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Speech by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, during his meeting with Online Publishers in Lagos on Friday, Jan. 22, 2016: Says FG won’t regulate or censor online publications

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Lai-Mohammed

1     Good morning gentlemen, and thank you for honouring our invitation to this meeting, which is in continuation of my consultation with key stakeholders in the Information and Culture sector. Since assuming office last November, I have met with a number of stakeholders including the Broadcasting Organization of Nigeria, Nigeria Union of Journalists, Nigerian Guild of Editors, Nigerian Association of Women Journalists, Radio, Television and Theatre Arts Workers Union as well as Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). The meetings are aimed at ensuring that all stakeholders are carried along in the formulation and implementation of relevant policies, and to also bridge the information gap between the government and the people. On Thursday, that is yesterday, I met with Newspaper Columnists and today it is the turn of Online Publishers

2     Gentlemen, you occupy a very unique place in the new information architecture called the
New Media, or the Social Media if you like. You serve the news hot and fresh, and as it breaks. In other words, unlike in the past when we all had to wait for the next day to pick up the newspapers, or to wait for the next radio and television broadcast, in order to keep abreast of the latest news, your own publications are always available, always fresh wih the news, pictures of events, cartoons, illustrations, etc.  Some of you even deliver the news to us via emails, meaning we don’t even have to visit your websites to get the latest information. While this provides a good opportunity for people to keep up with the news, it also demands a lot of responsibility from you to ensure the accuracy of your facts and figures. I can say that most of you have acquitted yourselves creditably, and I congratulate you.

3     Since it is relatively easier to set up an online publication, compared to the establishment of traditional newspapers, and because of the citizens’ increasing hunger for information, the number of online publications has increased astronomically in recent times. In fact, some traditional newspapers and other publications have jettisoned the old format and are now exclusively publishing online. The growth of the online publications is a healthy development.

4     Let me assure you all that the Federal Government has no intention whatsoever to regulate online publications. We believe that you, the publishers, are responsible enough to self-regulate in order to ensure your continued survival. If the online publications suffer credibility problems, they stand the risk of losing the confidence of their audience and the advertisers who provide the lifeblood for the publications’ survival. On the other hand, if they maintain their credibility, their survival guaranteed. In other words, credibility is at the very core of your survival. My hunch is that we will see more growth in the number of online publications in the days ahead, but only the credible ones will continue to enjoy patronage – either from the readers or from the advertisers.

5     On our part, as a government, it is in our interest that online publications continue to grow in leaps and bounds, This is because the more the number of such online publications, the easier it becomes to bridge the information gap between the government and the governed, and the easier it becomes for the government to carry the citizens along in the formulation and implementation of policies that touch on their lives. Let me assure you that we will do our own bit to ensure your survival, especially by ensuring that online publications are also given a chunk of available advertisements. All we ask for, in return, is that you provide accurate information to the people, and avoid sensationalism and partisanship.

6     May I use this opportunity to thank you all for the generous play you have been giving to our press releases and pictures in your various publications. This has gone a long way in ensuring a free flow of information from the government to the people, and also in deepening national discourse.

7     Genlemen, we are also using this platform to seek your cooperation with us to ensure the success of the various campaigns that we have launched or are planning to launch. The National Security Awareness Campaign, aimed at rallying the support of Nigerians for the war on terror, is ongoing. Also, the National Sensitization Campaign against Corruption was formally launched in Abuja on Monday, and it is aimed at rallying Nigerians against the cankerworm of corruption which has eaten deep into the fabric of our society. We are also preparing to launch a National Re-orientation Campaign, which is tagged ‘CHANGE BEGINS WITH ME’, to achieve a paradigm shift in the way we do things. At the heart of this campaign is the belief that the change you all yearn for begins with you!

