Alhaji Lai Mohammed: The limits of propaganda
I was literally transfixed to the chair in my room after listening and watching excerpts as highlighted by Channels Television 10 p.m. news bulletin of 23rd November 2021 from the so-called Press Conference organized by Nigeria’s information and culture minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, on the findings of the Panel on #EndSARS protest (not yet released to the public) as constituted by Lagos State Government, especially as it pertains to the ugly incident of October 20, 2020, at Lekki Toll Plaza, when a friend called me. Immediately I said “hello”, he launched without pleasantries into the subject matter of why he was calling. “Old boy, Lai Mohammed is at it again! I am watching channels news now and can not believe what I’m hearing from that man. I do not think that man is still normal – – -“. Before he could go further, I told him that I saw what he is complaining about and still trying to make sense of the whole episode. We agreed to finish with the whole news and talk later.
I doubt if it is only me and my friend mentioned above that were aghast with what Mr. Lai Mohammed dished out to Nigerians on Tuesday, the 23rd day of November 2021. What is at centre here is a report submitted to the appropriate convening body – in this case, Lagos State Government and not the Federal Government that Lai Mohammed is serving. While receiving the report, Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu assured all that a white paper would be issued on the report within two weeks of its receipt. The same day, the Governor announced members of the ‘white paper committee’. Tuesday, the 23rd day of November 2021 marked exactly 7 days to the release of the white paper. One is therefore tempted to ask: why the haste from Mr. Lai Mohammed to comment on a report which content and white paper thereon have not been made known by the convening authority? What is even more curious is the fact that the Presidency had earlier issued a statement to the effect that it will only act after the convening authority has released the report and the white paper and that it will respond to the portions pertaining to it. This fact was reiterated by President Buhari when the U.S Secretary of State visited recently.
The more pertinent question: on whose authority did Lai Mohammed make the comments he dished out? Many have held the view that a lot of government officials at the Federal level often engage on voyages of their own by acting without authority on a number of issues. The issue of the invasion of Justice Mary Odili’s residence is still raging! Can Lai Mohammed claim that he spoke on behalf of the Federal Government on this issue? If the answer is in the affirmative, then we Nigerians are in serious trouble.
Many have held the view that a lot of government officials at the Federal level often engage on voyages of their own by acting without authority on a number of issues
The only plausible reason one can adduce to the unfortunate posturing by Minister Lai Mohammed at his press briefing was ego. He wanted to validate by every and all means possible his earlier assertion that no soul was lost at Lekki Tollgate on the night of October 20, 2020, especially on the back of CNN’s recent statement that the report has vindicated its earlier position on the matter.
Can Lai Mohammed in good conscience tell Nigerians that he is in possession of a copy of the report submitted to Lagos State Government and has read it from the beginning to the end and digested it? The questions he asked and the language he deployed at the press briefing easily cast doubt on that. How is he sure that no mention was made in the report of the slain policemen and soldiers? In any case, it is not in the position of the panel members to invent cases. They were there to treat cases brought before them. They never went to the houses of the victims of police brutality to compel them to appear before them. In the same vein, relations or even colleagues of the slain security men were at liberty to approach the panel with their own cases as did those of their civilian counterparts.
If Lai Mohammed claims to be a lawyer, he should have known better than what he did by calling that press conference. It was obvious that he relied so much on what was circulating on social media – the very media he has so much vilified. Again, another demonstration of the hypocrisy of government officials! What is more, the language he deployed was very unbecoming of a lawyer. By describing the panel as the worst judicial panel ever set in the history of Nigeria, he dropped the ball massively there. One is therefore in good stead to describe his press briefing as the worst in recent times. Not that he is been delivering fantastic press briefings, anyway!
By Minister Lai Mohammed’s outing, he has only succeeded in further widening the trust deficit between the government he is serving and the citizens. People have always taken whatever comes from his mouth with a pinch of salt and on this occasion of his hurried press briefing, he neither disappointed nor left anyone in doubt. That press briefing was one gaffe too many! He obviously thinks he is still in opposition where propaganda reigns.
The only honourable thing left for him now, assuming he has any with him, is to resign. He has been reported vowing never to toe that line. He should be reminded that he is occupying that position at the pleasure of Nigerians. If he fails to tread the honourable path, the President should do the needful and this is an auspicious moment for the President to re-jig his entire cabinet if he is hoping to salvage anything within these few months available to him. The notion of ‘we’ versus ‘them’ prevailing among many of his ministers of whom Lai Mohammed is the Archangel is not helping his administration at all.
Okolo is a Chartered Stockbroker and Management Consultant based in Lagos