Nigeria’s Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, has attributed the escalation of the farmers and herders crisis in Nigeria to what he described as the efforts of ‘religious bigots.’
Mr Mohammed was speaking at a press briefing in Abuja on Wednesday on the launch of the federal government’s campaign against fake news.
The Minister likened the effects of fake news to a time bomb waiting to explode.
“In a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like ours, fake news is a time bomb. And in recent weeks, many anarchists have been doing everything possible to detonate the bomb. But for the prudence and vigilance of Nigerians, they – the religious and ethnic bigots among us – would have set the nation on fire, especially over the farmers-herders clashes as well as communal clashes,” he said.
Mr Mohammed said the decision of the government to launch a campaign against fake news was linked to the possible effects of rumours towards the escalation of related crisis across the country.
“There is an epidemic sweeping the world. If left unchecked, it could be worse than all the plagues that the world has recorded put together. It is a clear and present danger to global peace and security. It is a threat to democracy. It is the epidemic of fake news. Mixed with hate speech, it is a disaster waiting to happen.
“For the media, the epidemic is even worse. This is because fake news, in most cases, is designed to misinform, undermines confidence in the media. And once the people lose confidence in the media, the society is in trouble.”
He said the campaign will include active collaboration with digital as well as traditional media and the National Orientation Agency to educate Nigerians on the effect of fake news on Nigeria’s democracy and corporate existence as a nation.
Mr Mohammed who had spoken on different occasions about the effect of hate speech and false information on the peace and development of the nation, further said that this administration does not intend to use the campaign to hunt innocent Nigerians.
“The essence of this campaign is to sensitise all Nigerians to the dangers posed to the peace and security, and indeed the corporate existence of Nigeria by the phenomenon, and the fact that each and every Nigerian has a role to play in curtailing the spread of fake news.
“The timing is not unconnected to the role of fake news in aggravating the various crises in the country as well as the need to check this phenomenon ahead of the 2019 elections.
The Information minister urged media organisations and social media users to comply with two basic steps before ensuring the dissemination of information.
“We do not intend to resort to coercion or censorship in this campaign. But we want to appeal to all Nigerians to play their active part. Before sharing that information on Facebook, Twitter or WhatsApp, do two things-1; Ask how credible the source is, and 2-Don’t share any information for which you can’t vouch. These simple measures may not end fake news, but they will go a long way in stemming its spread.
Citing a definition by the free online encyclopaedia, Mr Mohammed said fake news refers to: ‘a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media.” “This false information is mainly distributed by social media, but is periodically circulated through mainstream media,” he added.
Citing the many instances of fake news that affected the results of the United States election in 2016, Mr Mohammed said the problem is also prevalent in Nigeria.
“Right here in Nigeria, the situation is not better. And it is not restricted to the social media. Last Thursday, the front page headline of a national newspaper was: Court orders National Assembly to begin impeachment of Buhari.
The problem with that news item is that it is fake news. According to the certified true copy of the order, the Presiding Judge of the Federal High Court in Osogbo ordered and I quote: ”The applicants are hereby granted leave to issue and bring an Application for the order of Mandamus to compel 1st to 3rd Respondents to start impeachment proceedings against the 4th Respondent, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” This was manipulated to read that the court has given the go-ahead for the National Assembly to commence impeachment proceedings against the President. Fake News!” Mr Mohammed said.
The information minister urged media practitioners to remain at the fore of the campaign by standing with the principles of truth in journalism.