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Why we won't react to Buhari-clone rumour -Lai Mohammed.

Alhaji Lai Mohammed is the Minister of Information and Culture and spokesman of the Federal Government. He recently addressed a number of issues at a parley with select newsmen in Abuja. Group Politics Editor, TAIWO ADISA, TAIWO ADISA, presents the excerpts:

Before the recent by-election in Kwara, your position was that you would demystify Saraki. Has that demystification started, amidst complaints of being bombarded with security agents during the elections?

There is this saying that when the lion sees its prey or the animal it wants to kill, it makes just one prayer to God. It says God you created me and you created this animal. Please don't support me, don't support him. Leave us alone. That was what happened in Kwara State. We asked the Federal Government to ensure a level playing field. One, ensure that security is neutral. Two, whether from our side or from their side, anybody that wants to be a merchant of violence should be arrested, and the people spoke. So, you can see that it was an organic result. There were four local governments involved. We won in two. It was a draw in Oke Aro. We lost by just 51 votes in Ekiti. So, if anybody is complaining about security, I think the security did its job. If you ask anybody who came out to vote in those four local governments, they will tell you that's what happened. We've always maintained that given a level playing field, the votes of Nigerians will count. You only rig where you are strong. You can't rig where you are weak. Don't forget that this was an election where the entire world focused. Nobody can give us one instance of police harassment or one instance of police working against PDP. They are all in the realm of rumours.

I've contested election in Kwara State before and I know that the pattern is that elections will go on very smoothly until 11, 12 in the morning. After that, it will be ballot snatching; it will be ballot stuffing, and it will be killings. But not one single bullet was fired in this election. Honestly, that is what happened. God has been kind. The people spoke and I want to tell you, by the grace of God, that this is just the beginning. We are very confident that if we are given the same level of protection where violence is contained, more people will come out because they know their votes will count and we are very certain that we are going to win.

Is it just a coincidence that when election is approaching in this country, we see insurgency escalating. In 2015, we had the same challenge. Are we not making ourselves a laughing stock of the international community?

People underestimate the global nature of insurgency. When you are talking of insurgency, don't talk of insurgency just in isolation. Look at what is happening along the Sahel. Look at the instability in Mali, instability in Chad, instability in Sudan, instability in Libya. Look at the fallout of Al-Qaeda everywhere. This is what will make you understand and appreciate what we are fighting. It's not by accident that Mr. President had to go to Ndjamena because it's not a war he can win without the support of his neighbours.

Sometimes, out of desperation, they also come to attack, looking for supply, looking for food. But don't forget this is an asymmetric war and even the military does not have the liberty, so to say, of dealing with these people as if it is a real war because when you go to attack a military formation, you disperse yourselves into a community behind women and children. Not that we don't have the firepower, but in the process, we are going to kill innocent women and innocent children who are your own citizens.

There is a difference between an asymmetric war and a real war. A real war, you know that you are fighting foreigners from other countries and of course, the strategy will be different. I want to assure you that the readiness, competence, dedication and commitment of the fighting forces is not in doubt and we are going to overcome.

There is this rumour spreading around that is to say that the man in the villa is cloned. I haven't heard where you have addressed this ugly trend. You may think it is fake news, but it's spreading...

No serious government will respond to that. The same Jubril from Chad is now going to Ndjamena to meet the Chad President. Is it not stupid? There was a courtesy visit by this group that sells cheap drugs that came to meet Mr. President. They sat down and this gentleman stood up to ease himself. I remember Mr. President said wait a minute, you are this and this. You were with me in PTF. Myself and Femi said you see, look at Jubril; Jubril remembers [the people he worked with at PTF]. Do you think that of the 28, 30 Ministers that go to FEC, one of us will not know that it is Jubril that is talking to us? When we go to FEC meetings and memos are presented, Mr. President will probably ask you, well I remember the Mambila power project. As Head of State in 1984, he remembers this memo and he will engage you. It's so silly that nobody should waste time. The more you talk about it, you want to give credibility. I think we should just ignore it.

If you want to maintain security, I think it's got to do with strategy and not just changing personnel every day. I think you should respond to this issue of the conduct of the police, perceived partisanship of the police, particularly the incident in Akwa Ibom House of Assembly. I know that you condemned what happened in Plateau State when Dariye was impeached by about six people. It also happened to (Governor Ayo) Fayose in the first tenure and you condemned it. Why should the police be siding five people to go and break into the House of Assembly to conduct business?

Unless I'm confronted with the facts because what I read these days is everybody's own perspective. I was going through Akwa Ibom. I read that five members of the House of Assembly moved for the impeachment and while that was going on, the governor came in and pandemonium broke out. If you want me to address the issue of police or security partisanship, please let's have the facts. If we have the facts, we will be able to make an informed judgment.

I read what [Governor Nyesom] Wike and everybody is saying that the government wants to plant 800 guns in Rivers; they are actually planning to rig the 2019 elections. Believe me, many of these governors are simply afraid of their own shadows. This government is too focused on letting the world know what it has delivered and what it is going to do than trying to cause disaffection in any state. This government does not tell the police who to arrest or who not to arrest. With all the noise that is being made, the beauty to me is that if the police make an arrest and charge the person to court, at that point in time, it becomes a judiciary matter. But the politics of the Houses of Assembly is something that is quite deep and they are at times quite complex. But I want to assure you that this government will not use the police for its own personal interest. All these issues you are talking about are very local issues. I think we should come out with all the facts and figures and then we will be able to make an informed judgment whether or not the police are being partisan.

What we forget more often is that it's always the leadership of the House or the government that will invite the police to the House. If there is no crisis in the Assembly, the police don't go there. So, it's better we have the facts and figures about what is going on in Akwa Ibom or anywhere.

There are allegations that your government is closing the media space. The other day, we heard some stakeholders came out to say that advertisers are wary of taking adverts from the PDP because of backlash from the Federal Government. Recently, we heard that after paying so much money to the NTA for the coverage of a live programme on the convocation of the AUN, that the event was not broadcast live on the premise that there were some technical hitches. There is very strong allegation that the government is closing the media space against the opposition. How do you react to this?

It's absolute bunkum. The NTA never entered a contract with the Atiku Campaign organisation. On the contrary, it was the authority of the American University of Nigeria that approached the NTA for the live coverage of their Founders' Day and the NTA went the extra mile to mobilise their OB van from Jos all the way to Yola. Tests were conducted hours before the event. There was no problem. Unfortunately, as the programme started, the uplink equipment in Abuja failed to receive the signal in Yola and every attempt by the engineers to rectify it failed until towards the middle of the programme. They now felt that why would they start beaming it live in the middle. So, they decided that as soon as it is over, they will now beam it, which will be for three hours unedited. I have been a victim of that before in town hall meetings where the equipment simply failed. Mr. President has been a victim of that. Mr. President has been at occasions where because of technical issues, they were unable to link up live.

But it's like the PDP will hold to any straw today to make this government look bad. But the truth of the matter is if anybody is saying that the government is closing the media space, they should give us one example. Even in our campaign against fake news, we've always said that we will resist the temptation of reflecting even against fake news. We depend on the conscience and responsibility of the media. We believe that the media will be the first and immediate victim of fake news and therefore they should look out for it. They should give us one example, but it's largely in their own imagination of this government trying to close up the media space.
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Publication:Nigerian Tribune (Oyo State, Nigeria)
Geographic Code:6NIGR
Date:Dec 9, 2018
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