What I Tell People Who Twist My First Name, “lai”, To “lie” – Lai Mohammed Speaks - 9jaflaver

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What I Tell People Who Twist My First Name, “lai”, To “lie” – Lai Mohammed Speaks

In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ Ben Ezeamalu, the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, spoke about his time as an opposition spokesperson, the war against insurgency, and the government’s proposed 2016 budget.
PREMIUM TIMES: For years, you served as the spokesperson for the opposition party. But now you’ve moved to become the spokesperson for the ruling party. What’s the major difference between the two positions?
Lai: Of course there are major differences. As the opposition’s spokesperson, you speak majorly for the opposition and you speak, also, within the information available to you. And you speak with the perspective of how you’ll do things better if you were there.
Now as the government spokesperson, you’ll be speaking not just for the government but the whole of the country. And you are expected to know everything about everything and whatever you say, the government could be held accountable to it. So it has its challenges. It could be quite exciting but it’s also full of challenges. In other words, you must at any given time be very abreast of the government’s policies, programmes, and you must be able to explain to the average Nigerian why things are being done in certain ways or why some things are not being done at all.
Yes, it’s a much more onerous responsibility in the sense that even the outside world will rely on you for information and news about your country. So it means then that you must know exactly how government works, what is happening, what are the reasons for what policies government is taking.
PT: But with you now being on the government side, when you look back to your days as the opposition spokesperson, do you feel there were things you unfairly criticized the then government for the way they handled them?
Lai: No, I don’t think so. Because I’ve gone back, we criticized based on information available to us. Even today I often revisit some of my positions. As at the time those issues were addressed, even with my position in government today, if the opposition today should raise the same issues, I wouldn’t fault them. Unless you can be specific and tell me that look ‘during Boko Haram you said this, today are you not saying a different thing?’ And you find out that there’s nothing I said all through my years on the position of Boko Haram that cannot be defended given circumstances on ground then.
PT: In your time as opposition spokesperson, you had people who admired the way you carried out your duties, as well as those who criticized them. Why is your party, the APC, finding it difficult to get your replacement?
Lai: Well, I think, on one hand, it’s flattering to hear that one is missed at his former position. Again, I believe that there are many Nigerians that can do better…
PT: (Cuts in) Like your deputy, Timi Frank?
Lai: …However, the fact of the matter is that positions in political parties are not usually on ‘merit.’ Or put this way, are not usually entirely on merit. There are other factors. They are not usually based on qualifications and, at times, it might be based on expediency or balancing. So it might be a bit difficult if you are now sourcing for your replacement. By the time you juggle the various political factors and all these things, you might not be able to find the right person.
Let me give you a practical example, and I want to look at it from this perspective. We have an 18 member National Working Committee, there are three from each geo-political zone. So if one resigns from one geo-political zone, because he has been a minister or a commissioner or he takes another political office, he must be replaced by somebody from that same geopolitical zone. You can see where the problem lies.
Yes, my deputy can act for me only until the next national convention of the party. But at that national convention of the party, my zone north-central, which is now left with only two members will expect that the next replacement must come from that zone. So that creates problems a bit.
Two, the occupier of the office also brings a few things to that office. And with all sense of humility, I think I’ve been in that office for quite a while. I was the pioneer national publicity secretary for the AC in 2006, in Benin, Edo State, I was elected. And for almost 10 years I held that office. So think it helped a lot. From the AC to the ACN and to APC. So whoever is going to succeed me may not necessarily have that kind of experience, but he could have some qualities that might even make him better.
PT: As spokesperson for then opposition party, a lot of people saw you as a Master of Propaganda. Some even said your first name ‘Lai’ was synonymous with ‘lie.’ How does it feel being seen in that light?
Lai: I think the democratization of the media space has brought a lot of changes, a lot of developments. Today you must have the capacity to absorb a lot of irritation. You must have the largeness of heart to tolerate a lot of insults. But the important thing is for you to remain focused. Most people react to you based on emotions. Because I’ve always challenged those who called me a propagandist to come out with just one of the thousands of press interventions I have made and say ‘this is propaganda,’ ‘this is not true.’ I’ve always challenged them.
PT: But the last time, you said the fuel scarcity would last for a “few days.” It ended up lasting for weeks…
Lai: No. Number one, I did not say that in my position as the spokesperson for the opposition, I said that as a minister. And what I said was that the payment would be made in a few days time and that will improve the situation. And the payment was actually made a few days after. And I’ve had occasions to explain to the world the complex issues surrounding fuel scarcity. The immediate cause was the fact that we owed marketers lot of arrears and we went to National Assembly and we asked for supplementary budget of N674 billion. Out of it, N532 billion was dedicated to payment of arrears. Nobody can deny these facts, they are there. You see, people react to you based on emotion. And the truth of the matter is that these arrears date back to August 2014. These facts are there but you see people can’t handle hard facts.
Two, I’ve explained that in addition to the backlog of payments which actually led to marketers to the fact that marketers refused to bring in products because banks also refused to extend their credit facility. We’ve always had challenges with the distribution network. We have 5,120 kilometres of pipeline, 24 depots, 21 pump stations, with this network we ought to not to have any problem with administration. But unfortunately the pipeline vandalization has rendered our pipeline networks ineffective. Before now if you are in Ilorin, Ibadan, Mosimi, Satellite, or Ore, you did not need to bring your tankers to Lagos to get products. But because these pipelines have been so vandalized, trucks from Ilorin, from Ibadan, from Mosimi, from Satellite are all now queueing up at the Atlas Cove jetty. It is only about a week or so ago we were able to secure the pipeline, that is the Atlas Cove, that you can see a lot of improvement.
Again, another factor why the queue has been lingering is that the tackney is not good for this kind of scarcity. Because as you approach the winter, most refineries in the world, they would have switched over to LP not PMS – they are approaching winter so they are now refining more of the heavy oil for the heaters and for the homes and they are refining less for PMS for automobiles.
Again, we need to address the issue of enforcement and implementation by the regulatory authorities like PPPRA and DPR.
So to go back, I did not say fuel queues will disappear in days. I said we’ll resolve the matter in a few days time. And we did. Because the budget was passed and we were able to pay all the arrears. But then it’s like resetting your television, it takes a while because it’s a chain of supply and distribution.

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