19 October 2018
Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s propaganda minister, spoke at Chatham House in London on Wednesday morning. Responding to a question about the cost of governance in Nigeria and excessive pay for governors, legislators and so on, he said he didn’t know how much senators earned, “I know how much I earn, it is barely enough to survive”.
Mohammed didn’t say how much it was, whether he was on minimum wage, or whether information about ministers’ pay was in the public domain. It was the sort of evasive and non-specific answers he gave the audience during the Q&A session that followed his typically bland presentation titled “Nigeria’s National Unity: Towards Participation and Shared Values” with a lot of questionable information.
Watch the session below:
He kicked off telling his audience about Nigeria’s diversity and the importance of unity, before launching into an attack on “fake news”. He was seemingly more perturbed by the “fake news” wrongly characterising the mass murder by Fulani herdsmen as religious or ethnic and the use of fake pictures, than the thousands of deaths. But he obviously ignored his own contribution to the “fake news” agenda by describing the conflict as “farmers and herdsmen clashes”.
How could the invasion of farms by cattle, the destruction of crops and the mass killing of farmers and villagers that resist this, be described as “farmers and herdsmen clashes”, as if there was no clear aggressors and victims? The minister, perhaps in what could be a Freudian slip, nearly called the crisis by its right name as he started off saying “Fula..”, before correcting himself and saying “farmers and herdsmen clashes”. His government’s mis-characterisation of the problem is deliberate and an attempt to paint both sides as being at fault, with no intention of dealing with the problem. This is because there are vested interests in the cattle business at the very top of the administration.
Mohammed continued down this road, complaining about “fake news” while spreading it. He had another reasons for the conflict – population explosion, climate change, but little solutions. Yes, we have a bigger population than decades ago and there is desertification, meaning less greenery for the cattle. But that doesn’t explain the fact that there are an estimated 19m cows in Nigeria, who owns those cows, and why they keep insisting on using the entire country as a grazing reserve. That is the core of the problem.
Mohammed was asked why President Muhammadu Buhari doesn’t speak to the media more frequently as a means of getting his message across to counter the “fake news”. He went on a ramble about how the president uses other means including his information minister.
One questioner asked about corruption being a “social” problem at every level. Another echoed this saying he drove from Lagos to Abuja and was solicited for bribes 64 times. The response was that the “we need sustained advocacy”.
The moderator, Alex Vines, at a point seemed to be suppressing a grin as Mohammed spoke, and asked what the government was doing in response to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) downgrading Nigeria’s growth expectations. Mohammed claimed there was investment in infrastructure and power generation had risen from a paltry 2650 megawatts when this regime came in to 7000 megawatts. What this meant in terms of improved supply to long-suffering consumers was anyone’s guess.
He was asked what was the government’s policy on ransom to kidnappers, after claiming that they had brought back some of the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram and were “doing everything” to bring back all of them. The minister didn’t answer the question on ransom, but said the Boko Haram problem was not created by his administration. He was asked for specifics and proceeded to say nothing specific, mouthing off platitudes instead. He went on to claim that the terrorists no longer held any territory and life has “returned to normal” in the northeast.
Such claims have been disputed by evidence from DW, the German broadcaster. The BBC claimed in January that Boko Haram are still as lethal as ever. Their monitoring showed that Boko Haram had killed more people in 2017 than in the previous year, despite the government claiming the terrorists had been “technically defeated”. Last month Reuters reported that displaced people were being asked by Nigerian government officials to return to the unsafe northeast region. “Western diplomats and aid officials have expressed concern that sending displaced people back to their home regions is part of Buhari’s political agenda, and that of the ruling party”, according to Reuters.
None of these reports remotely look like “fake news” and they are diametrically opposite to Lai Mohammed’s claims about Boko Haram at Chatham House. He appears to be one of the biggest peddlers of fake news.