reported that DFID was under pressure to cancel £200 million of foreign aid to Tanzania following concerns over a widely condemned election. This resulted in Liam Fox, the former Defence Secretary, accusing the government of “spraying money around” simply to achieve the 0.7 percent target.
Western officials have expressed concern about Buhari’s increasingly autocratic style of government since he came to power last year. A retired major-general, Buhari, 73, previously headed a brutal military dictatorship following a coup in December 1983, which lasted until he was overthrown by another coup in 1985. Now political opponents claim he is returning to his old dictatorial ways, abusing British aid meant to improve Nigeria’s ability to tackle Boko Haram to consolidate his hold on power.
Apart from the concerns over British aid, American officials are also angry that $2.1 billion of aid given to the Nigerian military to tackle Boko Haram has not been properly accounted for. Buhari’s claim that he is winning the war against Boko Haram – recently claimed the group no longer poses a serious threat – has been undermined by recent revelations the Nigerian authorities have tried to cover up the fact that hundreds more schoolchildren have been abducted by Boko Haram.
Human rights activists have now confirmed that around 400 women and children were abducted last year by militants from the Nigerian town of Damasak. It is now believed that some of these children may have been trained as suicide bombers. U.S. counter-terrorism experts say at least 105 women and girls trained by Boko Haram have taken part in suicide attacks since June 2014.