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Nigerian Influencers and the Spread of Fake News

Olawale Ameen Olawale Ameen
10th May 2021
Nigerian Influencers and the Spread of Fake News

Note: The views and opinions expressed in blog/editorial posts are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the views or opinions of Misbar.

In Nigeria today, fake news spreads easily due to the strong religious and ethical stance of the public. Trends show that most false claims that go viral are largely appealing to people's religious and ethnic bias. For such information, once it aligns with an individual's own bias, regardless of its veracity, it gets shared and within a very short period, it travels far. In many instances, false information pits one tribe or religion against the other thus inciting rage.

The major culprits and enablers in this scenario are usually notable individuals with large followers popularly referred to as influencers. Unfortunately, anything shared in the form of opinions or statements of 'facts,' regardless of its truth, is taken, hook, line, and sinker by their followers.

Instances such as the case of Leah Shuabi, the only Christian girl left behind among the previously kidnapped Dapchi school girls shows that nothing ignites Nigerians' interest more than discussions along tribal and religious lines. Tempers and emotions usually flare up around these subjects and these influencers do not help in curtailing the spread since they are usually taking a biased stance themselves.

A case in point is a recent tweet by the self-proclaimed leader of a proscribed secessionist group, IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu.

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On Wednesday, May 5, Nnamdi Kanu tweeted, "Ongoing @HQNigerianArmy maneuvers to squirrel the impostor Yusuf Abubakar Mohammed a.k.a @MBuhari back to Niger Rep. through a pantomime military coup will not work. Real @MBuhari is dead! If Fulani cabal think that military coup is their easy escape, they are grossly mistaken."

Within 24 hours the tweet had amassed more than 5000 retweets, 128 quote tweets and more than 5000 likes. Unfortunately, all the claims in the tweet are false. With a following of more than 290k, his tweets have far-reaching ripple effects as such go viral within a very short period of time.

First, it has been confirmed by the President’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, that the man running the affairs of this nation is not Jubril of Sudan or Yusuf Abubakar Mohammed. 

Secondly, Nnamdi Kanu's claim that the army is trying to smuggle the supposed imposter back to Niger by a pantomime coup is not true. The army has repeatedly confirmed its support for the Buhari-led government.

The third claim, that President Buhari is dead, is not only misleading but entirely false. The President's recent return from his medical check-up in the UK and photos from the recent launch of the National Policy for Indigenous Content in the Nigerian Telecommunications Sector and revised National Digital Policy for SIM card registration in Abuja confirmed that the President is not dead.

This is not the first time Nnamdi Kanu has shared such conspiracy theories and false claims about President Buhari to his followers. In 2018, he claimed that the man in Aso Rock was one Jubril from Sudan and not Buhari. He went on again to report six supposed scientific facts to back his claim that Jubril Aminu Al-Sudani was impersonating President Muhammadu Buhari.

Nnamdi Kanu is just one of several notable influencers who have contributed to the spread of fake news. Examples of these personalities include Reno Omokri, Adetutu Balogun and Femi Fani-Kayode.

As the popular adage says, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Social media influencers need to come to the realization that great responsibility rests on them to be circumspect and to only share accurate information with their followers.

Photo: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP via Getty Images

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