Lai Mohammed

Adelanwa Olajubu writes that the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Muhammed, should treat the NBC with some dignity

I have followed the affairs of the National Broadcasting Commission over the past two decades, because of the role it plays in regulating broadcasting in our country. I believe NBC came at the right time, when President Babangida deregulated the industry during the 1990s. I am one of the beneficiaries of the system. I served in the Cross River State Radio in Calabar, in the early nineties, and I have worked on and off, in several broadcasting stations since then. I am one of those who believe that NBC is a force for good in our climate.

It is there to ensure that broadcasters behave ethically, and in order to ensure a tranquil environment in our country, with its several fault lines that opportunists can exploit to cause disaffection. That was why many of us applauded NBC early last year, when it closed down Ekiti State radio and television, after the elections. Former Governor, Ayo Fayose wanted to cause mayhem, by trying to announce his own results. It would have been a repeat of the sad experience of the old Ondo State, in the 1983 elections, which resulted in the loss of several lives and the destruction of property. NBC’s quick intervention saved many lives in Ekiti State.

Because I follow keenly developments in and around the NBC, I have been worried about the manner that the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, is gradually turning himself into the Minister of NBC Affairs, since his recent re-appointment. Hardly has a day passed that he won’t mention something related to the work of the regulatory commission. It is almost as if the NBC does not have a board in place, or the organization no longer have a Director General.

What is the basis of Lai Muhammed’s compulsive obsession with that organization? I have read the story of the committee that he has set up to implement reforms in the NBC. And while no one can fault the fact that every public institution needs reformation to meet growing exigencies; what might cause problem is when plans for reform become an avenue to pursue a personal agenda. For instance, all broadcasting industry insiders know that Lai Muhammed does not have a good relationship with the NBC Director General, Mr. Ishaq Modibbo Kawu. So when the Minister of Information appointed a director working under the NBC DG to head a reform implementation committee, a lot of eye brows were raised by watchers.

Why did Lai Muhammed make such an appointment? Did he do so in consultation with the DG or in spite of the DG? What role did the minister assign to the board of the NBC, which by law is supposed to be directing any reform in the institution? Did he carry them along or was he actually behaving like a sole administrator of the NBC, which is not in the act setting up the commission? How does the minister justify the fact that his implementation committee is filled with licensees of the commission? What type of reform can licensees impose on their regulatory agency that can be fair? Didn’t the minister give this a good thought, before putting together his implementation team? And did he not expect that a backlash was going to come from the board of the commission, given the place that they occupy within the ambits of the law which sets up the Commission? In his heart can he convince himself that he did not disrespect the board, and especially the chairman, a two-time minister, and a leading politician in his own right too? What exactly is the crime that the NBC Director General has committed against the minister that he seems so bent on not only undermining his authority but also seeming to want to prematurely end his tenure at the NBC? For those of us looking from outside, the feeling was that as people from the same state, who were in the same political camp, to end the Saraki reign in Kwara, their relationship would be made beneficial for their state and Nigeria. It doesn’t seem to be so. My question for Alhaji Lai Muhammed is, if you get the director general out of the NBC, would you ever be allowed to appoint another Kwaran in his place? Or you cannot be bothered with such niceties, because all you want is to terminate your Kwara man’s tenure?

And is the minister even thinking of the negatives that some of his pronouncements are logging for the Buhari administration? When he openly says that he would regulate social media, who is he speaking for really? Is it a coincidence that the Vice President responded to him, that it was not a proper thing to think of regulating or controlling social media? Is Alhaji Lai Muhammed not helping to reinforce the discourse about President Buhari being anti-press freedom? Is that the type of negative image that the country’s Minister of Information should be reinforcing, in his over enthusiastic statements that all come within the whole scenario about his seeming takeover of the NBC? And what is the story that he peddles about issuing a new “National Broadcasting Code”? The last time I checked, there is a Nigeria Broadcasting Code, which the NBC and the industry work on and is used as the instrument to regulate the broadcasting industry. Who will Lai Muhammed use his own “National Broadcasting Code” to regulate? How will he produce such an instrument? Didn’t the NBC release a 6th edition of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code a few months ago? And from what we know, the code is produced once every four to five years. So how is Lai Muhammed going to bring out his own “National Broadcasting Code”, to take the place of the legitimate Nigeria Broadcasting Code?

A lot seems to be happening. And most of these are coming from the pursuit of a personal, and a not too hidden, agenda, by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Muhammed. It is so clear, that the more he states that he got presidential approval for his actions, the more hollow it sounds. Presidential approval cannot be a fig leaf to hide a putrid, personal agenda, which might end up destroying the institution, than reforming it. Lai Muhammed is believed to rely on a tiny coterie of individuals, who have personal scores to settle, and have all bunched together to cause as much upheavals as possible in the affairs of the National Broadcasting Commission.

One of the jokes that someone made at the just concluded BON Congress in Lagos, was to ask when Lai Muhammed would move his table and chair into the premises of the National Broadcasting Commission to complete his takeover of the institution. What is shameful in all that is happening is that those who can call the minister to order, have maintained an unusual silence, as he continues his relentless pursuit of a personal agenda at the NBC, through a most controversial reform implementation committee. Surely, President Buhari did not appoint Alhaji Lai Muhammed as a Minister of NBC Affairs. He should live to the oath that he swore to, never to use the position to pursue a personal agenda, because there is so much palpable personal vendetta seeping through all his actions at the National Broadcasting Commission.

Olajubu, a broadcaster, wrote from Idanre, Ondo State