Nigeria: Buhari’s quality performance will boost Tinubu’s chances, says Lai Mohammed 

By Eniola Akinkuotu

Posted on Friday, 18 November 2022 10:52, updated on Wednesday, 23 November 2022 12:31
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed attends the joint press briefing on security in Abuja
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed attends the joint press briefing on security in Abuja, Nigeria September 5, 2022. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

The Minister of Information and Culture talks to The Africa Report about the forthcoming presidential election, the performance of the current administration, his push for more social media regulation and his controversial crusade against fake news and hate speech. 

At 71, Lai Mohammed is no stranger to Nigerian politics. He started out as Chief of Staff to then Lagos State Governor, Bola Tinubu, in 1999.

Four years later, he unsuccessfully contested for governor of Kwara State in the north-central. He subsequently became the spokesman for the opposition, a position he held until 2015 when he was appointed the minister of information and culture by President Muhammadu Buhari.

As minister, Mohammed is the most senior spokesperson for the Nigerian government. In October, President Buhari conferred a national award on him for his dedication. As the image maker of the Nigerian government, Mohammed has defended every government decision.

At his office located at the ever-busy federal government secretariat in the central business district just a few kilometres from the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Mohammed in an interview with The Africa Report, spends over an hour defending and promoting Buhari’s records.

True to form, Mohammed tells The Africa Report that Buhari has done spectacularly well given the rot he inherited in 2015.

“The administration of Muhammadu Buhari has succeeded beyond expectations at a time of a shocking convergence in a once-in-a-century pandemic, two economic recessions triggered by a drop in the price of oil and other commodity prices,” he says.

The minister believes Buhari’s achievements will boost the chances of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and its candidate, Tinubu, at the poll.

“Honestly, Buhari has made it easy for the APC to win elections by his achievements.”

Unemployment vs Infrastructure

The minister tells The Africa Report that Buhari has transformed the country’s dilapidated infrastructure.

“Across the country, we have constructed almost 9,000km of roads. We have rehabilitated another 7,900km. We have built and rehabilitated 289 bridges and there is no single state in Nigeria where we have not built roads. In the process, we have created more than 400,000 jobs just by that alone,” he claims.

Honestly, Buhari has made it easy for the APC to win elections by his achievements.”

He speaks about the new airport terminals in Lagos, Kano, Abuja and Port Harcourt as well as the three standard gauge railways on Lagos/Ibadan, Abuja/Kaduna and Warri/Itakpe which he said boosted the economy.

When reminded of the fact that official records released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show that unemployment had risen to as high as 33.3% with over 23.2 million people out of jobs, the minister maintains that these statistics are questionable.

“We’ve always said that the NBS looks more at the formal than the informal economy. There are medium and small businesses that employ people but are not captured,” Mohammed says.

Corruption war

On the war against corruption, which was the cornerstone of Buhari’s campaign, Mohammed says several initiatives have been introduced. These include the Treasury Single Account which mandates all government agencies to use a single account.

Another is the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), which registers all government workers and authenticates their identities through biometric data. Mohammed says the IPPIS has been able to weed out thousands of ghost workers.

He also boasts of the conviction of some senior government officials including military men. But this was undermined by the pardon given to two convicted ex-governors by President Buhari earlier in the year.

Nigeria has also failed to rise on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index which places Nigeria as one of the most corrupt nations.

“We are the victims of corruption. We are fighting corruption but people are not appreciating it…the methodology of TI is questionable.”

Oil theft

On Buhari’s watch, Nigeria has witnessed an unprecedented spike in oil theft with the country losing between 600,000 and 700,000 barrels of crude daily. This has cost Nigeria its undisputed crown as the largest oil producer in Africa.

Recently, Nigeria awarded contracts to ex-militants to secure the pipelines. But Mohammed says the Buhari administration cannot be blamed for the oil theft.

Mohammed adds that the drop in the value of the naira is closely related to oil theft since most of Nigeria’s FX comes from oil receipts.

He, however, maintains that the naira would have been far weaker had Buhari not stopped the importation of rice.

“As long as we remain a consumption economy, the currency will be weak and you must give credit to the President. But for the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, if we were still importing rice, our currency would be very weak,” the minister says.


Mohammed also speaks glowingly of President Buhari’s war against terrorism. He says when Buhari took office in May 2015, at least 14 local governments in Borno State were under the firm control of Boko Haram.

