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Friday 6 January 2017

Lai Mohammed and the 40 SUVs: One lie too many By Musa Abubakar

As the year 2016 drew to a close, Nigerians started looking forward to a new year, trying to savour the joy and hope 2017 could usher into the country in the midst of a devastating economic recession.
Expectant of a new beginning in their personal lives and in the direction of governance, many Nigerians woke up to a rude shock on Thursday 29th of December 2016, when the Nigerian media became awash with reports that the Federal Government had recovered 40 new Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) from a former permanent secretary.

The reports emanated from a statement personally signed and widely distributed by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed. The report was silent on the ministry and the name of the permanent secretary in question, leaving Nigerians to speculate wildly about who the perpetrator of this very crooked and fraudulent act.

In the statement, Lai Mohammed went on to shower praises on the anti-corruption campaign of President Buhari, crediting the government’s anti-corruption war for the recovery of the 40 SUVs. The Minister’s claims had gone viral until Leadership newspapers took the proper initiative to investigate into the claims. For many Nigerians who have become very familiar to the visceral propaganda template of governance in Nigerian in recent times, the findings were neither shocking nor remotely surprising.

Investigations by Leadership and Vanguard newspapers, some of the most credible and professional national dailies around today, revealed that no such vehicles were missing from the ministry of power's inventory of cars.

According to Leadership newspapers, no single government vehicle was missing! The vehicles in question were unallocated campaign vehicles for the 2015 general elections. In all, there were six Landcruisers, three Prado SUVs, some buses, some Hilux trucks, 200 motorcycles and some fairly used vehicles leftover after the end of the campaign.

So how did Lai Mohammed arrive at his tale of 40 SUVs recovered from a former permanent secretary? But what is more instructive at this point is the emerging implication of the 40 SUVs hoax and its impact on the polity and our national psyche as a people.

First, it is a major embarrassment to the image of Nigeria abroad that the official spokesman and image maker of the Nigerian government would issue an official statement that turned out to be nothing but mere fiction. The implication of this hoax on the image of our country is far-reaching, lending credence to claims abroad that Nigeria is one of the most undesirable nations on earth to live in and that nothing really good can come out of the country.

By extension, it also makes a mockery of our public institutions if the custodians of such institutions who are paid with taxpayers’ money can run to town with statements that are completely lacking in facts or substance. A minister represents the highest level of the executive arm of government and whatever he says should be taken seriously and regarded as gospel.

Second, Nigerians are getting fed up with what appears the seeming inability of our leaders to get a grasp of the responsibilities of governance. Nigerians want to see real governance, not propaganda and blame games calculated to misinform unsuspecting Nigerians or deflect attention from the real issues of governance.

In all of these, the predominant narrative filtering out of Aso Rock is the fact that a lot of atrocities are being committed in the name of President Buhari without his approval. Close aides of the President who wish him well should bring to his attention the critical situation of things. Many of the President’s handlers may be fighting their personal and selfish battles while using his name as a stamp of approval. At the end of the day, it is President Buhari’s name and office that end up being belittled, undermined and dragged into the mud.

Most of the current battles against corruption in Nigeria are largely anchored on investigations that are inconclusive. Our government officials must become more circumspect in their utterances and leave room for the rule of law to prevail.

Under the current administration, the impunity of propaganda seems to be gaining ground with the use of government institutions to settle political scores. For political foes, that is. For friends of the government with even more serious and salacious allegations of corruption hanging around their necks, they are comfortably strolling in and out of the inner recess of Aso Rock to tea.

While many Nigerians continue to marvel at the real agenda behind Lai Mohammed’s propaganda approach to governance, one thing is sure; none of it is in the interest of Nigeria.

Musa Abubakar writes from Kano

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