Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has denied rumors that he has died and been replaced by a lookalike.
Some people thought I had been “cloned”, but “it’s the real me, I assure you,” Mr. Buhari said.
Rumors that he had been replaced with a body double called “Jubril” from Sudan had been widely shared online.
The 75-year-old Mr. Buhari, who is seeking re-election in February next year, has been affected by ill health since taking office in 2015.
He was on “medical leave” in the UK for three months in 2017.
He revealed after his return to Nigeria “I have never been so sick”, but did not disclose what he was suffering from. He insists he is now in good health.
According to an AFP Fact Check investigation, the rumors began late last year and have appeared on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Posts promoting the rumors have been viewed more than 500,000 times.
A former aide to Mr. Buhari’s predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, is among the high profile individuals who have promoted the rumors.
Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the secessionist group Indigenous People of Biafra (Ipob), has also been fuelling the rumors, AFP found.
In one instance, Mr. Kanu shared two images of Mr. Buhari, one reversed, to allege that the Nigerian leader, who is right-handed, was using his left hand – “proving” that meant he was a body double.
Those promoting the rumors to show how a dead Buhari’s face could have been transplanted to a body double “Face/Off” have also used a scene from the 1997 film.
Mr. Buhari, who is in Poland attending a UN climate change conference, was asked about the rumors during a meeting on Sunday with Nigerians in the country.
His personal assistant shared a video of his answer:
Mr. Buhari, who will celebrate his 76th birthday on 17 December, said those spreading the rumors about his health and identity were ”ignorant and irreligious.”
”A lot of people hoped that I died during my ill health. Some even reached out to the vice-president to consider them to be his deputy because they assumed I was dead.
“That embarrassed him a lot and of course, he visited me when I was in London recovering It’s the real me; I assure you,” Mr. Buhari added.
A former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, 72, has emerged as Mr. Buhari’s main challenger in next year’s election.
The opposition is expected to make the president’s health a major campaign issue, but Mr. Buhari said: “I’m still going strong.
Many Nigerians are surprised that President Buhari chose to respond to the extraordinary claim that he has a body double called “Jubril”.
The claim has been an online joke for months, generally dismissed as fake news, and largely ignored by many reputable media organizations.
It has, however, been used by Mr. Buhari’s detractors to call into question the state of his health.
Contrary to the expectations of the president’s aides, his statement that he is “not a clone” may lead to a greater focus on his health as he prepares for a grueling election campaign.