The stage-managed press conference between Buhari and Trump that I witnessed at the White House, by Simon Ateba

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Updated: March 7, 2021


I did not ask a question on Monday to President Donald Trump or President Muhammadu Buhari during their joint press conference in the Rose Garden because the White House has a protocol: It asks every President to pick two journalists who would ask them questions.

Nigerian questions were vetted by the Nigerian Embassy. The Nigerian President was told what questions they would ask him ahead of time.

It was all stage-managed. It was not real. I was naive to believe that it would be a real press conference with real questions.

But, after I was informed by a staff at The White House shortly before the conference that the two questions to ask President Buhari had gone through the Nigerian Embassy, and that two journalists had been carefully selected, I flared up, though calm.

I had prepared series of questions, naively believing that the process would be fair and honest, hoping to ask the Nigerian leader about the killings in his country by herdsmen and Boko Haram, the United States Department of State’s report on human rights violation in Nigeria, escalating corruption under his nose, the expanding unemployment figures, the bad economy and calls by many prominent Nigerians for him to bow out.

I also had series of questions for Donald Trump, about tech giants criminal activities in Africa not paying taxes, the relationship he would like Pompeo to implement in Africa, and the conflict of interest at the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC where some Nigerian officials were staying.

Simon Ateba stands in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington DC on April 30 after a press conference by President Trump and President Buhari

But after the White House staff informed me that I needed to go through the Nigerian Embassy to be able to ask a question to President Buhari, I asked: “what do you mean they have been selected by the Embassy? What type of questions will the Embassy give you?”

She struggled to answer me, almost apologizing….almost saying (It’s not my fault). She recovered and told me it’s the protocol.

I asked “what type of protocol is that?” She said I needed to work that out with the Nigerian Embassy.

And I was like “what if I am not a loved journalist by the Embassy? What if the Embassy doesn’t like my write ups?”

She looked at me almost confused, struggling to answer those questions herself, seeing sense in what I was saying.

During the press conference itself, I raised my hand and President Trump came close to making me ask my question, by almost allowing President Buhari to pick a third question, which would have certainly gone to me, the last journalist on the Nigerian side with his hand still up.

One Nigerian lady in New York was hitting me in the back not to ask a question.

It was not my day here in the Rose Garden inside the White House in Washington DC.

But after the questions were asked, I realized that I may be playing in a different league. I thank God.

Being independent in journalism is crucial. But sustaining it is hard without enough ads. When the government flies you to DC, lodges you and promises you money, it’s hard to do serious journalism work. But I thank God for blessing and for my newspaper https://www.https://www.todaynewsafrica.com.

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Simon Ateba Washington DC
Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba covers the White House, the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions for Today News Africa in Washington D.C. Simon can be reached on simonateba@todaynewsafrica.com

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