No apologies for our relationship with China–Lai Mohammed.

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COVER STORY

Denies reports that China is helping Nigeria build an internet firewall

Says there is nothing wrong in borrowing as long as funds are invested in infrastructure

Celebrates CPC at 100

“The cooperation between Nigeria and China is laudable and very commendable. In the area of infrastructure China has stretch its hand to pull us up and we are glad”

The editorial team of Daybreak newspaper was part of a team of Chinese foreign journalist that had an audience recently with the honorable Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed in his office in Abuja, where the Minister, spoke extensively about China/Nigeria relationship, the contribution of China and Chinese companies to the development of the country’s infrastructure and sundry issues. The interview section also coincided with the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China. Our correspondents Becky Adi and Iyke Obi were there.

What do you have to say about the raging controversy concerning the ban of Twitter in Nigeria, is it true that China is helping Nigeria to build a Firewall?

I don’t know what we would have done if we have not banned Twitter, we suspended the operations of Twitter in Nigeria, and we see that Twitter has lend itself as a platform for separatist agitators who are agitating for the dismantling and disintegration of Nigeria that is why we suspended their operations indefinitely in Nigeria until such a time as the two parties can get together and will arrive at an amicable resolution of the issues at stake.

We have also followed up by asking every social platform in Nigeria to now register with the authorities which is the National Broadcasting Commission of Nigeria. You first have to register as a company and then you have to be licensed by the NBC that way each and every one of them will operate only according to the details on the licenses they were given. You asked whether it’s true that there was a meeting between Chinese authorities with Nigeria to build a firewall to block some internet sites?. I read the story too, and I was supposed to be at that meeting but I was never there and I am not aware of it.

Have you heard this fake news that Chinese customs officials seized 7021 pennies smuggled from Nigeria to China and what is your take? Because these goods were actually just seas food but many media deliberately distort the facts, bringing unhealthy information on both side sides, what do you think can be done to prevent these sorts misinformation?.

Thank you very much for that question. As far back as 2017 this office has realized the damage that fake news and misinformation can cause to the polity and decided to convoke a National Information Council meeting to discuss the issues in 2017.

The National Information Council is made up of all commissioners of information in the 36 states and Abuja, all the directors of information in all the states. The broadcasting television information outlet all over the country, it’s the highest body that makes decisions in Nigeria as far as information is concerned. At that meeting in 2017 we issued a warning to the world that the next war will be triggered by fake news, but nobody listened, in 2018 we started an advocacy program through which we visited every media house in Nigeria warning them about the dangers of fake news and that especially in a country like Nigeria where we have plural values, we have Christians we have Muslims, we have Hausas we have Igbos, we have Yoruba Itsekiris, Edos, Ijaws etc. We have people of different values, now what fake news does is that it’s explores this fragile relationship and could set one part of the country against the other, I remember very vividly one of the fake news that shook this country was when a celebrity announced that a Christian student in college of education in Benue has been killed but for the prompt filter of this fake news it could have led to killings in other parts of the country. I remember during one of the conflagrations in Kaduna state the Bishops said that fake news has contributed more to death, we started this advocacy and visited every media house to explain to them to join us in the fight against fake news and fight against misinformation, some newspapers even wrote editorial against us and said: what are you talking, we are not your problem, the problem of Nigeria is development, but we did not stop, it got to a stage that the use of advocacy will not work, we must regulate the social media, don’t misunderstand me regulating the social media is not stifling press freedom we want only content that is not harmful to the country, when we talk about harmful contents it’s not about the government alone, many people committed suicide because of the bullying they received on social media an we are not alone in this drive to regulate the social media, I no that in Turkey, Australia, Singapore even in EU nations, even though no law in regulating social media in EU but today they gave recommendations they should remove any news that threatens national securities, and the UK just reviewed that there is going to be a law now that will penalize people who use social media platforms for hate news, fake news Or use it to influence young children. And the fine is about 25milion dollars, 18milion pound for those who are criticizing us for trying to regulate the social media should understand that there are differences between regulating the social media and free speech all we are talking about is that the content of the media must be heathy both for the government and for the people, today I have some grandchildren that are of 5years they are more adapt at using the telephone than I am, and if we don’t control social media the kind of information they are going to get from there will be unhealthy for them morally. You can see today there is a lot more of incest, lesbianism, rape because people have been exposed to these unhealthy sites, like www.sex.with.all.women, you will see different naked pictures so can you imagine giving my phone to my grandchild who knows how to use the phone. We need to regulate it. Fake news has caused lots of problems all over the world, herdsmen from Somali with AK47 pictures are used in Nigeria, every day you listen to news about things said about me it’s confusing. Recently we did a survey there are about 476 online publications in Nigeria alone whose major occupation is fake news, misinformation and attacking government that is why we are using this opportunity of the suspensions of Twitter to regulate and register all social media platforms in Nigeria. We are not stifling the press, Facebook is still available for them, Google hangout, WhatsApp is there, so it is not correct to say our decision to suspend Twitter in Nigeria is actually to stifle the press. Let me say this, Nigeria has the most free media in the world I can defend it, if you check online today, you see a lot of things they say about Mr president and me and other people but nobody is arresting anybody.

