Lekki Massacre: How Government Spokesmen Inflame Conflict And Erode Trust In Democracy

Finally, the much-awaited reaction of the Federal government to the Justice Okuwobi Panel of Inquiry on the Lekki Massacre is here. Lai Mohammed, the Minister for Information and Culture, said, “without mincing words, let me say that never in the history of any Judicial Panel in this country has its report been riddled with so many errors, inconsistencies, discrepancies, speculations, innuendos, omissions, and conclusions that are not supported by evidence.” He further referred to the report of the panel as “tales by moonlight.”

Earlier, during his meeting with the United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, who was visiting Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari has given a measured response to the panel’s report, saying, “so many state governments are involved, and have given many terms of reference to the probe panels. We at the federal have to wait for the steps taken by the states, and we have to allow the system to work.”

Later, at a press conference with the Nigerian Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, Blinken said, “welcome the conclusion of the investigation by the independent inquiry established by the Lagos State government to look into the event that took place at the Lekki Toll Gate,” and asked for accountability on the part of the government.

Since the assumption of office by the highly reticent President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, Nigerians rely on well-placed public officials like Lai Mohammed, the minister for information, Abubakar Malami, the attorney general of the federation, and the president’s two spokesmen, Garba Shehu and Femi Adesina for government positions and stand on important public issues.

Like Lai Mohammed, these government officials are known for making inflammatory and sometimes contradictory statements on issues of public importance and national security based on their partisan or ethnic inclinations. Rather than build the much-needed goodwill for the Buhari administration, they have gradually eroded the confidence of Nigerians in the government through their reckless and incendiary comments.

For instance, Attorney General of the Federation Abubakar Malami is on record to have said “hoodlums”  wearing Army fatigues shot at the Lekki protesters, a rehash of the “unknown soldier” attack on Fela Aníkúlápó’s Kalakuta Republic during the military regime in 1977. Commenting on the tension that preceded the recently concluded Anambra State governorship election, Malami advocated for the imposition of a “state of emergency” on the Anambra, a comment seen as highly provocative by leaders from the Eastern part of the country.

Garba Shehu is known for his pro-Fulani comments, which have exacerbated tension during the usual inter-ethnic face-off in the country. In his reaction to the Gestapo-style midnight invasion of Sunday Igboho’s home in Ibadan by the Nigerian secret service, the DSS (Department of State Service). Shehu said, “in furtherance of the continued diligent work, the State Security Service on Thursday, 1st [of] July raided the resident of an ethnic militant Secessionist, who has been conducting act[s] of terror.” At the end of that raid, two people were killed by the government agency.

On his part, Femi Adesina, a former journalist, is fond of referring to critics of the government as “wailing wailers,“ resorting to argumentum ad hominem as a default position in defence of government policies.

According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, 79 percent of Nigerians believe “elected government officials do not care what people like them think.” The report concluded that “those who believe elected government officials do not care are more dissatisfied with democracy.” Nigeria ranked 13th on the list.