•‘The greatest danger to the 2019 elections is fake news’
• Explains why he will not run for governor in Kwara
By Dapo Akinrefon
ALHAJI Lai Mohammed is the Minister of Information and Culture. In this interview, he flays the leadership of the National Assembly for refusing to reconvene the federal legislature to approve the virement for the conduct of the 2019 general elections.
He also dismisses the United Nations (UN) report which said the Federal Government paid huge ransom for the release of the Dapchi girls.
How do you respond to the United Nations report that the Federal Government paid huge ransom for the release of Dapchi girls?
I think from the subsequent statement by the United Nation representative to Nigeria, they tried to distance themselves from that report. But I must say that it is very sad for a respected global body to make such allegation in the sense that this report was not substantiated. Nobody has told us the author of this report, and I think the United Nations should be very careful in future not to allow its credibility to be so easily compromised.
The author of that report, which the United Nations has not disputed, should come up with the proof; otherwise they should retract that allegation. I am very sure the Minister of Foreign Affairs will ensure that the issue is properly handled because we stand by our position.
What is government doing to ensure that the pockets of violence in parts of the country end?
It is a known fact that violence and killings have declined across the country, and this can be attributed to some of the steps taken by government such as the establishment of a new police unit and an army barrack among others in the part of Nigeria where killings have been rampant.
We have addressed the issue of cattle rustlers and criminals, and, just recently, the military announced it will repeat some of its exercises to ensure continuous peace generally in Nigeria.
What efforts are in place to reduce fake news?
As you know, we formally launched our campaign against fake news on July 11. And we must register our appreciation to Vanguard newspapers for sponsoring and supporting this campaign but we have shown concern over fake news long before now. Remember that in July 2017, we warned Nigerians of the danger of fake news. Like I used to say, the greatest danger to the 2019 elections is fake news. And fake news is not peculiar to Nigeria; it is a global phenomenon and threatens to be more disastrous.
Today with the advent of new media, anybody with a phone has access to the internet, can sit in the corner of his room and manufacture stories, tamper with old images and make it look recent.
Giant technological companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter share our concern. If we don’t self regulate, we will self destruct, because new media has been found guilty of spreading fake news. Like I used to tell people, if you are not sure of the credibility of a story, please don’t share.
The executive and legislative arms of government are engaged in a face-off over the refusal of the National Assembly to reconvene. People are of the opinion that it might affect the 2019 elections. What is your position on this?
What we are witnessing in the National Assembly is very bad for the peace and development of this country. We have had cause to complain that under the leadership of Senate President Bukola Saraki, the executive, led by President Muhammadu Buhari, has not enjoyed cooperation expected from the National Assembly in which the ruling party has the majority.
I will only appeal to the leadership of the National Assembly to put aside their personal agenda and interest for once and look at the interest of the country. Remember that it is because Nigeria exists in peace that we have the National Assembly, and that is why they are members. We are appealing to their sense of responsibility to reconvene and do the needful.
Now that Saraki has dumped the APC for the PDP, you are the leader of your party in Kwara State. Do you have any plan to become governor in 2019 in Kwara?
I am the most senior member of my party in Kwara State today. The agenda before me is to rebuild the party and ensure that progressives in Kwara remain united and deliver 2019. If I am running for any office, I will have to compromise my assignment of leading the party but I will not be running for any office.
Bukola Saraki identified abandonment of Kwara as part of his reason for decamping. What is your position on this?
I think it is a pity that the desperation to justify his defection is the reason for making an allegation that cannot be supported. This government is different from other governments in the sense that this government will not put money in the pocket of any individual. In so doing, we have been able to put every state into consideration. I just came back from Kwara where I spent the whole of Friday inspecting projects in Kwara from the rehabilitation of Ilorin-Jebba-Mokwa Road to Birni Gari-Kaduna Road.
I remember when the Baale of Bode Saadu, which is the head quarters of Moro local government, met us, he was so excited. He said no government has touched the lives of Kwarans like this government.
This government embarked on the rehabilitation of Ilorin-Omu Aran-Egbe Road Section II in Kwara and Kogi; Ajase Ipo-Offa-Erinle-Osun State boundary; Kishi-Kaima Road, rehabilitation of Ohan and Moro bridges on Ilorin-Igbeti Road in Kwara State; dualisation of Michael Imoudu-Gonmo/Afon junction in Ilorin; construction of Patigi-Klara Road and Afon-Aboto; rehabilitation of Share-Patigi and construction of Offa Bypass Section I; construction of Echi-Shayangi – Koro Road.