Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is not a clone. At least he says he’s not a clone. Buhari made the assertion in a Facebook post on Sunday to counter rumours that he actually died and was secretly replaced by a lookalike. Which is exactly what a clone would say, right? I mean, come on. That’s textbook clone behaviour.
The bizarre clone conspiracy theory can be traced back to a political independence group in the southern part of the country called the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). President Buhari, who’s 75 years old, has suffered undisclosed health issues, giving his opponents an opportunity to spread the theory that Buhari actually died in London while seeking medical attention and was replaced by someone from Sudan named Jubril.
President Buhari posted his denial in a video to Facebook where people in the audience can be seen chuckling along.
“One of the questions that came up today in my meeting with Nigerians in Poland was on the issue of whether I've been cloned or not,” Buhari said. “The ignorant rumours are not surprising—when I was away on medical vacation last year a lot of people hoped I was dead.”
“I can assure you all that this is the real me. Later this month I will celebrate my 76th birthday. And I’m still going strong!”
If the lookalike conspiracy sounds familiar, you might be a fan of 1990s political comedies. The 1993 movie Dave, starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver, was about a president who become incapacitated and replaced by a lookalike. Not only was the lookalike just a nicer human being, he also had better ideas, solving the country’s budget problems just through common sense maths. The 1932 movie The Phantom President has a similar premise, though in that version, the presidential candidate is simply unlikable with a terrible personality. The lookalike replacement doesn’t fix the budget, but he does win the girl.
Buhari first came to power in December of 1983 when, as a military leader, he overthrew the democratically elected president Shehu Shagari. Buhari was himself overthrown in another coup in 1985 and served time in prison until his release in 1988. Buhari returned to private life until he re-entered political life and ran for president repeatedly in the 2000s and 2010s. Buhari finally won the office in 2015 despite being a former military dictator and now refers to himself as a “converted democrat.”
When Buhari met President Trump at the White House in April the American authoritarian described Buhari as “lifeless” to his aides. The insult didn’t get much media traction in the US, but it certainly got noticed in other parts of the world—especially after President Trump reportedly called African nations “shithole” countries.
Buhari is up for re-election in February and is facing stiff competition from all sides, including inside of his own party. But Buhari hasn’t died and been replaced with a clone. That would be fake news, as the Americans call it. But it’s entertaining enough that it’s been a movie at least twice now. So why not go for a third time? A Nigerian remake of Dave would be amazing. And if producers really wanted to go all-in they could embrace the “lifeless” insult. Weekend at Bernie’s: Presidential Edition, anyone? I’m just saying. [Facebook and Bloomberg]