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LongRead… Lai: Minister of (Mis) Information; Counting the many blunders



Social media, not Boko Haram, is Nigerian military's 'biggest opposition'- Lai

If there is any minister in President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration who has come in for severe criticism and vilification, that person would undoubtedly be Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who many Nigerians have come to identify as the the number one purveyor of propaganda.

In fact, the relationship between Mohammed and the Nigerian populace has degenerated so badly that there is absolutely nothing he says that is not taken with a pinch of the salt while looking for loopholes in them.

Over the years, the credibility and integrity of information management from those saddled with responsibility has left much to be desired.

But who can blame Nigerians for the apparent apathy they exhibit whenever the government mouthpiece come out in public space to churn out information? Even more so, who can blame the information managers as they are also seen as only doing their jobs?

However, it would seem that the current Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has taken the art of official propaganda to another level. Under his watch, the manner of disinformation seems to have been taken to a new notch as most Nigerians now have the perception that almost every state information churned out by the Minister usually contains a greater degree of untruths.

But who can really blame the Minister as he is “only doing his job?”

The burden of a government spokesperson is that of a panel beater in local parlance, as he has to paint the government in a good light. He is the pawn and chopping-block for all of government’s mistakes and blunders. He is the fall guy who takes the blame and responsibility in every situation, the battering but not plaudits.

But in Lai Mohammed, all of these are rolled into one as he has conveniently covered himself with a bog cloak that has made him thick-skinned and immune to criticism from Nigerians and in his world, he is only “doing his job” and doing it perfectly.

No wonder he once said in an interview that he has never told a lie all his life and challenged anyone who thinks otherwise to come out with the lies he has ever told.

His mien and non-challant attitude whenever he appears before the press has made most Nigerians come to see him as a propagandist whose main preoccupation is to dish out more government propaganda.

Before the APC came into power in 2015, Lai Mohammed’s job as the spokesman of the party was to persuade the Nigerian electorate to vote for his party and what a great job he did then of discrediting the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)!

But after attaining power and assuming office, it would have been necessary to change tact but the Minister has continued to stumble from one blunder to the other, all in a bid to continue to paint the government in a good light.

For instance, few months after assumption of office, Mohammed addressed a world press conference wherein he claimed that the Buhari government had discovered about 53 corrupt persons who looted the country dry, but when confronted to release the names of the looters, the Minister could only come up with a few names, mainly from the opposition PDP.

Minister of (Mis) information?

Alhaji Lai Mohammed’s tenure as Nigeria’s Information Minister has been one bugged with the controversies, blunders, and avoidable gaffes, but like a prized bull fighter, the man has never backed down as he believes he and the government are always right, while the rest of Nigerians are the ones always in the wrong.

In the past six years, Lai Mohammed has sold so many propaganda that it will take pages to enumerate all of them but for the purpose of this piece, we will take on a few of them, that really got Nigerians miffed, in no particular order.

Technical defeat of Boko Haram

Lai Mohammed’s first major blunder came as early as December 2015, just a few months after the APC assumed power, when he said that the government had technically defeated the dreaded Boko Haram insurgents and that they could no longer hold any territory in the North-East.

In an interview with the BBC News, Mohammed had said, rather cockishly, “the war against Boko Haram is largely won” as the terrorist group had been technically defeated

However, 48 hours later, a wave of attacks by female suicide bombers claimed the lives of more than 50 people in several attacks that were meant to send a warning to the government that they had not been defeated.

The Minister was to also address another world press conference where he insisted that the terrorists had been defeated, but in response, the insurgents struck in more severe fashion as they renewed the fight and took it to the doorsteps of the military, killing many of them and carting away weapons. They also intensified attacks in different communities in the North-East, killing in the hundreds, abducting school children, destroying properties and generally putting a lie to Lai Mohammed’s assertion.

But till today, Lai Mohammed has remained resolute in his position that not only has Boko Haram been defeated, but that peace has returned to the troubled North-East region of the country.

The blame master

The penchant to blame everyone but not the institutions of state, even when it is too glaring, has ensured that Lai Mohammed continues to stew in blunders, cooking up unfathomable lies against the opposition and any citizen perceived as an enemy of the state.

In the six years that the APC has been in power, Lai has continued to put the failures of the regime at the feet of the PDP, trying so hard to convince Nigerians that the opposition party was responsible for the failures of his own party. There is nothing that goes wrong in the Buhari-led government that Lai has not attributed to the PDP; from insecurity, loss of jobs, high cost of living, and bad economy.

A safer Nigeria under Buhari

Despite the escalating insecurity in the country since President Buhari came into power in 2015, Lai Mohammed has consistently claimed that Nigeria was safer than it was prior to the Buhari-led regime.

He first made the assertion in December 2015, a few months after the new regime was sworn into power when he stated categorically that “Nigeria is safer than it was before the advent of this administration.”

