Journalism is a noble profession worldwide and has come of age in Nigeria. It is often referred to as the fourth estate of the realm. Journalism, more than any profession helped our war against colonialism and facilitated our journey to independence without much bloodshed. Most of our foundational fathers were journalists and owned media houses through which they propagated principles and ideologies that pushed the people to buy into their dreams of freedom for their generation. West African Pilot was founded by the great Zik, while the Tribune was the baby of Awolowo. During the locust years of dictatorship, when most politicians had become servants and apologists of the dictators, it was the media that continued the fight for freedom until it was won. After the annulment of June 12 election, the military junta under Ibrahim Babangida proscribed most of the credible media houses and forbade them from publishing their news because of their principled stand against the cancellation. The journalists went underground and continued the publication of their news even at the risk of their lives and livelihoods. This act gave birth to guerrilla journalism and contributed to the decision of Ibrahim Babangida to “step aside” on 26th August,1993. When people act on principles and ideologies in societies, positive changes occur.
However, in the 1980s and early 90s, some group of unprincipled journalists came on the scene with fake and bombastic news headlines channelled towards making fame and fortune that nearly ruined the integrity of the journalism profession. Top magazine had on its front pages such fake news like, “Michael Jackson marries a Nigerian girl”. Some soft magazines arose with the main aim of blackmailing very influential personalities in order to sell their papers. When the body of journalism could no longer tolerate the excesses of these journalists, they set up a panel under Ray Ekpu to try the erring journalists. The main culprits refused to even appear before the panel to defend their false news. The panel consequently warned the public about this new brand of journalists and dubbed them “junk journalists”. This brand of journalism formed the basis of the fake news we witness in the social media today. Whenever anything is dubbed junk, it simply denotes that it is not good for the health of human beings and should be discarded.
Democracy originated in ancient Greece, where men of wisdom assembled in town hall meetings, to brainstorm on pressing issues affecting their nation and the government listened to their recommendations and implemented them for the good of all. This was how the concept of representative democracy evolved. Those wise men identified three classes of people in any given society. Dr Kethoser Kevichusa of Naga Republic elucidated more on these classes of people. For the Greek people, the first kind of people in any given society are the idiots. The idiot is not necessarily someone who is mentally deficient, he is someone who is a totally private, self-centered and selfish person. He is always out for his personal gain and interest. The idiot does not have a public philosophy, he has no knowledge, skill or character and no virtues to be able to live and contribute in a flourishing society and community. He is all out for his personal pleasures and treasures. The Greeks called the idiot, an upgraded barbarian.
The second kind of people were identified as the tribespeople. Tribespeople do not necessarily mean the fact of belonging to a particular tribe, which is a good thing. It means a tribal or tribalistic mentality. The tribespeople are not able to think beyond their small tribe or their small groups. Their primary, only and ultimate allegiance is to their tribe. Their tribe is their God and their religion is tribalism. They are always afraid of things that are different and a little alien to them. They are always suspicious and fearful. They deal with different people and difficult situations with intimidation, force and violence. The ideal person for tribespeople is the warrior because they are war making people.
The third kind of people were classified as the ideal people whom the Greeks called citizens. In this instance, we are not talking about legal or political status of the word citizen, we are talking about the idea and ideals of citizenship. He is someone who has the skills and knowledge to live a public life of civility. He recognizes that he is a member of a commonwealth and thus strives for the common good. He knows his rights in a society but also knows his responsibilities to the society. He can fight for his rights but always with an awareness of and with the respect for the rights and interests of others, neighbours, the smallest of minorities and the worst of his enemies. It’s the citizens that make up the civilised society because citizens settle their differences with civility. They produce a civilised society that truly lives up to the meaning of the name society. Society literally means friendship and friendliness.
