By Chukwudi Nweje
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in this interview with selected journalists insisted that the PDP invented hate speeches to discredit the APC-led federal government. He said the country is running smoothly even in the absence of President Muhammadu Buhari, just as he declared that PDP poses no threat to the APC-led government.
You have severally condemned hate speeches, but, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) maintained that APC invented hate speech. How do you react?
It’s a pity that the PDP is not looking at this matter from a patriotic perspective. They are only looking at it from the partisan perspective which does not allow them to get the message we are sending out. The message we are sending out is that it is because there is a country called Nigeria that is why there are political parties and that is also why we have media houses and journalists. The moment there is instability in the polity; then we are all at risk. On our own part, we are not politicising anything. All we are saying is that empirical evidence shows that there has been a rise in hate speeches, fake news and misrepresentations in the last couple of years and that it is these hate speeches and fake news that has been fuelling disunity as well as destabilising the polity.
We never attributed it to the PDP. Anybody out there will know that these hate speeches is aimed at destabilising the polity and distracting the government. We can see the manifestation of these hate speeches in the various crises all over the country. Our appeal is that those who are sponsoring these hate speeches should desist because the consequences are better imagined. We gave example of Rwanda. Now, we also know that these things are organised, massively funded and it’s not difficult to see why they are doing so. When you fight corruption, corruption will fight back. This government has embarked on a crusade to cleanse the society and many of the people who, either because they don’t want this fight to continue are behind these hate speeches or people who are just our enemies. I do not see how anybody can say either President Muhammadu Buhari or the APC are sponsoring hate speeches. But like I said, PDP should not take this issue personal but see it from a patriotic point of view. Today, hate speeches pose the greatest threat to Nigeria and that is why we can see separatist movements all over the country today. If you listen to some of our radio stations, you will not believe that you are in Nigeria due to the kind of hatred that is spewed out. This is why we said it is a dangerous thing, it must be curbed and it must not be politicised.
Are you saying that the law of karma is haunting the PDP, that they are reaping what they sowed?
To me, it’s very clear what is going on. I was the face of the APC while in opposition and I believe that many of these people have not forgiven me for the role God made me play in that change. I am also the spokesperson of the Federal Government, so their belief is that if you want to cripple the government, then attack the spokesperson. What gives me concern however is when the mainstream traditional media join in spreading this fake news; someone attributed it to incompetence and lack of capacity on their part, but largely, I attribute it to mischief and sinister agenda that is only clear to those who masterminding these things. Most of these fake news and misrepresentation of facts either never took place or they were even statements that were issued in public. I remembered the issue of the budget very well. It was a briefing with State House correspondents which was on tape. I don’t see how anybody could say he was mistaken about that. There was no ambiguity about it. Also look at when I said President Buhari was working from home for that day but they claimed I said henceforth, the president will be working from home. As a matter of fact, they are so reckless; especially the online medium that published the issue of the drugs Mr. President was taking abroad. They actually said I granted the interview to Channels television but they (Channels) had to come out to deny it. So, one begins to wonder whether it is political vendetta but I think to me, it’s all politics.
What is your ministry doing about the abuses on social media, with a view to avoiding crisis?
I must say that it is a very difficult matter. On one hand, there is freedom of speech; on the other hand, there is national security. Like we keep saying, if the social media does not self-regulate, it will self-destruct. I see in recent times many countries have been so worried, even countries that are freer than ours are now putting in some checks and control on social media. Our approach here is to continue to engage them and continue to let them see the danger of power without responsibility. We intend to have a workshop where we will call all the online media and educate them on some of these things. We are in an era where anybody with a phone is a journalist, a critic and opinion leader. Unfortunately, nobody bothers to check the veracity of such stories they post online. On our part, we do not hope to legislate against them but at the same time, we are very concerned and we hope that we will able to continue to engage them.
Do you think the absence of President Buhari has crippled governance in any way?
There is no doubt that we miss the president but I think government has been functioning very well. There can’t be a substitute for the president no doubt but I don’t think it has gotten to any stage whereby we find the kind of acrimony, agitations that is coming up. It is normal for anybody to be ill. When somebody is ill, there are certain things he cannot do but we thank God that Mr. President is improving and he will come back very soon. The important thing is that government has been working. We have not missed one single Federal Executive Council meeting since he left. Also, we have not missed one single National Economic Council meeting. Whatever needs to be done is being done because there are serious consultations between the Acting president and Mr. President and as such, I don’t see the hoopla about Mr. President being away.
What efforts are you making to bridge the gap between the Executive and Legislative arm of government?
I think the chairman Senate Committee on media was on television recently and I was happy with his position. Whatever might be the differences between the National Assembly and the Executive, we have the mechanism to resolve them. Everywhere in the world, once in a while, there will be friction between the executive and legislature, but the important thing is to quickly resolve the issues once they come. One thing that gladdens me is that the National Assembly has told us several times that they are committed to rescuing Nigeria from its present economic and social challenges. By and large, I believe and I am confident that we can resolve all our differences.
The crisis in the PDP has been resolved, does that threaten the APC?
PDP cannot be a threat to us for the simple reason that Nigeria of today has no room for a PDP government. Nigerians have moved from those locust years. Nigerians can’t even contemplate going back to the PDP days; days when you find that few people have cornered the common wealth. The time when infrastructural development was at a standstill; when there was no attempt at all to diversify the economy. No programme for the youths, no social intervention; a period of no transparency and accountability. Nigerians have moved away from them.
Of course, they are a political party and they will make the appropriate noise and that’s what I see about it. But when it comes to making choices, Nigerians know where their interest lies. Look at the kind of revolution in agriculture that this government has brought about; also look at the giant strides we have made in the mining industry. For five consecutive months now, inflation has come down and then the manufacturing industry, for two consecutive quarters, it has recorded positive gains. The Naira is strengthening against the Dollar and we remain committed in ensuring that the ease of doing business in Nigeria improves. You can see the Acting President himself leading the campaign for the Small and Medium scale enterprises. In terms of our achievements, no propaganda can assail what we have done. I think evidence of that is in what happened in Lagos State where the APC cleared all the 57 local government seats. Of course, it is an endorsement of what the state governor; Akinwunmi Ambode is doing and also an endorsement of APC as a political party.