By Afolabi Aribigbola
On Saturday 12th of this month, the good people of Ondo State received the cheering news of the return of the recuperating Governor of the sunshine State Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu to Nigeria from a German Hospital where he was receiving treatment. It was quite a very good and welcome news by many members of the public especially those that had created ample time to fervently pray for his safe return from medical vacation. Unfortunately, the cheering news was later debunked as untrue and a release to counter the misinformation from the media handler of the government indicating that the good news that was spreading in the social media like a wild fire was fake and did not originate from them.
Prior to this period, Nigerian’ s social media space has witnessed a deluge of fake news particularly towards the buildup to, during and after the recent 2023 general elections in the country. Also, earlier in theweek, a well concocted statement purported to originate from Dr. Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, the Director General of World Trade Organization (WTO), stating that she has been inundated with series of calls and messages from some prominent Nigerians berating her for meeting with the Nigerian President was released to the public. Like in the case of the Governor of Ondo State, the news turned out to be a fake one emanating from the imaginations of purveyors of fake news in the country. In a release from Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, she stated emphatically that the statement circulating on the social media credited to her was fake and consequently distanced herself from it.
The reality in Nigeria in recent times is that several of such fake news have been released to the public to both cause disaffection while trying to mislead the Nigerian public. This kind of fake news and information have become widespread in Nigeria and no efforts has been made by the leaders especially the security agencies to stop the trend of generation, articulation and the spread of dangerous fake news in the country that has reached an unfanciful, embarrassing crescendo during the last general elections in the country. It was really sad and ugly development that many fake news were created and released to misinform, deceive and confuse Nigerians and the international community during the period.
The widespread display of fake news is not just mind bugging but a dangerous phenomenon that the society is not doing anything serious to stop, curb or stamp it out of the socioeconomic and political landscape of the country. Of course, it is therefore sad and unfortunate development that many people derive pleasure in creating and disseminating concocted fake news with impunity in the country. This unwholesome retrogressive development and happening has become a source of embarrassment and concern to several patriotic Nigerians with core values for good, order and things that are right.
One wonders the sources and purposes of escalating fake news in the country and their overriding intentions. Are they creating fake news to cause confusion and disaffection between and among the various peoples and communities in the country and portray the people as bad set of people to the international community? What are the intentions of the purveyors of fake and unfounded information in the country and what do they seek to achieve or gain from such dastard acts. Is it in their interest to continue to cause disaffection and disunity with the possibility of disintegrating the country with its various fault lines? Also have the leaders of the country both traditional, religious and political leaders as well as the security agencies find it difficult or impossible to dig into the cankerworm and architects of these negative tendency destroying the image and progress of the country as being undertaken in other climes where purveyors of fake news are identified and often made to face the music?. All these have become worrisome to the extent that I begin to soliloquizing on this retrogressive and dangerous trend of misinforming the people of the country by certain disgruntled elements within the country.
So far evidence particularly with misinformation and disinformation during the 2023 elections in the country, purveyor of fake news were motivated essentially by the need to misinform and confuse Nigerians on whom to support during the elections, the intention was to de-market their opponents or opponents of their principals to pave ways for their preferred their candidate during elections. They were designed essentially to misinform so as to curry the favour of leaders and electorates to support their preferred candidates. This purveyors of fake news often are jobless individuals parading themselves as politicians and are recruited to work for their principals. Often their assignment is dishing out information both genuine and fake to sell the candidates they support. The main reason why many engage in generating fake news is to attract attention for stomach infrastructure and because they are sponsored by politicians and leaders in the society.
The consequences of this is wide and variegated. In the first instance, it brings confusion and disorder in information dissemination. It is becoming difficult to determine which information or news is correct and should be adhered to by the people. Consequently, with the barrage or explosion of fake news across social media platforms, people are confused which posts are true and which are not true. Besides, incursion of fake news has become a beacon promoting disunity and disharmony in the country. It engender crisis as witnessed during the ENDSARS crisis where fake happenings were used to motivate some of the youths to engage in some destructive actions. It has been used by irredentists groups to harass the people and pass across unpleasant information.
Harbinger of fake news have the tendency to discourage individuals that have good intentions for the good of the people to change their orientation or programmes. In other words, it can scuttle good intentions and programmes that are beneficial to the people. Some have been derailed because of the activities of professional politicians that peddle lies and fake news about other politicians in order to get attention and patronage. It could engender serious crisis and unrest
That the Nigerian society permitted the generation and explosion of fake news is unacceptable and must be nipped in the bud. Beside confusing and deceiving members of the public, its divisive content and tendency can engender crisis of great magnitude and therefore steps must be taken to address the challenge in the country. In other climes, the security agents have the means and technology of tracking the source of fake and divisive news. They should activate and begin to work on how to arrest the situation before it destroys the very existence of the country. The leaderships of the country at different levels that are the sponsors of these fake news need to desist and stop the evil acts. Legislations dealing decisively with purveyor and transmitter of fake news should be put in place and must be properly implemented to dissuade people from engaging in the destructive business of circulating fake news. Members of the public must be weary of fake news so that they are not misled by disgruntled and evil minded people that are always out to cause havoc and chaos. Time is ripe to deal with the cankerworm of fake news in Nigeria.