No doubt, the tragedy of fake news has become a global epidemic that threatens mankind in the face of globalization. The worry about the deadly effects of fake news has become a global concern as mankind struggles to battle an ennui that derives its lifeblood from feeding false narratives and disinformation to people for ulterior intents.
In a recent policy paper, ‘Tackling Online Disinformation’ the European Union states;
“The exposure of citizens to large scale disinformation, including misleading or outright false information, is a major challenge for Europe”. It went further to say, “Disinformation is verifiably false or misleading information created, presented and disseminated for economic gain or to intentionally deceive the public. It may have far-reaching consequences, cause public harm, be a threat to democratic political and policy-making processes, and may even put the protection of EU citizens' health, security and their environment at risk.
“Disinformation erodes trust in institutions and in digital and traditional media and harms our democracies by hampering the ability of citizens to take informed decisions. It can polarise debates, create or deepen tensions in society and undermine electoral systems, and have a wider impact on European security. It impairs freedom of opinion and expression, a fundamental right enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union”.
In announcing an 18 million Pounds budget to fight fake news in Eastern Europe and the Balkans in July 2019, the British Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt stated;
“With only 10% of the world’s population having access to a free media, fake news and disinformation continue to undermine and destabilise societies.
“Today’s funding announcement will support journalists working in some of the most repressive societies and step up the attack against fake news.
“My aim for this conference is to work with my counterparts to agree a way to protect media freedom and impose a cost on those who abuse it”.
In Nigeria, fake news has become a pandemic that has placed the security of lives and propertied, inter-ethnic and inter-religious harmony in grave danger. Since the 2015 elections where all the fault lines of Nigerian nationhood were exhumed and launched for political interests, fake news has become a convenient vehicle for hate, bigotry, incitement and division among diverse interests of the multi-faceted Nigerian nation and nothing is spared to evoke this in the quest to provoke widespread national disharmony. The government must quit pretending the task to come up with far reaching measures to deal with this malaise is not very urgent at present.
Recently, the National Assembly made efforts to tackle this notorious cancer when Senator Sani Mohammed Musa proposed a bill to ensure those that spread and manufacture fake news are sanctioned proportionate to their levels of involvement. There was a needless furore premised on the charge that the bill was aimed at gagging free speech. Though the opposition against the bill had not stopped the progression of the bill, the senate seemed to have paused progression of the bill but the dangerous epidemic of fake news has gone haywire in recent times which calls for an urgent action to enact the bill into law and follow up with the needed action.
Last week, I was somewhere, amongst a group and a gentleman who looked educated was playing a whatsapp video about alleged mass massacre of every Igbo and Yoruba along Markudi-Abuja Expressway. I didn’t see the video but I was hearing the audio message where an emotional voice was narrating that every Yoruba or Igbo man that was seen on commercial motorcycle (okada) along Markudi-Abuja expressway was killed and butchered into pieces. The man was nearly weeping as he engaged in the narrative, asking why such should be allowed to happen. Curiously, he didn’t mention the name of the culprits killing Igbo and Yoruba on okada on Markudi-Abuja highway. As the video stopped, the gentleman, whom I presumed is educated and another less educated Yoruba started angrily wondering why such carnage should be allowed to happen in Nigeria. I couldn’t stand it. I interjected and asked the two gentlemen if they believed the video and they answered in the affirmation. I asked them where Markudi-Abuja expressway is located and they kept quiet. I further asked them if Yoruba and Igbo travel by okada from Markurdi to Abuja. They kept quiet. I asked them when the mass killings were being done and they replied that the video said it is happening presently. I asked why no medium is reporting the news. They kept quiet. Feeling caught by my questions, the gentlemen just mopped at me as I went on to educate them on the dangers of allowing some bitter, angry demonic interests use them as cannon fodders for their selfish political interests. I educated them about Rwanda and the fact that some of those that felt they were sowing mischief by spreading false news and bigotry got caught up in the mass massacre that happened in that country. They thanked me and that ended the conversation.
This is a common phenomenon happening all over the country as people have gone berserk cooking and spreading narratives pf false genocides happening all over the country and mobilizing people to react. Through the uncensored social media, Nigerians are being fed gargantuan false narratives and being incited to war and the government can’t just sit idly by and watch this degenerate.