8     Talking about the war against corruption, you are very much aware that this is one of the cardinal programmes of the Buhari Administration. Some have said the government is dwelling too much on the war against corruption to the detriment of other areas of governance. Our response to that is that indeed, there is nothing like dwelling too much on this war, which is a war of survival for our nation. The situation is grim, very grim indeed, as far as corruption is concerned. That is why the Federal Government is embarking on this sensitization Campaign Our approach is not to vilify anyone but to use facts and figures to give Nigerians a sense of the cost of corruption.

9     When the money meant to construct roads are embezzled or misappropriated, the end results are that the roads are not built and the people suffer and even die in avoidable road accidents. When the money meant for education is looted, we are unable to provide quality education for our children. When the money meant to fight terrorism is looted or diverted for prayers, publicity, purchase of land for maritime university or simply to rally support for a political party, soldiers die needlessly, hordes of widows emerge and people are pushed from their communities to IDP camps. These, in stark reality, are the costs of corruption. We must give a face to corruption and stop talking about it in the abstract. Nigerians must know that when they celebrate corrupt people, they are celebrating their own deprivations, the denial of the dividends of democracy and the endemic poverty in our society.

10     It is not an accident that whereas our national budget has grown from just over 900 billion Naira in 1999 to over 6 trillion Naira in 2016, poverty has also grown almost in direct proportion. The simple reason is that appropriated funds have ended up in the pockets of a few. Our disclosure on Monday, that 55 people are alleged to have stolen 1.34 trillion Naira of public funds between 2006 and 2013 have elicited strong reactions. But those figures are real, and those involved are currently before the courts. They know themselves, even if some of them have chosen to play to the gallery, as they are wont to do. The details, including the names of those involved, the prosecutors, the specific charges and the amount allegedly stolen by the indivuduals, are in the public domain for anyone who cares to search for them.

11    In announcing the figures last Monday, we did say that if we could get back into the system just one third of the allegedly stolen funds, we would be able to construct 635 kilometres of dual-carriage roads, educate 3,974 children from primary to tertiary level at the cost of 25.24 million per child, build 20,062 units of 2-bedroom housing units, build one ultra modern hospital in each of the 36 states of the Federation and build 183 schools. These figures were not concocted. They were arrived at, using World Bank rates and costs. They represent the costs of corruption.

12    In pursuance of our new strategy of putting emphasis on the cost of corruption, let me give you more to chew on today. Let us do a comparative analysis of the number of Dasukigate beneficiaries and amount they collected from the office of the National Security Adviser in 2015 on one hand, and the list of projects and amount across the nation in the Zonal Intervention project of 2015 appropriation act.

13    Whereas the sum of 51.829 billion Naira was appropriated for 1,278 projects in the Zonal Intervention Projects for 2015, a total of 21 individuals and companies benefited from the Dasukigate to the tune of 54.659 billion Naira as we know so far. The implication, therefore, is that the amount received by 21 individuals and companies is more than the 2015 Zonal Intervention Project budget by 2.829 billion Naira! Furthermore, the value of what beneficiaries of Dasukigate contributed to development is zero, compared to how the lives of Nigerians would have been transformed, poverty reduced and livelihoods improved by the Zonal Intervention Projects which – as we have shown – would have cost 2.829 billion Naira less than Dasukigate. This is another huge cost of corruption. For those who will want to know the source of our information, I say the data on the 2015 budget and zonal intervention appropriations can be found on the National Budget Office website.

14    Gentlemen, this is the stark reality about the level of corruption we face in our country today. Nothing, not even the 2016 budget, will succeed if we do not tackle corruption. As President Muhammadu Buhari has aptly said, if we do not kill corruption, corruption will kill us. President Buhari is leading the war against corruption right from the front, and we implore all Nigerians to support him. We appeal to you, online publishers, to support this war by ensuring that Nigerians are well informed about the evils of corruption. This is not Buhari’s war. This is not APC’s war. This is NIgeria’s war and failure is not an option.

15    Once again, I thank you all for honouring our invitation. I will now take your questions

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