Alhaji Lai Mohammed is currently the federal minister of information and culture – a position he is holding for the second term. He has been an arch member of Tinubu’s political machine as far back as 1998 when he was the coordinator of Tinubu’s governorship campaign organization.
A lawyer from Kwara State, Mohammed also holds a degree in French. He was a public relations practitioner and a businessman – the kind of credentials that admit political students at Bourdillon and they did.
Mohammed is one of the top names who owe their political sagacity to Tinubu’s grooming and sending mission. He served in his government as chief of staff from 1999 to 2002. During that period, he was groomed for a mission in his home state – Kwara.
Mohammed described Tinubu’s political platform as one for investing in people. He acknowledges that Tinubu contributed largely to his success. “Not being from Lagos State, many people found it strange for him to have made me his chief of staff”.
In 2003, he was a governorship candidate in the April 2003 Kwara State elections on the ticket of Alliance for Democracy. He lost the election and returned to the fold for new assignments. Soon, he was assigned the role of the spokesman of the defunct ACN – where he established himself as the most vocal supporter of Tinubu.
From there, he became the national publicity secretary of APC, as the party emerged preparatory to the 2015 general elections. Following the party’s victory at the polls, Mohammed was one of the top names on Tinubu’s list for ministerial postings. He became the minister of information and culture in 2015 and has again made it for the second term in office on the same portfolio.
Tinubu was an emerging visionary in the time of the third republic when Mohammed came under his political tutelage. “From day one that i met him, I knew he was a strategist. This is a man who thinks out of the box. This is an extremely unconventional politician, who sees what most of his peers don’t see”, he recalled.
Mohammed became one of Tinubu’s earliest followers and was in his campaign team for the Senate. He believes in him for his tenacity, his dogged fighting spirit for a cause he believes in and his high risk appetite in pursuit of his mission.
Being one of the earliest arrivals in the Tinubu’s camp, Mohammed provides a hint on how the Lagos development master plan was framed. He describes a swift and timely operation in the affairs of government that is comparable only to the best known corporate governance practices in the world.
He recalls that a transition committee was formed immediately after winning the governorship election. It was a team that cut across many groups and divisions in search of the best brains not minding if they were in the opposing parties or from outside the state, he said.
He details that twenty different committees worked swiftly on proposals – which were reviewed by smaller committees that produced the blueprint. By the time the governor took the oath of office, there was a blueprint for commissioners, Mohammed said.
The work to be done was clearly spelt out; priorities were defined ahead of swearing in and the government hit the ground running. Since then, it is apparent that Lagos no longer has a structure for someone to get in and do what he wants to do outside of the master plan.
Having defined what to do, the task needed to be matched with skills. In the choice of cabinet, Mohammed said Tinubu’s was the most apolitical cabinet on record. Those who held the principal ministries and positions in the government had no involvement whatsoever in politics, he said.
“For Tinubu, it was about performance and competence. It’s like putting square pegs in square holes. He bothered little about state of origin because to him, the strength of Lagos is its cosmopolitan nature, being the melting pot of all national cultures”.
Mohammed shares with passion Tinubu’s driving objective, which is the development of Lagos State. The wisdom is that irrespective of by who it is accomplished, it is a victory for the state. And to strike victory, the best hands have to be put on the job wherever they may be found.
Mohammed has high expectations of Tinubu going forward in Nigeria’s political space. This is informed by his growing number of political disciples across the land. “If he started out in 1999 with 100 disciples, he still probably retains 70 of that lot and has added 200 more”.
The contrary is the case for most politicians of his time. If they started with 100 followers, the number is probably down to between 10 and 20 today in Mohammed’s estimates.
Even that reduced number of loyalists has also lost and is still losing positions of power and influence at various levels. Tinubu’s loyalists, on the other hand, are growing not only in number but in positions of authority and influence at state, regional and national corridors.