A misleading tweet by an official of the Nigerian Presidency helped fueled nationwide speculation Thursday that Governor Danbaba Suntai of Taraba died in a plane crash.
Anxiety had mounted over the fate of the occupants of the ill-fated plane after the story broke that six passengers and crew, including Mr. Suntai, were aboard the small jetliner which crashed Thursday evening close to the NNPC depot in Yola.
But rather than help defuse the tension over the crash, which came less than five months after a Lagos-bound Dana-operated aircraft from Abuja crashed into a two-storey building in Lagos, killing all 153 passengers, and 10 others on the ground, the presidency added to the confusion, pronouncing the governor dead without getting confirmation from officials on ground in Yola, the Adamawa State capital.
“May the soul of the late departed Governor, Danbaba Suntai, of Taraba State rest in peace and may God grant the state peace this trying time,” the Special Assistant to the President on New Media, Reno Omokri, said via his twitter handle, @renoomokri.
But after this newspaper reported claims by witnesses and Taraba State officials that the governor survived the crash and was in hospital, Mr. Omokri hurriedly deleted his misleading tweet. When we checked his twitter handle at 9.25 p.m., the tweet was no longer there.
He did not offer any apology or explanation.
Mr. Omokri had in the past used his handle to convey presidential statements and information to Nigerians, and many were quick to believe the information he circulated.
“Once I saw Reno condoling Taraba and the family of the governor, every doubt I had about the purported death of the governor evaporated,” a state House correspondent told PREMIUM TIMES this morning. “It is unfortunate that the presidency misled the nation once again.
The Federal Ministry of Aviation later issued a statement saying the Taraba State Governor, Danbaba Suntai, and the other five passengers aboard the crashed plane are alive.
This is the second time the presidency would mislead the nation in less than a month. In his Independence Day anniversary speech, President Goodluck Jonathan had lied that global corruption watchdog, Transparency International, had endorsed and praised his administration’s war against corruption.
“In its latest report, Transparency International (TI) noted that Nigeria is the second most improved country in the effort to curb corruption,” the President said with glee.
But after this newspaper exposed the lies contained in the president’s broadcast after doing a thorough fact check and interviewing officials of TI, Mr. Omokri took to social media deriding our medium and labeling it an opposition platform.
President Jonathan and his officials are yet to apologise for the misinformation and the global embarrassment many believe the false claim brought upon Nigeria.
No presidency official has also been punished over the matter.
The Special Adviser on Media to the President, Reuben Abati, could not be reached to comment for this story. Calls to his telephones were neither answered nor returned.