New Telegraph

Politics of fake news, Osinbajo and 2023 polls

With the continued development of technology, media professionals and organisations are constantly faced with a tsunami of misinformation and disinformation which many described as more dangerous than the novel coronavirus that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives globally.

 

Sorting fact from fiction is increasingly difficult, as a deluge of information in the digital space creates fertile ground for fake news, such that even perceived credible media outfits sometimes fall victim to these unsubstantiated, unfounded, baseless and absolute falsehoods as news items.

 

Recently, an editorial of a national newspaper (not New Telegraph ) stated that in the past few months, the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has come under series of allegations which turned out to be fake news. Some of the allegations were found to be false, baseless and unfounded even by the organisations that published them.

 

Hence, an array of retraction and apology letters were sent to the VP by the publishers. The allegations included that Osinbajo received N90billlion from the Federal Inland Revenue Service, (FIRS), of which FIRS categorically denied.

 

There was also the allegation by a blogger that the suspended Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, gave N4billion to the Vice President, which was also debunked by the VP and Magu.

 

A lawmaker in the National Assembly also alleged that Professo Osinbajo (SAN) and the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola(SAN) signed the $1.2billion Azura Power Project agreement on behalf of the Federal Government, a statement that was immediately rebuffed as both the VP and the minister were not in the office in 2013 when it was signed.

 

The most recent of these allegations was that Osinbajo colluded with the Auditor-General of the Federation to withdraw N10billion from the Treasury Single Account, (TSA).

 

This, too, was publicly debunked as fake news, while the media organisations that published the report quickly retracted it.

 

Political undertones

 

Following the series of these unsubstantiated allegations against Osinbajo, one question on the lips of many political analysts is: “Who is afraid of Osinbajo?”

 

While it is obvious that many Nigerians simply refuse to believe some of the concocted reports as news stories and a true reflection of reality, others gullibly moved by the report and take every bit of the falsehood therein hook line and sinker.

 

Many analysts have already posited that the barrage of attacks on the VP may not be unconnected with the race for the 2023 presidency, especially with Osinbajo’s antecedents as VP and a man of integrity. Some even said that Osinbajo’s unalloyed loyalty to President Muhammadu Buhari and the cordial relation of the duo could also be responsible for frequent sponsorship of baseless allegation to malign the reputation of the Professor of Law.

 

According to analysts, the desperate plot by the opposition to link Osinbajo with any kind of fraud – fake or imagined – is a campaign to malign the VP’s image as a leader with integrity and character, especially as he is regarded in some quarters as the favourite to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023.

 

Speaking on how social media and online blogs have become a tool in the hands of the fake news purveyors, a public commentator, Mr. Bode Ibraheem, noted: “The advent of social media and online blogs without recourse to fact checking and objectivity are loopholes being used by political opponents to push fake news and false allegation”.

 

He added that the political mischief behind these allegations was exposed when some newspapers which carried unsubstantiated stories against the VP apologised for publishing them.

 

Undeniably, in the last few months, following the recent allegations against Osinbajo, at least four major media platforms have tendered apologies to the VP for publishing the fake news stories.

 

According to Business Day , “August 9, 2020, businessday.ng published a story titled ‘Ex APC spokesman asks Buhari to probe Osinbajo, AGF over alleged N10bn withdrawal from TSA.’

 

That story failed to meet the editorial standards of BusinessDay newspapers, as we have since discovered that the story was baseless, unfounded and unsupported by any factual substance. We have already disabled the links to the story and hereby retract it completely and unreservedly.”

 

The series of debunked claims against the VP may be indications that opposing politicians and their cohorts have become desperate in their attempts at deliberate character assassination and campaign of calumny of perceived political enemies; the more reason why political watchers urge that Nigeria’s laws against fake news and hate speeches should be taken more seriously to avoid the projection of such claims that could heat up the polity.

 

Unarguably, the threat of fake news is rising owing to the increasing number of internet users estimated to be over 122 million.

 

False information is more sophisticated than ever and its potential spread much wider. Purveyors of fake news have sought to incite panic and cause hatred among the residents.

 

In a paper on “the Effect of Fake News on Nigeria’s Democracy within the Premise of Freedom of Expression,” a media scholar, Muhammad Umar, pointed out that just like developed nations, emerging democracies are now facing the same threat of the impact of fake news on elections and referendums.

 

Umar said: “We now live in a digital world, surrounded by a deluge of information. The new information age has created a virtual surrounding with loads of information, a large part of which is reliable with the more significant chunk unverifiable.”

 

“Nigeria has been defined by its differences, and now seems to have reached an inclining fact. The growth of fake news is on the increase daily as sources and platforms keep emerging, many of course are created by politicians, ignorantly or deliberately by the media, interest groups which have fuelled hate speech, sentiments, distrust and the abuse of freedom of expression thus, threatening the unity of the country.”

 

This is another pointer to why many political pundits described the attacks against Vice President Osinbajo using false allegations as being politically motivated and as part of the 2023 game plan to malign the reputation of a man with an impressive track record in public service.

 

Lessons

Going by a series of fake news and damaging reports erroneously published by established media organisations, media scholars believe that media professionals have to be wary of unsubstantiated reports and allegations as frequently purvey, mostly on social media by politicians, fake news merchants and other characters whose stock in trade is making controversial claims and allegations.

 

According to them, frequent retraction of published statements and news items by a news organization cast doubt on the credibility and indirectly tarnish the image of such a media organisation. In his paper, “The Impact of Fake News and the Emerging Post-Truth Political Era on Nigerian Polity: A Review of Literature;” Umaru Pate and others noted that, “fake news has made dangerously damaging impacts on Nigerian society socially, politically and economically.”

 

Media experts have thus urged media organisations and journalists to adhere to the principles of objectivity, truth and balance in their reportage, while also carrying out due diligence in news processing and fact-checking stories before publication.

 

They argued that journalists should not only fact-check their reports as requires by professional training and ethical standards, but also be wary of politicians who might be in hurry to assassinate the character of political opponents in other to gain some mileage against them.

Hassan writes from Lagos

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