Lai Mohammed’s tales by daylight

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Niran Adedokun

Information Minister Lai Mohammed’s verbiage at his Tuesday press conference testifies to the level of unseriousness in government in Nigeria. And that is an unfortunate irony, for there has been no other time in her history that Nigeria needs competent, mature and compassionate governance. Now, it is a most turbulent era in national life. Sadly, men like Mohammed do not seem to understand that.

On many fronts, the press conference gives the administration he speaks for away as one given to impulsion rather than the introspection expected of a government of 200 million people in the 21st century. Unless Mr. Mohammed spoke for himself, in which case, one should even be more worried because it suggests that we might be in an era of loose cannons who cannot distinguish between their responsibilities as public office holders and their private essence. If Mohammed did not speak for the government, then Nigerians must know that it is under a siege of impunity where public officials have no consequences for missteps.

Did Mohammed need that press conference? The answer, in my opinion, is No; if anyone does not know this, the minister, being a lawyer, should have known better than to waste the time of Nigerians that Tuesday morning.

In item six of his press conference, the minister says: “It is clear, from the ongoing, that the report of the panel in circulation cannot be relied upon because its authenticity is in doubt. Besides, the Lagos State Government, being the convening authority, has yet to release any official report to the public.” For starters, given his experience in public office over the past 20 years at least, Mr. Mohammed should know that this report, even if members of the #ENDSARS panel authenticated it, is only a report without any force until the Lagos State Government, which set it up, issues a white paper. He acknowledged as much in his speech but exerted so much energy commenting on the same document, which authenticity he doubts!

It would have been different if the minister was telling Nigerians that the FG had explored the relationship with the Lagos State Government to access the authentic report and that this actual report has the exact details, which he tried to impugn in his press conference. But that was not the case! The Federal Government, or is it Mr. Mohammed, doubts the authenticity of this report. Rather than speak on the issues, he attacked panel members, even when he could not be sure that they had made the recommendations in the suspicious report. How does a Federal Government or its minister respond to what only amounts to conjectures by its own admission?

One gets the picture that someone pressured the minister to respond though he gave the excuse that he had been out of the country on some official assignment. However, this unnecessary piece of information adds no value to the debate. The world is a global village and if the government takes the issue with any seriousness at all, the minister should have responded from wherever he was. After all, some of the most memorable sound bites from the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), were pronouncements he made outside the country!

What makes Mr. Mohammed’s unrelenting posture about the events at the Lekki Tollgate more indicative of the lack of rigour at the highest levels in today’s Nigeria, however, is the question of the basis of his insistent dismissal of claims that people were killed that evening.

In the third item of his speech at the press conference, the minister says: “Without mincing words, let me say that never in the history of any Judicial Panel in this country has its report been riddled with so many errors, inconsistencies, discrepancies, speculations, innuendoes, omissions and conclusions that are not supported by evidence.” He went on to say that the document circulating in the public space was nothing but a “rehash of the unverified fake news that has been playing on social media…” Perhaps he is right, perhaps no one died at the Lekki Tollgate on October 20, 2020. But the question is, what has the Federal Government done to prove to Nigerians and the international community that soldiers did not directly shoot live bullets at and kill people?

But the point is even much more than gaining the people’s trust when issues like the Lekki Tollgate event come up. It is more about the obligation of government for the preservation of the lives and accountability to its citizens. What one finds is that Mr. Mohammed is guilty of the same allegations of spreading false news he unjustifiably made against the Lagos State panel.

The minister has said repeatedly that lives were not lost at Lekki on that night. In his press conference, he claimed that 57 civilians, 37 policemen and six soldiers died during the #ENDSARS protests. So, how did he arrive at these figures? Couldn’t all of these be regarded as speculations as well?

Former Military President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida reportedly once said that while history may forgive us for taking the wrong decision, posterity would judge us for taking no decision at all. The Lagos State Government has done nobly by expanding the terms of reference of this panel to investigate the event of October 20, 2020. It at least took a step. Is it not the height of irresponsibility for the Federal Government to sit idly in Abuja waiting for a subnational government’s report to validate its position? Shouldn’t an episodic event like the #ENDSARS protest, which shook the country to its foundation and culminated in the Lekki incident, spur the FG into instituting its own independent investigations if only to show respect for the lives and feelings of its citizens?

The minister claims that the lives of Nigerians are essential to government but these are lame words that are not backed with action! No one who has followed this Lekki Tollgate saga would imagine that life means anything to the Nigerian government, which has refused to lift a single finger aimed at investigating the allegations. It probably feels it would be a waste of resources when forceful and insistent denial of claims that people were killed was an option. Yet, these ministers gallivant around the world on avoidable official assignments. No one who sees the state of health care in Nigeria, the continued detention of four students of Bethel Baptist Secondary School by bandits after four months (and many other children, who signify the future of Nigeria killed or held hostage), and the number of lives lost in Nigeria daily (remember the incident on the Kaduna/Abuja Expressway last Sunday) would believe what Mr. Mohammed said about how sacrosanct life is in the country.

And this is where the problem is: our leaders think it is about what they say rather than what the people see them do. For literally every event, no matter how catastrophic, they see opportunities to massage their reputation rather than showing compassion and proving themselves as fair-minded leaders who would protect the citizens regardless of what is at stake. Therefore, instead of doing everything to convince Nigerians that state actors did not turn against and kill the same people they are paid to protect that sad Tuesday evening, the Federal Government would vituperate, talk down on, and demonise everyone expressing a contrary opinion. Sadly, governance is not just about occupying big offices and having access to all the media platforms in the world. It is about respecting the humanity of the people you were elected to serve; we sadly do not currently get that in Nigeria. Our leaders only tell us tales, morning, noon, and night!

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