On February 11, Fani Kayode, Nigeria’s former aviation minister and the Director, New Media of the All Progressive Congress (APC) Presidential Campaign Council, shared a disturbing narrative suggesting Nigeria was about to experience another coup de tat. He claimed, via his verified Twitter page with over one million followers, that Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), had a secret meeting with army generals ahead of the general elections.
“Why would a presidential candidate be having secret meetings with soldiers 14 days before the election?” he said, conspicuously pushing a disturbing narrative without providing any evidence. “Is this meeting part of the wider agenda to disrupt the elections, destabilise the country, set us on fire, incite chaos and violence, provoke a coup d’etat and establish a new and unconstitutional order in our beloved country under the auspices of an ING?”
A few days later, after he was interrogated by the State Security Service (SSS), the former aviation minister retracted his statements and expressed regrets over his comment on possible collusion between some elements in the military and the presidential candidate of the PDP. He, however, declared that he would verify the source of such news next time before putting it out on his social media pages.
He might have shown remorse after Nigeria’s secret police challenged him, but propaganda such as this is commonplace during elections. This year’s general election is not an exception. As Nigerians prepare for the forthcoming poll, information disorder appears to be the order of the day. Fake news, false narratives, propaganda and hate speech, have been tooled by politicians to stay ahead of their opponents in the campaign spaces.
Sadly, spokespersons of major political parties in Nigeria have also used social media to spread disinformation in favour of their presidential candidates, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), a Nigerian think-thank, revealed in a gazette titled “Online operations: Nigeria’s 2023 social media election campaigns.”
The CDD verdict is corroborated by this researcher’s online surveys of how influential election merchants demarket their opponents by spreading disturbing fake news, propaganda and cyberbullying. Mr Fani-Kayode is just an example, but he is not alone.
Since 2019, there has been a media war between Nigeria’s major political parties, the ruling APC and the PDP. The ‘Atikulated’, supporters of Atiku Abubakar’s presidential ambition, and the ‘Batified’, the supporters of Bola Tinubu’s presidential bid, were joined by the ‘Obidients’, the followers of Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, on the online battlefield towards the 2023 elections.
While campaigning for their candidates, supporters of the parties have also engaged in online threats and spreading falsehoods about one another, an act punishable by Nigerian laws.
Dino Melaye: “Shettima is a commander of bandits”
In July 2022, a picture surfaced of Kashim Shettima, the vice presidential candidate of the APC, dining with five men wearing the look of herders. But it would soon be rumoured that the people Mr Shettima were dining with were members of Boko Haram, an Islamist terror group in Borno. At the time, politicians had just started preparing for the general elections.
However, Nigerian fact-checkers reviewed the photo and concluded that “there is no sufficient evidence to back the claim that the Senator was dining with alleged Boko Haram members as depicted in the viral photo.”
Meanwhile, in November 2022, Mr Melaye, PDP’s campaign spokesperson, rejuvenated the matter, saying Mr Shettima was a commander of bandits, Nigeria’s local terrorists. Mr Melaye did not provide evidence of Mr Shettima’s alleged involvement in banditry. He would instead base his narrative on the viral photo and the claims around it.
“Overwhelmed by the conviviality of a civil atmosphere, Kashim Shettima, the Grand Commander of bandits and the running mate of the Presidential candidate of All Progressives Congress ( APC), who has gathered enough funds from his field soldiers to be so intoxicated as to engage in a verbal gibberish that is only permissible in Sambisa Forest,” Mr Melaye said, adding that, “he has been seen in footage where he was exciting a rented crowd with whimsical pot shots at His Excellency Atiku Abubakar.”
Festus Keyamo: “Peter Obi bribes CAN pastors with ₦2 billion”
On February 12, the spokesperson of the APC presidential campaign, Festus Keyamo, via his Twitter page, joined others to spread the claim that Mr Obi of LP had bribed some Nigerian pastors with over ₦2 billion to mobilise voters for him.
Mr Keyamo shared the story published by an unknown blog, Nigeriancheck, without attempting to authenticate it. The tweet had nearly one million views; it was liked by over 2,000 Twitter users and retweeted by over a thousand others.
Reacting, a social media user, Christian Chukwu, said: “Coming from a SAN, right? A simple due diligence check should have told you this propaganda is solved; we are waiting for the next one.”
Several others corroborated Mr Chukwu’s worry and wondered why the APC spokesperson would share such a fake story with the purpose of demarketing an opposition party presidential candidate. The story has since been removed from the news website cited by Mr Keyamo.
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) later distanced itself and said Mr Obi gave no such financial gift.
LP supporters: “INEC probes drug allegations against Tinubu”
In November 2022, a press statement allegedly released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) went viral on social media. Influencers on Twitter and Facebook, known for campaigning and canvassing votes for Peter Obi, the Labour Party’s presidential candidate, shared the statement, ostensibly to spite Bola Tinubu, the APC presidential candidate.
Before then, Mr Tinubu had been accused of being a drug baron. The statement attributed to INEC was only consolidating the allegations and pledging to investigate the matter. But, INEC later denied writing such a letter, describing it as a fake press release.
However, supporters of Mr Obi circulated the press release on social media. AriseTV, a TV station accused by the Tinubu campaign of bias, also aired the fake press release as coming from INEC.
By the time INEC denied authoring the letter, it had gone viral and was likely believed by thousands of people.
Fake news jeopardising peaceful election
On 21 January, the National Peace Committee (NPC) led by former Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar, urged the Nigerian presidential candidates to mind their word usage and desist from spreading disinformation during the ongoing campaigns across the country.
“I appeal to you all to be moderate in your language, show respect to the views and concerns of one another and listen to the concerns expressed,” he said.
In its report, CDD warned Nigerians against a multiplicity of actors working to muddy the water and make sorting fact from fiction difficult for Nigerians during this electoral season.
“For the first time, presidential campaign spokespersons, across all main parties, are pushing disinformation using their social media handles,” it noted. “An analysis of breaches of the Peace Accord moderated by the National Peace Committee revealed more than 63% of the infractions were on social media.”
However, spreading fake news is an offence punishable by imprisonment of three years or a fine of N7 million or both, according to the Cybercrime Act of 2015. Also, the 2022 Electoral Act prohibits using intemperate, abusive, and slanderous language during campaigns. The provisions of the National Peace Accord by the National Peace Committee (NPC) further require signatories to commit to the non-usage of fake news and intemperate language during the 2023 campaigns.
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.Donate
TEXT AD: Call Willie - +2348098788999