By Victor Afam Ogene
Nigeria’s Information and Culture Minister, Lai Mohammed, could easily pass for an artist. Whether of the con or visible variant, Lai is adroit at his act. In his mind’s eye, he paints diverse portraits, all fittingly serving the specific publics he intends to ‘entertain’.
When he gets to work, he paints, not just on canvass, but essentially on the hearts and imagination of his fellow countrymen. So efficient is Lai, that he can construct, in living colours, an imagery of Jezebel that would readily turn Monalisa green with envy. Much in the same way as he can deodorize the village bully as a penitent altar boy.
A lawyer by calling, Lai is, perhaps, the only Nigerian, in recent memory, that can change course multiple times – yet, remain right. In fact, so adept at his game was Lai, as Spokesman of the ruling All Progressives Congress(APC), that then National Chairman of the party, Chief John Oyegun, on Monday, March 14, 2016 lamented that it was difficult finding a replacement for him.
He had been appointed seven months earlier, as Minister, and suddenly the information machinery at the party’s headquarters appeared to have gone awry.
Deploying a combination of passion, panache and argumentum ad hominem, Lai easily swayed the media, craftily using it to advance whatever viewpoint he intended to sell. In deed, many believe that his emotive approach as National Publicity Secretary of APC, helped curry international support, and ultimately victory for his party at the historic 2015 presidential election.
His calls, at the time, verged on playing both the patriot and the victim; routinely beckoning on the international community to mount pressure on the Goodluck Jonathan administration. Whether the issue centred around an alleged plan to shift the date for the election, or an alleged plot to hold on to power, after probable defeat, Lai remained at his alarmist best.
When the issue centred on insecurity, especially the Boko Haram insurgency, he felt no compulsion laying the blame squarely on the rival Peoples Democratic Party(PDP). “In view of the fact that the alleged Boko Haram sponsors are either members of the ruling party (PDP), or friends of the President(Jonathan), it is clear that the PDP-led Federal government is unwilling to try them”, Lai stated in an address at the House of Commons, London on September 8, 2014. He had, unabashedly, in an earlier part of the speech mentioned former Governor of Borno state, Ali Modu Sheriff, as one such Boko Haram sponsor.
Today, Sheriff is a chieftain of the APC, and is yet to come to trial concerning Boko Haram. Neither has anyone else of his stature.
Take another example. Eight years ago, as Spokesman of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN – one of the legacy parties that formed the APC – Lai had heavily criticised the Jonathan administration’s planned removal of subsidy on petroleum products.
Lai: “ACN said it remains convinced that fuel subsidy removal is not in the best interest of Nigerians, hence will not support it, and that – based on informed analysis – the average true price of a litre of fuel is 34.03 naira, which means Nigerians have been overpaying for the product.”
He maintained this line of argument all through the electioneering period leading up to the 2015 elections; including joining leaders of his party on a road protest to drive home their agitation.
Fast-forward to 2020, and he glibly dismisses criticism to multiple hikes in prices of petroleum products as ” unnecessary and mischievous.”
No longer was it about the people. Instead, he became an advocate for the rule of market forces.
Lai’s trenchant crusade against free speech, be it under the guise of a social media bill, hate speech, or fake news, reeks of someone who knows the intricacies of these tools, having himself deployed same to achieve set goals. This, remarkably, prefigures his current spat with the American global television network, Cable News Network(CNN).
In a petition addressed to Mr. Jonathan Hawkins, VP, Communications, CNN Centre, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, Lai threatened that the Nigerian government will ” take any action within its laws”, should CNN fail to investigate it’s report of November 18, 2020, which alleged that soldiers, indeed, shot at protesters at the Lekki tollgate, Lagos.
Whilst it is within Lai’s purview as Nigeria’s Information Minister to protest an allegedly unfair report, and for the Nigerian government to seek to protect it’s sovereignty, both ought to realize that it is deadly to ‘run with the hare, and hunt with the hounds.’
How, indeed, is it possible to relish the gains that comes with international pressure, and denounce the pains arising from outside scrutiny?
Looking at the picturesque of Lai’s eldorado, as chief opposition propagandist, to his mutation as chief proponent against free speech, his metamorphosis appears to be final. And complete.
•Hon. Ogene, a former member of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, is Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, 365daily, an online publication.