By IHECHUKWU SUNDAY
Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu and former Special Assistant to President Goodluck Jonathan on New Media, Reno Omokri, yesterday engaged each other in a social media spat over claims by Shehu that President Muhammadu Buhari deserves credit for his efforts to tackle insecurity in the country.
Shehu had while presenting a paper, entitled: “Fake news: Challenges of information management,” at the 10th year anniversary of the Federal University, Dutsin-Ma (FUDMA), in Katsina State, said: “It is a fact that the Buhari administration is the only government of Nigeria that has put forward a workable solution to the herder-farmer challenge in all the years since independence.
“The threat to civilians and peaceful co-existence between different ethnic and religious groups from farmer-herders clashes, banditry and land disputes are of serious concern to the Buhari government.
“It is incorrect, however, to assert that the government has done, or is doing, nothing to address the threats.
“Firstly, there are ongoing efforts for the establishment of cattle ranches to prevent or curtail open grazing, the practice that brings herders and farmers into conflict.
“This is an age-old problem facing Nigerian Governments since the colonial days. However, matters of land distribution are dealt with at state level.
“This means willingness has to be shown by state governors to drive the process forward. The federal government launched a plan last year to work with states to address these issues together.
“Unfortunately, this has been lacking in some states, and with regard to the long and determined battle waged against Boko Haram, Nigerians are aware of the efforts made by this government.
“When the government came to power, the terrorist group held and administered an area the size of Belgium. Now they hold none. The terrorists are hiding out amongst remote forests and across borders.
“This makes it difficult to extinguish the final flames of the insurgency, and the government has no illusions of the potent threat still posed.
“Recent statistics have shown that over 14,500 Boko Haram members have voluntarily surrendered.
“However, the progress made cannot be denied. In the face of rising crime and insecurity, the government’s new community policing initiative was launched.
“Some 10,000 new constables were recruited and the process is on for another 10,000 to be recruited from the areas they will safeguard as opposed to past practice.
“The government hopes this will bring policing closer to local communities. N13 billion was earmarked for the initial initiative. Going by the plan, every year will see an additional 10,000 policemen.
“It is an opinion that the president’s comments on IPOB, which led to the banning of twitter in Nigeria was controversial. For many it was not.
“President Buhari has therefore been warning against social media disruptive and divisive influences, and the government’s action is not a knee-jerk reaction to Twitter’s preposterous deletion of his tweet which should have been read in full.
“The tweet was not a threat, but a statement of fact. As a terrorist organisation, IPOB poses a significant threat to the safety and security of Nigerian citizens.
“When the President said that they will be treated ‘in a language they understand,’ he merely reiterated that their force shall be met with force. It is a basic principle of security services response world over.
“This is not a promotion of hate, but a pledge to uphold citizens’ right to freedom from harm. The government cannot be expected to capitulate to terrorists.”
However, Omokri disputed the claims and challenged Shehu to spend a weekend without security details in Bama, Borno State, the epicenter of the Boko Haram insurgency and be paid the sum of $50,000.
In a tweet on his verified twitter handle, @renoomkri, Omokri who has 1 million Twitter followers, said: “Yesterday, Garba Shehu renewed his claim that ‘Buhari deserves credit for tackling insecurity”. I renew my challenge to Garba. Spend a weekend alone, without security, in Bama. I will pay him $50.000”
It was followed with a hashtag, #GarbaShehuSecurityChallenge.
But in a counter response on Sunday in his Facebook account in which he has 209,345 followers, Shehu alleged that someone was using money made from Leah Sharibu’s sad ordeal, saying that he does not need “blood money.”
He posted: “My message to anyone who made money using Leah Sharibu’s sad ordeal, and they are flaunting it remains unchanged: This is blood money. I don’t need any of it. Period.”
In a swift reaction, Omoki on a Facebook account that he operates, “Build Up Nigeria,” tagged a letter to Shehu in which he challenged him to produce evidence that he made money from the abducted Dapchi school girl or remain silent.
Omokri wrote: “Dear Garba Shehu, if you have evidence that I have made money from Leah Sharibu’s ordeal, please expose it. You have access to the media. Alternatively, if any individual, church, foundation, government or country has given me even one kobo for Leah, please speak now, or forever remain silent.
“Leah Sharibu’s father, Nathan, did a video denouncing your false allegation the last time you made this allegation last year. Rather than make money from Leah, I wrote a book about her, which inspired a BBC Documentary, and got the attention of the US government, and I donated all the proceeds to her parents, plus £4000.
“Having said that, the issue is not Leah Sharibu. The issue is that you said, and I quote ‘Buhari deserves credit for tackling insecurity’. If you really believe that, Garba, then I challenge you to go to Bama in Borno, for a weekend, alone, without security. And I will pay you $50,000.
“But if even you believe my money is ‘blood money, then do it because you believe ‘Buhari deserves credit for tackling insecurity.’
“Garba, you and I used to write anti-Buhari material between 2003-2005 when you were HE Atiku’s spokesman under a Peoples Democratic Government. Today, you are praising the man you once denounced.”