The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, recently stunned Nigerians and the international community. Ostensibly frustrated by the notoriety gathered by the separatist group, Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) headed by Nnamdi Kanu and the lockdown of the South-East of Nigeria by the group recently, the minister had told Nigerians that France and Britain were vicariously involved in the IPOB irreverence for the Nigerian state. Specifically, the minister had referred to France as the financial headquarters of IPOB and accused the British government of allowing the group’s Radio Biafra a space to operate, not minding the colossal damage its operation was causing the people of Nigeria.
The minister had said: “Who does not know that the IPOB internal radio is located in London? We know the diplomatic moves we have been taking and approaching the UK, all the damages (sic) it (Radio Biafra) has done, but they don’t see it that way, for them (the British government), it is about freedom of expression.”
However, almost immediately, the French and British governments disclaimed the allegations. The French embassy in Abuja, in a statement issued by its Political Counsellor, Claude Abily, had diplomatically described the minister’s remarks as arrant irresponsibility. Said he: “The Embassy of France was surprised by the statement made yesterday by the Minister of Information and Culture indicating that the “financial headquarters” of IPOB were in France. We don’t have any knowledge of a particular presence of IPOB in France and the Nigerian authorities never got in touch with the embassy on this point. We stand ready to examine any information which could support this statement. Furthermore, we would like to reiterate that France actively cooperates with Nigeria in the field of security and that we strongly support the unity of the country.”
In a similar reaction, the United Kingdom denounced the statement and categorically said that the Nigerian government never made any request for its government to shut Radio Biafra. In a statement issued by the British High Commission signed by its Press & Public Affairs Officer, Joe Abuku, the government had said: “The UK is not aware of any representation from the Nigerian government about Radio Biafra. Were we to receive any such request, we would of course consider it carefully on the basis of the available evidence, recognising that freedom of speech and expression carries responsibilities.”
From the two denunciations made by the British and UK governments of the claim of the minister, it is apparent that Alhaji Mohammed merely extended to the two foreign governments his oft cavalier statements which many have taken liberty to tag as comedies of untruth. Otherwise, the most logical thing to do by the minister was to provide empirical evidence of his claim of the governments’ connivance or involvement in the allegations.
It is indeed sad that Alhaji Mohammed could bring Nigeria down in the estimation of the international community this peremptorily. While similar statements from him in the past which fell short of the requirements of truth could be excused because they were internal to Nigeria, airing the dirty linen of the country in the eyes of the international community as this seems to have vicariously labeled Nigeria as a country where truth is on holiday. Having made the statement in his capacity as the spokesman of the government of Nigeria and by that very fact, speaking for Nigeria as a country, Mohammed implicated and as well misrepresented 170 million Nigerians as peoples who do not lay store by truth.
What is worse is that the minister’s gaffe may actually be symptomatic of a general poverty of thinking in government or a u-turn from that high pedestal where government was perceived as mirroring the highest echelon of public morality. To tell such barefaced untruth that could be crosschecked at the touch of a button is a gaffe that would earn a public official sack and public infamy in saner climes.
While we are not unaware that foreign governments, in some instances, abhor such level of diplomatic volte-face, before making such a sweeping accusation of complicity against the two foreign governments, convincing evidence ought to be available to confront them with. In the case of the UK, it is apparent that the government possesses structures that will not allow it to close down Radio Biafra except a formal request is made to it, an application which it will then examine on its merit. If the Nigerian government had done this without the UK government acceding to the request, it would be easy to level such allegation against it. Nigeria’s inability to tender evidence of France being headquarters of IPOB’s finance and its request to the UK to stop Radio Biafra from operation would easily show that the minister accused the governments in his traditional disregard for the sacredness of truth.
The statement by the minister also had the potential of sparking diplomatic row between Nigeria and those countries. It is thus why he should be advised to weigh the implication of making such sweeping accusation and indeed, statements that are everything but true, in the future. To heap on Nigeria that collateral relationship with untruth is the height of governmental irresponsibility.