ABUJA, Nigeria— Dozens of employees working in the State House, where the offices of Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo are located, were gathered in a room and forced to take an Oath of Secrecy earlier this week because the president’s top aides were “embarrassed” by The Daily Beast report revealing the reasons behind his demand for a nationwide Twitter ban, according to two officials.
The government was open about the mass-oath-taking, billing it as a standard measure meant to avoid any “breach of classified information and documents.”
It was a quick process which saw at least 42 staff in the Secretariat of the President, Registry of the Vice President, Registry of Chief of Staff to the President, Registry of the Permanent Secretary in charge of the State House, Secret Registry of the State House and the Open Registry take the oath administered by Justice Hamza Muazu of the Federal Capital Territory High Court in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.
“Cumulatively, these members of staff are the ones that from day to day handle some of the most sensitive information going back and forth in our offices and in our environment,” the very influential State House Permanent Secretary, Tijjani Umar, said during the event. “It is very important to us to discharge our responsibility and our obligations and to let them understand that we are going to apply the rules.”
Although Umar claimed that the process was only aimed at assisting “staff who are directly dealing with classified information” at the State House, which “had not recorded any breach of information” since the start of the Buhari administration, two officials working at the establishment informed The Daily Beast that the decision to administer the oath was in reaction to an article published by The Daily Beast last month that detailed how Buhari had ordered the suspension of Twitter operations in the country after the social media platform deleted a tweet in which he threatened to “deal with” people in the country’s southeast, whom he blames for the assaults on public buildings in the region.
“Those [top aides in the presidency] very close to the president were embarrassed by the revelation by The Daily Beast,” one of the officials told The Daily Beast privately. “They were angry that a private conversation between the president and his close aides was leaked to the media and so they thought administering the Oath [of Secrecy] at this time will prevent State House staff, whom they suspect leaked the conversation, from giving away sensitive information in future.”
In the article, The Real, Petty Reason This President Ordered a Nationwide Twitter Ban, an official in the Nigeria president’s office told The Daily Beast that Buhari “was furious and wanted to deal with both Twitter and Facebook” after his aides informed him that both platforms had deleted his controversial post in which the president, who is from the Fulani ethnic group in the predominantly Muslim northern region, threatened to unleash war on secessionists in the mostly Christian southeast region made up of people from the Igbo ethnic group.
In the same article, published June 7, a second official revealed that Buhari wanted to shut down both Twitter and Facebook but yielded to pressure from his closest aides not to immediately target the latter, so it was not clear from those officials’ accounts alone if the president’s action was in response to the deleted posts.
But shortly after the story was published, a number of staff at the State House were questioned by top aides to the president about the exposé and warned that they could be punished if there was another leak from the establishment, according to another official working there.
“Senior aides to the president suspected the leak was done by a staff member in the president’s office,” the official said. “With the Oath [of Secrecy], the presidency is moving to prevent any future leaks.”
It’s the first time an oath-taking by staff members in the State House has been reported since Buhari took office six years ago though it remains unclear if any public servants have been administered the Oath of Secrecy in private since the start of the administration. The Daily Beast reached out to Buhari’s spokesman Femi Adeshina on the latest development but he didn’t immediately respond to an email sent to him.
The mandated oath-taking in Abuja is a clear sign the Buhari administration is prepared to protect what is said and done by the president by all means. Even the tone of the senior administrator of the State House was apparently enough to create fear in the minds of the people he supervises.
“Government as an institution is held together by laws, by rules and by regulations and those laws, rules and regulations are there to be respected, to be enforced and any breach of that will always carry a consequence,” said Umar, who has been State House Permanent Secretary since March 2020. “There will be consequences after investigations and that also includes after they have retired from the civil service.’’