Again, in January 2021, Lai Mohammed went back to the old swan song of Nigeria being safer under Buhari at a press conference held in Abuja wherein he said that despite security threats, Nigeria was safer under Buhari than what he met on assumption of office in 2015.

“We are witnesses to the clear fact that no territory of Nigeria is under Boko Haram control as was the situation before Buhari took over in 2015 and no structure in Abuja has come under their attack as they used to do before this administration came into office,” Mohammed boasted.

Feeding El-Zakzaky with N3.5m monthly
On June 16, 2017, in an interview with a national television, Lai Mohammed made a statement that shocked Nigerians, when he claimed that the Nigerian government spent N3.5 million monthly to feed detained leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), otherwise known as Shiites, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenat.

Though he said he was speaking off the records and must not be quoted, Lai Mohammed was emphatic when he said that the El-Zakzakys were living the good life and that they were not really in detention in the real sense of the word.

“The issue of whether, where he, El-Zakzaky is, at least let’s keep it off record, that he is in a residence and you know, he is eating well… It costs the government about N3.5 million every month to feed him.
“Honestly, don’t quote me, but these are the facts. So please, we don’t want to inflame passion. The issue is a very sensitive matter. But that is the situation. The Islamic Movement of Nigeria is a different kettle of fish,” he said.

Nigerians were alarmed at the statement and the calculators quickly came out and in a short while, it was discovered that at N3.5 million monthly, it would mean the government spent about N115,000 daily to feed the El-Zakzakys.

And coming at a time the government was finding it difficult to come to a compromise with Nigerian workers to pay them a minimum wage of N30,000, was, to say the least, quite appalling.

476 websites fighting Buhari

In May 2021, Lai Mohammed came out with another bogus claim that the Nigerian government had discovered 476 online news websites that were set up to fight President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration with ‘fake news.’

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While hosting officials of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) who paid him a courtesy visit, the Minister said that the fake news reports from the anti-government online publications usually went viral because Nigerians were gullible.

“Recently, we unveiled almost 476 online publication sites that are dedicated to daily engaging in churning out fake news to fight the government,” Mohammed said.

This was another blunder on Mohammed’s part because not only did he fail to name the fake websites, a lot of Nigerians construed that to be a mere distraction from the failures of the government to squarely address the untold socio-economic hardship and insecurity situation that is taking its toll on Nigerians and an attempt to shift the focus from the administration to its real or imagined enemies or detractors as the reason behind this failure of the government.

Twitter ban in Nigeria

On 5 June 2021, the Minister of Information committed what has, perhaps, turned out to be a major blunder by announcing the ban of social network platform, Twitter, and restricting it from operating in Nigeria after the social media platform deleted tweets made by the Buhari, warning the people of the South-East region that they will be treated in the language they understood.

Two days after Twitter deleted Buhari’s tweet, Lai, typically, went ballistic at a hurried press conference, announced the indefinite ban of the platform in the country.

He criticized Twitter’s action and accused the social media giant of “double standards.”
But comically, he used the same Twitter to announce their ban when he wrote:
“The Federal Government has suspended, indefinitely, the operations of the micro-blogging and social networking service, Twitter, in Nigeria. The mission of Twitter in Nigeria is very suspicious…”

Months later, Lai Mohammed was recant the ban and said the platform was only suspended and their services will only be restored after certain criteria are met.

War against the media

Since his appointment as the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed has waged and unrelenting war against the media in the country with the belief that the fourth estate of the realm is the harbinger of all the problems in Nigeria.

While commissioning the News Agency of Nigeria Headquarters in Abuja in September, Mohammed said the media was the “reason Nigerians in diaspora, investors and the international community at large are wary of visiting the country.”

He added that whatever image problem Nigeria is suffering from today was mostly due to the unflattering portrayal of the country by the media.

“If one picks up most newspapers, watches most television stations or listens to most radio stations in Nigeria today, he or she will be right to think Nigeria is a country at war. Yes, we have challenges, especially in the area of security.
“But this administration has not only acknowledged these challenges, it is earnestly tackling the challenges,” he said.

The war against the media has also seen several media houses being fined humongous amounts of money by the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC), at the behest of the Information Ministry. A case in point was a N5m fine clamped on Channels TV and Inspiration FM in May 2021, for alleged infractions of the NBC Code.

Denying anti-press bill

In July 2021, Lai committed another blunder by denying that there was no anti-press bill before the National Assembly, claiming that the federal government did not sponsor the bill purportedly meant to stifle the press.

He had said the bills concerning the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) were private member bills sponsored by a lawmaker.

However, he lent a subtle support for the supposed sponsor of the bill when he said the lawmaker had done nothing wrong, and was only doing what he was elected to do.

“I insist that the bills were not sponsored by the federal government. I was invited as the Minister of Information and Culture to make my contributions, just like many other stakeholders at the public hearing.
“It was an opportunity for stakeholders to make their input into the bills. I attended and made my contributions,” he added.

