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Dear Mrs. Balogun

Thérèse's response to recent criticism on her column
By The News · 23 of March 2017 11:22:32
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby sits with Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja House, London, Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby sits with Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja House, London, Britain March 9, 2017. Nigeria Presidential Office/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES, photo: Nigeria Presidential Office Handout, via Reuters

Thank you for your letter regarding my recent column about your president and for your interest in our newspaper.

In response to your comments, I would like to clarify a few issues:

In the first place, my column “Where’s Buhari?” which ran on March 3, is an opinion column, not a news report, and is clearly labeled as such. Additionally, it appears in the Opinion Section of our online newspaper. Consequently, it is intended to be an expression of my personal views, not an unbiased report.

You take issue with the fact that I called your esteemed president, Muhammadu Buhari, “polemic.” The fact that Mr. Buhari came to power on a campaign to eliminate graft and financial malfeasance in a nation that was ranked 136 out of 176 countries by the global civil watchdog Transparency International, with a score of just 27 out of 100 on the Corruption Perception Index, and where 85 percent of the population surveyed believe corruption is on the rise, is in itself polemic, especially if you consider that one of his major programs was to abolish overseas medical tourism by government officials. (As you know, my column was precisely regarding Mr. Buhari’s own extended visit to the United Kingdom to receive medical treatment.)

Your president is also currently embroiled in a controversy regarding his alleged transfer of money to a judge in 2015, who at the time was reviewing a suit challenging Mr. Buhari’s academic qualifications to serve as president. (Mr. Buhari later explained that the money was “a personal gift” and had nothing to do with the law suit.)

And then, of course, there is the polemic situation of allegations of war crimes perpetrated by Mr. Buhari’s military on civilians. These soldiers are tasked with fighting the savage terror group Boko Haram (and have, admittedly, made major strides in reducing the number of jihadist militants on Nigerian soil). But there have also been a flood of reports in the last month of Nigerian soldiers killing unarmed civilians. As a result of those allegations, the U.S. Congress is now reconsidering the sale of arms to your government.

Add to this the fact that the Nigerian economy — once the largest in Africa — is currently in the throes of its worst economic recession in decades and that parts of the country are now on the verge of mass famine, there is ample room to associate blame with the country’s head of state, hence, presenting controversy.

For these, and many other issues that I see no need to elaborate on at this time, I feel that my use of the word “polemic” was appropriate and even conservative.

You also took issue with my citing Mr. Buhari’s visits with senior British officials and excursion to Harrods. These outings (including the trip to the exclusive London-based department store) have been well documented by the British media and I feel need no further explanation.

I have no records of what purchases Buhari might have made at Harrods, but I assumed that he was not shopping for the impoverished 40 percent of Nigeria’s population. I apologize if I was mistaken as to my assumption that he was buying items for his personal use.

Since you like to quote the dictionary, I will refer to my Merriam-Webster Dictionary to respond to your displeasure with my use of the word “wayward” in reference to your president. According to Webster, the word has several definitions, including “to change unpredictably or erratically.” It can also mean “absent or missing.” Mr. Buhari spent 50 days in London undergoing what he claimed was a routine medical checkup. I would consider that absence from his responsibilities in Abuya as a wayward action in accordance with the second definition.

Finally, you expressed concern that I might not have known about the procedures that Mr. Buhari had taken to clear his trip to London with the Senate. I am aware of these procedures, and know (and stated in my column) that he did transfer power temporarily to his deputy, Yemi Osinbajo, and duly informed the Nigerian Senate that he would be absent for a two-week period. It is worth noting, however, that a 50-day absence is considerably longer than that of a fortnight.

I am quite sure that Mr. Buhari is a “most distinguished international fellow,” as stated in your letter, quoting the then-head of the U.S. War College in 1980, and that all the subsequent praises you have included are well deserved by your president. I see no reason to counter any of these accolades and take no issue with them. There is no denying that Mr. Buhari and his administration have indeed made significant advances in fighting Boko Haram and confronting many of the other difficult challenges that face your country (as you so judiciously noted in your letter), and he most certainly deserves kudos and recognition for those impressive feats.

I am also sincerely happy to know that Mr. Buhari is now back in Nigeria and in good health. I wish him and all the citizens of your country continued success and vigor, and I thank you again for your comments.

Thérèse Margolis