On Thursday, March 23, 2023, the social media space was abuzz with reports that the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Olukayode Ariwoola, disguised on a wheelchair to London for a clandestine meeting with President-elect Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The rumour and gossip mills went into overdrive after online news platform, Peoples Gazette, published a story that detailed how Ariwoola had snuck into London for a meeting with Tinubu, whose emergence as Nigeria’s next President will soon be challenged in courtrooms by Peter Obi of the Labour Party and Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP).
The story details that with this London meeting, Tinubu intends to curry the favour of the judiciary as his opponents battle to nullify his mandate, with his victory expected to be challenged all the way to a Supreme Court headed by Ariwoola.
There was of course the viral picture of the Chief Justice perched on a wheelchair, to buttress the story.
WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON?
Quest Times’ findings reveal however, that Tinubu is currently in France and not in London.
Soon after the story found its way into sundry WhatsApp groups across Nigeria and the diaspora, Tinubu issued a rebuttal through Director, Media and Publicity of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential Campaign Council (PCC), Bayo Onanuga.
Onanuga described the story as “grossly fake, misleading and malicious,” before stating: “To show that the story was a mere salacious fiction, meant to draw traffic to the discredited purveyor, it claimed the Chief Justice left Nigeria for London on March 11, on a wheelchair to board a plane.
“The President-elect left Nigeria on March 21, ten clear days thereafter.
“What kind of appointment or secret meeting will the two men have arranged in London, with so wide disparate arrival dates, except in the imagination of the false news merchants?
“We can confirm that the President-elect, who left Nigeria Tuesday, has not been in London. He is right now in France to have a deserved rest, after a hectic campaign that began in January 2022.
“He will go to London thereafter, before proceeding to Mecca for the lesser Hajj.”
Quest Times can also authoritatively report that Justice Kayode Ariwoola has today, Friday, March 24, just been spotted observing his prayers at the Ansar-Ud-Deen Central Mosque in Abuja, at a time Gazette had reported that he is in far away London for a dubious meeting.
The Supreme Court has also confirmed that the CJN is nowhere near London at the moment.
Supreme Court spokesperson, Festus Akande, tells Premium Times that “the CJN has been in Nigeria, and presided over meetings of the National Judicial Council (NJC) held on 16 and 17 March.”
However, the CJN has just returned from a medical trip to London and there’s a possibility that the photo of him on a wheelchair was taken during his last medical sojourn to London.
“On 23 March, the CJN returned from his medical trip to London and later reported in the office (in Abuja), where he worked till 8p.m,” said Akande.
“The only time the CJN travelled earlier this year was on 25 January, when he travelled for Lesser Hajj in Saudi Arabia. He returned on 29 January 2023,” the Supreme Court spokesperson explained.
On Friday, Premium Times was granted access to the CJN’s chambers at the Supreme Court, where Mr Ariwoola was seen with a retinue of aides walking into a waiting SUV to attend Jumat prayers at a mosque within the precincts of the Presidential Villa in Abuja.
There’s no evidence at this time, that Tinubu and CJN Ariwoola are holding a secret meeting in London, or that they did so earlier.
The current itinerary of the President-elect and his location, is at variance with what was detailed in separate reports by Peoples Gazette and Sahara Reporters.
Today’s appearance of the CJN in Abuja for Jumat prayers also punctures multiple holes in the widely circulated story.
The writers simply latched onto an old picture of the CJN and wove a convenient tale around it for social media traction and virality. And it worked a treat, unfortunately.
In any case, a “disguise” happens when one wears a completely new appearance in order to conceal their identity. In the viral photograph of CJN Ariwoola in a wheelchair, the man wore his trademark ‘Papa’s’ cap and was bedecked in a traditional outfit.
His face wasn’t concealed and he wore his trademark white beards with aplomb. A man who wants to disguise for a clandestine meeting abroad, would do more than appear at an airport looking like he’s always looked.
The insertion of “disguise” in the headline for the story was a misnomer. You don’t hide in plain sight.
One of the many persons who shared the image on Twitter, Dr Sam Amadi, the former Chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), has deleted the image and apologised profusely.
“Yesterday, I posted a picture of an elder man on wheelchair who happen to be the CJN. I have deleted the tweet because in retrospect, it is not necessary. The tweet was in reference to the PG story and not intended to embarrass. I apologize to all offended by the tweet,” Amadi wrote.
Wheelchairs are also readily available at airports for the elderly, the injured or for anyone who can’t take a walk and could use a quick lift. Finding the CJN on a wheelchair at a terminal is no proof of anything.
Our submission is that the story by the Peoples Gazette is FALSE, and is hinged on unsubstantiated hear-says and mischievous fabrications.