But for his being a minister in President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet, Lai Mohammed, the once vociferous opposition spokesperson while the Peoples Democratic Party held Aso Villa, would have sent out a press release before close of business yesterday, ripping president Buhari into shreds and reminding Nigerians why it is dangerous to keep tolerating the ruling party.
Assume, for a moment, that this President was of the PDP – or another party called Change Is Coming (CIC)- and Mr Mohammed’s All Progressives Congress was still in opposition; hell would have been unleashed on the central government.
In driving narratives that cast the last administration as grossly incompetent, Lai Mohammed scored a distinction, daily getting under PDP and Jonathan’s skins, energizing the party’s critics and courting the interest of observers of Nigerian politics. Mr Mohammed was a good opposition spokesperson. I think he should have remained just that.
But the president his crushing propaganda machine helped install, in a fit of political reciprocity, pulled him out of the APC’s media unit and elevated him to a position far beyond his capacity. He is completely out of his depth, with countless flip-flops, barefaced lies and, sometimes, even blunt refusal to address issues of transparency and accountability in his own Ministry. In Lai Mohammed’s failure, we confirm the Peter Principle at work.
So what is the issue of the day? The Buhari-led Federal Government was to flag-off the clean-up of Ogoniland, following an Environmental Assessment of the place, conducted by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), the report of which was submitted to the government in 2011 when, ironically, Goodluck Jonathan, a son of Bayelsa state, next door neighbour to Rivers, the state within which Ogoni-land is located, was Nigeria’s president. And for context, it was only in October 1996, 20 years ago, that Bayelsa state was created from Rivers. By September 1996, Jonathan was still an indigene of Rivers state. So, as we say in Nigeria, Jonathan is a son of the Ogoni soil.
The UNEP report was damning, stating that vast areas in Ogoniland are unsafe for human habitation due to oil pollution. In his foreword, Achim Steiner, the UNEP Executive Director stated, ‘’ The ﬁndings in the report underline that there are, in a signiﬁcant number of locations, serious threats to human health from contaminated drinking water to concerns over the viability and productivity of ecosystems. In addition, that pollution has perhaps gone further and penetrated deeper than many may have previously supposed.’’ In one instance, the report said, ‘Pollution of soil by petroleum hydrocarbons in Ogoniland is extensive in land areas, sediments and swampland.’
It is instructive, that a report of this magnitude, which highlighted the danger such a polluted environment posed to thousands of residents in the various communities within Ogoniland was ignored by the Jonathan administration. That neglect is as inexplicable as it is inexcusable. But that is vintage Jonathan. It has since emerged that he ran a government without a head for thinking and a heart for feeling.
Enter Muhammadu Buhari. The choice of taking up such project within his first year in office hinted at empathy for a people long embroiled in the struggle for safe environment. Environmental pollution in Ogoniland dates back many decades. At one point, it attracted global attention after the face of the struggle for a better deal for the people, Ken Saro-Wiwa, got hanged on trumped up charges by the then maximum ruler, Sani Abacha. This history is why yesterday’s flag-off was important. Many had died for the cause. And the presence of the president there would have underscored its symbolism. But the president managed to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory, cancelling the scheduled visit on the day of the event and leaving his many supporters embarrassed. A president long seen as clannish by some sections of the country botched an opportunity to personally reach out to one of the sections which thinks the man does not quite like them.
So here’s a typical press statement from Lai Mohammed if he was still the opposition spokesperson. Note that the ruling party here is a hypothetical party called Change Is Coming (CIC):
‘’APC: Buhari’s botched Ogoniland trip shows Govt’s failure to unite the country’’
The All Progressives Congress (APC) has accused President Muhammadu Buhari and his Change Is Coming (CIC) party of failing to unite a fractured country and demonstrating so with his aborted trip to Ogoniland for the flag-off of the clean-up of the community.
In a statement made available to newsmen yesterday in Lagos by the its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party said just as President Buhari had bungled the opportunity to demonstrate diversity in the appointment of his kitchen cabinet, the president and his Change Is Coming party ‘have also demonstrated amazing insensitivity in handling matters of the Niger-Delta’.
It added: ‘With this 11th-hour decision to withhold his presence from a hugely significant event, President Buhari has deepened the widely held suspicion by certain sections of the country that the he is clannish and sectional.’
APC said to worsen matters, the President and his party did not deem it necessary to quickly inform Nigerians through official channels the reason for the late-minute abortion of his visit to the epochal event.
The party drew a parallel with the president’s cancellation of a similar trip to Lagos state a fortnight ago, for the commissioning of projects completed by the state governor, Akinwumi Ambode. ‘A pattern is gradually emerging in the Buhari administration wherein the president abruptly cancels state functions in which his presence is required and his visit initially scheduled and widely publicized. Worse still, the announcement comes at the last minute, and often without cogent reasons.’
The party said the president has made his originally incompetent aides appear confused as they weren’t armed with sound reason for the cancellation of the trip and therefore could not send out official communication to that effect.
‘This decision, to stay away from the symbolic flag-off of the clean-up exercise shows again the President’s lack of understanding of how best to manage perception in a country as diverse as ours. His presence would have sent a strong message of love and unity to the rest of the country and assuage the fears of many in the regions where the cry of marginalization is loudest. Now, a visit that would have attracted him enormous political goodwill and help the people forget his divisive 97% Vs 5% votes gaffe on international media, was shelved without even the courtesy of formally informing Nigerians early enough. Clearly, a president that is demonstrably averse to success has once again snatched defeat right from the jaws of victory!’
‘But that is true to character of the Buhari and CIC administration. They’ve been tall on rigidity and short on flexibility. From foreign exchange policy to petrol subsidy regime, the president has paid deaf ears to the wisdom of the market, he’s rather advancing a bizarre and failed command and control economic regime that ties the economic fate of 170 million citizens to his whims. The result of that is that in just one year after taking the reins, Nigeria totters on the brink of economic recession, the worst in three decades, snatching jobs out of the hands of millions of Nigerians, shooting inflation to over 13%, stifling manufacturing and contracting citizens’ disposable income. First is that the administration has failed in providing the 3 million jobs it promised within its first year in office. Now it has added to the mass of unemployed Nigerians; hundreds of thousands of people who were working before now, but got laid off because the president simply failed to advance an economic direction’.
The party said even in the seemingly embarrassing situation in which the administration has found itself, it could still make amends “by immediately packaging a presidential visit to Ogoniland that would only be announced after the President must have gone and come back”, instead of one in which the President’s men leaked the trip to the world in the hope of gaining mileage, only to reap opprobrium when the trip was cancelled…..and then blame everyone but themselves!
It also advised the president to stop the application of antiquated economic policies that will not work, assemble a team of sound economic experts and listen to their wise counsel, as such is the only guarantee of recovery from the economic mess which ‘the president’s rigidity has thrown the country into’.
Alhaji Lai Mohammed
National Publicity Secretary
All Progressives Congress (APC)
Lagos, June 3rd 2016
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