In an interview with German broadcaster, DW, Mohammed said he was speaking “authoritatively” that the controversial “Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill’ was not before the National Assembly.
“I am not even aware of that bill. There is no such bill before the House. I can say authoritatively, there is no such bill,” he affirmed.

His denial of the existence of the bill sparked a lot of debate among Nigerians who felt that their Minister, in his usual manner, had sold them yet another dummy as all fingers pointed to him as the brain behind the bill meant to regulate the activities of Nigerians on social media, which was what he had been clamouring for since 2015.

Impending global war

From his first day in office, Lai Mohammed made the war against fake news his number one focal point and has continued to carry on the fight even though many see him as often being the purveyor of the fake news himself due to his many acts of disinformation, propaganda and half- truths.

In October 2021, Lai Mohammed made what was seen as another laughable blooper when he said that the Nigerian government’s insistence on regulating the social media was to prevent a third world war.

While defending his Ministry’s 2022 budget before the House of Representatives’ Committee on Information and National Orientation, the Minister explained that Nigerians had deserted the old means of disseminating information by embracing the “unseen enemy,” the social media, and as such, the space must be regulated so as to avoid a global war.

“With fake news today and misinformation, I have always said here that the next world war will be caused by fake news,” he said.

Lekki Tollgate killing denial

Perhaps the biggest and monumental blunder the Minister of Information and Culture has made during his tenure has been his absolute insistence that soldiers did not kill any Nigerian during the #EndSARS protest at the Lekki Tollgate on October 20, 2020.

On several occasions, Lai Mohammed has forced Nigerians to call him out by blatantly refusing to accept that anyone was killed, even going to the ridiculous extent of accusing everyone and anyone associated with the issue, including media of churning out fake narratives.

Lai Mohammed has denied the ‘massacre’ of Nigerians on more than five occasions.

1. On November 19, 2020, Lai Mohammed accused popular Disc Jockey, Obianuju Catherine Udeh, aka DJ Switch, who did a live stream on Instagram while the soldiers were firing at the protesting youths, blasting her for allegedly spreading falsehood.

While condemning her, Mohammed said she was acting out a script written by other people and vowed that she would be exposed in due course.

He also described the sad incident as a “massacre without bodies”, insisted that contrary to DJ Switch’s claims, not a single body was produced or a single family coming out to claim that their family member was killed at the Lekki Tollgate.

“One of the purveyors of fake news was one DJ Switch whose real name is Obianuju Catherine Udeh, even though she claimed authentic evidence of mass killings.

Surprisingly, instead of presenting whatever evidence she may have, she chose to escape from the country on the claim that her life was in danger. In danger for who?”

2. In November 2020, the CNN reported that the Nigerian Army fired live and blank bullets at protesters at the Lekki Tollgate but like the indefatigable mouthpiece of government that he is, Lai Mohammed, in a press conference in Abuja, described the report as “irresponsible journalism.”
“The report by the CNN is quite laughable. It shows that they are desperate. The so-called recent development has been seen before. There is nothing new. If there is anything new, it is a contradiction of CNN’s position.
“What we are asking CNN is that where is your evidence? The military has been consistent…
“They CNN were caught spreading fake news and they are trying to escape…”

3. January 2021, was the turn of global human rights’ body, Amnesty International, to have a taste of Lai Mohammed’s caustic tongue after it took a swipe at the Nigerian government for trying to cover up the shooting of the protesting youths by soldiers.

Not one to suffer fools easily, Lai Mohammed came out with guns firing and demanded that AI show proof of the people reportedly killed during the shooting at the Lekki toll gate or “shut up”.

4. In February, 2021, while appearing as a guest on TVC’s ‘This Morning’ show, Lai Mohammed, once again, denied that any Nigerian was killed at the Lekki Tollgate incident and again, demanded for the bodies and the parents to come out.

“As we speak today, nobody has come forward to produce evidence of those that were killed at Lekki Tollgate. If anybody has information, such a person should come forward. We were transparent enough to allow the enquiries to be televised live. There is no cover-up.”

5. On the first year anniversary of the Lekki Tollgate incident on October 20, 2021, Lai Mohammed, while addressing a press conference, once again, described the event at as a “phantom massacre”.

“Today marks the first anniversary of the phantom massacre at Lekki Tollgate in Lagos, which was the culmination of an otherwise peaceful protest that was later hijacked by hoodlums.
“At earlier press conferences, I had called the reported massacre at the tollgate the first massacre in the world without blood or bodies. One year later, and despite ample opportunities for the families of those allegedly killed and those alleging a massacre to present evidence, there has been none: no bodies, no families, no convincing evidence, nothing…”

The leaked report of the #EndSars judicial panel appears to have taken Lai to task, repudiating much of his claims of ‘no massacre.’

Though controversies have now attended the leaked report, it is hoped that the white paper promised by the Lagos State government would be transparent enough to vindicate or put Lai on the chopping board.

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