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Lai: The most dangerous minister in Buhari’s cabinet

Lai: The most dangerous minister in Buhari’s cabinet
August 13
14:23 2020

Nigeria’s ministry of information used to be the preserve of processed, patriotic and disciplined minds. It used to be a place for rational public servants like Chukwuemeka Chikelu, the late Dora Akunyili and Frank Nweke Jr – and not propagandists.

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I recall vividly the bold undertakings of the ministry under Chikelu, “the debonair and cool-ruling minister”. At the time, Nigeria was just five years out of the clutch of the military with foreign perception liabilities. The country had chalked up a binder of negative depictions. The minister saddled up to the exigency of the situation; he applied himself to re-imaging Nigeria. Though his quest elicited some scepticism, it was a sorely needed intervention at a time the country was seeking debt forgiveness from Paris Club and the like.

Chikelu also deployed himself to enhancing the promotion of broadcast on HIV/AIDS prevention and control by asking media executives to cut down charges on health-related broadcast messaging. He was also committed to the campaign against female genital mutilation, asking journalists that they “should make it a covenant to write at least a story on the evils of the practice”. But I think he is most remembered for his effort in re-portraying Nigeria.

I also recall the hefty exploits of Akunyili as minister of information with her “Re-branding Nigeria” campaign. She said the campaign was to emend the “faulty perception and assault on the reputation of the ordinary Nigerian”. The late minister was concerned about how Nigerians were fixed on abroad for abuse. Nweke did his bit as well – bringing poise and charisma to the office of the spokesman of the federal republic.

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Among these three ministers, you could see their genuine commitment to the country. Their campaigns were never targeted at Nigerians but at redressing the challenges faced by citizens owing to the soiled image of the country.

But what is Lai Mohammed’s game? Since Lai became minister of information five years ago, he has been on an offensive against citizens. He has applied himself more as Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propagandist, than as a spokesman of the federal republic. Like Goebbels, he appears dutiful in virulently clamping down on alternative voices.

Again, since he became minister, his campaign has been to conscript the media into a regiment and to effectuate a holocaust of independent voices. Unlike his predecessors, Lai’s docket as minister is zeroed in on propaganda, agency espionage and citizen gag for the state.

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He started with his duplicitous “change begins with me” campaign – a furtive attempt to absolve the government of blame over its gypped “change” agenda. The Buhari administration rode to power on the Pegasus of change. But after it took the mantle, it cast overboard every pretension, and asked citizens to seek the change themselves in their unlit homes, decrepit hospitals and perilous roads.

After his “change campaign” suffered an unintended abortion – obviously for being integrity challenged – Lai deployed himself robustly to gagging citizens and the media. Though he said social media will be “regulated and sanitised”, it appears this is an adventure too unwieldy for the minister to see through. But he is still on the prance to “sanitise” social platforms. By the way, social media is the only citizen agency that has not been functionally annexed by the very irritable Buhari government. Lai took his artifices to the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC). He summarily amended the broadcasting code, laying mines in the new canon for broadcasting.

Broadcast industry stakeholders have faulted the new code which is essentially a gag code. Speaking on the issue, Tonnie Iredia, a former director-general of the NTA, said the NBC code, which “was supposed to be a professional guide and masterpiece that promotes professional excellence in broadcasting is now filled with sanctions and what you will do and not do”. He also asked why the minister, who is a politician and never practised in the industry, was spearheading the process which naturally should be midwifed by professionals.

In the same vein, Ikra Aliyu Bilbis, chairman of the NBC board, said Lai amended the broadcasting code “unilaterally”. In Bilbis’ words: “Instead of studying and following the law, relevant rules and regulations, and direct the appropriate authorities as stipulated by the law to act on, he (Lai Mohammed) erroneously embarked on the review alone.”

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In the new code, the fine for so-called “hate speech” was jacked up from N500,000 to N5 million. This is ultimately to menace broadcast stations and to force them into a regiment of compliance and fear where only broadcast favourable to the administration will air. Nigeria Info, 99.3 FM, Abuja, which the NBC just fined N5 million for interviewing Obadiah Mailafia, former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), who alleged that a northern governor is the leader of Boko Haram, is the first casualty of Lai’s Goebbelian pursuit.

A memo by the NBC warning broadcast stations of sanctions against insult on the president, governors and members of the national assembly by their guests “because it is not in our culture” to insult elders, surfaced online on Thursday. This further accents Lai’s desperate agenda to garrison the media.

At this point, it is either “hell or the lake of fire” (all the same). The broadcast industry and the Nigeria media must rise against the new Goebbels and most dangerous minister in Buhari’s cabinet. They have only their chains to lose.

Fredrick Nwabufo is a writer and journalist

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Twitter: @FredrickNwabufo

2 Comments

  1. Osadek
    Osadek August 13, 18:13

    Obviously, the writers lack proper understanding of the duties of the Minister of Information and Culture…. he writer praised the Re-branding Nigeria” campaign of Late Akunyili. .. if I may ask, what has that fetched us?

    Yes we came on with change begins with me campaign in 2015… and I can tell you that for a lasting change we need to look inwards. … how can a country change without having the citizens changed from an archaic and corrupt mentality?

    The broadcasting code that was reviewed had a committee set up for that purpose and the report was handed over to the minister who supervises the agency, so that Lai Mohammed reviewed the code is nothing but a figment of imagination, targeted at blackmailing Lai’s image!

    And is the writer justifying what Nigeria Info did? Or is he supporting the false claims of Mailafia? Claim he made on air that cannot be substantiated? Haba! Why are people so reckless in making comments on National Issue?

    No one is gagging the media but any media outlets must be able to differentiate between freedom of speech and hate speech

    Reply to this comment
    • North
      North August 13, 22:33

      If the previous ministers have done half of what the current Minister has done, am not sure we will ever have an APC government, and the minister will probably be in kirikiri for hate speech

      Reply to this comment

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