The “Politician of the Year” award conferred yesterday upon the robust and tireless spokesman of the opposition in Nigeria, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, by the Leadership newspaper is an important development for our young democracy.
From the reactions, the honour to him surprised only a few. For most people, the surprise is that despite his career of public and media advocacy spanning thirty-five years, it took this long, long time for any major award giver to recognize Lai’s excellence. But it is often said that we have a weakness for not recognizing obvious distinction.
My attitude to this is that everything has its time. There are many who are like me whose bags are always the last to come at the baggage hall on arrival at airports. This is irrespective of whether one had travelled business or economy, or whether one had checked in late or early. Your bags finally arrive when co-travelers are already being hugged by their welcome parties. Lai’s award at this time fits into this: better late than never.
The pedagogy of what Lai Mohammed is doing is that it teaches Nigerian politicians to practice politics by the power of the word. When you see what they are doing in the British Parliament you will notice that there is a tradition there of debate powered by eloquence and the choice of words. They used to say this for our First Republic politicians. When those colourful politicians like the late K. O. Mbadiwe, Tafawa Balewa, Zik and Awolowo took the floor, whether in parliament, on the soapbox, radio or newspaper interview, they knifed opponents and their ideas to death using words not knives. They did not use guns and machetes as we have nowadays.
We have a vibrant media in this country. The traditional media – the TV, Radio and the print press have tremendous impact on this society and that’s where Lai is the master. He speaks on a relevant issue every day, writing his releases with aptitude, fineness, tightness and precision giving news editors very little room to maneuver. The new media, the SMS, the blogs, twitter, facebook and so forth are equally important and are gradually making inroads here. There too, Lai is increasingly present.
Lai is the standard bearer when the issue is opposition research and politics. It is not an easy thing to have the entire gamut of the Nigerian government on the defensive but there is Lai for you. Like an old Marxian propagandist, Lai, unlike most political actors, has empathy towards the people. You cannot be a leader when you don’t share feelings of the people. To that extent, he is proactive, always the one taking the battle to the ruling government and party.
Give or take from this, Lai has used effective communication to paint the present administration, of which his party is in opposition, as one that doesn’t address problems until they reach a crisis point; that it is a government grossly incompetent without vision, policies and future direction for the country; that today’s government is not focused on the problems of the people and the nation but focused on amassing personal wealth by hook or by crook. Lai has been successful in painting this administration a coalition of like-minded crooks who, bent on clinging to old privileges, are driving the country along primordial lines.
Reactions to Lai from the party and government are mostly crude and tasteless. Time and again, the people speaking for the government and party have the habit of putting their foot in the mouth without any rhyme, rhythm or reason. They have been unable to present the true picture of the opposition to Nigerians, which is one of toothlessness and characteristic opportunism, for, many in the opposition camp are just waiting to get the chance to loot the people and bleed Nigeria as the others revel in doing. I used to get inspired by the effectiveness of a certain Kunle Babade, the zonal spokesman of PDP against Lai in the South-West. This was before the zonal executive was dissolved using a questionable method. As has become the tradition of the party, whatever PDP builds, PDP destroys.
I think the ruling party and government need to introspect. For instance, when you look at the structure of the PDP, you see that the publicity secretary of the party, that is Lai’s opposite number is an elected official zoned to a section of the country as part of a power-sharing formula. In filling this position, they don’t recognize professionalism. Nearly all the PDP publicity secretaries I can remember are lawyers. If they can’t make a journalist to become the Legal Adviser of the party, why do they make lawyers Publicity Secretary? I have heard some people say the party needed a publicity bureau or directorate staffed by professional media men with an unmediated authorization to engage with the media. When they do this, they may stand a chance of ridding the party of its image of an “anything-goes-organization.”
Under PDP, Nigeria is a false democracy. The dictatorial high-command style of a dominant few has ensured that the interests of the ordinary folk remain under the feet of the ruling few. This clique is so intolerant that they cannot stand anyone making a comment on them. There are no words to describe a people who are not ashamed of anything so long as there is power and money. Year in, year out, this dominant group goes on making stupid and careless mistakes in the mistaken belief that Nigerians have no option but to stick to the PDP. With this attitude, this country will forever bleed. Nigeria is headed for a disaster, if not already. This is when a politician like Lai becomes the need of the hour.
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