How We Bridged Communication Gap Between FG And Nigerians –Lai Mohammeders

Ads
Lai Mohammeders

Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture in this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, sheds light on some of his achievements and he was able to communicate the achievements of the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to the world. Excerpts:

The first thing we did on assumption of office was to embark on a process to change the narrative on Boko Haram to reflect the massive progress that our gallant military has made in a short while. We therefore, decided to visit the liberated areas of the North-East with about 40 local and international journalists. We embarked on this visit on the 5th day of December 2015, flying to Maiduguri and then going by road to Bama through Konduga and Kaure.

Ads

We did not meet a single vehicle along the road that stretched about 87 kilometers, skirting the Sambisa Forest at many points. The visit was an eye-opener. In Bama, with over 6,000 buildings, none was standing intact. Signs in Arabic were visible everywhere. It was no longer a matter of speculation that our troops were winning the war; we were armed with empirical evidence. Our troops earned our respect forever. We were able to return and tell Nigerians what we saw, with pictures and videos to back it up.

This went a long way in helping to change the narrative about Boko Haram, to convince Nigerians that the territories captured and occupied by the insurgents have been taken back, that indeed our military was winning the war and that they needed the support of their compatriots.

We followed the visit with the launch of the National Sensitization Campaign on Insecurity that enjoyed a massive airplay on national radio and television.

The payoff line of that campaign became ‘’If You See Something, Say Something,’’ aimed at creating awareness among Nigerians and enlisting their support in the campaign against insurgency.A similar awareness campaign was later to be launched for the anti-corruption war.

We also embarked on a robust engagement with critical stakeholders in the information sector with a view to exchanging ideas on the programmes and policies of the Administration, bridging any communication gap and leveraging on the created rapport to keep Nigerians better informed. Regular meetings were thus institutionalised with organizations such as the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Radio and Theatre Arts Workers Union (RATTAWU), On-Air Personalities and Social Media Activists.

In continuation of the engagement, we embarked on a tour of media establishments across the country. The tour is still ongoing. -In perhaps an unprecedented move, we rallied the indigenous language newspapers as a platform to take government messages to the grassroots.

You had interactions with officials of the BBOG movement on efforts by the Federal Government to secure the release of the abducted schoolgirls. Can you tell us what really transpired during this period?

In view of the constant demand by the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) Group to know what the Administration was doing to rescue the Chibok girls, we decided to take some of their members as well as local and international journalists to Yola, from where we embedded them, so to say, with the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) which flew them on search sorties over the Sambisa Forest on 16-17 January 2017. They were later to say, in their report on the trip: “We can confirm that the air component of the counterinsurgency war is being prosecuted by a highly professional, capable, motivated and committed team of the Nigeria Air Force (NAF). We were provided data and imagery evidence to show that the search for our Chibok Girls and other abducted citizens is a daily activity by NAF. The decision to take them on the trip was a turning point in their perception of the efforts being made by the Administration to rescue the girls.

While it is true that every government will face its own share of tragedies, what makes the difference is the way and manner every government reacts. With this at the back of our minds, we quickly took control of the narrative in the wake of the abduction of the Dapchi girls. Regular updates helped to keep the people informed of the efforts of the government, and to puncture the conspiracy theories swirling around the kidnap. When eventually the girls were released, our quick intervention in taking control of the narrative also went a long way to counter negative stories planted by naysayers. We are also engaging in regular interventions, through press releases, to alter the narrative in favour of the government and keep the people informed on key issues.

You also held series of Town Hall meetings on the achievements of the Buhari administration. How effective were these meetings?

Very effective, I must say. Realising the need to constantly work to bridge the communication gap between the government and the citizenry, we decided to launch the Town Hall Meeting series, which provides a platform for the government to directly interact with a cross-section of the citizenry. The Town Hall Meeting ensures a two-way communication between the government and the governed. While Honourable Ministers give their scorecards, they also get instant feedback from the citizens. To date, 11 Town Hall Meetings have been held, including at least one that was held in an indigenous language. We are increasing the frequency of the meetings and also focusing them on key sectors to enhance their effectiveness.

