New Telegraph

Discordant tunes in high places!

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While the world over, governments in power is often viewed by the citizens with a lot of scepticism, especially when it comes to levelling with the people about the true state of affairs of the country, is a truism; here in Nigeria, the art has been taken to another level by our officials.

Sadly, from all indications, no one is immune from being economical with the truth or even espousing pure propaganda in an effort to paint a rosy picture of things when every discerning person knows the truth. One example that readily comes to mind is the way the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who as the official spokesman of the government, is expected to defend the administration, no matter the circumstances, handled last year’s incident at the Lekki Toll Plaza, in which a number of #EndSARS protesters lost their lives after security personnel opened fire on them with live ammunition.

Even the presence of glaring video evidence, courtesy of a live feed from the scene of the incident by DJ Switch, in which gunshots can be heard and persons with bullet wounds were treated at the scene before being rushed to various hospitals, our Information Minister told the whole world that it was ‘fake news’, insisting that nothing like that had happened. A few days after the October 20, 2020 bloodletting, the American satellite news station, CNN aired a documentary, in which they presented strong evidence to back up the claims that a ‘massacre’ had taken place at the toll gate.

Acutely aware that they could not go on air with such a sensitive and damning report without providing compelling evidence, CNN not only showed timelines of when the military personnel left their barracks for the toll plaza, but also presented ammunition used and where it was purchased.

They also showed footage of shots being fired directly at protesters to refute claims that the soldiers only fired blanks into the air to scare the protesters. Yet, despite the documentary, the Federal Government stuck to its guns that nothing like that had taken place, and even went ahead to demand a retraction and apology from CNN. Likening the documentary to “a poor piece of journalistic work,” in a letter addressed to the Vice President of CNN International Communications, Jonathan Hawkins and signed by the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, the Federal Government said: “It reserves the right to take action within its laws to prevent CNN from aggravating the #EndSARS crisis.

“As a form of remediation, Nigeria’s Federal Government demands an immediate and exhaustive investigation from CNN into its ‘investigative’ report on the Lekki Toll Gate incident to determine, among others, its authenticity, whether or not it met the basic standards of journalism and also the selective use of unverified social media videos to manipulate public opinion.

“While it is up to CNN to accede or not, please note that the Federal Government reserves the right to take any action within its laws to prevent CNN from aggravating the #EndSARS crisis with unprofessional, irresponsible, one-sided, inciting and sensational reporting that is capable of pitching Nigerians against themselves and setting the country on fire.” The minister, in the letter written to CNN, said the international platform left out a video, which could have shown that “armed hoodlums invaded the Lekki Toll Gate that night, and could have hit any of the protesters as they shot sporadically”.

However, like any consummate public relations officer knows there are still ways of trying to make the government look good in a bad situation without losing respect or sounding like a propagandist. Unfortunately, the politician from Kwara State flunked this as a leaked report of the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses and other matters clearly indicated that a number of people were shot and killed on the night of October 20 last year!

Naturally, with the shoe now firmly on the other foot, the American news company is seeking some form of retribution from the minister, for his smear campaign against the company. Olumide Babalola, CNN’s Nigerian counsel, has called Alhaji Mohammed, to tender an apology to the medium, for tagging it a fake news outfit, after an investigative report carried out by the American media house on the killing of protesters at the Lekki tollgate.

In a statement last week Tuesday, the CNN counsel said the Lagos State Judicial Panel’s report had vindicated the organisation’s investigative report, titled: ‘How a bloody night of bullets and brutality quashed a young protest movement’. “Alhaji Lai Mohammed should eschew his pride and apologise to the CNN if he has any integrity left,” Babalola said.

He added: “He has consistently claimed that the CNN’s report of the massacre was false, but the panel has vindicated the CNN’s position on the gruesome and wanton killings at the Lekki Tollgate. “Without necessarily saying more on this, since the same minister had earlier called on the CNN to apologize for fake news, which has now been quasi-judicially proved to be true, one would think the honourable thing for Alhaji Mohammed to do, as an elder statesman and learned gentleman, is to apologize to the CNN especially.” But the minister has refused to back down casting further aspersions on the leaked report, insisting that it was full of loopholes and was far from what actually happened.

Unfortunately, he is not the only one, after being repeatedly regaled with reports of successes against Boko Haram from various government officials since the present administration took charge in 2015, last week none-other than the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo finally admitted what millions of Nigerians have known all along that the security situation in the country is getting dire. Speaking when the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken paid him a visit, Osinbajo told him that the security issues and terror threats in the North-East, Lake Chad and the Sahel persist.

“They seem to increase. We are looking forward to greater cooperation because of the challenge of terrorism, especially of the sort we have seen with ISWAP, Boko Haram and ISIS. “It will fester and it can really take on the kinds of dimensions that may turn out to be much more grave than we ever thought. We need to do a lot in that particular respect,” he said. Yet we have been repeatedly told that the nation was not only on top of the situation, but had even ‘technically defeated’ the terrorists! And yet, the same ‘technically defeated’ insurgents have continued to carry out dastardly acts across the land, including the recent ambush of high ranking military officers, which left Brigadier General, Dzarma Zirkusu and three other officers dead. It is the same ‘technically defeated’ insurgents that have prevented farmers from accessing their lands causing anguish across the land due to the high cost of foodstuff One can only wonder what would have happened if the insurgents had not been ‘technically defeated!’ As things stand it is clear that the nation will only ever know the true situation of things in the country should the party in power be voted out in 2023!

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