Amidst the heightened efforts by the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture to eradicate and handle issues regarding the parody of fake news in the country, the trend has continued to persist with little or no attempt to decipher its causes and mitigation parameters by most state governments.
In his explanation of the dangers of the menace, the Minister of Information & Culture, Lai Mohammed has emphasized that the essence of the campaign is to sensitize all Nigerians to the dangers posed to peace and security, and indeed the corporate existence of Nigeria by the phenomenon. His call was based on the fact that each and every Nigerian has a role to play in cultivating orderliness and curtailing the spread of fake news in the country.
He has explained in his series of presentations that though the Federal Government has drawn the attention of Nigerians to the issue of fake news and hate speeches since last year to no avail, the imminent inferno and the timing of the launch are 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 counterfeiting of news as many associates the understanding of fake news refers to the type of yellow journalism practise or propaganda, involving deliberate indulging in misinformation or hoaxes, that get spread through traditional print and broadcast news media or the online Social Media platforms. In this perspective, fake news can either be written and published with the intent to demean, mislead or damage the image of an institution, agency, government or individual.
The basis and instruments necessitating this can be financial, psychological or political gain. The motivation notwithstanding, the practise as the encyclopaedia on misinformation indicates often implores sensationalist, dishonest or outright fictitious messages to increase readership, online sharing and Internet responses.
In a programme to help in spreading the campaign recently in Gombe State, the Head of the Federal Information Centre in Gombe State, Istifanus Idi Saluk called on State Governments in the country to collaborate with the Federal Government towards stemming the tide of rising cases of fake news in the country. The cry was an awareness as well as fervent lamentation of the incarceration caused by such illusory acts.
Since the Nigerian Government under the auspices of the Information Minister has allayed the position of this administration on the prevalence of this misconduct as a way of sensitizing the public on the dangers of fake news in the society, the call on stakeholders in the Nigerian project to plunge into the system, get involved and show more commitment to the fight against fake news so as to curtail its menace in the country remains apparent. More so, because the 2019 General Elections are drawing near.
It is my sordid appeal here that the perpetuation of fake news across the globe in recent times has provided a wanton call for members of the public, irrespective of their clime, status or gender to strive to verify any information they get before they attempt to spread, devour or analyse it as wrongful consummation of fake news can lead to violence, litigation or arrest for crimes not intended.
In order to galvanise the awareness to the local communities and people in the grassroots, the Federal Ministry of Information requires effective collaboration from the States and Local Government Councils as well as NGOs, opinion leaders and Civil Society Organisations to cascade the information to every nook and cranny of the country. The efforts so far by the Gombe State Government in this drive is commendable, but not satisfactory. A lot more can be done through imploration of school education and institutional strategies, mobilisation of young people and policy enactments towards domestication of existing regulations.
Preceding this initiative, the Federal Government in the folio of the National Identity Management Agency (NEMA) in conjunction with State Emergency Management Agencies (SEMA) has engaged in the distribution of relief materials to IDPs across crisis – affected States in Nigeria, including Gombe State.
NEMA’s mission in this drive has been to coordinate resources towards efficient and effective disaster prevention, preparedness, mitigation and responses in Nigeria. It has acted in the following visible areas: coordination and disaster risk reduction; search and rescue; policy and strategy; Geographic Information Systems imploration as well as advocacy and public education.
The Gombe State Government in the pursuit of this course has provided relief materials to Internally Displaced Persons affected by communal clashes in Hausari Village in Guyuk Local Government Area of Adamawa State, who are camped at the Waniyo Village of Balanga Local Government Area in Gombe State. While presenting the relief materials on the occasion, the officials of the National Emergency Management Agency and the Gombe State Emergency Management Agency led by the Distribution Committee Chairman, who is also the Permanent Secretary of Special Services and Political Affairs in Gombe State, Mohammed Salisu Waziri averred that the State Government’s decision to assist the victims was hinged on it’s willingness to cushion their sufferings.
