Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf was the Minister of Information in the dying days of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. Nicknamed “Comical Ali” by British tabloids, al-Sahaf made a fool of himself during the Iraqi war by constantly fabricating victories of the Iraqi army, even as territory after territory fell to the American-led allied forces.
What was so ridiculous about him was that his lies were so blatant, only fools could believe them. Even when American tanks rolled into Baghdad, Comical Ali declared: “There is no presence of the American columns in the city of Baghdad at all. We besieged them and we killed most of them. Today, the tide has turned. We are destroying them. The Americans are going to surrender or be burned in their tanks.”
Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, is Nigeria’s home-grown “Comical Ali.” It would not be unfair to fashion him as “the Minister of FABU.” Barely two months of assuming office, Mohammed has established himself as an instrument of cheap propaganda and disinformation. On internet blogs today, he is now generally referred to by his traducers as “Liar Mohammed.” Without a doubt, he has earned this sobriquet by his penchant to be extremely economical with the truth.
Lai Mohammed’s tall tales have now reached epidemic proportions. It is a contradiction in terms that a government that claims to be anti-corruption, and a president that boasts to be a man of integrity, should have a “Comical Ali” as its face and spokesman. It is doubtful that Mohammed can stop being himself. However, if President Buhari is interested in redeeming his now battered image, he needs to admit he made a big error of judgment in appointing Mohammed as a minister.
Lai Mohammed must be fired immediately. Barring which, the only honourable thing left for the Honourable Minister to do is to resign. A Minister of Information should not be allowed to become a Minister of Misinformation.
On 23 December, 2015, Mohammed told a meeting of editorial heads of media houses in Lagos that the Nigerian military has met President Buhari’s deadline to defeat Boko Haram before 31 December, 2015.
Said Mohammed: “Today, I can report that the war against Boko Haram is largely won. Today, I can report to you that the entire 70 plus kilometres stretch from Maiduguri to Bama and all the way to Banki which leads to Cameroun and the Central African Republic are in the hands of our gallant troops. They have so degraded the capacity of Boko Haram that the terrorists can no longer hold on to any territory just as they can no longer carry out any spectacular attack.”
Rather than call his minister to order, President Buhari backed him up in the bid to white-wash the gaffe of predicting Boko Haram would be defeated before the end of the year. He told the BBC: “Boko Haram has reverted to using improvised explosive devices. They have now been reduced to that. But articulated conventional attacks on centres of communication and populations.. they are no longer capable of doing that effectively. So I think technically we have won the war because people are going back into their neighbourhoods. Boko Haram as an organised fighting force, I assure you, that we have dealt with them.”
The president conveniently forgot he had said at his inaugural address that: “We cannot claim to have defeated Boko Haram without rescuing the Chibok girls and all other innocent persons held hostage by insurgents.” We have heard nothing about the Chibok girls. Nevertheless, the president now says Boko Haram has been technically defeated. Are we therefore to conclude that the Chibok girls have also been technically rescued?
Boko Haram response
The victory declarations of Lai Mohammed and President Buhari turned out not only to be palpably false, but outrightly dangerous. Just two days after Mohammed’s declaration, the Boko Haram who he says “can no longer carry out any spectacular attack” attacked Kimba in Borno State. They killed 14 hapless people and razed the village to the ground. According to eye-witness reports, “not a single house was spared in the arson.”
One day later, a coordinated fighting unit of Boko Haram infantry attacked Maiduguri. They came in a military convoy, precisely the manner the president boasted is now impossible. They then dug in for a pitched battle against the Nigerian army. Thereafter, two female suicide-bombers detonated explosives in the Jiddari area of Maiduguri, with casualty figures yet to be determined.
There is no doubt these attacks were direct responses to APC’s vain propaganda. Boko Haram decided to give the lie to the bombastic statements that it has been defeated either technically or in actuality. To drive home the point beyond reasonable doubt, the insurgents chose to attack Maiduguri, the very command and control epicentre of Nigeria’s military operations in the North-east.
Clearly, the defeat of Boko Haram only exists as figments in the imaginations of APC propagandists. Having won the election by manipulating the press, they now seek to govern by employing a cacophony of jobless youth whose charge is to post “SAI Buhari” comments on as many internet blogs as possible. They also have the mandate to attack anyone who refuses to buy the many-splendored FABUS of the APC government.
