In this interview with TUNDE OGUNTOLA, the minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, speaks on insecurity, COVID-19 vaccine controversy in the country as well as the issue of quit notice being given to Fulani herdsmen in some states in the South
What do you think the appointment
of new security chiefs portends for the fight against insecurity?
First, the appointment and engagement of service chiefs is an exclusive prerogative of Mr President. And that is because he is in the best position to know exactly which area of security
needs to be revamped and who
best to handle it.
There is no point secondguessing his appointment on his choice, but don’t forget that his appointment is that in his
New Year speech, he promised
Nigerians that he was going to reenergize and he was going to also restructure the security apparatus in a manner that
will meet the ever-changing demands of security.
The only cheering news for us all Nigerians is the fact that when you look at the background of the new service
chiefs, almost every one of them
had at one point or the other been involved in the prosecution of war against insurgency and which means they would not be new to the challenges and will be able to take off from
the brilliant performance of their predecessors. So, there are expectations because they are not new to the conflict and they were at the one time or the
other commanded the force that
is dealing with the insurgency, they will hit the ground running. I also think that when we look at the recent exploit of the Nigerian military in the fight against
insurgency and banditry, one can say, they have been making a lot of successes in the last months especially in January and before then. So, we look
forward to them building on the
successes especially since they have the experience and have led the Commands at various times of their career.
On the issue of quit notice being given to Fulani herdsmen in the South-West,
do you think it is right and what do you think should be done to ensure that peace and security return to the region?
I think we should stop playing politics with the issue of security. And we should stop bringing religion and ethnicity
into the issue of security. Yes, the governors are indeed the chief security officers of their states and they would do
everything possible to maintain peace and stability in their states, I believe the matter of quit notice or no quit notice has
been politicised completely. I am glad the two governors have met the President and the matter is being resolved.
They have briefed the President and it is expected that every stakeholder, whether
political or religious are working
to be on top of the situation. I want to appeal to the media not to sensationalise this kind of report as people are giving
interpretation and different meaning to the headlines. But the truth of the matter is that the issue of security should not be sensationalised. Otherwise, we will never resolve it.
On the controversy trailing the handling of COVID-19 pandemic. We are already
in the second wave of the pandemic and there is a spike in cases. What are the plans of the government to curb the
And what is the government doing to change the conspiracy theories around the COVID-19 vaccine particularly in the North where there is concern about Pfizer-made vaccine?
On COVID-19 there is indeed a rise in the number of people who are testing positive. It is also correct that there is a rise in the mortality rate. This is directly
attributable to the disregard Nigerians have for the directive of the various authorities either PTF or the state level, even the Nigeria Centre for Disease
Control and other agencies.
The crux of the matter is that many Nigerians still live in denial. They don’t believe there is COVID-19. And for many of them, when we announced that so many people have tested positive and so many have died, these things just remain
as figures and numbers until when those who are closed them became victims that they begin to realise that this is a serious matter.
We don’t have the health infrastructure to support this kind of total recklessness on
the part of Nigerians. On the conspiracy theories on the part of Nigerians, Nigerians need to understand that the nonpharmaceutical intervention is still the most effective way of interrupting and slowing down the infection in Nigeria and consequently slowing down the mortality rate.
Nigerians also must appreciate the fact
that they must continue to take personal responsibility, we are not talking about anything external, but what can affect
them. If you go out today, only one in 20 Nigerians is wearing a mask and out of five that wear a mask, only one will wear it correctly.
We have no respect for social distancing and other protocols of COVID-19. I think it is about time we take the matter
seriously. I think the good news for me is the fact that Mr resident has signed a regulation that sort of criminalised violation of any COVID- 19 protocol. It would be the responsibility of the various heads of parastatals to
ensure that these protocols are complied with.
But I think the most important thing is today the government has a taken a very huge step in signing the quarantine regulation. Now there is also the big question about the vaccine. I think there
are many issues about the vaccine.
The first is the availability of the vaccine, the second is the safety of these vaccines, the third is the availability of these vaccines not talking about the logistics of these vaccines.
