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Fake news on the internet poses threat to Nigeria’s security safety

 

The advent of the internet and the advancement in information technology has brought about meaningful changes and developments that are beneficial to us as Nigerians and indeed to the global community because of the ease of communication, information sharing, audio and video content creation, editing and distribution, including the application of many of the technological improvements in other fields like medicine, engineering, public administration to mention, but a few.

However, these technological innovations also have their challenges and disadvantages and today many countries are currently dealing with some of the negative implications of these technological advancements, especially in the areas of news and information dissemination. Today, all newspaper publications maintain large footprints in the digital space because of the ease of publishing online and the need to be the first to report the news including more importantly, the fact that more people worldwide today now get their news from the internet as opposed to the newspaper stands. This preponderance of internet technologies combined with video and audio content editing softwares is the greatest threat to the corporate existence of Nigeria since the civil war.

Fake news on the internet poses threat to Nigeria's security safety
Fake news on the internet poses threat to Nigeria’s security safety

It is very difficult today to easily distinguish between what is real and what is fake or artificial because of technological advancements that have blurred the lines between reality, make-belief and illusion. As a professional with nearly two decades of experience in information technology, I am fully aware of the harmful effects that these technologies can have on societies if used wrongly as evidenced in our nation over the last several years and during the just concluded presidential elections.

In full consideration of the seriousness of this threat, it behoves the authorities at various levels of our nation including law enforcement to take this matter seriously and prosecute purveyors of fake news and cooked-up video content to the fullest extent of the law in other to avert the ugliness and conflicts that may arise in future as a result of some of this nefarious online propaganda.

Frankly, violence of any sort, banditry, armed robbery or kidnapping of citizens under any guise must be condemned and those behind it, including collaborators, be made to pay the full price for their actions.

While we reject in the strongest possible language any attempts by anyone to rationalise violence, robbery and kidnapping for ransom which has risen to astronomical proportions in the last decade or so, to be the result of harsh economic realities in the country, we urge security forces to partner with the general public to arrest this menace and restore order and public confidence as the character of a person has more to do with criminal conduct than their economic conditions.

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However, in response to this violence, many have laid the blame on the Fulani herdsmen some of whom have been involved in criminality in some communities, but not all of them. However, the Fulani have been herding cattle since before independence in Nigeria and over these years we have had numerous conflicts between herders and farmers predominantly in old northern Nigeria, many unfortunately involving loss of lives before 2015.

However, these unfortunate incidents which have essentially been a fight for resources (grazing lands) between farmers and herders were given an ethnic and tribal colouration beginning in 2015 so as to inflame the polity while those behind it mined the situation for political hay.

The hysteria about the alleged menace and violence by the herdsmen reached a crescendo during the 2019 presidential elections where a montage of videos and audio messages were been released daily allegedly showing Fulani herdsmen committing one heinous criminal act or the other which was met with outrage by many Nigerians who have over the years lived peacefully with one another.

However, condemning criminality and violence is distinct from a covert or overt attempt to undermine the social harmony in the country by targeting one group or the order as responsible for kidnappings and all the violence and ills in society.

The seriousness of this situation was driven home for me in Benin City several years ago when an elderly uncle of mine whom I have known to be open to all Nigerians and had tenants from all the major ethnic groups in the country called me aside — and to my surprise said “beware of this people they are not good people” in reference to a cab driver I hired to drive me around during my visit in 2019 and whom I have consistently used and relied upon to date in all my subsequent visits without any hitches.

I tried to disabuse my uncle’s mind that everyone is different and that criminality is not restricted to any one community. The attitude of my uncle towards someone working with me from the northern part of Nigeria who looked Fulani is one of such fallouts from dubious internet video campaigns about Fulani herdsmen and there are many other instances and prejudices that this menace has created in our country that we would have to get over in other to continue to live in peace with one another.

Since the president of the country over the last seven plus years is a Fulani, many have alleged without a shred of verifiable evidence that these alleged offending Fulani herdsmen were being given political cover by the president to operate with impunity and without consequences for their alleged criminal actions. This narrative gained so much traction because of the impact of the heinous videos showing herdsman raping, killing or burning villages all across the nation.

What many Nigerians did not know or did not care to know is that the mere existence of videos portraying an alleged incident does not in any way substantiate the authenticity of the video or confer veracity on the video contents, because there exist technologies today that can edit and alter videos and audio contents to show and convey whatever information — real or imaginary — to fit the narrative of the perpetrators, so we must be careful and not believe all so-called videos or audio contents that are peddled online by those who don’t mean our nation well, unless the materials are independently verified by legitimate media houses or law enforcement agencies.

