OPINION – Lai Mohammed: An Unmanageable MistakeArticles/Opinion, Featured Contributors/Columnists, Latest News Tuesday, June 6th, 2017
Photo caption: Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Information
By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye
When President Muhammadu Buhari announced the people he has selected to occupy some of the most strategic positions in his regime, there was understandable uproar across the country. Nigerians looked at the profile of these fellows and wondered what could have motivated their choice, what exactly in their credentials qualified them for such sensitive positions.
Ordinarily, Buhari would have simply ignored such an outcry, but he surprised Nigerians by volunteering an explanation. These, he said, were the people who had stood by him through the stressful years of his various unsuccessful attempts to become president. As he moved from one party to another in his quest to actualise his ambition, they stuck with him, undiscouraged by his growing history of failed presidential runs. So, this was the time to “reward” them for their steadfast loyalty. (These are the people now loosely referred to as Buhari’s “Kitchen Cabinet,” or more recently, “the Cabal” in Aso Rock, whose activities Nigerians have learnt to monitor with considerable apprehension.)
Buhari’s preference for cronyism which mostly celebrates mediocrity at the expense of merit and expertise (an odious, counterproductive practice that has sufficiently advertised its predictable dividend in his regime’s very dismal performance in the last two years) is, however, not original. In the unmissed Olusegun Obasanjo regime, appointment into public office was celebrated as an invitation to “come and eat.” And not a few in that wayward regime, and the ones that followed it, did really overeat and became horribly obese, as evidenced by their mysterious humongous accumulations!
In decently-run countries, people see appointment into public offices as sacrifice to their nation. Some, driven solely by love for country, quit high-paying jobs to take these positions whose statutorily fixed salaries compel them to undertake drastic readjustments in their lifestyles by shedding some luxuries that were easily guaranteed by their former salaries. Their country men and women celebrate them as patriots and heroes, and they leave public office with their heads held high, and their names boldly engraved in their country’s Hall of Fame.
But in Nigeria , the story is different. That is why it should be understood that while for many months Nigerians waited for Buhari to announce his list of ministers, thinking he was busy carefully searching for the best hands to do the very significant and urgent reclamation job crying for attention at such a very critical period in our nation’s history, the man was, no doubt, busy considering whom to “reward” with what position. When the list was eventually released, it greatly disappointed and shocked many Nigerians leaving them wondering why it took the president all those months to come up with such hope-depleting appointments. The most demoralising confirmation that little or no imaginative thinking went into the making of that list, however, was Buhari’s decision to “reward” Mr. Lai Mohammed, the industrious chief propagandist of his party, with the office of the Minister of Information. Although, I had learnt very early to grossly moderate my expectations of the Buhari regime, I never in my wildest imagination expected that the president would fall so cheaply into such a brightly advertised trap.
Now, as the chief propagandist of the All Progressive Congress (APC), Mr. Mohammed worked very hard to ensure the successful execution of the APC stratagem for hoodwinking Nigerians into thinking the party had any clearly thought0ut programme for the country’s reclamation. So, I am not begrudging him his presidential “reward” for “hard work” in line with Buhari’s political philosophy. But why the information ministry? It is like asking the chief propagandist of a guerilla army to head the country’s information ministry after it had ousted the government in power and formed its own regime. The switch is not impossible, but always very difficult to achieve. And that has remained Mr. Mohammed’s problem from his first day in office. Both offices require different approaches, languages, mindsets and even postures and gestures. The minister of information has found it very difficult to achieve a crossover.
