Fake news will be weaponised for 2019 elections, and you should absolutely fight it

The frequency of misinformation is expected to rise as the election nears, but it must not be allowed to stand.

A former minister, Femi Fani-Kayode, took to his Twitter account (@realFFK) on Tuesday to inform his over 754,000 followers what President Muhammadu Buhari had allegedly said about Nigerians at the Paris Peace Forum in France.

He posted, “”40 million Nigerians are mad and are suffering from mental illness” – President Muhammadu Buhari, Paris, Nov. 11th 2018.

“Buhari went to France and told the world that one quarter of the Nigerian people are mad? I am at a loss for words! May God deliver us from this man!”

Fani-Kayode lied (which is ironic because he has ‘Servant of truth’ in his Twitter bio, another lie).

The statement attributed to Buhari about mental illness in Nigeria was actually made by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, Abdulaziz Abdullahi, who disclosed on Monday that an estimated 20%-30% of Nigeria’s population is believed to suffer from mental disorders.

Abdullahi was actually lamenting about the inadequacy of the attention that mental disorders get in the country and advocated for better awareness.

So, not only did Fani-Kayode attach the statement to the wrong person, he completely misrepresented the true context of the subject.

If you give Fani-Kayode full credit for a man of his standing, it’s easy to conclude that he knows for certain that President Buhari did not make that statement in Paris. I believe him to be a smarter man than that.

Why then would Fani-Kayode, a chieftain of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), have deliberately tweeted a falsehood against the president without a shred of evidence to back his claim? Easy answer – for political convenience.

Given President Buhari’s penchant for making uncharitable remarks about Nigeria and Nigerians almost every time he touches down in foreign countries, Fani-Kayode’s false attribution was quite easy for the untrained mind to believe.

From saying he’ll favour certain regions that helped him become president over others, to saying his wife belonged in the kitchen, and more recently sort of calling Nigerian youths lazy people waiting on government handouts, it’s a wonder the president’s handlers still allow him near a microphone when he’s abroad.

This is why it’s easy for someone like Fani-Kayode to feed on this established history to attempt to spread an easy-to-debunk story like the one in his tweet. It’s why the tweet has already been retweeted by over 1,800 people with most unwilling to even fact-check the information to be sure of its authenticity.

Just two days before the tweet in question, Fani-Kayode had also tweeted that the current President Buhari is not actually him, a conspiracy theory that was birthed by the separatist leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu.

“The true identity of the man in the Villa that claims to be Buhari will only be made known after he is defeated and steps down from power. When that happens Nigerians will be shocked to the marrow. In 2015 I warned about his fake certificate. Today I warn about his fake identity,” he posted on Sunday.

If you distort logic hard enough, Fani-Kayode’s attempts to spread falsehoods may appear harmless, but it’s a window into how problematic fake news will continue to be in Nigeria for the forseeable future.

The business of peddling fake news is sure to be a very profitable one as the 2019 general elections draw closer.

The most troubling concern is no matter how insane a false information is, there are going to be people who’ll completely believe it without conducting checks for accuracy, and this is dangerous.


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