Fake news are falsehood and lies told and spread with the intention to deceive and destroy for selfish interests. Fake news is so dangerous that it can lead to the destruction of lives, properties and reputation of innocent citizens. Purveyors of fake news have only their interests in mind and their modus operandi is to enforce anarchy on the society in order to achieve their ignoble objectives, which are always acquiring fortune, fame or power through the back door or obstructing the genuine path to fortune, fame, or power of others or their perceived enemies or opponents through the back door. They are always separatists who brainwash their innocent, mainly ignorant young followers with utopic, unrealistic wonderland society if their followers follow their instructions. They often convince their followers that the status quo was designed against them and urge them to destroy the status quo in order to pave way for their promised land. The evidence they offer their followers are always manipulated audio-visual pictures faking the maltreatment or killing of the group they represent. They are always dishonest and would not subject themselves and children to the risks they are subjecting their followers to.
Some will be living big abroad and promising their followers at home a separate country that will solve all their problems. They will feed their followers with fake news and encourage them to destroy the properties of people from other tribes thereby subjecting their own tribe to public opprobrium. Their followers who dare comply with such instructions meet instant destruction from the relevant authorities while their fake news purveyors leaders will in turn shout genocide against their followers. Some even go to the extent of manipulating the picture of heaven where “God” is receiving their fighters that died fighting to obey the instructions of their leaders and offering the dead fighters seven virgins with pointed breasts. These categories of people and their followers are whom the Greeks refer to as idiots because all they do is for their selfish ends. They, especially their self appointed leaders, are always very hypocritical. A separatist fellow from the South East is busy instigating his followers to attack leaders of his own tribe and attack people from other tribes in a purported bid to create a separate country for them. Meanwhile he is in abroad enjoying himself and his followers are being destroyed at home for carrying out his instructions. A leader of a North Eastern separatist movement propounded a theory that western education was an abomination but when he was caught, he was using a computer, a product of western education, to administer his organisation. When asked why he was using a computer, despite condemning western education, he replied that it was a necessity. Western education is good for him but bad for his followers.
The reaction of Nigerians to fake news also revealed that we have a long way to go. Each tribe tries to defend its interests to the detriment of other tribes deploying the instrumentality of fake news to instigate crises among the different tribes. The #ENDSARS Protest that started genuinely with a quest against police brutality was distorted through fake news by ethnic Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba jingoists as plans by each other to destroy each other’s properties. These are people the ancient Greeks described as tribespeople. They are not able to think beyond their tribes or their small groups. They are always afraid of things that are different and a little alien to them. They are always suspicious and fearful. They deal with different people and difficult situations with intimidation, force and violence.
Nigeria is going through instability because it is populated mainly by idiots (selfish people) and tribesmen. Citizens are scarce. We must go back to the virtues of our founding fathers. When Nigeria was about to become independent, every one of the four leaders of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Sir Tafawa Balewa was qualified to become Prime Minister but none of them was willing to destroy Nigeria if he missed the post. They didn’t try to use fake news to destroy each other or the country if any lost the post. Hear Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, “for 25 years of my life I fought for the freedom of Nigeria. Nigeria will attain independence on October 1, 1960. So it makes no difference to me whether the Sarduana or Balewa or Chief Awolowo or myself will become the first Prime Minister, so long as Nigeria is free, I will be satisfied.” What a public philosophy!, life of civility and sacrifice for the common good. A citizen indeed. Recently some misguided youths from his place burnt his statue because they were fed with the fake news that he caused their problems. How can a man who liberated you from foreign domination and domestic slavery be the cause of your problems? This was why the Greeks referred to such youths as idiots and upgraded barbarians lacking in any public philosophy, knowledge, skilI, virtue or character to be able to live and contribute in a flourishing society and community.
Government should be careful in handling the issue of fake news. They should understand that there is a difference between fake news and hate speech. A speech, no matter how hateful, once it is the truth, exculpates the teller. The continual use of the term hate speech in combating fake news is unhelpful as citizens might be apprehensive that the government may use the guise of hate speech to muzzle the journalists in their duty to expose corruption, inefficiency and waste by government officials. Whereas every fake news is falsehood, it is not every hateful speech is false. In a democracy, social media may be difficult to regulate, but fake news is very much regulateable and punishable under various laws. Libel is both criminal and civil wrong and punishable by our laws. Making false statements to authorities constitute crimes etc. Government should concentrate on regulating and punishing fake news.