Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed yesterday defended the Federal Government’s response to the abduction of the Dapchi girls. He said it was swift as against ex-President Goodluck Jonathan administration “slow” response to the kidnap of Chibok girls.
He said the government had deployed over 200 hours of air search for the Dapchi girls, and stressed that the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration had been “able to limit Boko Haram insurgents to their cowardly act of bombing soft spot and kidnapping.
Mohammed, however, urged the media to show understanding as the nation was undergoing trying times.
Mohammed spoke at the Foundation Laying Ceremony of the Editors’ Plaza by the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) in Abuja.
The minister’s response was provoked by taunts by former Akwa Ibom State Governor Godswill Akpabio, who wondered why Mohammed had lost his voice on the abduction of Dapchi girls unlike in 2014 when he took swipes at the Jonathan administration on the Chibok girls.
Mohammed said it was wrong for Akpabio to “compare apple with orange” on the Buhari administration’s approach to the abduction of the Dapchi girls.
The minister said: “Now, don’t compare orange with apple. When Chibok girls were kidnapped, it took the PDP government 18 full days to admit that the girls were kidnapped. This time we swung into action within 24 hours. And as I speak today, I have been to Yobe State twice, the National Security Adviser (NSA), the Chief of Army Staff, the Chief of Air Staff and NSA have been there.
“As of yesterday, we deployed over 200 hours of air search for the girls. Our appeal to the media today is to solicit for their support. We are now in trying times. It does not matter who is involved. We seek your support. We are not saying don’t criticise us, but be very fair and do it in context.
“It is so easy to forget that less than three years ago, 20 out of 27 local governments in Borno State were under the control of Boko Haram. It easy to forget that in 2013 and 2014, Boko Haram insurgents were strolling into Abuja. They attacked United Nations office and the Nigeria Police Force Headquarters in Abuja.
“But today, we have been able to limit them to their cowardly act of bombing to soft spot and kidnapping. Achieving this feat is not a small thing.”
Mohammed said the Federal Government had performed well in the last three years.
He added: “We have achieved a lot in the last three years. We cannot do everything in two to three years, but we have tried.
“We must appreciate that in 2016, we imported 644,000 metric tons of rice, but in 2017, we imported only 4,000 metric tons of rice. Our Anchor Borrowers Programme is working so well, we have 4.2 million farmers in the scheme.
“We have just concluded a high level meeting of the International Conference on Lake Chad Basin. How many of us have availed our platform to tell the world that in 1963 Lake Chad occupies 25,000 square kilometers, but the same Lake Chad occupies over 2,500sq meters, meaning that we have lost over 90 per cent of the surface of the water.
“This is the biggest water basin in the world and the implication is where the 1200 fishes in the Lake Chad are. The land for fishing and irrigation has been lost.
“Our appeal to the media is that we need the media to tell our story rightly. These are trying times for the nation we need your understanding. It is because there is Nigeria that we have Nigerian Guild of Editors. If there is no Nigeria, there will be no guild. We must have a strong, united and peaceful Nigeria before anything can be achieved.”
The minister praised NGE for “daring to dream” to build the Editors’ Plaza in Abuja.
He said: “Let me congratulate the editors for this feat. This is not just an edifice but laying the foundation for journalism in the years ahead. I am sure, God will give everyone of you long life to see the fruit which you have planted today.”
Senator Akpabio, who chaired of the occasion, said the minister’s appointment was merited.
But he wondered why he was quiet on the abduction of the Dapchi girls, unlike in 2014 when as the spokesman for the opposition he was on hard on Jonathan’s administration when Chibok girls were kidnapped.
He said: “”A man (Lai) who before 2015 would have had a fantastic caption for the Dapchi girls kidnap. But because of where he is now, all he could do was to shake his head on the television.
“But in those days, he would just say ‘oh, look at what has happened to Chibok girls. I weep for Nigeria, I mourn for bad governance’. That was just then, but today, you would just shake your head and say, ‘well, there is insecurity all around the world’,
“My brother Lai Mohammed, I must thank you for the way you used to criticise me when I was a governor because even when you were in Holland one time, I spoke with you. You remember that time I called you?
“Something happened in one of my local governments and you issued a statement immediately and condemned it. You condemned it in very strong terms, saying you were in opposition. And when I called and tried to explain to you, you said, ‘I am actually in Holland’. I shouted, I said then, ‘how did you manage to react to something that happened 20 minutes ago?’ That shows that your appointment is merited. I congratulate you. Yes, this is the truth.
“You did a fantastic job in the opposition. Now, I am not the one to judge him where he is today. It is the President of Nigeria, his boss; he will be the one to give the score card at the end of the day. But, if you ask me, I think you are doing a very difficult job well. That is what I will say.”
Akpabio said although Nigeria was passing through a difficult time, he was confident that the country would remain united.
He added: ‘’No matter what, this country will not collapse. The media must engage in reportage that will promote good governance and democracy in the country by casting developmental headlines and shunning bias.
‘’Journalism is a serious business and should not be left in the hands of charlatans. Your headline can make or mar Nigeria and this is when the role of the gate keeper comes in. Your headline must bring about peace and development, Nigeria is passing through difficult time.
Each time I see a journalist, I thank him/her for democracy in Nigeria, and I must charge you to do more. We must cast headlines that will unite us, engender patriotism in Nigeria, promote FDI and Nigeria and build Nigeria of our dream.
“We must try to teach our children the right values, what is happening is an aberration, so we cannot completely blame the government.”
NGE President Mrs. Funke Egbemode, said: “This property on which we are laying the foundation of The Editors Plaza became officially ours as a body on May 5, 2015 with conveyance of the Right of Occupancy signed by the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory. It measures 5,603.28 sqm and we promptly swung into action to accept and occupy this property.
“We held a fund-raising dinner to raise resources to realise the dream of our founders to find an abode suitable and fitting for the NGE, proceeds of which were deployed into securing this property.
“We took a decision to buy a house in Ikeja, Lagos which we have since remoulded nicely to house the Nigerian Guild of Editors first secretariat in more than five decades of its existence. We commissioned it with fanfare in 2016.
“But this one on which we stand solid is the real big deal for us. It is big. It is a dream come true. It is a massive project. Our consulting architect has put the project in the region of N350m to put the structure up alone. We are not fazed, not scared. We know we can do it.”