Fake news and hate speech which have recently been entrenched in the polity, and threatening the very existence of Nigeria has been blamed on the government.
Professor Chidi Odinkalu, one of the discussants at the colloquium organised by the Olusegun Obasanjo Centre for African Studies (OOCAS) of National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) said Monday that fake news and hate speech will die a natural death if Nigerian leaders are believable.
The colloquium was themed, “Fake news and hate speech.’
“When leaders tell lies, what do you do? Government is the chief proponent of fake news,” he said.
He gave example of the vexed issued of Ruga settlement when the government said the policy was under the vice president but which Osinbajo denied.
He accused the governments of not using the Universal Basic Education fund for what it is meant for, adding that the present fragility of the country which has been divided along religious and ethnic lines was as a result of the dishonesty of the elite or the political class in the country.
On her part Ms Funke Egbemode, a discussant said Nigeria is a country of unhappy people, and that the leaders only want what works for them. She said in her view, people should not use citizen journalism to justify fake news.
If there are citizen journalists then where are the citizen engineers, doctors and lawyers? she asked.
She said fake news is spreading because the mainstream journalism has failed the people.
“The watch dog is old, weak and dying. A hungry reporter cannot be an investigative journalist.
“If you don’t feed the dog it will bark and bite.”Looking at the topic from another perspective, Dr Mailafiya said fake news and hate speech was not Nigeria’s most important and biggest problem today, adding that some fake news and hate speeches are relevant in the polity because people feel their views are not taken into consideration, so vent them out in form of fake news and hate speeches. He also accused government as being the biggest spreader of fake news.
“Government is the biggest purveyor of fake news,” he said, and gave the example of the government’s handling of the suspended Ruga Settlement issue. Though he said from time to time government tells lies in form of propaganda. He stressed that the biggest problem in the country now is insecurity.
“Over 6000 people have been killed in the country and we are gathering here talking of hate speech? Who is hating who?”
He said it is unfortunate that Nigeria has become the poverty capital of the world.
“More than 13 million children are out of school, 24 million youths are unemployed and we said we want to control fake news and hate speech?
“Whatever you don’t want to hear is hate speech.”
In his key note address, Mr Ray Ekpu stressed that junk or yellow journalism constitutes fake news. He said fake news could be called misinformation, disinformation or malinformation.
He said most people assumed that stories sent by their friends and relatives are true.
He said politics, religion and ethnicity are the three drivers of fake news in the country, adding that mobile phones, internet and youthful population contribute to hate speech. He said more than half of Africans are below 20 years, and are online active.
He said he didn’t believe in citizenship journalism because “There are citizens but not citizen journalism.”
Father Matthew Kukah, in his speech said, Federal Ministry of Information should be scrapped because it spread fake news in form of propaganda, adding that there is huge information deficit that gives room to fake news.
He said hate speech could be viewed from different perspectives, and for him as a Catholic priest, the story of Cain and Abel was enmeshed in hate speech.
“Hate speech was firstly broken by Cain. When Cain was asked where his brother Abel was, he replied, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper.’”
He gave example of his international passport which people told him it was a Fulani passport because there was the picture of Fulani and cattle in it. The information however overlooked the pictures of Tiv and other ethnic groups in it.
He said since 1999 Nigeria has been discusiing some national issues without headway.
“A country that is multidimensional and multicultural should not be where we find ourselves today.
“We must all be gate keepers in order to publish authentic news. We must trust those we assign to write articles, though fake news has intellectual legitimacy.
“We make mistake to believe that everybody subscribe to democracy. We must have a country that is believable.”