From Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
In a bid to safeguard the online civic space against misinformation and disinformation that can compromise the integrity of the 2023 general elections in Nigeria, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in collaboration with Palladium, Food Basket Foundation International (FBFI), as well as other development partners have activated plans to prevent and curb the menace of fake news.
This was made known on Friday during a press conference on ‘Safeguarding Digital Civic Space for Electoral Integrity (SDSEI), which was addressed by the Chief Executive Officer, FBFI, Dr. Funmi Akinyele. She was supported by the Chief Executive Officer, Social Impact Consulting, Mrs. Efua Edeh; Head of Research, SBM Intelligence, Mr. Ikemesit Effiong; and Program Officer, AGCSDI/Learner Corner, Anita Graham.
According to her, “Without a doubt, the integrity of the 2023 general elections will be significant in determining the future of Nigeria as an indivisible nation. All hands must be on deck to facilitate free, fair, and credible elections. Millions of Nigerians, particularly eligible voters, get their information online. Therefore, the digital civic space is expected to play a significant role in the decisions that a myriad of Nigerians will take during the presidential elections coming up in February 2023 and the gubernatorial elections in March 2023.”
She explained the USAID Strengthening Civic Advocacy and Local Engagement (SCALE) dialogue series on digital civic space, spawned the Safeguard Online Civic Space (SOCS) group, a loose cluster of mostly youth-led CSOs and Business Membership Organisations from diverse areas within the social sector, instituted to address restrictions on internet, improve online information access, protect voter from electoral misinformation and disinformation, as well as improve inclusive online information access, especially for civic and voter education for vulnerable people. She added that SCALE is a five-year activity that commenced in October 2020, being implemented by Palladium
Akinyele revealed that a total of 108 persons would be trained as fact-checkers and would be deployed to all the states of Nigeria to combat fake news. She added that three persons would be selected from each of the 36 states in the country. She added that three hashtags: #ProtectYourVote9ja, #YourVoteMatters9ja, and #NoToFakeNews9ja.
She stated that the SDSEI project would “engage critical stakeholders across government, telecommunications, civil society, and the general public, who have been united by an overarching interest in protecting the online civic space to maximize the benefits and minimize the threats for proper enlightenment and education of the populace on their civic rights, regarding the general elections, irrespective of cultural, religious and political affiliations.
“The SDSEI’s objective is to protect online civic space by combating voter misinformation and disinformation, while improving access to accurate civic information inclusively. This project will create easily digestible factsheets and train fact-checkers across the six geo-political zones in Nigeria. Part of our strategy is to engage the media, as critical stakeholders, regarding their role in countering misinformation and disinformation by holding press conferences across the six geo-political zones.
“In addition, we hope to have improved inclusivity in access to the online voter and civic information for vulnerable and marginalized groups, including people living with disabilities (PLWD), women, and youth. To facilitate this, we plan to develop relatable skits on voter and civic information in English, Pidgin, Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba; host live radio shows; create public service announcements on national radio and television; conduct outreaches to higher institutions; generate evidence on the integrity and openness of the online civic space before, during, and after the 2023 elections.
“The integrity of the 2023 general elections in Nigeria must not be compromised for the betterment of the good people of Nigeria and the legacy of our nation. The digital civic space must be safeguarded to enhance the integrity of the electoral process, especially with the introduction of digital tools. Therefore, we enjoin all and sundry to cooperate with us as we traverse the six geo-political zones of the nation in our quest towards protecting the digital civic space by reducing the impact of fake news, misinformation, and disinformation and repression of rights to information, while simultaneously increasing voter knowledge of constitutional rights and electoral processes.”