So-called ‘fake news’ and disinformation are rampant in the West African nation of Nigeria.
Unsubstantiated reports were particularly noticeable in the lead up to Nigeria’s February 2023 election when the country’s election body, the INEC, expressed concerns that the spread of misinformation, disinformation and hate speech was a threat to the vote.
Chioma Iruke of Centre for Democracy and Development, an NGO promoting the values of democracy, peace and human rights in Africa, told DW that the phenomenon affects all Nigerians.
“The average Nigerian gets close to fake news at least once a day,” she said.
Experts say that while the internet and social media allow Nigerians to share information in real time, political strategists and propagandists are weaponizing this at the expense of societal cohesion.
Threat to democracy?
Gwamkat Gwamzhi from African Prime News, a news website, told DW that political actors and unscrupulous individuals are using artificial intelligence tools to engineer misinformation and disinformation, at a high cost to an already polarized society.
“Our society Nigeria that is highly polarized by ethnicity, religious bigotry and people who are vulnerable and gullible that have been manipulated by artificial intelligence tools,” she explained.
False rumors circulating at the end of 2018, for example, suggested Nigeria’s then-president, Muhammadu Buhari, had died while receiving medical treatment in Britain and had been replaced in Abuja by a Sudanese body double.
“The issue of disinformation is not just an African thing: It cuts across countries, regions, and it is a threat to democracy. And as journalists, it is our social responsibility to continue to equip ourselves,” Hadiza Abdulrahman, who is from the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, told DW.
Journalists and fact-checking organizations are striving to uncover and challenge false information to lessen the harm caused by the flood of fake news.
Earlier this month, reporters, fact-checkers and other experts organized trainings for 32 journalists.
Silas Jonathan from Dubawa — a West African verification and fact-checking platform that hosted the training in conjunction with Casa Africa, the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) and other organizations — said “self-interest” is at the heart of the issue at the political, economic, and social levels.
“The purpose of the training is to expose journalists to the practice of verification in fact-checking and to also expose them to some of the strategies and some of the methodologies that we use in verifying images, and videos in the social media entirely to debunk false information,” Jonathan explained.
Similarly, Juan Social Tusell Prats from Casa Africa in Spain highlighted the importance of such training in modern trends and technology for African journalists.
“We think is very important not only in Africa… we thought it will be helpful because also in Spain, there are some media which have new technologies and methods to fact-checking,” he told DW.
The journalists who participated in the training were optimistic that the skills they had acquired will greatly enhance their work.
“I have done facts checking, but at the elementary level. This is an added knowledge and skill from this one. From this training I intend to embark on more ambitious projects,” said Gwamzhi.
Kabir Yusuf Ado of the Premium Times online newspaper told DW that the training has increased his motivation to do more in his work:
“I just have to go the extra mile, look for who are the sources of the information, look for what the story is all about, who is signing the statement. People also have to be aware of these things,” he said.
Role of the government
Experts say that, while this training is a great initiative, it’s not enough to fully combat the phenomenon: The Nigerian government also needs to do more to fight disinformation and misinformation.
“The Nigerian government itself I cannot say they have been actively fighting fake news … People won’t take the Nigerian government’s words just like that because whatever they say, they say it in order to cover up their tracts,” Iruke told DW.
She remains optimistic.
“But some civil societies, NGOs and the media, yes, I believe that they have been actively involved in fighting fake news for the Nigerian government,” Iruke added.
These sentiments echoed those of Spain’s ambassador to Nigeria, Juan Sell, who said he hoped this would be the start of a process to improve Nigeria’s democratic institutions.
“We look forward to working with you in promoting democracy,” the Spanish diplomat said.
“Spain is holding the presidency of the Council of the European Union this semester — and among our priority, there is certainly the support of free, independent, trustworthy, and competent media in Africa and elsewhere, as it is a prerequisite for a thriving and inclusive democracy.”
Ben Shemang in Abuja contributed to this article
Edited by: Keith Walker
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