Mohammed Salisu Waziri in this regard commended the State Governor for his concern for people in distress and thanked the National Emergency Management Agency for donating the food items worth millions of naira. He also besieged the host community to live peacefully with their strangers, assuring them that the people of Gombe State are accommodating people.
In the same vein, the Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, Ishaku Kachalla in his remarks during the event expressed delight over the success of the distribution. He lauded the State Governor for his efforts at securing the relief materials from the Federal Government and invited the residents and indigenes of the area to strive to continuously adore peaceful co-existence with one another and avoid taking the law into their hands.
On the strength of the fact that natural disasters and communal clashes always put victims and adjurers in dire conditions, the Chairman of Balanga Local Government Council, Bakari Keltuma informed that the Council had earlier presented some relief materials to the Internally Displaced Persons affected by the situation.
However, surpassing the notion of giving out relief materials to temporarily cushion the stress caused by displacement, he explained that the victims will be registered in the ongoing voters registration exercise to enable them exercise their civic rights, pointing out that arrangements were being made to accommodate them. This is one important step that should be emulated by all the states in the country that are presently experiencing communal clashes, social and economic crises because of the psychological manipulation that they may be submerged in the struggle to participate in the choice of Nigerian leadership during the coming polls.
To buttress my analogy here, some of the victims interviewed regarding the crises that besieged the state have variously appreciated Gombe State and the Federal Government for their quick swing as a matter of kind gesture to them. In this regard, the Governments have demonstrated their concern for peaceful living and as a way of call to embrace harmony, have shared some consumables to them, including: rice, maize, millet, sugar, palm and groundnut oil, indomie noodles, spaghetti, semovita, milk and Milo beverage, among others.
Nevertheless, one would not be considered out of place to infer that the sharing or distribution of relief materials has become a recurring decimal across the country, with no lasting solutions found by the states and other agencies to completely stem or bring to minimal circles, the incidences of occurrence of both natural and manmade disasters in the country. Although many authorities have ventured to provide housing resettlements and paroling education facilities and social infrastructures to affected peoples, a lot is still being expected in this regard as these sometimes are subjected to manipulations, carefree implorations, inactivity or unruliness on the part of middlemen.
Drawing from the above position, there is no denying the fact that the National Orientation Agency is the body that has the chief role of communicating the Federal Government’s policies to enable Nigerian citizens stay abreast of public opinion, thus promoting patriotism, national unity and the development of the Nigerian society. This body is located in all the states of the federation and can take the task as a priority as electoral campaign commences.
In Gombe State for instance, the Directorate has organized a one – day sensitization campaign on the benefits of the National Identity Management System (NIMS) and the national identity number for traditional rulers as well as those for religious leaders, market women associations, JNI, CAN, youth groups, NURTW and the coalition of NGOs in the state have been initiated. It is high time for other states as a way of preparation for the 2019 General Elections to seek to replicate this ardour in their various jurisdictions.
A remarkable comment to this effect was made by the Gombe State Acting Director of NIMS, Adaline Waye Patari when she called on people during the ceremony, who are yet to enroll themselves to endeavour to do so as a point of exercising their civic responsibilities to the nation. It could be recalled that she highlighted the benefits of the National Identity Management System and the National Identity Number to participants at the event and charged them to spread the massage to their respective followers in the community. Also, alluring was her disclosure of the fact that similar campaigns were taking place simultaneously in the different Local Government Areas of Gombe State.
With the proven benefits to derive from partnering with the Federal Government to bring the implementation of laudable projects to the grassroots so far identified, the State Governments cannot be cowed, if they steep long into the domestication of Federal Government projects in their different locales as the practice can help clear the dumps out of their socio-economic systems, attract international donors, development partners and investors to their states.
In a nutshell, the effectual accomplishment of the struggle to eradicate the prevalence of fake news, persistence of identity and other crisis by Nigerian citizens should be the strident struggle for the entire Nigerian states, in order to appropriately tackle political squabbles and social mishaps in the country.
Ummaimah Dikko Serves as Information Officer in the Web Content Management Unit,
Federal Ministry of Information & Culture, Radio House, Abuja (Edited: Nchu Ogar).