It is hardly debatable that the scourge of fake news has become a real and present danger in today’s Nigeria. The purveyors of this poisonous brand of information have gone berserk. They know neither etiquette nor decorum. Their mode of operation easily gives them away as audacious, daring and mendacious. They are scrambling for space with the real world of information gathering and dissemination. The threat posed by the fake news syndrome has become so intense that the reading public no longer know where to draw the line between authentic and concocted piece of information. I am afraid that, if nothing is done and urgently too, agents of fake and cooked stories will soon force the reading public out of the realm of reality.
That is the extent to which the social media has gone in its overarching drive to conquer and redefine the Nigeria media industry. Like most things Nigerian, the operators have invented new rules of conduct. They are answerable to no one but themselves. Again, as is usual with us in this part of the world, we will pretend to have seen nothing until incalculable damage is done to our sense of proportion. Right now, we see the social media menace as one of the aberrations of a changing world. It may well be that. But there should always be a limit to madness. Certain brands of madness, including the one under review, should have a method. Allowing fake news free reign as we are doing could be anarchic. It is capable of disorienting a large chunk of society.
This brings me to what the immediate past governor of Imo State, Emeka Ihedioha, has been experiencing in recent weeks. It does appear that Ihedioha, from the rash of fake news being woven around him, is being primed as an object of willful destruction by mischief-makers. His detractors are determined to distract him as much as they can as the countdown to the Imo governorship contest begins.
Just the other day, we were treated to a salacious piece of information, to wit, that Ihedioha wrote the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, urging him not to obey the recent judgment of the Court of Appeal that ordered that the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, should be freed from detention. Those behind the cocktail of lies know that the story will not resonate well with Ihedioha’s Igbo kinsmen. The target, therefore, was to drag him into the filth of hate and rejection by his people. That is what purveyors of fake news always aim at. They must hit hard on someone or something.
I would have left the matter at that, until the mother of all fakery intruded into the scene. Ihedioha is yet again another subject of demonization. This time, we are told that his voice was cloned in a telephone conversation where he allegedly made statements that have implications for the parlous security situation in Imo State. His accusers here are agents of Imo State government. The are grandstanding. Some are spoiling for a drag-out fight with him.
But we understand the antics of those involved. The elections are coming and some gladiators will stop at nothing to gain advantage over their opponents. That is politics. But it is dangerous to allow this brand of politics that relies on misinformation to fester. That is why our security agencies should take interest in the matter. Those who peddle disinformation should be invited to explain their actions. Appropriate sanctions should be meted out whenever and wherever willful infraction is established. This certainly will curtail the excesses of those who are polluting the media space with fake news. It is injurious to society to pass off fakery as fact.
If it were to be a few years ago when journalism was yet to be polluted, this rascality will not have a place to thrive. But all that has changed. The advent of social media has degraded the media space to the extent that the reading public can compulsively be fed with anything. The social media certainly has some redeeming features but it has largely been more of a problem to the world of information. Journalism, by its very nature, is carried out in a hurry. It thrives on urgency because anything, which qualifies as news, must be delivered fresh and hot. It must not be allowed to go stale. In order for a piece of information to qualify as news, it must be served to the reading public within a given time frame. That is part of what gives rise to deadline in the journalism profession. Without deadline, stories will probably not be written, how much more being published. The urgency, which deadline engenders is, therefore, the sauce with which news is served. But then, journalism rests on facts. A piece of information, for instance, must be factual and authentic for it to merit publication. It must also be verifiable. Any conventional medium of information worth its name must operate in line with these professional demands.
Regrettably, the social media has divested journalism of these time-honoured and noble attributes. It neither respects fact nor authenticity. Unlike in real and proper journalism where you have gatekeepers who put stories for publication through the test of authenticity and factuality, the social media is a one-man riot squad in which fact plays no role. If anything, fiction, hearsay and mischief rule and reign. It is a medium in which one man plays the role of reporter, writer, sub-editor and editor. He is also his own publisher. So, he has nobody to put him in check. It is for this reason that social media has gone haywire. That is the menace modern-day journalism is grappling with.
As this scourge ravages the Imo political space, we should stop to situate the substance or lack of it in the disinformation directed at Ihedioha. Those behind the barrage of fakery must have seen it as a political tool, in fact, a means to an end. That end, in their imagination, is to get Ihedioha out of 2023 gubernatorial race. The thinking here is that, if he is not on the ballot, the quest for a possible return of Governor Hope Uzodinma for second term will become less tortuous. But I consider this tactic childish. It misses the point about what the 2023 governorship race in Imo State should be concerned with. For a state that has known no peace since the enthronement of an unexpected disorder nearly three years ago, the people of the state are exasperated. They are in the throes of a strange order. They have been unable to come to terms with the oddity. In fact, they almost do not recognize their state anymore.
Given this unpleasant state of affairs, the people are not prepared to be led astray, regardless of the lies that they are being buffeted with. They will look closely at who is talking, with a view to establishing whether he holds the aces. And their real consideration will be: who will bell the state out of freestyle bloodletting?