Edited image of sickly man does not show Nigerian presidential hopeful Bola Tinubu in hospital

  • This article is more than one year old.
  • Published on October 6, 2022 at 11:39
  • 4 min read
  • By Tonye BAKARE, AFP Nigeria
The absence of the Nigerian ruling party’s presidential candidate Bola Tinubu from the campaign trail has opened the door to speculation that he is in poor health and receiving treatment in a London hospital. A Facebook account recently shared a photo of an emaciated man in a wheelchair, saying it was Tinubu. But this is false: AFP Fact Check found that the picture has been digitally altered, with Tinubu’s face superimposed on another person’s body.

“Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s doctors have advised him to suspend his presidential contest,” reads the now-deleted post, which was shared more than 1,900 times after being published on October 2, 2022.

A screenshot of the false Facebook post, taken on October 4, 2022

The Hausa-speaking account has more than 950,000 followers and was created on July 29, 2021. It publishes mostly celebrity gossip and news content from northern Nigeria.

A pro-Indigenous People of Biafra Facebook account shared the same picture. “Get we’ll soon! Baba Beans (sic),” the caption reads. The comment mocked a viral campaign speech Tinubu gave in April 2022 -- weeks before he was nominated on June 8, 2022, as the presidential candidate for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

In the speech, Tinubu said he wanted to be president for the people, not for garri (a Nigerian staple made from cassava), beans or dodo (fried plantain).

Election fever has been ramping up ahead of national polls scheduled for February and March 2023. The official campaign season began on September 28, 2022.

Nicknamed the "Godfather of Lagos" for his political clout, Tinubu is in a tight race against three major rivals to succeed Buhari, who steps down after two terms governing Africa’s most populous state.

While his main rivals have launched low-key events, veteran politician the 70-year-old has been missing in action.

The health of candidates is sensitive in Nigeria, especially after President Muhammadu Buhari himself spent months away for treatment in his first term, and in 2010, President Umaru Yar'Adua died in office after a long illness.

But the claim that the photo showed Tinubu in hospital is false.

Digitally altered photo

AFP Fact Check conducted reverse image searches on the photo and found that the original was published online in 2019 by several UK media outlets.

The Independent wrote an article about a man from Liverpool who died in April 2019, after being admitted to hospital for pneumonia. His death sparked outrage because he had been deemed fit for work despite being severely underweight.

A screenshot of Stephen Smith’s photo published by Independent, taken on October 4, 2022.

Smith suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and osteoarthritis. The newspaper credited the director of Community Advice Service Association (CASA) in Liverpool, Tony Nelson, for the picture.

The photo in the false Facebook post has been cropped, with the bed in the original photo cut out and the colour tone altered. Tinubu’s face has replaced Smith’s.

Screenshots show similarities in both pictures, taken on October 4, 2022

However, there are other matching elements to prove the picture of Tinubu was doctored. For example, the half-filled plastic bottle behind Smith to the right, the bands on his left arm and the remote commander hung on the wall to Smith’s left are all present in the original image.

Speculation about Tinubu’s health

Tinubu’s health has generated controversy in recent months.

The influential former governor of Lagos state in southwest Nigeria was in London for several weeks in 2021 after having surgery on his right knee.

His trip to London at the start of the campaign season raised questions, with critics saying it proved he was not fit to run for office.

A Nigerian professor, Pat Utomi, told a local broadcaster that the APC candidate was “ailing” and challenged him to take a medical test to prove his fitness.

To quell the rumours, Tinubu posted a short video on Twitter on October 2, 2022, showing him on a spinning bike and declaring he was ready for the presidential challenge.

His campaign spokesperson, Bayo Onanuga, insisted Tinubu was healthy and in London to rest.

“Tinubu left Nigeria on Saturday night for a short break and in readiness for what will certainly be a gruelling campaign,” Onanuga said in a Facebook post published on September 30, 2022.

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