APC’s bogus propaganda is partly responsible for the deaths and destruction in Kimba, Aladuwari and Maiduguri, the full extent of which are yet to be determined. The false victory procession of APC chieftains provoked the Boko Haram to contradict them at the cost of Nigerian lives. It is way too early to call for the impeachment of Mr. President. But it is high time to call for the retirement of Lai Mohammed. We must not allow this local “Comical Ali” to continue to use Nigerian lives to score cheap political points.
While the APC was busy celebrating the fictitious death of Boko Haram, the New York-based Institute for Economics and Peace declared in its latest Global Terrorism Index that Boko Haram “has become the most deadly terrorist group in the world.” The day before Mohammed’s bombast, UNICEF declared that Boko Haram has succeeded in keeping over one million children out of school, warning that this is likely to add fuel to the insurgency by radicalizing the youth in the North-east.
It was Lai Mohammed who told Nigerians the promises of the APC during the election were actually not from the APC. The APC denied its key presidential campaign documents: “My Covenant with Nigerians” and “One Hundred Things Buhari Will Do in 100 Days.” Buhari himself presents one of the documents in the first person, saying: “The covenant is derived from the manifesto of my party, the All Progressives Congress. It however represents my pledge to you all when I become your president.”
But once he became president, Mohammed denied them. He swore that: “Buhari never promised to do anything in 100 days, that’s the honest truth.” However, when APC Senators were forced to vote against their own campaign promise to provide N5,000 monthly to 25 million unemployed Nigerians, Mohammed declared that the government already has 1.4 trillion naira recovered from banks through the TSA ready to fulfil the promise. He said we should expect it in the 2016 budget.
These are his words: “The non-implementation of the payment policy so far is due to the fact that it was not included in the 2015 budget. The Muhammadu Buhari administration has been busy putting in place measures that will make it possible to start the implementation of this project.”
This has turned out as usual to be another tissue of lies. The 2016 budget has now been announced, and there is nothing about the N5000 stipend for the 25 million unemployed.
The government of President Buhari is replete with contradictions and doublespeak.
At the APC South-East rally in Owerri, Buhari declared he would make the naira equal to the dollar if voted into office. He continued: “It is sad that the value of the naira has dropped to more than 230 to one dollar. This does not speak well for the nation’s economy.” How does it speak for the economy now that the value of the naira has dropped under Buhari to 280 to the dollar?
Buhari said: “Boko Haram is a typical example of small fires causing large fires. An eccentric and unorthodox preacher with a tiny following was given posthumous fame and following by his extra-judicial murder at the hands of the police.” What then are we to say about the extra-judicial massacre of over 300 Shiite Muslims in Zaria at the hands of the Nigerian army under this Buhari administration?
Buhari said during the campaign: “You are all my people; I will treat you all as mine. I will work for those who voted for me, voted against me and those who didn’t vote at all.” Then he said after the campaign: “The constituents (that) gave me 97% cannot in all honesty be treated on some issues with constituencies that gave me 5%.”
On his election, the president said: “Our long night is over and a new dawn has come… Democracy and rule of law will be put in place.” “I pledge myself and the government to the rule of law, in which none shall be so above the law that they are not subject to its dictates, and none shall be so below it that they are not availed of its protection.” But under his administration, democracy and the rule of law has continued to be violated. The DSS ignores court verdicts with impunity, as happened in the case of Dasuki and Kanu.
Justice Muazu Pindigi was summarily replaced by Justice Ambrosa as chairman of the Rivers state governorship petitions tribunal and PDP’s victory was quickly annulled. Pindigi said: “The Supreme Court has said that for an election to be annulled, the petitioner has to prove that elections didn’t hold at the polling units where the winner was returned elected. I’m not sure that the Ambrosa’s judgment arrived through that route.”
During the election, Buhari declared the maintenance of the presidential fleet of aircrafts a colossal waste of money. He said: “For me, when we come into office, all these waste will be blocked and properly channeled into our economy.” However, since he became president, not a single plane has been sold. Billions of naira continue to be spent as the president has gone on one international junket after the other.
FEMI ARIBISALA is a scholar and international affairs expert. He is currently an iconoclastic church pastor in Lagos. He is also a syndicated essayist for a handful publications in Nigeria.