In an effort to stem the upsurge of fake information in the country, the federal government has launched a national campaign against the circulation of fake news.
Addressing a press conference to herald "The Launch of the National Campaign Against Fake News" in Abuja yesterday, the minister of information and culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the menace of fake news was becoming a global threat to humanity. Alhaji Lai Mohammed, however, noted that the campaign would be more of sensitisation than coercive.
"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," he said.
"Before sharing that information on Facebook, Twitter or WhatsApp, do two things: first, ask how credible the source is, and secondly, do not share any information you can't vouch for. These simple measures may not end fake news, but they will go a long way in stemming its spread.
"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."
The minister noted that in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like Nigeria, fake news is a time bomb, adding that in recent weeks, many anarchists have been doing everything possible to detonate the bomb.Alhaji Mohammed said that 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.
"For the media, the epidemic is even worse. This is because fake news, in most cases designed to misinform, undermines confidence in the media. And once the people lose confidence in the media, the society is in trouble."
The minister noted that fake news was not a new phenomenon, saying that anyone with a phone and internet access can spread fake news in an instant.
"Let us be straight. Fakes news is not new. It is said to be as old as the printing press. What has made it an issue of concern is the means and speed at which it is now spread around the world, and that means is the social media. "Anyone with a phone and internet access can author and make fake news go viral in minutes. With the number of mobile phone users in the world expected to pass the five billion mark by 2019, you can see the kind of crisis we face," he said.
On the impact of fake news, the minister said in India, about a dozen people have been killed in the past six weeks just because of fake news or hoax messages. According to him, the victims were lynched after they were falsely accused of child abduction based on fake messages circulated via the social media platform, WhatsApp!
He said 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!"
He recalled a recent report by the BBC that fake news circulating in the social media was fuelling the farmers-herders crises in Nigeria, adding that gory pictures from other lands were circulated freely via Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter, purported as being from the killings in Jos or Benue. "In 2017, a fake report circulated on the social media claimed that five students of the College of Education, Gidan Waya, were ambushed and killed by Fulani herdsmen in southern Kaduna. That report turned out to be false. No student was killed. I can go on and on.
"Today, Wednesday, July 12, 2018, the Vanguard newspaper reported that an INEC investigation has revealed that pictorial depictions of childhood voters during the February 10, 2018 local government elections in Kano State represented a "clear manipulation of images to create a fake story.'"The global epidemic of Fake News is already having far-reaching repercussions across the world. A recent study by researchers at the Ohio State University in the United States concluded that Russian interference and the Fake News it promoted probably played a significant role in depressing Hilary Clinton's support on election day during the 2016 presidential elections in the US. Among the Fake News circulated ahead of the election were: firstly, Clinton is in poor health due to a serious disease. Secondly, Pope Francis endorsed Candidate Trump, and also Clinton approved weapons sales to Islamic Jihadists."
On modalities to tackle fake news, Alhaji Mohammed said the federal government will use all the information dissemination tools at its disposal and work with both the traditional and social media, as well as the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to get the word out there about the dangers that fake news poses to the nation's peace, security, democracy and corporate existence.
He said, "We are also appealing to the media to lead the campaign. Let me thank the media organisations that are collaborating with us to sponsor this campaign. They are Leadership, NTA, FRCN, Vanguard and The Nation. We have no doubt that the entire Nigerian media will join us in this campaign."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. "
He stated that the timing is also 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.
Approves N35bn For Road Projects
Meanwhile, the federal government has approved the total sum of N35 billion for roads across the projects .
This was disclosed by the minister of power, works and housing, Babatunde Fashola after the federal executive council meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa. He also disclosed that N8.9 billion was approved for construction of Ikom bridge and road in Calabar, Cross River State.
The road and bridge, which will be completed in 24 months, he said, will create access to the port for trailers to move freely with their containers.
The minister said that N11.78 billion was approved for road project in Yobe State, while N8.6 billion was approved for road project in Kwara State.
While N5.4 billion was approved for road project in Abia State, N933 million was approved for automatic meter reading equipment for Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN).
During his briefing, Minister of Information Lai Mohammed, however declined to speak on the alleged possession of fake National Youth Service Certificate by Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, saying that the earlier reaction of the officials of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC is the official response of the federal government.
He said, "The government has spoken. NYSC is part of government and I have nothing to add to what the NYSC has said."