In Nigeria, rumors have begun to spread that President Muhammadu Buhari has died. These appear to be false, despite that the president has appeared ill for months. After spending an extended medical leave in London in January and February, he left for London once again on May 7. His trip to London immediately followed the release of eighty-two of the Chibok school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014. He returned to London having signed over his authority to the vice president, in accordance with the constitution.
Nevertheless, on May 14, presidential spokesman Garba Shehu tweeted that President Buhari is “alive and well,” and said that Nigerians should ignore contrary rumors: “Baseless rumors are trending again that an unpleasant thing has happened to our beloved President, Muhammadu Buhari. If you have received this information on WhatsApp or Facebook, disregard it bcos it is plain lies spread by vested interests to create panic. Nothing unpleasant has happened to the President. No cause for apprehension. Thanks for the many calls.”
Some of the rumors appear well-developed and appear to have prompted Garba Shehu’s statement. One is quoted below:
“Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari Finally Goes Home: Body to be Flown Back to Abuja Tomorrow
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has been confirmed dead in London where he was receiving medical treatment… The Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom told reporters plans are underway to transport the body of the late president back to Abuja where final funeral rites will be held… Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo is expected to be sworn into office as the substantive President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Government is yet to issue an official statement of the President’s demise. He was 74 years.”
Of course, the Nigerian High Commissioner in London has issued no such statement. But rumors about Buhari’s health proliferate, and the rise of social media facilitates their spread. Some Nigerians see parallels with the demise of President Umaru Yar’adua in 2010. Lack of transparency about presidential health throughout Africa encourages rumor mongering. So does lack of basic information. There has been no official, credible announcement about President Buhari’s whereabouts in London, nor whether if he is receiving medical treatment and what that treatment might be.