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This article is not saying that there are no criminal herdsmen, or that some are not engaged in banditry, kidnappings and other vices, but that criminality is not the exclusive preserve of any one group or tribe as other Nigerians are equally engaged in this type of criminal conducts and possibly do collaborate amongst themselves irrespective of tribe or religion.

What we are saying is that the campaign was deliberate and intended to malign the country, and an ethnic group and had alleged political undertones, such that when there is one or two alleged incidents of violence or criminal conduct, it will be presented as one hundred or more incidents with alleged manipulated videos to corroborate the lies.

The deluge of videos, audio messages and internet links purported to show the President-elect Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu in a very unflattering light before and during this election campaign, including the sharing of unverified videos showing violence during and after the elections, seem to have been patterned after the video montage of alleged mayhem by rampaging Fulani herdsmen in the last several years. It does appear that the well-oiled campaign against the Fulani herdsmen was a dry run by these actors and unseen hands preparatory to the 2023 presidential election.

The similarity and pattern of their operations including those involved which cut across all sessions of Nigeria would cause inquiring minds to wonder to what extent these groups of people are willing to go to achieve their objectives. If one may ask, where are the so-called herdsmen now? How come they have been silent and have not caused any mayhem during the 2023 campaigns and elections?

Or is it possible that they were out campaigning for office or was this from the very onset just a political hack to score cheap political points gone too far? I will leave you the readers to draw your own conclusions but be warned of the coming of videos in the next few years of “Oduduwa Brigades or Area Boys” terrorising average citizens across the land.

There were numerous videos making the rounds on the internet showing the candidate while he was still running for office, peeing on himself, several others showing him disoriented, unable to walk without assistance, speak, or making incoherent and delusional statements all in an attempt to undermine his electoral chances and make him unfit for office in the eyes of the Nigeria electorates.

Their objective was to convey the message of a sick old man who was unfit for the highest office in the land and as if these unsubstantiated and bogus claims and attacks were not enough, they even alleged that the president-elect was a drug dealer and was convicted for such offences in the United States of America, not to mention the other numerous falsehoods about the candidate’s age, educational qualifications and so on.

It is true that the APC candidate was not the only candidate that was at the receiving end of these internet conspiracies and character assassinations. Peter Obi, the candidate of the Labour Party, and Abubakar Atiku the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were also targets of these smear campaigns by these unseen hands who in all seriousness present a serious danger to this country and should be taken seriously and dealt with immediately.

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The manner in which videos have been used in this elections, coupled with the anti-Fulani campaigns before now, beckons on the authorities to take seriously this threat posed by this deliberate manipulation of video and other contents that are indiscriminately being distributed online to avert a grave and imminent danger for the country.

For example, there are many videos right now after the gubernatorial elections making the rounds alleging ethnically motivated violence and many of these videos cannot be independently verified, but are out there inflaming emotions and causing ethnic tensions across the land.

Presently, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and segments of our population are now the targets of these unsubstantiated allegations or hyperbolic and sensational reporting of wrongdoings, using nonexistent or minor incidents to convey alleged systemic violence or tribal attacks against non-indigenes in certain areas of the country.

This type of politics and disinformation must stop before it goes to the next phase, given the state of origin of the president-elect. Nigeria belongs to all who live in it and call it home and we should all, irrespective of where we or our parents come from within the country, be free to enjoy and exercise our citizenship without fear of intimidation or violence.

Consequently, I call on the incoming administration of President-elect Ahmed Bola Tinubu to propose legislation to the national assembly, and for the national assembly to pass with delays legislation that will discontinue the use of state of origin and local government of origin and replace with state and local government of residence in all federal agencies, forms and contracts, including the definition of conditions for residency in any given area of the country in other to better promote national healing, common purpose and oneness in our beloved country.

While every citizen has the right to freedom of speech and thought, we must in the exercise of this right avoid slanderous statements to ensure that we are not criminally liable to prosecution for slander and for disseminating false documents online.

The various print, electronic and digital media organisations and radio and television stations must do their due diligence and verify all video content through multiple sources, including having sources swear under oath of perjury to ascertain the credibility of content providers as they have a responsibility to the nation and to refrain from giving oxygen to unsubstantiated internet trolls and fabrications that are designed to instigate ethnic conflicts or precipitate breakdown of law and order.

Finally, fake internet videos, news contents and links do pose serious threats to Nigeria, and law enforcement must take the threats posed by these unsubstantiated videos and fake news seriously before it tears our nation apart and to the point of open conflict or civil strife.

May God bless you all and may God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Nosa Osaikhuiwu is a decolonised African of Nigeria extraction, an outside-the-box thinker and problem solver and an unapologetic advocate of culture change from the ground up in Nigeria. He can be reached via [email protected]

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