By Salisu Na’inna Ɗambatta
The misapplication of media power for the mass distribution of content, enabled by the pervasive nature of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) via the world wide web, has manifested in Nigeria during the so-called EndSars protest.
And Nigeria is not the first country in the world to fall victim to such abuse of the Internet-based capacity to mass-circulate all manner of rubbish, some of it laughable, many of it useless while a portion, is very dangerous and extremely harmful. So-called citizen’s journalism has ruined relationships, led to bloody conflicts and hatred around the world.
The most recent example of the negative effects of the spread of fake news and incendiary media contents happened in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous and richest country by GDP and massive natural resources.
It all started when the organisers of the EndSars campaign used the social media to mobilise participants, deceptively riding on the genuine grievances associated with the recently-disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and mixing it with other agendas.
The organisers with their foreign and local backers played on the country’s fault lines to instigate an orgy of killings, arsons, looting and freeing dangerous convicts from correctional centres in some states of the Federation. The tactics they deployed in their mobilisation were deceptive, unethical and dangerous to the extent of openly calling for the murder of security personnel and the destruction of public infrastructure. They took hate speech to a new level of irresponsibility.
This irresponsible tactic emboldened mobs to engage in the killing of some policemen on sight, the destruction of public and private property in Lagos and elsewhere, the looting of goods in commercial warehouses, and spreading the fake news of the decade by falsely telling the world that the Nigerian security forces have massacred an unknown number of protestors at a toll gate in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital.
It was on the basis of that fake news, the story of a massacre without dead bodies, because it never happened, that leaders of multilateral bodies, including that of the United Nations, the Governments of the USA, the United Kingdom and others, rushed to comment, make judgement and pronouncement on a massacre that never was. They thus judged wrongly, commented undiplomatically and exposed the weaknesses of their diplomats, especially their security attaches, who could not, or willfully failed to, verify claims in a foggy situation so that they can advise their home governments accurately. Thus, their governments can now be seen to be believers of massacres without dead bodies because the massacres never happened.
The incidence of a massacre without dead bodies, or the list and identities of those allegedly murdered by soldiers at a toll gate in Lagos, has equally exposed the degeneration in the quality and worthiness of hitherto powerful and influencial broadcast stations like the BBC, VOA, Aljazeera and a host of other international news agencies as mere hollow outfits that cannot testify to the accuracy and reliability of their own contents. This is serious, bad and sad for the tax payers whose money is funnelled to finance the operations of especially the governmen-owned outlets.
The reportage, particularly of the television stations, largely relied on visuals created and supplied to their reporters by the protestors or rioters. Even at this, they could not produce any video clip, even if only the fabricated type, to support their claim of “many civilian protestors were killed at the Lekki Toll Gate.” As a former staff of the BBC World Service in London, I feel tremendously disappointed that the BBC cannot verify stories of the importance of an alleged massacre before dishing it out to the global audiences that held news out of its newsrooms as truthful, reliable and quotable.
As for Aljazeera, the Doha-based International Television broadcaster, I feel it should bury itself in disgraceful shame in desert sand dunes for the falsehood it sold to the world, of a massacre that never was. Its total reliance for video clips and interviews with the errand boys and girls of the protestors exposed the incompetence of their reporters.
Perhaps investigating all the Nigeria-based reporters of all the foreign media outlets involved in filing fake news, may lead to a possible discovery that they were compromised by those behind the protests, riots and creators of the false story of a massacre without dead bodies. They most likely failed to say “no thanks,” to the incorruptible standard set by a Nigerian news organisation.