The Federal Government, through the Ministry of Information and Culture, has just launched a National Campaign Against Fake News’ which aim it says, is to sensitise all Nigerians of the dangers posed to the peace and security, and indeed the corporate existence of Nigeria.
According to the Federal Government, “the timing of the launch is also not unconnected to the role of fake news in aggravating the various crises in the country as well as the need to check this phenomenon ahead of the 2019 elections.” The Federal Government described the fake news phenomenon as a time bomb that can detonate with deadly consequences if left unchecked and a global epidemic that could be worse than all the plagues that the world has recorded put together, a clear and present danger to global peace and security, and a threat to democracy.
The fanfare that greeted the launch of this campaign could be mistaken for the launch of a major industrialisation policy or scientific breakthrough, considering the media hype it got, even though the issue of fake news, though being practiced by a minute segment of the population, most of whom are not trained journalists, in our view, is being blown out of proportion by the Federal Government to carry out its sinister plot to suppress the press.
This campaign on the eve of the 2019 elections, which is clearly targeted at the media, considering the several references made to the media, during the launch, is one in the series of attempts by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government to muzzle the press, beginning with the much-touted hate speech in 2017.
The Nigerian press, even in very difficult times, has kept faith with the Nigerian people and continued to play its role of informing, educating, entertaining the people. The press, which the Federal Government now wants to portray as purveyors of fake news, has tirelessly defended Nigeria’s democracy and played a significant role in the events leading to the victory of the All Progressives Congress in the 2015 general election. In fact, President Buhari, represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, at the2015 Biennial Convention of the Nigeria Guild Of Editors, NGE, held in Lagos, paid glowing tribute to the Nigerian media for its key role in bringing about the change in the nation’s leadership.
The media, in our view, rather than being oppressed, deserves to be commended by the government for even carrying out functions that are statutorily supposed to be carried out by agencies of government, such as the National Orientation Agency (NOA), which has failed to live up to its mandate, under the supervising minister, Lai Mohammed, who appears somewhat desperate in his bid to gag the press. The NOA was established by Decree 100 of 1993 now an Act of the National Assembly Caps 64 Laws of the Federation with a mandate to serve as a vehicle for reaching out to a vast majority of Nigerians on government policies and programmes.
The functions of the NOA include communicating government policies, programmes and activities to the people; mobilising favourable public opinion and support for government policies, programmes and activities; providing feedback to government on people’s reaction to its policies, programmes and activities; promoting Nigeria’s core values and positive attitudes through programmes of value reorientation; establishing social institutions and framework for deliberate exposure of Nigerians to democratic norms and values for a virile, peaceful, united, progressive and disciplined society; promoting a vibrant democratic culture and citizen’s responsibility through political and civic education; among others, all of which are being done by the media. The agency has been missing in action in the discharge of its mandate and this prompted the drafting of a three-year Strategic Plan for the NOA in 2017, which strategic goals include to communicate government policies, programmes and activities to the people and elicit their support and feedback; to promote Nigerian core values and positive attitudes through programmes of value re-orientation; to mobilise citizens to support government policies, programmes and activities; to promote vibrant democratic culture and citizen’s responsibility through political and civic education; to develop a permanent dialogue mechanism on transparency, accountability and good governance between citizens and government to facilitate a culture of openness; to forge partnerships with development partners, private companies and citizens’ groups,
The Federal Government therefore, needs to do away with its fixation on hate speech and fake news, real and imagined, and concentrate on the job of delivering good governance, bearing in mind that with good governance, there may be no need for fake news.