AS President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration comes to an end on May 29, a prominent member of his cabinet and minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has maintained a visible appearance in both the online and traditional media space, making multiple claims about the administration.
Being the mouthpiece of the government, Mohammed is charged with the responsibility of disseminating vital information the Federal government thinks will enhance democratic governance and boost the image of the Buhari administration.
Since Mohammed’s assumption of office in 2015, he has made numerous claims directly, while numerous others have been attributed to his office.
In this report, the examines some of the claims Lai Mohammed made in his capacity as a minister in the Buhari administration.
2017: Buhari not sick – Lai Mohammed
In February 2017, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, in February 2017, urged Nigerians to disregard negative messages shared online about the president’s health, as he said Buhari was hale and hearty.
Muhammed said this while briefing journalists at the end of the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, describing the news as naysayers resorting to fake news and disinformation to distort government’s activities.
However, after a 49-day vacation, President Buhari himself countered Mohammed’s disclaimer, admitting he had “never been this sick” and could not recall the last time he had a blood transfusion.
‘’I have rested as much as humanly possible; I have received I think the best of treatment I could receive. I couldn’t recall being so sick since I was a young man, including the military with its ups and downs. I found out that technology is going so fast,’’ he said.
2019: Boko Haram successfully defeated – Lai Mohammed
Mohammed in 2019, said the military had successfully defeated the Boko Haram insurgents.
During the launch of a national campaign to rally support of the citizens behind the troops fighting insurgency in the northeast, the minister said its military had successfully defeated Boko Haram insurgents.
Data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) showed that during the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration, 11,141 Nigerians were killed in incidents related to insecurity, while the combined tenures of both the late President Musa Yar’Adua and former President Goodluck Jonathan recorded 32,694 deaths. Buhari’s administration has registered 41,903 insecurity-caused deaths since he assumed office in 2015.
Also, in January 2022, when members of the Senate Committee on Army visited Borno State governor, Babagana Zulum, the governor disclosed that two local government areas – Abadam and Guzamala – were under the control of Boko Haram.
A check done howed that despite claims of defeat by Buhari’s administration, Nigerians witnessed attacks from the insurgents in the last eight years as banditry, kidnapping, and other forms of crime and violence engulfed the country.
2020: Social media bill does not exist – Lai Mohammed
Again, in January 2020, Lai Mohammed, during an interview with a German broadcaster, Tim Sebastian, denied the existence of a social media bill.
The minister had said in a response to Sebastian’s question if he was in support of the Social Media bill that was before the house that he was not aware of the bill.
He had said, ‘’Who is the author of that bill, I am not even aware of it. There’s no such bill before the House. I can say that categorically and authoritatively that there’s no such bill before the House.’’
The bill titled, ‘Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill, 2019’, also referred to as the ‘Social Media Bill’ seeks to give the Nigerian government regulatory control over conversations on social media platforms. Penalties for breaking the social media law (if it becomes one) include a fine of up to N300,000 or three years imprisonment for individuals, and N10 million for corporate organizations.
Findings show that the bill was before the National Assembly and had passed the second reading, and was sponsored by Mohammed Musa, the senator representing Niger East.
Also, in November 2019, the Minister of Information and Culture had at a session with the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers in Abuja, said there was no going back on the plan by the Nigerian government to regulate social media in Nigeria to deter and punish hate speech, and that the government would not be discouraged from the plan by criticisms.
Ahead of the bill’s introduction, the Federal government had, through Lai Mohammed, vowed to crack down on fake news and hate speeches in the country’s social media space.
2021: No life was lost at Lekki Toll Gate (EndSARS Protest)
After the EndSARS of October 2020, which saw primarily Nigerian youths take to the street to protest what they described as police brutality, Lai Mohammed consistently denied protesters were not killed at the Lekki tollgate on October 20, 2020.
According to him, Catherine Udeh, popularly known as DJ Switch, who streamed the incident live on the social media platform ‘’Instagram’’, would soon be exposed for spreading falsehood.
He described the event of October 20, 2020, as a ‘’massacre without bodies’’, saying not a single body or a single family had come out to claim a family member was killed at the Lekki toll gate.
However, findings contained in a report submitted by the Lagos State Judicial Panel on EndSars indicted the Nigerian Army of the killings at Lekki Toll Gate on October 20, 2020. The report listed 48 names as casualties of the Lekki incident.
According to Amnesty International (AI), at least 12 protesters were killed at two locations in Lagos, which was the hotbed of the protest.
”Opening fire on peaceful protesters is a blatant violation of people’s rights to life, dignity, freedom of expression, and peaceful assembly. Soldiers clearly had one intention to kill without consequences,” the AI Country Director said.
The human rights watchdog group also accused Nigerian authorities of covering up the incident instead of ensuring justice for those killed.
Also, a special report by a multinational news channel, Cable News Network (CNN), said soldiers shot at protesters, killing many. The investigation uncovered the bullets used as a 2015 brand from Serbia.
2021: There is greater freedom of the press in Nigeria than anywhere else in the world – Lai Mohammed.
In 2021, while speaking at the 41st United Nations Educational and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) General Conference in Paris, Mohammed claimed Nigeria had a vibrant, pluralistic, and free press.
‘’For 10 years, I was a spokesperson for the opposition, and there was never a time I was incarcerated. At the moment, we have an extremely tolerant government to the extent that it is the government that is at the mercy of the media in Nigeria,’’ he added.
A verification of this claim showed that in early 2021, Nigeria was ranked 120 out of 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
An analysis by the RSF showed that Nigeria fell under the countries classified as having very bad or problematic environments for press freedom and was unsafe for journalists.
The index data reflected a dramatic deterioration in people’s access to information and an increase in obstacles to news coverage.
Also, Nigeria was ranked as one of West Africa’s most dangerous and difficult countries for journalists, who are often monitored, attacked, and arbitrarily arrested.
Journalists who had suffered arrest and incarceration include Agba Jalingo, publisher of Cross River Watch, who was detained on August 22, 2019, by the Cross River State government for raising concerns about the governor, Benedict Ayade’s diversion of N500 million meant for the formation of the Cross River State Microfinance Bank.
Jalingo was arrested in August 2019 at his residence in Lagos, where he was blindfolded, tortured, and transported in a vehicle to Cross River state, but regained freedom six months after he was arrested.
A freelance reporter and editor with the privately owned Grace FM, Frederick Olatunde Odimayo, in 2021, was also beaten into a coma in Kogi state for reporting on the drug trade in the state.
A journalist Pelumi Onifade, who was covering the EndSARS protests in October 2020, was also killed in the course of duty. Onifade was the journalist who recorded the viral video of Olusegun Bolarinwa, who shot into a crowd of protesters.
Lai Mohammed has, indeed, in the last eight years, come under public scrutiny for making several false claims.
The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), in 2022, counselled the minister to stop spewing half-truths and propaganda.
Recently, elder statesman, Edwin Clark, called for sanctions against the Minister for allegedly spreading fake news about the Labour Party candidate, Peter Obi.
In 2017, during a courtesy visit to the headquarters of Daar Communications Plc, Lai Mohammed said the phenomenon of fake news, if left unchecked, posed a worse threat to the nation than insurgency and militancy and could tear the fabric of the society.
While we await the baton change on May 29, President Buhari’s term ends with Boko Haram not ‘technically defeated’.