Statement by HMIC Alh Lai Mohammed, during his visit to The Authority Newspaper On Monday, Aug. 6th 2018

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From left: Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed; Managing Director, Authority Newspapers, Mr. Madu Onuoha; Executive Director Publication/Service, Authority Newspapers, Joe Nwankwo and the Executive Director, Business Development of the newspapers, Chuks Akunna when the Minister visited the corporate headquarters of the Authority Newspapers to flag off the media tour on the campaign against fake news in Abuja on Monday.

Let me most sincerely thank the management and staff of the Authority Newspaper for receiving us today. We are delighted to be here.

2. This visit kick-starts our media tour, which is aimed at pushing our national campaign against fake news, which we launched on July 11th 2018 to sensitize Nigerians to the dangers posed by fake news. It is not by accident that our first port of call on this tour is the Authority Newspaper. It was designed to give me and my delegation the opportunity to say thank you to the paper for being the first and only newspaper to date to have written an editorial in support of the campaign. Thank you!

3. This is not to minimize the support that we have received from across the media spectrum since we launched the campaign. In particular, this campaign is being co-sponsored by the Nation, Leadership and Vanguard newspapers, as well as the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN),
Television Continental (TVC) and the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN). We have no doubt that the Authority newspaper will also come on board as a sponsor.

4. Let me quote from that Authority Newspaper Editorial of Friday, July 27th 2018 entitled ‘The Fight Against Fake News’. The paper said and I quote: ”We stand for responsible journalism based on facts and always taking into consideration the greater interest of the Nigerian nation.”. This is a patriotic stand. Like I always say, it is because we have a nation that journalists, doctors, teachers, lawyers, etc, can practice their profession. If the country goes down, we all go down.

5. Fake news is a clear and present danger to the peace and security, our democracy, and indeed the corporate existence of Nigeria. It is a time bomb. It has wreaked havoc in other lands. In 1994, over 800,000 people died in Rwanda due to a combination of fake news and hate speech. In India, about a dozen people have been killed
after they were falsely accused, in a message circulated on Whatsapp, of abducting children. The US is still reeling from the role that fake news played during the country’s last general elections. And in Nigeria, fake news is aggravating conflicts, especially the farmers-herders clashes. Purveyors of fake news are also exploiting the country’s fault lines, using religion and ethnicity to divide the country.

6. But the days ahead will even be more difficult. Why? Because the opposition has latched on to the use of fake news as a campaign tool ahead of the 2019 general elections. With the Buhari Administration delivering on its promises to fight corruption, build the nation’s economy and tackle insecurity, the opposition has realized it will not make any impact if it takes on the Administration on that turf. So, it has decided to take the easy route, which is to use fake news and hate speech to de-market the Administration, pitch Christians against Muslim and one ethnic group against another. In short, they want to plunge the country into turmoil

7. It is said that the easy way is not always the right way. The opposition knows that, but it doesn’t care. It is hell bent on dividing Nigerians along ethnic and religious lines. It is using fake news to blame all the killings in a certain part of the country on herdsmen, ignoring the bands of deadly militia groups that are being sponsored by unscrupulous people to kill innocent people and put the nation on edge. It is distorting the fact that the clashes between the farmers and herders are being aggravated by climate change – which has heightened the contest for scarce natural resources like water and land – as well as demographic pressure. With a population of 45 million in 1960, Nigeria is today approaching the 200-million mark. Yet the resources have not expanded, and have in fact been shrinking. It is ignoring the role of sheer criminality in the crisis.

8. Lest I am misunderstood, we condemn the killings of innocent people for whatever reasons. And that is why the Administration has put all necessary measures in place to stem the killings. In Zamfara, for example, you can see how the military has put the bandits on the run. In Benue, the police and the military are working hard, and that has resulted in a drastic fall in the spate of killings. Sadly, the media has either downplayed or ignored this. This government will not relent until every Nigerian can sleep with his or her two eyes closed.

9. Finally, we are calling on Nigerians to be wary of the fake news being deliberately pushed, especially on social media platforms, to exploit our national fault lines. This is why we are asking Nigerians to carry out two simple steps: 1) Check the source of any news item being pushed your way and 2) Don’t share whatever you can’t vouch for. We must all say NO to fake news

10. I thank you for your kind attention. I will now take your questions, even beyond the issue of fake news.