A presidential aide who manages President Muhammadu Buhari’s social media accounts has come under public humiliation after excoriating Nigerians who criticised the president’s viral photo with Naomi Campbell as “animals.”

Tolu Ogunlesi, presidential aide who manages President Muhammadu Buhari’s social media account
Tolu Ogunlesi, presidential aide who manages President Muhammadu Buhari’s social media account

“Naomi Campbell met Nelson Mandela more than once. He hugged her, called her his “honorary granddaughter”. She visits Nigeria for a fashion festival and meets President @MBuhari, and some of you animals are slandering her,” Tolu Ogunlesi said on Twitter Friday, and further emphasised that: “YOU’RE RAVING MAD WITH NOBODY TO TELL YOU.”

Mr. Buhari on Friday morning met with Ms Campbell, a British model, on an inspection tour of the Eko Atlantic real estate project in Lagos.

The assessment visit was part of Mr. Buhari’s trip to Lagos for the 66th birthday events of Bola Tinubu.

The State House was the first to post Mr. Buhari’s encounter with Ms Campbell on Twitter at noon Friday, in one of the rarest sightings of a leader widely seen as modest and taciturn.

Two hours later, the model, known for her controversial involvements with African rich men, returned the recognition with a tweet, although she ambiguously described it as a “private launch.” She initially said she was there at the instance of Mr. Buhari, but later deleted the tweet after online uproar.

Ms Campbell’s apparent inconsistency together with the State House’s reluctance to release details of the meeting prompted many to question whether the president knew the model’s history prior to the encounter.

While Ms. Campbell, 47, is based in the UK, she’s known to have been involved with rich men from Africa spanning decades.

In 1997, she met with Charles Taylor, a former Liberian warlord currently serving a long sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity, at a parry organised by former South African President Nelson Mandela.

Mr. Taylor allegedly gave Ms. Campbell a bag that contained diamonds worth millions of dollars and believed to have been mined illegally.

When she testified in the trial of Mr. Taylor at the International Criminal Court, Ms Campbell acknowledged receiving “small, dirty-looking stones” from the former Liberian president’s staff.

The testimony earned her a worldwide ridicule.

Also, in recent years, Ms. Campbell has been rumoured to be dating Kola Aluko, a Nigerian oil dealer currently on the run for alleged fraud.

The duo had been sighted cruising in Mr Aluko’s luxury yacht across the world.

Ms Campbell, who later said she was in Nigeria to participate at the Arise Fashion Show in Lagos, became an instant subject of partisan bickering between Mr. Buhari’s critics and supporters, with some opposition voices implying that she might have been paid for her brief appearance and photo op with the president.

A presidential aide clarified Friday evening that Ms Campbell only ran into Mr. Buhari at Eko Atlantic and sought to have a handshake and take pictures with the Nigerian leader.

Apparently angered by the criticisms, especially against Ms. Campbell as he later stated, Mr Ogunlesi, 36, posted the controversial tweet shortly after 11:00 p.m. Friday.

A few minutes later, he posted another tweet as a response to the initial wave of criticism from many who found his outburst distasteful, pulling a thesaurus to double down on his description of critics as animals without clarifying those the insult was directed at.

At some point, he tried to ward off the social media offensive by downplaying the tweet as insignificant since he posted it using his personal account, admonishing those not at home with it should unfollow him.

The tweet was widely panned by social media, with many users, including a serving Senator of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), lashing out at the aide for lacking the emotional rectitude expected of a presidential spokesperson.

But as outrage peaked on Saturday morning over his post, Mr Ogunlesi attempted to to walk back the tweet, but felt short of explicitly apologising.

A PDP strategist, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, described the controversial tweet as a reflection of the Buhari administration’s approach towards Nigerians.

“What Tolu Ogunlesi said is a reflection of the Buhari presidency,” Mr. Atoye told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone Saturday evening. “He merely put into words the horrible treatment Buhari administration has meted out to Nigerians for three years.”

Mr. Ogunlesi, a journalist and social critic, was named as a special assistant to the president on new media in 2016. He has widely been seen as one of the best hands in the administration, especially given how he had managed to amass top-rated journalistic accolades within a few years in practice.

His work largely entails coordinating government social media accounts and websites for effective and coherent communication strategy. This had seen him escape social media backlash for the most part.

But recently, as the administration reels from one scandal to another, opposition voices are exhuming old tweets of Mr Ogunlesi’s to portray him as a hypocrite.

On Thursday, one of his tweets from 2012 in which he called former President Goodluck Jonathan a despot for the traffic gridlock that occurred when he visited Lagos was unearthed by administration’s critics to demonstrate Mr Ogunlesi’s double standard.

“Clearly, Tolu Ogunlesi is haunted by his past duplicity and that appears to be what threw him overboard leading to his unfortunate comments,” Mr Atoye said. “But don’t expect him to get disciplined for his action, he’s only tracing the paths of Femi Adesina, Garba Shehu, and other presidential aides who are known to have uttered vituperation against Nigerians without any consequences.”

“They have taken presidential duties to a ridiculous level. Their sycophancy can lead them into saying anything to spite Nigerians in a bid to please the president,” he added. “But Nigerians would make their reservations known in 2019.”

Mr Ogunlesi responded to a PREMIUM TIMES’ request about whether he’s considering offering an apology by insisting that his tweet was not intended as insult to all Nigerians.

“My tweet did not castigate those criticising the president’s photo or meeting with Ms Campbell as animals. my tweet had nothing to do with that photo,” Mr. Ogunlesi said. “My tweet was specifically referring to the misogyny and denigration targeted at Ms. Campbell across social media.”

Ayo Akanji, a media consultant for the Buhari administration, dismissed Mr Atoye’s assertion tha Mr. Ogunlesi’s tweet mirrored the conducts of the Buhari presidency.

“What Tolu Ogunlesi said was clearly his own personal take,” Mr. Akanji told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone Saturday evening. “President Buhari and his aides hold Nigerians in highest regards and that could be readily seen in the expedited manner with which all the economy, security situation and other matters of national importance are being addressed.”

Mr. Akanji said Mr Ogunlesi did not mean to call Nigerians animals contrary to what critics are propagating, saying the aide understands the power of language as an award-winning writer.

“Still, he has clarified his comments and we expect people to move on from this controversy,” Mr. Akanji said.

Presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu and Femi Adesina, did not respond to a request for comments about how the State House views Mr Ogunlesi’s conduct or whether an official statement would be issued.
Source: Premium Times

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