He claims an area the size of Belgium was under the control of terrorists but this has since changed.

We are the victims of corruption. We are fighting corruption but people are not appreciating it…the methodology of TI is questionable.”

However, Nigeria has seen the insecurity spread to the northwest and the north-central. Recently, the US, UK, Germany and a few other countries, warned their citizens against visiting the nation’s capital. The US also withdrew some of its embassy officials.

“When bombs were going off in Abuja, when there were explosions at the UN building, the police headquarters, Banex Plaza and a military barracks, they didn’t advise their citizens to avoid travelling to Abuja. Why are they doing so now?” he said.

Poverty alleviation

Mohammed says Buhari introduced social investment programmes that have seen millions of unemployed Nigerian youths and poor households being given monthly stipends.

When reminded of the fact that poverty in Nigeria had deepened, Mohammed says it is a worldwide phenomenon triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and systemic problems inherited by the Buhari administration.

The minister also speaks glowingly of the school feeding programme which ensures children are given at least one free meal a day.

When challenged with the fact that Unesco says the number of out-of-school children has risen from 10 million to 20 million on Buhari’s watch, Mohammed disagrees.

“Again, these figures are questionable. I remember the minister of education said this is not correct. He put the figure at between five and six million.

“We want a situation where we have no children out of school but you must also understand the situation we are in. We didn’t bring Boko Haram, we didn’t bring banditry.”

2023 elections

The minister tells The Africa Report that the electoral reforms championed by President Buhari which culminated in the signing of the Electoral Act 2022 have made it almost impossible to rig elections.

He says he is confident that the February presidential election will be free and fair even as he promised that voting will take place across the country despite the insecurity.

“It is difficult today to rig elections in Nigeria. First is technology, and second is the sophistication of voters. Thirdly is that more people are showing interest in who governs them. So, any party that wants to win elections must work very hard,” he adds.

Flooding disaster

On the criticisms that have trailed the Buhari administration’s handling of the flooding disaster that has displaced more than 1.4 million people and killed more than 600 others in 31 states of the country, Mohammed says the Federal Government cannot be blamed.

It is difficult today to rig elections in Nigeria. First is technology, and second is the sophistication of voters….”

The minister argues that the floods were triggered by climate change and the government had given ample warning but the state governments failed to take appropriate steps to reduce the effect of the disaster.

“The last time we had this sort of flooding was in 2012. The number one problem is climate change because we are receiving four times the amount of rain we got last year.

“The meteorological agency had been warning about the rains but where are the drainages? These issues are squarely under the authority of governors and council chairmen… Isn’t it ignorance to blame the Federal Government?” he says.

Mass migration

On the mass migration of youths to western countries in search of greener pastures, a movement now known as ‘Japa’, the minister attributes the trend to the impatience of youths.

Mohammed says, “It is only when many of them get there that they realise they were actually unemployable.”

But when challenged with the fact that a large number of those migrating are actually medical doctors, Mohammed says the exodus of medical professionals is a different dimension altogether.

He opines that there is a moral argument against the migration of doctors who get their training at a subsidised fee in Nigeria. The minister says such doctors must give back to Nigeria.

“We cannot force them to stay … but they should remember they owe Nigeria. Doctors who attend public universities pay just about N100,000 a year to train.”

“They must come back and pay us and the only way is by coming back and investing in Nigeria.”

Media regulation and entertainment

The minister, who came under heavy criticism last year for announcing the suspension of Twitter, says the Nigerian government is observing closely the activities of Twitter under the new leadership of Elon Musk.

It is only when many of them get there that they realise they were actually unemployable.”

Mohammed says at the moment, there is no plan to suspend Twitter. He also seemed to have put in abeyance plans to regulate social media. Mohammed, however, says the government will soon acquire technology that will tackle disinformation and hate speech.

“There are enough laws to ensure social media platforms are responsible. But some radio stations are also irresponsible. We will acquire a technology very soon to make it easier for us to contain all these excesses.”

The minister says the Buhari administration should also take credit for the burgeoning entertainment sector, especially in the music and film industry. He says the government has been in talks with Netflix, Amazon and other streaming services to boost investment.

“There is a boom in the entertainment industry largely because of the efforts we made in amending the Broadcasting Code to give protection to Nigerian artistes in terms of undue and unfair competition. Regrettably, either out of mischief or lack of understanding, this has not been appreciated,” Mohammed said.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options