The Impropriety Of Hon. Lai Mohammed’s Press Briefing On The Conduct Of The 2023 General Elections. – By Akintayo Balogun Esq.

Alhaji Lai Mohammed

Following the conclusion of the 2023 general elections and as Nigeria prepares for its next phase of governance; the Federal Government of Nigeria has been making frantic efforts to justify and to give a pass mark to the conduct of the 2023 general elections, particularly to the presidential election that held on the 25th day of February 2023. Representing the Federal Government of Nigeria in London was the Honourable Minister for Information and Culture, Honourable Lai Mohammed. His attempt to justify the performance of the electoral body was before the international communities and independent observers who had firsthand knowledge of what transpired in Nigeria and had expressed strong reservations about the conduct of the highly anticipated and keenly contested presidential election. Following the several backlashes that followed the inability of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct an above-average election, the Federal Government through the said Minister had embarked on a voyage of convincing the international communities on the conduct of the said election. While defending the validity of the conduct of the 2023 presidential poll, the Minister held a press briefing in London on with some international media organizations and Think Tanks 11th April 2023 on the conduct of the elections, the results, and the general performances of the electoral body. This is an abridged version of his briefing.

“Many foreign commentators were surprised by the outcome of the 2023 Nigerian Presidential election due to the wrong mindset before the polls… In the course of my interactions, particularly with the Economist, I referred them to an earlier article they wrote, in which they rated the Labour Party Presidential candidate as the front-runner in the polls… I explained to them earlier that there was no way a presidential candidate who has no political spread and a grassroots base could win an election in Nigeria. For instance, not only that the candidate must have the plurality of votes, but he must also have one-quarter of the total vote cat in at least twenty-five states of the federation… When you look at the results, only the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress and the President-elect, Bola Tinubu, met these requirements… Obi came far behind with 25% in fifteen states. This means that Obi, who was wrongly adjudged as a front-runner in the election, was virtually unknown and unpopular in 22 states” 

Well, it is understandable that the Minister might be trying in his position as an officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to defend the elections but I must state emphatically that it is not in the place of a member of the presidential cabinet or even any political party to defend the performance or the conduct of the 2023 general elections. The duty strictly lies on the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) to defend what it carried out. The speech of the Minister has raised some legal issues as to its impropriety or otherwise.

  1. The Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) is supposed to be an independent body operating outside the influence or powers of the Federal Government or any political party. As a personal theory, INEC should even be another arm of government that enjoys absolute autonomy, whose office holders, officers, and appointees are not subject to political influence and appointment by the President of the Federation. It is only through this level of autonomy that can allow the commission operates without the influence, pressure, or desire to obey the powers that be. A minister in the cabinet of politically elected leaders defending the performance of a supposed independent body shows how dependent and helpless the commission is.
  2. It is improper and for a Minister, a member of the Federal Executive cabinet, and a staunch member of an interested political party that participated in the general election whose victory in the general election is being contested, to make statements defending the actions and activities or holding brief of an “independent body”. Why should the minister be holding brief for INEC? Why have we not heard from the Chairman of INEC or the publicity secretary or the spokesperson of the commission in defense of the conduct of the election that has been roundedly condemned by observers? Would the minister embark on his numerous voyages if the results of the election had not favoured his party?
  3. Furthermore, and most importantly, the entire statements made by the minister as cited above are sub judice. In a sane society that respects the rule of law, the Minister ought not to make such statements. Particularly when he stated thus; “When you look at the results, only the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress and the President-elect, Bola Tinubu, met these requirements… Obi came far behind with 25% in fifteen states. This means that Obi, who was wrongly adjudged as a front-runner in the election, was virtually unknown and unpopular in 22 states”

The alleged fact that the President-Elect met the requirement of the Constitution is currently being heavily contested at the Presidential tribunal by several political parties that participated in the general election. In the Petition filed by the Labour Party, results from 11 named States of the Federation are being contested at the tribunal. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is also contesting the results from a number of key states that it believed the results were manipulated as well as other political parties that filed their petitions. All parties have submitted to the jurisdiction of the tribunal and are still in the process of exchanging pleadings. It is therefore highly prejudicial for the minister who should know the position of the law to carelessly make such statements, particularly before an international community. It is expected that the judicial processes are allowed to take their courses without interference or inferences from interested parties. The law is trite that parties to a suit are not meant to tamper with the res in the said matter to make statements that clearly seeks to influence or undermine the action before the court. The dignity of a court and its processes must be upheld and respected. The entire briefing made by the honourable Minister for Information and Culture Hon. Lai Mohammed with regard to the 2023 presidential election amounts to contempt of the court. In OJUKWU V. GOVERNOR OF LAGOS(1985) 2NWLR (Pt. 10) page 806 at 826 paras E the Court of Appeal, per, Nnaemeka-Agu, J.C.A, held as follows:

“In the judgment the right to self-help ended when the issues were turned over to the Court. In Attorney-General v. Times Newspapers Ltd. (1974) AC. 273, the House of Lords, while discussing the requirements of the due administration of justice, per Diplock, L.J., at p. 309, said inter alia as follows: “Once the dispute has been submitted to a court of law, they should be able to rely upon there being no usurpation by any other person of the function of that court to decide it according to law. Conduct which is calculated to prejudice any of these three requirements or to undermine the public confidence that they will be observed is contempt of court. “I agree with this opinion. They ought not, while the matter was pending for determination by a court of law have resorted to self-help or acted without getting the necessary order of court”.

Taking a general overview of the briefings of the minister, I could only deduce the following issues:

  1. An election that was well carried out and performed above average and one that reflects the yearning of the Nigerian people needs no defense. The election would come with its natural endorsement from the people and the international communities and observers that he struggled to convince. The political atmosphere in Nigeria in the last 2 months tells a whole lot about the election. The reaction of Nigerians on the street tells a lot. Looking back at recent history, the reactions of Nigerians when the result of the presidential election of 2023 in favour of the All Progressives Congress(APC) was declared is a far cry from the reactions on the street when the result of the presidential election of 2015 was declared in favour of the same All Progressives Congress(APC)
  2. The international communities and independent observers were on the ground to witness the elections themselves. The various reports that emanated from these bodies did not in any way rate the elections above average. If it had, the Minister would have no need to do the briefings.
  3. The Independent Electoral Commission had shown that despite the huge resources committed to the execution of the elections, they still could not conduct an election to the satisfaction and yearnings of Nigerians such as would not require a statement or statements to defend the conduct of the exercise.
  4. It is still surprising though disappointing that after winning in 12 states of the federation and being runner up in several other states in the result announced by INEC, a minister is could still say that “there was no way a presidential candidate who has no political spread and a grassroots base could win an election”. To my mind, the Labour Party, with no political spread as alleged, yet having won this many States in the general elections and a runner-up in some other States, a party nor its candidate needs no political spread to make an impact. It simply needs the right personality. The ideologies of political spread and structure failed woefully in the conduct of the 2023 general election.
  5. Again, you wonder why the strong emphasis by the minister was on the Labour Party and Peter Obi. The candidacy of Peter Obi seems to continually give the Ministers and other interested parties sleepless nights and he went all the way to London to defend the performance of INEC, a supposed independent organization.

In conclusion, while we await the final decision of the various tribunals set up across the country, interested parties should refrain from making assertions that have the tendency of distorting the minds of the court, or impugning on the integrity of the various tribunals.

We remain hopeful for a better Nigeria.


Akintayo Balogun Esq., LL.B (Hons), BL, LL.M, is a legal practitioner in private practice, based in Abuja, FCT. He is a prolific writer, a public affairs analyst, and a commentator on national issues.



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