The attack on Lai Mohammed along with the tacit approval given by the party is unwise
By Tonnie Iredia
At end of the 2015 election which was won by the then opposition party- the All Progressives Congress (APC), many Nigerians were confident that Lai Mohammed, the party’s national publicity secretary would easily clinch the position of Minister of Information. This was informed by his satisfactory performance not only in his management of the party’s political and electoral information but also his aggressive posture as the party’s attack dog’ which virtually disarmed the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Lai has since then served as Nigeria’s Information Minister making him the face of the ruling party. It also made him the undisputed leader of the party in his home state – Kwara, which had no higher member in government.
This position changed in 2019 when the APC became the ruling party in Kwara State. Although Lai retained his position as the highest-ranking office holder at the federal level from the state, he can no longer lay claim to the same privileged position in the state which now has an APC governor. The dwindling position of Lai in the state has become glaring with the decision of the party to undertake a membership drive and revalidate existing membership. Rather than work together, the governor and the minister plus their followers have been at loggerheads as if the registration exercise is a contest between them.
Only last week, the fight between the two groups got a media boost when Minister Lai addressed a press conference stoutly criticising the handling of the membership exercise in Kwara State. According to the minister, officials sent to the state to conduct the exercise violated the procedure set by the party as the registration was being done without Party Membership Register adding that temporary membership slips, were also not given to any purportedly registered member.
Having convinced himself that the anomaly was happening in no less than 80 percent of all registration units in the state, Lai called for the cancellation of the exercise.If anyone imagined that the minister had a point, Yekini Nabena, the deputy national publicity secretary of the party, held an opposite view. Nabena openly berated Lai over his demand for the cancellation of the exercise and advised the minister to put himself in the position of the state governor and submit to his leadership of the party in the state.
Unfortunately, the intemperate and abusive diction of both leaders showed that the registration exercise had bluntly divided the ruling party into two warring groups – those in favour and those against the exercise. The minister who promised to avoid exchanging words with the party’s publicity secretary, did not forget to describe Nabena as an impostor on the ground that with the dissolution of the national executive of the party no one was mandated to be the party’s spokesperson.
On his part, Nabena described Lai Mohammed as the “biggest problem” of the Buhari administration, who has added no value to government in the last 5 years. This public fight which was an assault on the reputation of the ruling party went on for days with no intervention by party leaders. Certainly, all is not well with the APC!
Nigerian politicians are generally known to be bad losers who always adversely criticise any exercise where they lose, but there is nothing special about the Minister’s complaint to warrant the bitter war of words between him and Nabena. Interestingly, no one is in a position to disprove the minister’s alarm going by how our politicians always seek to win any contest without playing by its rules.
This is more so, as Lai’s grudge is against Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, a state governor who naturally belongs to a privileged group that plays the totalitarian politics of winning every contest and quite often scoring more votes than the total available. As Umar Ghali Na’Abba, a former speaker of the House of Representatives explained the other day, state governors are largely responsible for the absence of internal democracy in political parties in Nigeria. The implication of this is that in a bid to control party machinery, state governors often adopt the policy of all is well that ends well, no matter the procedure adopted.
In the case of political party membership registers, our politicians are still not in the frame of mind of producing any viable documents. This is however not a new hobby. From a vantage position of personal observation as a Director in the nation’s electoral body some 3 decades back, I recall the mystery found by a team to which I belonged while verifying party membership registers during the transition to civil rule programme of President Ibrahim Babangida’s era. Part of what we found then was that the registers were filled with fake entries of ghost names and in some cases non-existent addresses.
In one location, we ran into a major problem as one old man we visited collapsed as soon as we asked him about a name listed against his house. It turned out to be the name of his son who died 11 years earlier, now listed as current party leader in the area. So, whereas the alarm raised by minister Lai may not be correct, no one can vouch for what the minister’s faction of the party may also have perpetrated during the ongoing registration exercise.
In other climes, party membership registers help the parties to know their numerical strength and also serve as a guide to the direction from where to seek more members. But in Nigeria the registers are patently fake, just as every exercise to admit more members or to validate existing membership is used to displace power blocs within the party. In other words, admonitions by President Buhari to his party leaders to use the current exercise to positively position the APC is a tall order.
Indeed, the appeal by Senate President Lawan for the APC to use the present exercise to target 100 million members would likely be marred by leaders seeking to overwhelm local rivals. It is thus rational to suggest that none of the factions is bothered about the authenticity of membership registers. What they want is to tilt the registers in a manner that would win future party primaries for them.
Painfully, the APC has failed to see the collateral damage of the atomistic behaviour of its factional leaders. To rubbish Lai Mohammed as Nabena has done goes beyond a personal loss. By telling Nigerians that Minister Lai only tells lies, our cynical nation has been reinforced to discountenance whatever the minister says later about government activities since his party member has testified that he is an effortless liar.
To say the minister is of no use to government; yet he was picked some 5 years ago and reappointed 4 years later suggests that the ruling party is neither discrete nor result-oriented in assembling dead woods to run government business. While it is easy to ignore opposition politicians who lambast government officials, the situation is not same when the attack is from within. It is worse when the victim is the government’s official spokesperson who bears an imprint of the ruling party’s image. The attack on Lai Mohammed along with the tacit approval given by the party is unwise.