Then on Sunday, the nation was shocked when the news filtered in that a bomber, Nathaniel Samuel, was arrested in a Pentecostal church in Kaduna with bombs strapped on his body, with the intent to detonate the bomb among the worshippers. What followed was a chilling effort to misinform and manipulate the information about the bomber along religious lines as the Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Kaduna branch claimed that the bomber’s name was rather Mohammed Musa and that his name was changed to Nathaniel Samuel by the police after he was handed over to them. He maintained that the bomber is not a Christian, as his name suggests, but a Muslim. This created a he confusion among Nigerians and widened the conspiracy theory about the incidents and other incidents of insecurity in the country.
But the bomber was to be paraded before the press the next day where he not only confirmed that he is indeed Nathaniel Samuel but a trainee pastor in the church he wanted to bomb! This was the confirmation that stilled the burgeoning conspiracy theory the Kaduna CAN mischievously created and which was devoured hook, line and sinker by the other side of the Nigerian political divide that had invested heavily in instigating, circulating and spreading dire security trajectories for Nigeria since 2015. Why are there no arrests for this deliberate devious effort to sabotage the security of the nation but to incite religious faiths against each other?
The Kaduna CAN Chairman had to follow a Daily Trust newspaper reporter to the father of the bomber who not only confirmed his son’s identity but regretted that he should indulge in such dastardly act.
Nigeria is presently awash with fake news, actively generated and shared by those who aim to get back at the Buhari government for preventing them from gaining unhindered access to the public treasury. The social media in Nigeria is swarming with all manners of fabricated gory tales meant to instigate strife, bloodletting and unrest in Nigeria and satiate the beastly urge of those that deigned Nigeria as their exclusive treasury cove; to raid at their pleasure. They haunt for gory audio visual materials that happened in far flung countries and fit in their narratives of mass killings, mass dehumanization and mass torture so as to provoke a mass insurrection among the citizenry as a payback for their withering political and pecuniary fortunes. Tribal bodies, religious groups, ethnic groups, political interest groups are eager recruits to this widening fatal coalition and blood and broken limbs form the chassis of their bestial businesses. Through WhatsApp, Facebook, google, YouTube and other variants of the social media, these ghostly vermin have eaten deep into the arteries of many Nigerians. Feeding on anger, bigotry, hate and frustration, fake news has rendered many Nigerians walking forces and zombies to mischievous and devilish ramparts who see in it the vengeance for their loss of political privileges.
One will be damned to think fake news capture the uneducated and unsophisticated genre of the Nigerian population. On the contrary, the barons of fake news are the worsted political speculators who have lost their privileged looting position, the top civil servants who no longer milk government coffers as before, the questionably educated Nigerians whose pseudo education cannot guarantee survival outside the capacity to plunder the commonwealth. Hate speech is being driven by the displaced elite who cannot fathom why the treasury is freed from their malevolent reach. They want the Nigerian house to collapse on everybody. They want to act the blind Samson and pull the entire Nigerian edifice down on all Nigerians. The simple-minded rabid bigots and ethno-religious jingoists they recruit to do their dastardly acts are mere pawns to their dirty biddings.
But for Nigeria to outlive the morbid fate haunting it, the National Assembly must muster the political will to push through the anti-fake news bill and give it the force of the law. Commensurate punishments must be put in place to punish fabricating and sharing of fake news. The punishments must be pungent enough to deter those intent on employing the social media as vista for national calamity. The proposed bill must arm the citizens with tools for reporting perpetrators and enhancers of fake news, starting from who shared the news last. The state must put in place organs for enforcement so that Nigerians will be more careful in circulating dangerous materials that injure the collective safety and wellbeing of Nigerians. The intent of the law would be to deter Nigerians from procuring and sharing materials which source they cannot defend and where one runs foul of this desiderati, he would get severely punished so as to deter others from dong same.
The time to act on this imperative is now otherwise, Nigeria will soon implode under the full weight of fake news, to the pleasure of those that are investing heavily in plunging the nation to preventable fratricide for their demonic interests.
Peter Claver Oparah.
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