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Lai Mohammed’s many battles

Alhaji Lai Mohammed ‘s tenure as the party’s spokesperson was marked by controversial statements as he battled the then Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).  He was…

Alhaji Lai Mohammed ‘s tenure as the party’s spokesperson was marked by controversial statements as he battled the then Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).  He was deployed to the ministry by the president and he has not shied away from battles as he has taken on the high and mighty. 

Alhaji Lai Mohammed was appointed the minister of information and culture by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. He made the ministerial list after his tenure as the spokesperson of the All Progressives Congress (APC), then an opposition party.

Digital Switch over

The digital switch over controversy, his media control, NBC fines

Alhaji Lai Mohammed and a former director-general of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Is’haq Modibbo Kawu, are both from the Otooge group in Kwara State. The group was reputed to have helped in dislodging the former Kwara political heavyweight and former Senate President Bukola Saraki from his firm grip of politics in the state.

Mohammed and Kawu got on well until 2018 when a controversial N2.5billion digital switch over contract split the duo.

The minister had claimed that the former NBC boss deceived him into signing the huge money for payment to a private digital broadcast signal distributor, Pinnacle Communications. The controversy soured their relationship and led to the removal of Kawu from office.

Many fines, many fees

Accusing fingers are also being pointed at the minister for rains of fines by the NBC on broadcasters who are critical of the present administration. Industry analysts believe that Mohammed used a former acting director-general of the NBC, Professor Armstrong Idachaba’s fines to whip government critics in the broadcast industry into order.

He was also said to be behind the introduction of the collection of annual digital access fees. The Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON) said the collection of digital access fees from broadcasting stations in the country was “complicated and illegal.”

The BON, in a communiqué issued after a meeting by its Central Working Committee (CWC), called for immediate stoppage of the fee, while the amount so far collected should be accounted for.

Lai Mohammed was alleged to be behind the Press Bill. Lawmakers said the bill was intended to curb fake news, but critics said it would give the authorities the power to hit media outlets and journalists with huge fines.

The lawmaker who initiated the bill, Olusegun Odebunmi, said it was not an attempt to gag the media.

Twitter ban

About two months ago, the federal government suspended Twitter in Nigeria for censoring a comment by President Muhammadu Buhari. The authorities are yet to reverse this ban, saying falsehoods promoted on such platforms could trigger violence.

Media sanctions have become more frequently discussed since Buhari was first elected in 2015.

But the director of news at the Voice of Nigeria, Ahaziah Abubakar, said government’s concerns were valid.

FG didn’t sponsor anti-press bill – Mohammed

Mohammed had in July clarified that the federal government did not sponsor the bill in the National Assembly, purportedly meant to stifle the press.

He said the bills concerning the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) were private member bills sponsored by a lawmaker.

The minister, however, stated that the lawmaker who sponsored the bills had done nothing wrong, saying he was only doing what he was elected to do.

“I insist that the bills were not sponsored by the federal government. I was invited as the minister of information and culture to make my contributions, just like many other stakeholders at the public hearing. It was an opportunity for stakeholders to make their input into the bills. I attended and made my contributions,” he added. He stated that rather than showing up at the public hearing on the bills, they chose to play to the gallery.

Battle for political relevance in Kwara

The protracted leadership tussle in the Kwara State chapter of the APC may have rubbished the popular cliché that leadership is not demanded.

For the two gladiators at the centre of the crisis, Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq and Alhaji Mohammed and their supporters, there is every need to “demand” for the party’s leadership as the 2023 political climate gradually sets in.

As a lawyer who his admirers see as an orator per excellence, the quest to assume political leadership of the state has continued unabated for him since he first made an inroad into the distinct firmament of Kwara politics.

From 2003 to 2015, under different circumstances and political parties, spanning a stretch of 12 years, the minster has been in the forefront of alliances, at times by proxies or directly, to dislodge the hitherto formidable political dynasty of the late Dr Olusola Saraki, now led by his scion and former two-time governor and immediate past Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki.

Although Alhaji Lai wanted to enter the political space of Kwara loudly with his quest for governorship, he got his fingers burnt in his maiden attempt by Saraki, who defeated him in the race for the Ahmadu Bello Way Government House.

But the minister’s “undying ambition” for the political leadership of Kwara again flamed in 2019 after Saraki parted ways with the ruling APC.

For Mohammed, who found himself in the mainstream of Kwara politics after he agreed to team up with the Sarakis for the 2015 election, the exit of the latter provided the opportunity to return to the drawing board against his hitherto political albatross.

The ensuing political tussle snowballed into accusations and counter-accusations of embezzlement of party campaign funds running into billions of naira between the governor and the minister.

At the heart of that disagreement is the issue of who inherits the political leadership of the party in Kwara State.

After much hide and seek and speaking through their surrogates in the party, both leaders recently went public over the issue with venom, and their camps keyed into the feud that followed.

It was Governor Abdulrazaq that fired the first salvo during a public presentation of the book, “Otoge” when he broke his silence on the row between him and the minister, challenging Mohammed to account for the over N1billion campaign funds donated to the party.

Represented by Deputy Governor Kayode Alabi, AbdulRazaq, apparently referring to the minister, said Otooge was the struggle of Kwarans, which did not start in 2019.

His public remark was considered as the last straw that broke the camel’s back and dragged the minster down to Ilorin a few days later to commission a factional secretariat of the party.

During the event, the minister, who spoke in Yoruba and English, said that the governor, who he referred to as “one chance,” had pushed him to the wall and the showdown had commenced.

But the Oro-born politician from Kwara south had hardly finished his address before the governor’s foot soldiers, comprising 22 members of the state House of Assembly and top leaders in his AA group, under the aegis of Elder’s Caucus, raced to town calling for his suspension over alleged anti-party activities.

However, the faction loyal to the minister countered the Elder’s Caucus and lawmakers’ positions, and instead, threatened to invoke Article 21 of APC’s constitution against the governor for his “anti-party activities.”

At a press parley in Ilorin, addressed by the state legal adviser of the party’s caretaker committee, Oladimeji Mustapha, they accused Governor Abdulrazaq of exposing the party to public hatred with his actions.

Since then, press conferences by the loyalists of the two groups are almost like a daily routine now in Kwara, with each party calling for the jugular of their opponents.

As the leadership tussle between the governor and the minister continue  to rage, analysts have described the coming days ahead as very interesting, with both gladiators not showing any sign of sheathing their swords.

For Mohammed, after finding himself in the back seat of Kwara politics for years despite several efforts for relevance, the elasticity of his newfound ‘fame,, which has survived many obstacles and tantrums, will have to be reinforced in the days ahead.

Earlier, he had faced serious challenges back home in his quest to be returned as a minister, but he scaled through. His tag as a “Lagos politician” by opponents has not been helped by the position of his son as a lawmaker in the Lagos State House of Assembly.

The last APC ward congress was looked at as the next arena for their renewed political hostility, which the minister once boasted he would postpone.

But after the allegation of disenfranchisement and hijacking of the registration and revalidation exercise by the minster and his group that rocked the initial attempt, the last ward congress afforded both leaders the opportunity to return to base and re-strategize ahead of 2023 in the protracted battle of who controls the party.

It, however, remains to be seen how the minister would wriggle himself out of another banana peel in his quest for political relevance in Kwara.

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