Hence, for several months after the APC gained power, Mr. Mohammed was still trapped in campaign mood – clearly ill-prepared, and pathetically battling to adjust to his new job. And so, while Nigerians demanded evidence that the regime he speaks for had the slightest preparation for the job that had fallen on its lap, Mohammed continued to launch vitriolic attacks on the now opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), an expired strategy that had served his party very profitably during the campaigns, but which was now exposing the party’s abject lack of action-plan and focus. When it eventually dawned on him (after many months) that the PDP was no longer in power and that this option has become such an unbearable irritant, he quickly changed tactics and began to make fantastic and offensively unverifiable claims about the supposed exploits of the Buhari regime. That was when we began to hear that despite the unimaginable hardship that suddenly overwhelmed Nigeria shortly after the APC assumed power which soon began to drive Nigerians to suicide and into other deadly extremities forcing those who had campaigned vigorously for the APC to come out to render unqualified apologies for misleading Nigerians, the Buhari regime had “changed Nigeria for good”! Or that Boko Haram which was still unleashing horror and bloodshed across the North East had been “technically defeated.”
The work of an opposition propagandist does not require much imagination. In Nigeria , the PDP even made Lai Mohammed’s job very easy for him by its embarrassing failure of leadership and character. So all he did was to paint the PDP in hideous colours while his party and its presidential candidate promised Nigerians juicy pies in the sky. Although, I remained skeptical after noticing that the APC was carefully avoiding every opportunity to explain how it intended to realise all those tantalising promises it was lavishly throwing at Nigerians, not a few voters, however, easily fell for their deception having already been irrecoverably seduced by the carefully erected and overwhelmingly marketed myth about Buhari’s exceptional abilities and character which had gained considerable weight overtime.
But Lai Mohammed became the greatest casualty of his own strategy. It was not hard to see that even many of those who still voted for the APC had stopped taking his words to the bank long before the elections. He had become an irrecoverably damaged brand, horribly marred by the astounding untruths and half-truths his office churned out with unbelievable “bold face” and amazing regularity.
How a thinking government, one that expects to be believed and taken seriously by rational human beings, could not have seen very clearly that Mr. Mohammed had become such an image problem himself and, therefore, should not have been allowed to touch an image-making job with a fifty foot pole would continue to baffle any Nigerian with less-than average capacity to reason. Indeed, it sure speaks volumes and deepens our apprehension about the capacity of the regime managing our affairs to exercise sound judgment even on the simplest of matters.
Is there no other position with which he could have been “rewarded”? Is the APC in such pitiable lack of appropriate personnel to man its information ministry? Apart from obvious names like Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa and Dr. Kayode Fayemi whom, most people would easily agree, should have made tremendous difference as the New Face of APC image-making, are there no other people the APC can find within its fold whose understanding of image-making goes beyond churning out egregious and revolting lies and brazenly throwing them at Nigerians? In fact, Lai Mohammed has become such a damaged brand that even when he speaks the truth today, not a few Nigerians have difficulty believing him. For a regime that has wantonly squandered the enormous goodwill that welcomed it to power and which is presently nursing an odious image of failure and disappointment at a period of the worst form of recession in our country’s history, this kind of minister of information is the worst gift it can give to and retain for itself.
Although, much of Lai’s lies were easily overlooked during the campaigns by those Nigerians who had already made up their minds about the PDP, it was a disaster for the APC to unduly stretch its luck by thinking that Nigerians will, in the face of worsening economic conditions, still suspend their disbelief, and allow their eyes to be turned away from APC’s crying incompetence and abysmal failure with the same cheap, largely unintelligent lies they had endured during the campaigns.
As I write now on the evening of May 29, 2017 (the so-called Democracy Day), Mr. Lai Mohammed is being reported as having said earlier today, against all evidence to the contrary, that “…despite the dwindling revenue,” the Buhari regime has been “able to deliver on [its] campaign promises”. Waxing more confident, he dropped the real shocker: “I am happy that we are here today to prove that this government is not a government of propaganda; this is a real government that is dealing with the real people.”
The next day, May 30, as I tidied this essay, Lai Mohammed was on Channels TV painting such a rosy and delicious picture of the Buhari regime’s marvelous “achievements,” that one was left wondering whether those beautiful and sweet stories he was telling were actually happening in the same country one lived in. So disgusted, a senior journalist announced on his facebook page that thirty minutes into that ugly and repelling performance, he had to change to a Cartoon Network to save himself from hypertension. One wonders if Mr. Mohammed even believes himself each time he opens his mouth to drop those his imaginary “truths” and “facts.” One wonders how many hearts he damages after each of his disastrous performances.
