Fashola’s Website Scandal, Twitter Overlords, and Rumourpreneurs

Some Thoughts

Former Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola. Photo Credit: Punch

Former Governor Babatunde Raji Fahola (BRF) has finally responded to the website scandal story that broke out last week. Couched between his anger-laced sentences was his confirmation that N78million of public funds was supposedly spent to “upgrade” his website (www.tundefashola.com). 

Essentially BRF is telling us he approved about $400,000 – the price of a 4-bedroom house in Abuja – to pay for what is basically an internet-based, interactive billboard to advertise his achievements. 

 Apart from the condescending tone he adopted in responding to this serious allegation that borders on corruption and gross mismanagement of public funds, there are a couple of issues with this website scandal. 

First, the IT firm BRF said Lagos state paid to upgrade the website earlier denied receiving N78m, saying it charged N12.5m for the job but was eventually paid N10m

Second, it seems the IT firm – ‘Info Access Plus Limited’ – has no website of its own. Searching for the firm online is like looking for the fabled Loch Ness monster – a few sites with similar names come up, but upon closer examination you are left disappointed. How come an IT company that seemingly specialises in charging the price of a 4-bedroom duplex for a few fancy app gadgets – as BRF will have us believe – doesn’t have a visible online presence?

Third, even if we accept that the N78m was actually paid and Info Access actually exists, then the question arises: Was it an appropriate use of public funds – especially in a poverty-stricken country desperately in need of social and physical infrastructure investment, and where public officials are known for routinely inflating public contracts.

Fourth and finally, again even if we accept N78m was paid and Info Access exists, there is the problem of ownership. In his press statement BRF implied that the website was a public project. The web address – www.tundefashola.com – and a few minutes browsing through the website will leave anyone with the strong impression that the website personally belongs to him. 

If this is the case then it is profoundly problematic to say the least that money that could have been better spent upgrading Lagos’ many dilapidated schools, hospitals, roads etc. was wasted on upgrading his website instead.

As far as I am concerned, BRF still has a case to answer as his response was thoroughly unconvincing. He is praised for having administered Lagos relatively well during his time as Governor of the state. Many see him (myself included) as a progressive reformer; part of the new breed around President Buhari expected to bring discipline and prudence to the management of our commonwealth. 

Therefore he should see the website scandal as a serious allegation demanding a sober response, not as a hatchet job by political enemies deserving of the insulting response he eventually gave.  

Twitter Overlords and Rumourpreneurs

Anybody active on Nigeria’s social media scene – particularly twitter – will know that there is a special class of people known as the ‘overlords’, or as I prefer to call them: ‘rumourpreneurs’. These individuals are the most aggressive defenders of their chosen party online (they are usually self-appointed to that role mind you). 

These individuals are permanently on high alert; constantly scanning the twittersphere for scandals that can be converted into damaging rumours to either harm political opponents, or to deflect attention from the scandal gripping their party or political masters. 

Their ability to concoct fantastic stories to tear down political opponents or delusional narratives to prop up the battered reputations of their fallen masters is unsurpassed.

We all have our favourite rumourpreneurs – I know I have mine. I generally start the day by going onto his/her timeline to get my dose of rumours.

PDP has the most ruthless and unprincipled practitioners of ‘overlordism’ – the campaign of calumny waged against President Buhari during the elections (including the utterly false rumour that he suffers from prostate cancer) and the recent incident of an APC overlord’s ‘Direct Message’ being fabricated and the fake message dumped online are just two examples of this ruthlessness.

The Fashola website scandal has however given APC’s own rumourpreneurs the opportunity to showcase their talent. And they have not disappointed. 

One or two rumourpreneurs seem intent on pushing the utterly fantastic story that BRF had no idea what happened. Some lower down officials probably fleeced the money. As the money is too small, it would have been impossible to keep track of. 

By stating that the N78m was spent on upgrading his website, rather than let suspicions that it was embezzled by his underlings grow, BRF was merely acting like a responsible leader who didn’t want to throw his loyal subordinates under the bus. 

The whole scandal, says the overlords pushing this narrative, is in fact a calculated attempt by unknown forces to tarnish the impeccable reputation of BRF, and therefore block his path into President Buhari’s cabinet. 

The fact that the website scandal was initially uncovered by BudgIt, an apolitical civil society organisation, whom APC overlords have in the past loudly applauded for uncovering PDP’s financial malfeasance simply doesn’t register. 

Now that the anti-corruption guns have been turned on APC, the only response they can muster is:

These particular rumourpreneurs then finished off with a rhetorical flourish, warning all that will lend them their ears not to be swayed by the baying mob. Yesterday it was Goodluck Jonathan’s ministers, today it is BRF, tomorrow anyone could find themselves “thrown into the gladiatorial arena that is social media [and] torn to shreds”.

Yep. In the determination to defend their masters, overlords unfortunately sometimes stray too far in taking leave of their senses.

To the APC overlords peddling this rumour, please

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