Lai Mohammed Slams Economist Magazine over ‘Change Begins with Me’ Campaign


Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja

The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has said the social reorientation campaign, ‘Change Begins with Me’ that was introduced this month was not scheme to silence Nigerians.

His response was contained in a statement issued yesterday to a story by The Economist published on September 24, 2016, entitled: ‘Nigeria’s war against indiscipline, Behave or be whipped.’ Mohammed said the article was pejorative, loaded with innuendos and couched in a language that was downright racist.

He tackled the magazine which accused President Muhammadu Buhari of ‘’taming’’ Nigerians
with the ‘Change Begins With Me’ campaign, saying the use of the word ‘tame’’ was unpardonable as it connoted that Nigerians are some kind of wild

animals that must be domesticated. He also said the usage was a deliberate put-down of a whole people under the guise of criticising a government policy.

“The paper, in striving to reach a preconceived conclusion, also insinuated that some 150,000 volunteers are being trained as enforcers of the ‘Change Begins With Me’ campaign. This is not true. In his speech at the launch of the campaign on September 8, 2016, the President, a globally-acknowledged leader who believes strongly in the rule of law, left no one in doubt that moral suasion, the very antithesis of force, will be employed to achieve attitudinal change among Nigerians.

“In that speech, the president said: ‘I am therefore appealing to all Nigerians to be part of this campaign.’ To the best of our knowledge and, surely the knowledge of those who own the language, the words ‘appeal’ and ‘enforce’ are not synonymous.

“In its rush to discredit the ‘Change Begins With Me’ campaign, The Economist, a widely respected newspaper, fell below its own standards by choosing to be economical with the truth. Enforcement is not part of the strategies to be employed under the campaign, and nowhere has it been said that the ‘moral police’ will be unleashed, as reported by the newspaper. In writing the story, the paper did not even deem it necessary to speak with any official of the government, thus breaching one of the codes of journalism, which is fairness. It chose instead to quote a ‘critic’ of the president in a perfunctory manner,” Mohammed said.

The minister accused the paper of committing the same gaffe that most critics of then ‘Change Begins With Me’ campaign have made by rushing to comment on a campaign they do not understand., adding that critics have ended up shooting themselves in the foot by hauling darts at the campaign shortly after it was launched. Mohammed described the campaign was an all-inclusive campaign that was designed to start with the leadership not designed to shift any responsibility to Nigerians,, saying that was explained by Buhari when he said the government would ‘’drive the campaign’’ and that it must be strongly supported by all concerned individually.

The minister insisted that aside from Nigeria, many countries had also launched similar reorientation campaigns to remodel social value assets.

‘In 1979, Singapore launched the National Courtesy Campaign to encourage Singaporeans to be more kind and considerate to one another. In 2011, Mozambique launched a campaign to educate students
on how to treat foreign tourists as part of preparations for the country’s hosting of the All-Africa Games that year. In 2015, China launched a campaign to ‘name and shame,’ any of its own tourists who behave badly, either at home or abroad. And this year, the Tokyo Good Manners Project was launched to improve manners in the metropolis of the Japanese capital. It is therefore uncharitable for The Economist to hide behind the facade of its own prejudice to denigrate Nigeria’s genuine effort at national re-orientation,’’