The government of Goodluck Jonathan on Wednesday evening again shifted into denial mode as its damaged image suffered further humiliation following the revelation it has ordered 53 gold Iphones to “celebrate” Nigeria’s 53rd anniversary next month.
First reported by The Independent newspaper of London yesterday, the denial followed a new claim by Gold & Co, the company which first said it got the order directly from the government, PREMIUM TIMES said this evening.
In a twitter conversation with a Nigerian social activist, the company, perhaps under pressure, seemed to back off a little bit from its earlier claim.
“These have been ordered not by the government but by an individual who is gifting them to people [in Nigeria] to celebrate [the independence anniversary]” a tweet from Gold&Co said.
But Simon Usborne, who reported the story for The Independent, has contradicted the company, asserting, “I can only confirm what the boss of @goldandco told me.” The reporter also suggested that Gold and Co is trying to re-script the interview after the fact, perhaps in view of the attention and angry reaction of Nigerians.
“Seems boss of @goldandco got carried away,” Usborne tweeted. “He now tells me a Nigerian individual – not the govt. – ordered 53 anniversary gold iPhones.”
In plain English, that means the government, through one of its officials, placed the mind-boggling order.
Phone calls and Text messages sent to President Jonathan's media aide, Reuben Abati, by Saharareporters were unanswered.
However, President Jonathan’s social media aide, Reno Omokri, seized the sliver of opportunity. “Be advised that the story that the Nigerian Government has ordered 53 Gold iPhones is false,” he said. There is no truth to the story whatsoever.”
But neither Omokri nor anyone else identified the Nigerian that is rich or patriotic enough to place a single order worth N662 million from his own pocket, or what he hopes to get in return.
While the Minister of Information, Joseph Mutah, has conveniently disappeared during the controversy, his Press Secretary stepped forth, armed without facts, to deny the report.
“We have never heard of anything like that,” he said, as if his ears and the facts always match. “The story is utterly false and mischievous, there is no any (sic) order like that at least by this government.”
Nigeria’s government under Mr. Jonathan labours under a heavy credibility deficit, routinely issuing denials as it moves from one bizarre controversy to another.
In October 2011, PT Pertamina, the Indonesian state company, announced that it had signed a deal under which Nigeria would spend $2.6billion to build three oil refineries in the country.
Once reported by the influential Jakarta Post, it was rapidly denied by a spokesman in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, who declared it as fictitious without providing any facts.
While the Indonesian authorities insisted the story was true, the Nigerian government never officially investigated it.
Only last month, a whistle-blower group sent a petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission accusing the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, of squandering millions of dollars of public funds in illegal rentals of private jets allegedly for her official activities.
Following previous allegations by a variety of reporters and groups, the group, “Crusaders for Good Governance” called for Ms. Allison-Madueke to be investigated, saying that she spends as much as $300,000 on an average international trip outside of Nigeria, and as much as $500,000 on trips to places like China, Malaysia and North American countries.
As is the normal practice, the EFCC, and the government, ignored the petition.