In partnership with a private start-up firm, we have also launched the FGNiAPP that allows anyone with a hand-held device, including telephones, to download the app and get, real-time, authentic information about government activities. At the last count, this app has been downloaded in over 50 countries by about 30,000 people.

Realising the need to project Nigeria to the world on a favourable note, we worked with the Nigerian chapter of the International Press Institute (IPI) to successfully bid for the hosting of the 2018 World Congress of the IPI in Abuja in June. With hundreds of international journalists due to come to Nigeria, we believe the Congress will help to change a lot of wrong perceptions about Nigeria and also allow us to showcase our country to the world.

How did your ministry combat the scourge of fake news which has become a growing concern in the country due to the coming of social media?

To stem the growing tide of disinformation, misinformation and fake news, we decided to launch the National Awareness Campaign against these phenomena. We held a special edition of the National Council on Information in Jos, Plateau State, on July 21st 2017 with the theme: HATE SPEECH, FAKE NEWS AND NATIONAL UNITY.

This brought the issue to the forefront of national discourse and provided a good launchpad for the campaign, which has since gained ground.

On 11th July, 2018, I launched the National Campaign Against Fake News and Hate Speech. At the launch in Abuja, i said: “There is an epidemic sweeping the world. If left unchecked, it could be worse than all the plagues that the world has recorded put together. It is a clear and present danger to global peace and security. It is a threat to democracy. It is the epidemic of Fake News. Mixed with hate speech, it is a disaster waiting to happen”.

Following this, I commenced an advocacy with the media which took me to the Authority Newspapers, Peoples Daily Newspaper, AIT, Blueprint in Abuja as well as Channels TV in Lagos. I also engaged online publishers and Social Media Influencers in the campaign. Vanguard, FRCN, NTA, FRCN, The Nation, TVC, Leadership also signed up as partners in the campaign against fake news and hate speech. I also took the campaign against fake news to the mini-town hall meetings with Nigerian Embassy Staff in Washington and Germany. Through the National Campaign, we succeeded in bringing the phenomenon of Fake News and Hate Speech to the front burner of national discourse.

In terms of showcasing the projects of the Buhari administration especially in the Rice revolution and infrastructural projects nationwide, what roles did your Ministry play?

Firstly, we embarked on a campaign to telegraph the achievements of the Administration’s Anchor Borrowers’ Programme that has seen Nigeria cut its rice import by 90 percent. Naturally, the campaign took off in Kebbi, where we took over 30 local journalists on a tour of the burgeoning rice farms and rice mills over three days, starting March 5th 2018. The widely-reported visit has now become a veritable launchpad for the campaign to showcase the achievements to all Nigerians.

The Ministry under my leadership also spearheaded the campaign to keep Nigerians informed during the massive and urgent work to reconstruct the sole runway of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja in March and April 2017. With the six-week closure of the airport and the re-direction of all Abuja-bound flights to Kaduna, it became imperative to keep Nigerians duly informed of the massive logistics involved, especially for air travellers to and from Abuja. The Ministry kick-started this campaign by taking Aviation Correspondents from Abuja to Kaduna by rail and returning them to Abuja by road, so they could assess and report on the measures put in place for the safety and comfort of travelers.

They also inspected facilities at the Kaduna Airport, with a view to informing the travelling public that the airport is safe. The campaign strengthened the confidence of the travelling public. The correspondents were also taken on an inspection visit of the runway, to convince Nigerians that the job would be delivered on time. Ahead of the closure of the Abuja airport, the Minister organized a World Press Conference that allowed the relevant Ministers and the Inspector General of Police to brief Nigerians on the measures put in place to ease the pain that may be caused to air travellers by the diversion of flights to Kaduna. A tour of the Kaduna Airport was also facilitated for the Vice President, ahead of the closure of the Abuja Airport.

Ads

We also took foreign and local journalists on a tour of the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas Limited, Bonny Terminal. The visit was an eye-opener on the massive investment in the LNG Sector. The journalists used the visit to drum up support for investment in the proposed Trains 7 and 8 of the NLNG.

Ads
Ads

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *