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Backlash: Lai Mohammed Has Fully Resumed

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Abraham Ogbodo

Abraham Ogbodo

I said last Sunday, that no Federal Executive Council meetings (FECs) were holding on Wednesdays and no ministers were coming out to stand in front of television cameras after the weekly meetings to proclaim what had been discussed and agreed upon.

By the following day, which was a Monday and not Wednesday, there was an emergency FEC meeting to quickly look at the 2016 budget and prepare what is called Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), to effectively kick-start the processes of Budget 2016, which has now been down-worked from N8tn to N6tn, even as N500bn was injected into the estimates to meet the social security scheme of the APC government. And for the first time in a long while, a minister, specifically, Udo Udoma, who is in charge of budget and planning, said something to rekindle a dying tradition of the Fourth Republic.

A day or so after the FEC meeting, there was a good follow-up. A television footage showed information minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed on a visit to the frontline. He was in Borno State where the battle to recover Nigeria from Boko Haram is fiercest, to see the extent of damage, as well as, talk to the troops and boost their morale. I can’t tell why Lai Mohammed had to be the first minister to visit the frontlines and not the Defence Minister whose turf it is to do all the frontline assessment, and at best, report findings to Lai Mohammed for onward transmission to the Nigerian public.

Or maybe I am the one who is not keeping abreast with developments. The Defence Minister, Monsur Dan-Ali might have dutifully gone and returned from the frontlines unnoticed. He does not understand as Lai Mohammed does, that, in every event or even incident, publicity forms 90 per cent of the content. It could also be that in this low season when there are no serious impending electoral battles to warrant the weaving of high-wire propaganda, Alhaji Lai Mohammed could be running far below his installed capacity and needed to pull through some stunt to get back to form.

And so instead of continually lying low, Lai decided to visit the troops in Borno State last week to get high. He used the opportunity to drop a few lines to announce his return to active service. He said President Buhari’s directive to the military to end Boko Haram at the end of this month was taken out of context, hence all Nigerians are hoping (quite erroneously) that Boko Haram will end on December 31, 2015. He gave an interpretation that purportedly suited the context of the President’s speech. And simply put, ‘Boko Haram will only suffer degradation and not obliteration by end of year.’

Nigerians have misunderstood President Buhari and the APC too many times. They misunderstood what Buhari and the APC said would be achieved in 100 days after inauguration on May 29. They also misunderstood Buhari and APC campaign promises on job creation, the economy, especially the strengthening of the domestic currency to bring it at par with the dollar, and the institution of social security schemes to take care of the vulnerable in society. They also did not hear clearly the promise to feed school children. I do not know what is responsible for these incessant communication gaps. Could it be that the version of the English Language that the President and the APC speak is so much different from what the rest of the people understand? I am just thinking and not saying that the President and his party do not speak mainstream English.

Now, just when the people thought they had heard their President right this one time and waiting to witness the end of Boko Haram in another 18 days, Lai Mohammed has entered to spoil the mood. He is coming more than six months after the initial statement with another version of what the President said.

To be on the safer side in the emerging scenario of official equivocation, I advise that after the President or even the APC must have spoken to whatever effect, the rest of us should wait patiently for Lai Mohammed to do a thorough postmortem and come out with the proper interpretation of what is said, which may be different from what is heard, after which we can then either celebrate or cry to high heavens as the case may be. He appears the only man in the Group of 36 and the entire APC household with an unlimited poetic licence to create and recreate semantics to meet changing circumstances.

Even Buhari who proposed the Boko Haram extermination thesis has not been heard or seen here at home or abroad where he normally goes to make policy statements, saying anything to shift the basis. Neither has the military leadership betrayed any reluctance that could have informed the Lai Mohammed re-interpretation of the six-month old executive order.

In the military, fighters run with the last order. The Chief of Defence Staff, Major General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin has not acknowledged a new order superseding the one by the C-In-C for the military to destroy Boko Haram by December 31, 2015. Therefore, notwithstanding what Lai Mohammed has said, the military must destroy Boko Haram as ordered. In fact, to do otherwise is insubordination, which comes with serious consequences, including death in the military.

Chief of Army Staff, Lt General Tukur Yusuf Buratai knows this and his enthusiasm to deliver on schedule has remained undiminished even in the face of daunting challenges. He does not direct affairs from the coziness of the defence headquarters in Abuja, or even the new Command Centre in Maiduguri specially created to facilitate the extermination order by Mr. President. He is more in the frontline with the troops, singing and dancing around camp fires at night.

It seems, Lai Mohammed just put on some combat attire, which made him look something else and jumped on a plane to Maiduguri to review what had been previously settled. That is ministerial rascality to me and he should be made to state where he got the disincentive to scale down an order by the C-in-C to extermination Boko Haram.

It was only General Yakubu Gowon who reportedly noted that the December 31, 2015 deadline for the obliteration of Boko Haram could be a bit ambitious given the state of the military in terms of men and equipment. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo was said to have re-echoed similar sentiment. Although both men had successfully prosecuted a war against an insurgent group more than 45 years ago, they didn’t have authority to speak on the issue at hand. They were merely doing ‘street gossip’ more or less and Lai Mohammed couldn’t have relied on their statements to do such a serious policy review on behalf of the Federal Government.

Going forward, Lai Mohammed should be kept busy in other ways. He is doing too much of one thing – information. He may have even forgotten that culture is the other half of his twin portfolio. He should do culture too. He should leave Abuja or Lagos for Asaba and the Southeast to oversee the shooting of the next set of Nollywood movies. He should take time off to grace the celebration of some festivals in Osun, Kebbi and Benue, as the special guest of honour. If he wants to do visitations, he should go to Professors Wole Soyinka and John Pepper Clark and some heritage sites in Osogbo and elsewhere, instead of going to the battlefront to announce policy reversal.

If we are not containing Lai Mohammed, then we should kukuma coronate him the only speaker of truth on government matters. This is not the same as being information minister. In this new role, nothing about government will be believed until Lai Mohammed authenticates it.

Meanwhile, we have only 18 days to wait after which it will be clear who, between President Buhari and Lai Mohammed, is saying the right thing on the Boko Haram extermination order.


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