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Lai Mohammed: An Unmanageable Mistake —By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

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When President Muhammadu Buhari announced the people he has selected to occupy some of the most strategic positions in his regime, there was understandable uproar across the country. 

Nigerians looked at the profile of these fellows and wondered what could have motivated their choice, what exactly in their credentials qualified them for such sensitive positions.

Ordinarily, Buhari would have simply ignored such an outcry, but he surprised Nigerians by volunteering an explanation. These, he said, were the people who had stood by him through the stressful years of his various unsuccessful attempts to become president. 

As he moved from one party to another in his quest to actualise his ambition, they stuck with him, undiscouraged by his growing history of failed presidential runs. So, this was the time to “reward” them for their steadfast loyalty. 

(These are the people now loosely referred to as Buhari’s “Kitchen Cabinet,” or more recently, “the Cabal” in Aso Rock, whose activities Nigerians have learnt to monitor with considerable apprehension.)

Buhari’s preference for cronyism which mostly celebrates mediocrity at the expense of merit and expertise (an odious, counterproductive practice that has sufficiently advertised its predictable dividend in his regime’s very dismal performance in the last two years) is, however, not original. 

In the unmissed Olusegun Obasanjo regime, appointment into public office was celebrated as an invitation to “come and eat.” 

And not a few in that wayward regime, and the ones that followed it, did really overeat and became horribly obese, as evidenced by their mysterious humongous   accumulations! In decently-run countries, people see appointment into public offices as sacrifice to their nation. 

Some, driven solely by love for country, quit high-paying jobs to take these positions whose statutorily fixed salaries compel them to undertake drastic readjustments in their lifestyles by shedding some luxuries that were easily guaranteed by their former salaries. 

Their country men and women celebrate them as patriots and heroes, and they leave public office with their heads held high, and their names boldly engraved in their country’s Hall of Fame.  But in Nigeria, the story is different. 

That is why it should be understood that while for many months Nigerians waited for Buhari to announce his list of ministers, thinking he was busy carefully searching for the best hands to do the very significant and urgent   reclamation job crying for attention at such a very critical period in our nation’s history, the man was, no doubt, busy considering whom to “reward” with what position. 

When the list was eventually released, it greatly disappointed and shocked many Nigerians leaving them wondering why it took the president all those months to come up with such hope-depleting appointments. 

The most demoralising confirmation that little or no imaginative thinking went into the making of that list, however, was Buhari’s decision to “reward” Mr. Lai Mohammed, the industrious chief propagandist of his party, with the office of the Minister of Information. 

Although, I had learnt very early to grossly moderate my expectations of the Buhari regime, I never in my wildest imagination expected that the president would fall so cheaply into such a brightly advertised trap.

Now, as the chief propagandist of the All Progressive Congress (APC), Mr. Mohammed worked very hard to ensure the successful execution of the APC stratagem for hoodwinking Nigerians into thinking the party had any clearly thought0ut programme for the country’s reclamation.  

So, I am not begrudging him his presidential “reward” for “hard work” in line with Buhari’s political philosophy. 

But why the information ministry? It is like asking the chief propagandist of a guerilla army to head the country’s information ministry after it had ousted the government in power and formed its own regime. The switch is not impossible, but always very difficult to achieve. 

And that has remained Mr. Mohammed’s problem from his first day in office. Both offices require different approaches, languages, mindsets and even   postures and gestures. The minister of information has found it very difficult to achieve a crossover. 

Hence, for several months after the APC gained power, Mr. Mohammed was still trapped in campaign mood – clearly ill-prepared, and pathetically battling to adjust to his new job. 

And so, while Nigerians demanded evidence that the regime he speaks for had the slightest preparation for the job that had fallen on its lap, Mohammed continued to launch vitriolic attacks on the now opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), an expired strategy that had served his party very profitably during the campaigns, but which was now exposing the party’s abject lack of action-plan and focus. 

When it eventually dawned on him (after many months) that the PDP was no longer in power and that this option has become such an unbearable irritant, he quickly changed tactics and began to make fantastic and offensively unverifiable claims about the supposed exploits of the Buhari regime. 

That was when we began to hear that despite the unimaginable hardship that suddenly overwhelmed Nigeria shortly after the APC assumed power which soon began to drive Nigerians to suicide and into other deadly extremities forcing those who had campaigned vigorously for the APC to come out to render unqualified apologies for misleading Nigerians, the Buhari regime had “changed Nigeria for good”! 

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