Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has maintained that the Boko Haram insurgency ravaging the North East has been technically defeated. He insisted that what Nigeria was contending with was global terrorism that had no boundary nor frontier.
Lai Mohammed reiterated his earlier statement yesterday when he paid a working visit to City office of The Sun Publishing Limited in Ikeja, Lagos, yesterday.
He said, “I stand by what I said that Boko Haram is technically defeated.
“What we are having today is global terrorism, where you have the ISIS, ISWAP, Al-qaeda all working together.
“Terrorism is a global issue. Between 2009 and 2015, we were fighting Boko Haram, but today we are fighting global terrorism where the remnants of the army in Syria are now joining hands with the ISWAP and others.”
Mohammed said his position in 2015 that Boko Haram had been technically defeated was based on what he saw when he led a team of local and international journalists to the epicentre of insurgency in 2015.
“I was on ground in Bama, Konduga and Maiduguri and I know what I saw before I made that claim.
“We are fighting global terrorism and that is why we are appealing to our foreign partners, especially the UN and our neighbours.
“By the time we get more platforms and the new helicopters that are being expected, there will be tremendous improvement,” he said.
The minister, who was received by the Managing Director, Onuoha Ukeh, and his management team, maintained that government was determined to contain and checkmate the purveyors of fake news and hate speech, which he said were responsible for the Rwandan genocide that claimed over 800,000 lives.
“No responsible government is going to sit idle and watch the entire landscape engulfed in fake news and hate speech. We have seen it happen in some countries before and we have seen the repercussion. Over 800,000 lives were lost in Rwanda and it started with fake news and hate speeches when they started calling some people cockroaches and that cockroaches ought to be destroyed. You can imagine what it cost the country. So, we would continue to involve means and methods to combat fake news and hate speech, including but not limited to this kind of visit, where we seek your assistance,” he said.
He noted that government identified what hate speech and fake news were capable of causing in Nigeria as far back as 2017, when an entire council on information meeting was dedicated to addressing the issue, but lamented that people did not take the issue seriously then.
On what government has done to contain the Siamese twins of fake news and hate speech, he said his ministry recently set up a committee to implement the recommendations, which have been approved by Mr. President, to bring sanity to the broadcast industry.
“Before and during the 2019 general election, there were all kinds of fake news and hate speeches and, on the basis of that, the President asked me to set up a committee to look into why there was prevalent of this fake news and hate speech. And we came up with the conclusion that it was the broadcasting code today and extant laws that have actually made it easy for fake news and hate speech to thrive. When you look at the broadcasting code, up until our committee’s recommendations were approved by Mr. President, the maximum fine for hate speech was N500,000. And we found out that what some people did, especially politicians, was to submit advert materials containing hate speech to media houses, and pay for instance N7 million, instead of N5 million, and assure them that they would only pay N500,000 if the NBC sanctions them.
“Based on this finding, the Federal Government has approved our recommendation to, among other things, amend the broadcasting code and the extant laws to say that if you broadcast something that is patently fake news or patently capable of dividing Nigeria or setting one people against the other, you will be made to pay a fine of N5 million, instead of the paltry N500,000. And if you infringe that law three times, the commission will suspend your license.
“We also recommended and Mr. President approved that the NBC should be insulated from politics. There should be no political interference in the way and manner the regulatory agency conducts its business, especially as regards issuance and withdrawal of broadcasting license,” he said.
Responding to a question on whether closing the border was the only way to fight smuggling and the gains of the closure so far as well as when the borders would be opened, he said the borders would be opened as soon as the neighbouring countries meet their own obligation.
He said, “The government has always said the border closure will not be indefinite. However, it will continue as long as our neighbours do not meet their own obligations. What is happening is that there is an agreement between nations to help the economy of each country. For instance, I am aware that there is an agreement within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), especially with our neighbours, that goods coming into Nigeria must be containerised and must be taken through ports where they can be assessed before they are brought in. Now, this has not been obeyed by our neighbours.”
Mohammed stated that government was aware that the border closure was inflicting some collateral damage on many people but urged Nigerians to persevere and bear with government as it was in the overall interest of Nigerians to ensure that neighbouring countries become responsible and responsive.
“Apart from billions of naira that the closure has brought to the coffers of government through Customs duties, I know that the rice farmers are very glad with the border closure. But for the border closure, probably there would have been a glut in the rice market this year because there was a bountiful harvest this year,” he added.
Also responding to the concern by NACCIMA that the closure has hurt the free trade agreement and the IMFs position that Nigeria cannot continue to close its borders, he said: “It depends on the way you look at it. First, there is the issue of national security; and here we are not just fighting wars or repelling wars, we are talking about survival of a country. The country must survive first before it becomes a member of any intercontinental body. So, for us, it is because there is a Nigeria that we are a member of ECOWAS free trade.
“So, we believe that there is existential threat to our economy through smuggling. We will resolve the issue of the African Continental Free Trade (Agreement) but the government is saying that, as of today, Nigeria has become a dumping ground for smuggled and substandard goods and we are losing revenue massively through smuggling. Our poultry and agriculture have become uncompetitive. So, let’s resolve those issues first and then we can take care of the free trade agreement.”