In a recent TV interview, Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed said he had never lied. That’s a lie, Lai’s latest lie. “I have always asked anybody to come out and say Alhaji Lai Mohammed, this is what you said at this point and we found it to be a lie and nobody so far has come out to say anything,” he said. “You can fault me on emotions, but you can never fault me on facts and figures.”
I initially thought this was a fake news quote, similar to the one that claimed Lai said President Buhari was taking Nigerian drugs in his London hospital, so I dismissed it. But when even people I respect began to share the quote on Facebook, I decided to look it up. It turned out that Mr. Mohammed actually said it.
No non-partisan, independent-minded person would dispute the fact that Lai Mohammed’s entire career as Minister of Information and Culture has been defined by a bewilderingly extravagant fondness for willful and easily falsifiable lies. His first name doesn’t just share an uncanny phonemic kinship with “lie”; he actually embodies lies in the most audaciously disreputable way imaginable.
All government information managers lie, but Lai’s lies are unmatched in their coarseness, brazenness, vulgarism, and disdain for the intelligence of Nigerians. It is impossible to chronicle the countless lies Lai has told in the last two years, but several writers have taken it upon themselves to list the most notable ones. See, for instance, Ọlaọha Ezeja’s “Top 50 lies of Lai Mohammed.”
I do not agree with all the items in the list, but at least 20 of the examples given in the article are accurate, and only one example needs to be accurate to give the lie to Lai’s recklessly bold claim that he has never lied.
Here is an example of a particularly impudent and cheeky lie that still rankles many Nigerians. In June 2016, Lai Mohammed told ChannelsTV that Boko Haram was singularly responsible for the tomato scarcity that gripped the nation.
“People talk about the price of tomato but they forget one thing: that the price of tomato today is a direct result of the fact that we have lost two years harvest to Boko Haram insurgency,” he said. “Most of the people you see riding Okada in Lagos are people who would have been in the farm to produce consumable items.”
That was a transparently intentional, not to talk of offensively disrespectful, lie. The truth was that the tomato scarcity was caused by a pest called “tuta absoluta,” which destroyed up to 40 percent of tomatoes in some northern states. Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Audu Ogbe said the disease affected tomatoes in Kaduna, Plateau, Jigawa, Kano, and Katsina states—states that are not, in fact, beset by Boko Haram insurgency.
On February 8, 2017, Lai Mohammed said Buhari was “hale and hearty” and in no health hazard of any sort. “I can say it without any equivocation, Mr President is well,” he said. “He is hale and he is hearty. No question about that. I want to assure you, Mr President is well and he is in absolutely no danger. Mr. President, like I said elsewhere, is probably a victim of his own transparency.” Another big, fat lie.
It was President Buhari himself who punctured Lai Mohammed’s obnoxiously cocksure mendacity when he returned from London. “I couldn’t recall being so sick since I was a young man, including in the military, with its ups and downs,” the president said. “I couldn’t recall when last I had blood transfusion. I couldn’t recall honestly, I can say in my 70 years.”
How does this admission by the president square with Lai Mohammed’s wildly farcical and dishonest claim that the president was “well,” “hale and hearty,” and “in absolutely no danger”? And this man said he has never lied and that no one has ever brought evidence of his lies to him?
Is Lai Mohammed being knowingly mischievous? Or is he the victim of a psychiatric disorder called “pseudologia fantastica” or “mythomania,” that is, chronically compulsive lying that causes liars to believe their own lies? I leave that to Nigerian psychiatrists to determine.
But I do know that the current APC government is founded on outright lies, so it’s only logical that its spokesperson will invariably resort to lies to defend the government’s interminable lies. You can’t deploy truth to defend lies.
American service delivery, in both public and private sectors, is anchored on the philosophy of “under-promise and over-deliver.” That’s why the postal service here, for instance, tells its patrons that their mails will be delivered in eight working days, but it actually ends up being delivered typically in three days. I told a friend sometime ago that Nigerian service delivery philosophy appears to be the opposite: “over-promise and under-deliver.”
But the current APC government has upped the ante: its entire being is anchored on the premise of “over-promise and un-deliver.” We thought “overpromise and under-deliver” was bad, and the APC government came along and pushed Nigeria to the lowest watermark of “over-promise and un-deliver.”
That isn’t the only philosophy of negativity and nothingness that the Buhari government has inaugurated and executed in the last two years. While past Nigerian governments were “ill-prepared,” the current APC government isn’t even ill-prepared; it is simply unprepared. While past governments misgoverned; this government is un-governing.
When you have a government that is anchored on negatives, on nothingness, on barefaced mendacity, it is too much to expect its spokesperson to be anything other than a self-deceiving “lying liar,” to imitate Femi Adesina’s absurdly pleonastic “wailing wailer.”