In February, Mr. Mohammed declared that he has never told Nigerians a single lie and challenged those calling him a liar to provide even a single evidence to back their submission. According to him, even from his days as opposition spokesperson, he has remained “always very factual [and] very objective…” Then he dropped the bombshell: “…I challenge anybody to come out and say ‘this is one lie you told when you were spokesperson for the opposition. I challenge these people and I say, fault me on facts, and not on emotions.” Can you beat that?
Now in this same interview (published in Daily Sun, February 18, 2017), Lai Mohammed also declared. “Number one, Mr. President is not ill; he is not in the hospital. So, there would be no need for me to give a bulletin.”
And after the Wednesday Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, Minister Lai told reporters: “I can say without any hesitation that Mr. President is well, is hale and hearty. No question about that…Do you think we will be conducting our business like this if Mr. president is ill? …I was in Kwara yesterday, all our ministers are busy doing their work. Mr. President is well and is absolutely not in danger.”
That was Lai speaking his “truth” when Buhari was away in London where doctors were battling to save his life. But when the president returned to the country, he came very close to dismissing Lai as a pathetic liar. He said: “I couldn’t recall being so sick since I was a young man, including the military with its ups and downs…Blood transfusion, going to the laboratories, and so on and so forth…I couldn’t recall when last I had blood transfusion, I couldn’t recall honestly, I can say in my 70 years..”
The problem with Mr. Mohammed is not that his first name, ‘Lai’, rhymes perfectly with ‘Lie’ and he seems to derive peculiar animation from always going all out to emphasize how that might be influencing his astounding pronouncements. His real problem is the extreme insensitivity that fires his stubborn resolve to continue force-feeding raw, nauseating lies to a suffering people and expecting them to be happy and grateful to him.
The ‘Change Begins With Me’ campaign, a clearly fraudulent scheme seeking to transfer to the populace the guilt and responsibility for the failed ‘Change Agenda’ on whose back the APC rode to power is reportedly the brainchild of Mr. Lai Mohammed, even though there was also a controversy as to whose concept it was originally. Although, Mr. Mohammed denied Daily Independent’s report that the campaign gulped N3.4 billion, I am not aware that he has told Nigerians how much that wasteful, exasperating, hollow propaganda which is still running on prime time TV has cost the tax payer. I doubt if there is any sincere Nigerian who is not rankled by that campaign each time it pops up on the TV screen.
It is quite clear that offering any advice to the APC government, a regime that often carries on as if it did Nigerians a huge favour by seeking and being in power, is like singing even the most enchanting ballad to the deaf. But then, what can one do with an insufferable problem like this that hurts the populace so badly? Now, I am not by any means suggesting that Lai Mohammed should be rendered jobless. No, not at all. But it should be clear by now, even to a deaf, dumb and blind leadership, that his redeployment is long overdue. A people being grievously punished by the current impossible conditions in the country do not need any callous smooth talker coming out to regularly insult them and compound their grief by attempting to discredit their very dire experiences by seeking to persuade them that their real and excruciating situation exists only in their imagination.
Lai Mohammed was a mistake from the beginning, the kind that cannot be managed. Like that very bad tooth whose intolerable pain can only be ended by extraction. When one even looks very closely at Mr. Mohammed each time he is on stage performing, it looks as if the crushing burden of the “lie-lie” image is beginning to weigh down heavily on him. He would obviously welcome any news of his redeployment with great happiness. The Federal Government (whichever one) should please kindly oblige him by finding him another job. Such a kind gesture will, no doubt, bring immense relief to him and many Nigerians.
*Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye is a Nigerian journalist and writer (firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter: @ugowrite)
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