Why is Lai Mohammed struggling?

Posted by News Express | 31 December 2015 | 3,117 times

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The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, is having a field day. In the last one week, he has been struggling to make a point. He wants Nigerians to believe that the government of Muhammadu Buhari has defeated Boko Haram. Mohammed has been trying to make this point with consuming passion. He is punching away with clenched teeth in order to drive the matter home. He has an opportunity to tell a story and he does not want this to pass him by.

What opportunity are we talking about here? President Buhari had, after the appointment of service chiefs, charged them to ensure that Boko Haram insurgents were defeated by the end of this year, that is, not later than today. The charge, obviously, was made in a mood of elation. The triumphalism that greeted Buhari’s election must be driven home at the least opportunity. The charge was, therefore, one of those excitable statements with which a new government draws attention to itself. It was intended to enlist the interest of the public in the new order. Such statements belong more to the gallery than in the actual service of the people. It was an impressionist decoy. It was not meant to be taken seriously.

But Buhari was not quite lucky here. The statement thrown at the public for the sake of it did not go unnoticed. Nigerians took more than a cursory interest in it because Buhari had been coming away as the quickest solution to the Boko Haram insurgency. His statement provided an opportunity to hold him accountable. But because the deadline was not meant to be met, Buhari began to doublespeak, weeks to the deadline he set for himself. The December 31 deadline, he said, might not be met because the military forces, who are supposed to flush out the insurgents are distracted by pockets of sectional and sectarian agitations across the country.

This was where and when Mohammed stepped in. That was how his present intervention began. The minister, it would appear, was ill at ease with the president’s doublespeak. He, therefore, had to demonstrate to us that the president did not mean to eat his words. That was how the minister began to set sail. That is why he has become restless.

As someone who drove the information machinery of an opposition party that upstaged a sitting government, Mohammed was credited with the capacity to turn white to black if he so wished by merely painting them with words. He appears set to take us through another journey of ingenious sophistry. But this is where he misses his track. As the National Publicity Secretary of a political party, Mohammed had the responsibility to sell his party and its agenda to the public. In doing that, he was at liberty to employ whatever tool that he considered effective, including propaganda. And Mohammed made so much capital out of this tool.

But his role has since changed. As Minister of the Federal Republic, Mohammed is not permitted to employ the tool of propaganda in telling the story of the government he serves. He is supposed to tell the people only the truth because the government exists in the service of the people. It is sinful if the Minister of Information has to lie to the people in order to get them to view government and its activities favourably.

If Lai Mohammed understands this, he will appreciate the fact that there is no need for the bravado that has been driving him since the last one week. The minister thinks, rather erroneously, that part of his job is to define and redefine the context of the deadline. He thinks he must force a certain position down the throat of Nigerians in order to make them believe otherwise. For the minister, the deadline to defeat Boko Haram must be met and has been met, even if on paper. But in forcing this position on us, Mohammed has, regrettably, been at his elemental worst. He has been taking us through a rigmarole. He has been putting the defeat of the insurgents in the context that we all must accept. It does not mean this. It actually means that. We did not understand the president when he spoke. But Mohammed understood him perfectly. He read the mind of the president even before he spoke. And so, Mohammed has to explain to the rest of us. That is why his mood is upbeat. That is why he has been sounding triumphant. He has been announcing, explaining and arguing, even with himself, that government has defeated Boko Haram.

But as he was busy wasting words, the insurgents stepped out with a telling disclaimer. Suicide bombers marched into Borno and Adamawa states, killing about 50 people. The bombings took place despite claims by Mohammed that the insurgents have been incapacitated and lack the capacity to inflict serious harm on Nigerians. With this development, Boko Haram has effectively given a lie to Mohammed’s claims.

If the minister were to be humble about this situation, he will learn a lesson from this. And the lesson is that he should recognise that Nigeria is not competing with itself. Every well meaning Nigerian abhors the activities of Boko Haram. The people are, therefore, united in their resolve to flush out the insurgents. The minister should, therefore, not give the impression that victory against Boko Haram is something one group or section will appropriate. The victory, when it comes, will be for us all. If Mohammed recognises this, then he will see that there is no need for him to struggle to explain and declare victory over Boko Haram. When we defeat the insurgents, we will not need anyone to tell us. The true state of affairs will be there for all to see. In that case, there will be no need for Lai Moham­med to fret and struggle. There will be no need for him to explain and explain again. Victory over terror is a matter of practicality. It is not about theorising or undue chest-thumping.

I suspect that the problem with Lai Mohammed is that he is suffering from a certain hangover. He was at war with the government that the one he serves took over from. So, he is carrying on as if the last government and his are in competition. That is why he blames every drawback of the present government on its predecessor. When government fails to make petroleum products available, Lai Mohammed blames it on the Goodluck Jonathan administration. When the government of the day fails to manage the economy, it is the last administration that should be blamed for it. When the present administration fails to attract foreign direct investment, it is because the government that was failed to get it right. This is escapism of the worst order.

Now, Lai Mohammed has declared a forced victory over Boko Haram because he wants to score a point against the Jonathan administration. He is being driven into a frenzy by all of this. He is not concentrating on the facts of the situation because he is fixated about the actions or inactions of the previous administration. He needs to wean himself of this dangerous hangover so that he does not continue to shoot recklessly into the air.

•This piece column originally appeared in today’s edition of Daily Sun. Amanze Obi can be reached via amaobi@yahoo.co.uk

Source: News Express

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