Nigeria’s ministry of information used to be the preserve of processed, patriotic and disciplined minds. It used to be a place for rational public servants like Chukwuemeka Chikelu, the late Dora Akunyili and Frank Nweke Jr – and not propagandists.
I recall vividly the bold undertakings of the ministry under Chikelu, “the debonair and cool-ruling minister”. At the time, Nigeria was just five years out of the clutch of the military with foreign perception liabilities. The country had chalked up a binder of negative depictions. The minister saddled up to the exigency of the situation; he applied himself to re-imaging Nigeria. Though his quest elicited some skepticism, it was a sorely needed intervention at a time the country was seeking debt forgiveness from Paris Club and the like.
Chikelu also deployed himself to enhancing the promotion of broadcast on HIV/AIDS prevention and control by asking media executives to cut down charges on health-related broadcast messaging. He was also committed to the campaign against female genital mutilation, asking journalists that they “should make it a covenant to write at least a story on the evils of the practice”. But I think he is most remembered for his effect in re-portraying Nigeria.
I also recall the hefty exploits of Akunyili as minister of information with her “Re-branding Nigeria” campaign. She said the campaign was to emend the “faulty perception and assault on the reputation of the ordinary Nigerian”. The late minister was concerned about how Nigerians were fixed on abroad for abuse. Nweke did his bit as well – bringing poise and charisma to the office of the spokesman of the federal republic.
Among these three ministers, you could see their genuine commitment to the country. Their campaigns were never targeted at Nigerians but at redressing the challenges faced by citizens owing to the soiled image of the country.
But what is Lai Mohammed’s game? Since Lai became minister of information five years ago, he has been on an offensive against citizens. He has applied himself more as Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propagandist, than as a spokesman of the federal republic. Like Goebbels, he appears dutiful in virulently clamping down on alternative voices.
Again, since he became minister, his campaign has been to conscript the media into a regiment and to effectuate a holocaust of independent voices. Unlike his predecessors, Lai’s docket as minister is zeroed in on propaganda, agency espionage and citizen gag for the state.
He started with his duplicitous “change begins with me” campaign – a furtive attempt to absolve the government of blame over its gypped “change” agenda. The Buhari administration rode to power on the Pegasus of change. But after it took the mantle, it cast overboard every pretension, and asked citizens to seek the change themselves in their unlit home, decrepit hospitals and perilous roads.
In the new code, the fine for so-called “hate speech” was jacked up from N500,000 to N5 million. This is ultimately to menace broadcast stations and to force them into a regiment of compliance and fear where only broadcast favourable to the administration will air. Nigeria Info, 99.3 FM, Abuja, which the NBC just fined N5 million for interviewing Obadiah Mailafia, former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), who alleged that a northern governor is the leader of Boko Haram, is the first casualty of Lai’s Goebbelian pursuit.
Frederick Nwabufo is a writer and journalist.