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What do you have to say about COVID-19 and the fake news it has generated?

Incidentally I am a member of the steering committees on Covid-19 and at the beginning of the pandemic, we were fighting two pandemic, we were fighting COVID-19 and “infodemic”, the infodemic was more serious to fight than the pandemic, some people simply believe that there is nothing called Covid-19, that it’s not true, some said they had cure, and they were exploiting people and making money at the expense of health and lives of Nigerians, if you see the number of herbal shops that grew out of Covid 19, and it was also distorting the effort of government in putting information across to Nigerians the need to obey the Covid-19 protocols many people in our big cities today simply don’t believe that COVID-19 exists, as a matter of fact people run away from me because I am always on my mask because they think I have Covid-19, we need to double our efforts in the areas of the 9 pharmaceutical interventions, because In Nigeria today it might take us 2-3years before the vaccination would attain what they call herd protection by the time 70% Nigerians are vaccinated then we can be fairly certain that there is protections for all of us. But with the current vaccine nationalism it is very unlikely we are going to get that number very soon. In Nigerian that is about 70 milion so we need to vaccinate about 70 miion, we have only vaccinate 2 millon you can see it’s a far cry from what we need. Even when Mtn came to visit Mr president they promised to deliver 25milion worth of COVID-19 vaccine I am not sure whether it’s for the whole of Africa but what they said is they do not feel we can receive it before August, so in the absence of this vaccine I think we need to intensify our campaign and our advocacy on the need to maintain the Covid-19 protocols. very simple things, wear your mask in public, wash your hands with soap or sanitizers, avoid large gatherings and don’t amass in one place and keep social distancing, this is not the time for big parties or religious festivals. When you tell people not to gather in a church or In a mosque because of the sensibilities of Nigerians to believe that God does not want you dead but to stay alive, the only way we can resume our lives in the normal way is by abiding by the rules, and there is high chance of not contacting Covid-19 if you abide by the rules until the time when we can get vaccines

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What do you have to say about the relationship between Nigeria and China especially as both countries marked 50 years of bilateral relationship this year and as the CPC celebrates its centenary?

The cooperation between Nigeria and China is laudable and very commendable in the area of infrastructure in particular we know China has stretch its hand to pull us up and we are glad, whether we talk about Lagos and Ibadan railway’s, PortHacourt and Maiduguri railway, Kano Kaduna railway, I thank the Chinese government and Chinese companies they have been quite prominently in these and whatever we can do to deepen infrastructural development I think it should be continued and encouraged

As to the criticism it is unfortunate, Nigeria is a strange democratic country and it takes a leader very thick-skinned to forge ahead

Don’t know whether you had the chance to watch the documentary we did on the second anniversary of the administration’s second term which is running on every television station and social platforms.

We are also amazed and surprised that we did part one, two, three and four that shows the kind of and the volume of achievements of this administration. We have reason to be proud of the relationship between us and China in areas of infrastructure. For example it took Nigeria 35 years or thereabouts to finish from conception the Ajaokuta, Itakpe Warri railway line. It took this administration working with Chinese government less than 3years or 4years to finish the Lagos to Ibadan railway line. The difference is clear those who are accusing the Federal Government of borrowing money from China are wrong. There is nothing wrong in borrowing as long as you are using the money to invest in infrastructure, which in 50yrs time when many of us won’t be around would be enjoyed by our children which will remain the back bone for our economic development. Anywhere in the world that they don’t have infrastructure can never grow, so the cacophonies of voices about the borrowing and relation with China are not necessary. These money we are borrowing people see what we are going with it. That is why we are commissioning projects, if not because of Covid-19 Mr president can go and commission project every week, if you look at our infrastructure. And development. We are borrowing for a purpose every country borrows it is what we do with the borrowing that matters, we are very proud of our relationship with China, because these is the first time an administration will start a project and complete it, I am talking of the magnitude of the Lagos Ibadan railway line. Now it will take 2-3 hours from Lagos to Ibadan, and when you going there its in comfort and safety. We have no apology with our relationship with China because we are using the money for good and we hope our relationship with China will continue to grow.

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What do you have to say to the government and people of China as the Communist Party marks its 100th anniversary since its formation?

For the records I want to on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria congratulate the CPC and the government of China. It is not a mean fit for a political party to exist for 100 years I have been involved in party formation. I started with AD, from AD to ACD, from ACD to ACN, from ACN to APC, there have been mergers there have deaths along the line. So for a political party in a country anywhere in the world to survive for 100 years I think it must be celebrated and the best we can do is to wish the CPC better luck, more success and to express solidarity to the people and government of China on this occasion.

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