The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, made the accusation in a statement he issued on Wednesday in Abuja.
The statement is in response to a publication by the weekly magazine on “Change Begins With Me” campaign.
The minister said:
Our attention has been drawn to a story by The Economist, datelined Lagos and featured in the paper’s print edition of September 24, 2016 titled: ‘Nigeria’s war against indiscipline, Behave or be whipped’.
Contrary to the newspaper’s self-professed belief in ‘plain language’, the article in question, from the headline to the body, is a master-piece of embellishment or dressed-up language.
It is loaded with innuendos and decidedly pejorative at best and downright racist at worst.
The minister faulted the conclusion in the publication that President Muhammadu Buhari wanted to ‘tame’ Nigerians with the ‘Change Begins With Me’ Campaign.
“For those who are the owners of the English language, the use of that word is unpardonable. The verb ‘tame’ suggests that Nigerians are some kind of wild animals that must be domesticated, and the usage reveals the mindset of the authors of the article. It is a deliberate put-down of a whole people under the guise of criticising a government policy,” he said.
Mohammed said the author was wrong in insinuating that some 150,000 volunteers were being trained as enforcers of the ‘Change Begins With Me’ Campaign.
He said the president, while launching the campaign, made it clear that ‘moral suasion, the very antithesis of force, will be employed to achieve attitudinal change among Nigerians’.
He said the President never said that
‘moral police would be unleashed’ as reported by the newspaper.
‘In writing the story, the paper did not even deem it necessary to speak with any official of the government, thus breaching one of the codes of journalism, which is fairness,’ he said.
The minister clarified that the campaign was launched to ‘help restore our value
system and rekindle our nationalistic fervour’.
He added that the campaign was not designed to shift any responsibility to Nigerians, as many had erroneously said but an all-inclusive campaign designed to start with the leadership.
“‘Change Begins With Me’ was designed to start from the President, then trickle down to the Vice President, ministers, other top government officials and to all citizens.
The campaign is asking Nigerians to be the change they want to see in the society; for example, the motorists among us must obey traffic
rules, our aggrieved youth must stop destroying public property,
Patent medicine sellers must stop selling fake drugs; commercial vehicle drivers must stop taking alcoholic beverages before driving.
There is nothing extraordinary or over-burdening in all these,” he said.
The minister noted that many countries in the world, at some points, had also embarked on the kind of campaign that Nigeria launched.
He said that it was uncharitable for newspaper ‘to hide behind the facade of its own prejudice to denigrate Nigeria’s genuine effort at national re-orientation’.