SWITZERLAND, SEPTEMBER 27 – ‘Having a large number of misinformed people in a society is absolutely devastating and extremely difficult to cope with.’
With the manner at which people wear inanity on their sleeves today, I couldn’t agree more with Stephan Lewandowsky from the University of Bristol on the assertion above.
Fake news more than ever before has become a hot topic. With the proliferation of internet and contents, it is being regarded seriously, especially since its negative impact on elections have been established. Fake news has now become a pertinent issue in the public sphere across the world; from the United States to Nigeria, affecting individuals, businesses and nation states alike.
A bad news story can cause plummeting stock prices, destroy the reputation of a business, sway investors or cause stakeholder panic. It can make politicians lose elections, create inordinate political rivalries, and in worst cases, spark wars. And because of how these subtle ‘soft stories’ destroy people’s reputation; detractors have manipulated a lot of media houses into publishing lies that serve selfish purposes.
Have you ever read or heard something so brazenly garnished with the concoction called lies? Upholding journalistic integrity has definitely become a tough call. Even once respected media outlets are succumbing to sensational lust in the way they report stories, most times without fact-checking. Some do it for cash gains, allowing themselves to be used as pawns by individuals with a bigger agenda.
One of the most recent victims of fake news is the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, who has come under immense attack with accusations of corruption, none of them backed by evidences. Not only are these unfounded allegations undermining the reputation of the Vice President, they also threaten to tear apart, the fabric of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.
One of these is the ridiculous allegation that Osinbajo is being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for corruption in the National Social Investment Programmes (N-SIP) which he supervised. The N-SIP is perhaps the most significant policy of this administration. It consists of a set of innovative welfare programmes that include the National Home-Grown School Feeding (NHGSF), Tradermoni, N-power and Conditional Cash Transfers.
The EFCC has since come out to debunk this mischievous rumour by stating that the Vice President is by no means under any investigation. Moreover, the National Social Investment Office (NSIO) has stated that Osinbajo does not even have access to the Social Investment funds.
The statement from the NSIO reads:
“Amidst insinuations in some quarters regarding the amounts budgeted and released for N-SIPs, following media reports on the alleged involvement of the Vice President in financial matters. It can be categorically said that His Excellency, the VP Yemi Osinbajo has never been involved in any of such financial transactions.”
The NSIO added that: “The funds allocated and released for the financing of the National Social Investment Programmes (N-SIPs) of the Buhari administration have been domiciled in the Ministry of Budget and National Planning from inception, and not in the Office of the Vice President or anywhere in the Presidency.”
Another case is the accusation emanating from Timi Frank, APC’s former Deputy National Publicity Secretary. Timi Frank had accused Osinbajo of appropriating N90 billion from the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS) for the 2019 Elections. What is most condemnable about this matter is that some reputable media outfits published these allegations as facts without even verifying their authenticity.
The Vice President had to write open letters through his lawyers to Vanguard Newspaper and Google concerning false publications about him in the newspaper and on online media platform; Roots TV.
Vanguard eventually apologised to Osinbajo and pulled down the story while Roots TV took off a video alleging that Mr Osinbajo “used” federal agencies under his supervision as vice president “to stack funds” for 2023 general elections.
These media organizations may have realized the error in their actions, but the damage has already been done. These false reports have succeeded in putting Osinbajo in the eye of the storm, which is perhaps what his detractors want. It might require considerable effort, time and resources before the man can get his reputation back.
Osinbajo and the relevant agencies concerned have denied the allegations with proof of his innocence. The Vice President has even stated that he is ready to waive his immunity to allow investigations on these matter without hindrance so as to prove his innocence. Yet these do not seem to be enough as it seems his detractors are bent on pushing him into resignation.
Moreover, Timi Frank, the source of the FIRS allegation, has remained adamant, even without facts to back up his claims, and has insisted that Osinbajo indeed committed those misdeeds.
It might be interesting to note that Vice President Osinbajo is not the only one currently in the web of fake stories. The supposed resignation of Godwin Emefiele from his position as governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria is still fresh. National dailies and online media had reported in May 2019 that the CBN governor was asked to resign and he had in turn tendered resignation. But when the poor man raised alarm over the white lie, Punch tried controlling the damage with the headline ‘Emefiele has not proceeded on terminal leave – as usual, creating and withdrawing sensation.
But what really do media organisations seem to gain from mischievous stories? Like a drop of lamp oil on a cemented floor, even the weirdest of stories spread all the way to international media and they gain momentum.
When unverified facts and baseless stories are published, if it is not to mislead the public, it is to drive the country into the realm of a reality show conspiracy and when better to do this if not now that the country is starting a new dispensation. Several unbelievable examples abound but for limited time and in the interest of trending issues, I have used Osinbajo as an example.
Misinformation pollutes the mind of innocent readers, and it has economic, political, and social consequences. It is high time this junk journalism stops before the media loses its place in our society. As Nigerians, we need to start making effort to verify stories before believing and spreading them; who knows who will be next if this despicable trend continues?