Already there is a big scramble the world over. I think as of today Africa is about 1.3 billion population. I doubt if we have
secured half a billion vaccines so
far. Why the various governments
and fellow Nigerians are focusing
on how to source these vaccines,
whether it is Pfizer, Modena, Oxford, a bigger problem which is the vaccine hesitancy which has arising against the background of conspiracy theories for these vaccines.
Not only conspiracy theories about the vaccines but conspiracy theories even about the virus itself. Many people believed this is not real. Some people have introduced religion, some people
don’t just believe in science, but
the truth of the matter is that COVID-19 is real. People must have confidence in the vaccine because, vaccines, if they are not
safe the federal government will not recommend them in the first instance.
That is why it is already said the President, the Vice President, and the governors will be the first to take these vaccines, to convince everybody that these vaccines are safe. We know that
ahead of the vaccines, we must
also mount a very vigorous
enlightenment campaign to
neutralise the effect of all these
conspiracies to even assuage the
fears of some people who have had
some not too pleasant experiences
in the past from certain vaccines.
But the situation here is completely
different. Yes, I agree with you we
need to ramp up our advocacy
effort and PTF is not leaving any
A few days ago the federal government met with traditional rulers, I also met with
traditional rulers, as a member of the PTF and as a member of other sub-committee and it was one of the issues that we appealed to our traditional rulers to please lead the campaign against this vaccine hesitancy. We know those who
can convince their followers easily
especially religious leaders. We are
also going to use our celebrities in
the TV industry and sports to push
Earlier on in your assessment of the military, you said they did pretty well in January but if we juxtapose what you said to what we have, there is the belief that insecurity has not improved.
What is your take on it?
It is not that the military have
improved in the last one month. No,
they have been improving all along.
The only thing was that at my press
conference I put emphasis on the
success of the military in January.
So, it is not just this month. I say
with all confidence the situation we
met in 2015 was by far worse than
what it is today. I put it in another
way, in 2021 security is by far better
than what we met in 2015. And I note
people are fighting me with emotion,
not with facts even figures. I know
that until we came here in 2015,
between 2010-2014 December, there
was no Christmas Eve, Christmas Day
that there was no bombing. 2016 was
when we started having Christmas,
New Year free of bombing and Boko
Haram tragedies. Before 2015, at
least 10 states in the northern part
of the country were regular victims
of Boko Haram – Kano, Kaduna,
Bornu, Yobe, Nigeria, FCT, Plateau
– the records are there. These same
FCT, I remember any time I left Lagos
to come and attend meetings of
NWC when we were the opposition,
I would do everything not to sleep
here in Abuja because the city was
The UN Headquarters was bombed with casualties, the Police Headquarters was attacked with casualties, Thisday head office was bombed, Nyanya motor park- this same Abuja. When people start to
talk about insecurity heightening,
I say what is your data. Whoever
wants to challenge that should come
up with their facts and figures on
the issue of security. But there will
be occasional reversals that happen
in any war and don’t forget this is not
your type of conventional war.
Still, on insecurity, the argument right now is that by the time you came in, the problem on the ground was just kidnapping and Boko Haram, but now there is an additional, banditry, what
is the issue?
Banditry had been on before we came. What you call banditry today is no different from the farmers, herders’ clash, and cattle rustling which has been on since before we came in. I remember in my conversation with the governor of
Kebbi State in 2016. He pleaded we
should introduce religion or ethnicity
into this banditry. Because he used
his state. He said the bandits are
Hausa-Fulani and they are Muslims;
the victims are Hausa-Fulani Muslim,
so it is a social problem that must be
resolved. So for anybody to say that
banditry came under Buhari is not
correct or to say that the Southsouth problem started under Buhari is not correct. Bunkering, PANDEF formed beyond or to say IPOB was started during Buhari, no. But the important thing is what have we done. Why I had the press
conference on Monday to let you
what we have done and what we have
been doing in combating banditry,
kidnapping, and cattle rustling. And
if you listen and look at the test of
my press conference, I said not only
were 17 kidnapped people freed,
I gave the number of cattle that
were released. Our success in the
Kankara kidnapping is evidence and
testimony of the seriousness and
effectiveness of this administration.
So it is not correct on any front to
say there is more banditry or more kidnapping.