If there is a long history to fears about fake news, there is a long history to fake news too. For example, in 2003, in the run-up to the Iraq war, articles about Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction filled newspaper pages across the world. So, lies masquerading as news are as old as the news itself. What is new today is not fake news but the medium of propagation as well as the status and caliber of purveyors of such news.
Last week, in order to whip up sentiments for his new-found love, PDP, in the run-up to the Osun State gubernatorial election, as well as extract more money from his master Bukola Saraki, Chief Dele Momodu engineered and spread the fake news that the EFCC has frozen the accounts of Senator Adeleke and his family members including that of his “boss” Davido. Chief Momodu’s intentional lies quickly spread like wildfire on Twitter, WhatsApp, and Facebook. In a matter of minutes, major news outlets including Punch joined in spreading the lies to the extent that the EFCC issued a statement that neither the accounts of Davido nor the Adelekes was frozen.
In the ensuing furor, someone called Chief Dele Momodu’s attention to the legitimacy of his post and asked him to take it down. Interestingly, Chief Momodu responded bombastically that he has re-verified the authenticity of his tweet from the Adeleke family, and that he stands by his post. Perhaps Dele Momodu did not realize that, by pompously standing by his lies, for days, that the accounts of his boss Davido and that of the Adeleke families were frozen by EFCC, he had become the nation's chief purveyor of fake news.
As if the fake news of last week was not enough, this week, Dele Momodu again, used his Boss Newspaper to re-circulate an old news from 2009 on a Nigerian Engineer, Dr. Igwemezie who won a $500 million contract for motorail network in Iraq. In this case, Mr. Momodu’s desperate intent to damage the reputation of President Buhari’s is twofold. One is to rubbish the massive infrastructural investment in the rail network across Nigeria as unpatriotic since the contract is being executed by foreigners. Secondly and very cynical, like PDP, he is playing the ethnic card of labeling Buhari and APC as tribal and anti-Igbo. If not, why should Dele Momodu exhume a 2009 news and publish it as if Buhari in unfair to Dr. Igwemezie, a qualified Igbo man?
It’s not hard to see a dishonest desperate pattern in Dele Momodu’s tactics in spreading of Fake news. 1. Report fake news that undermines the political opponents of his buddy Saraki. 2. Allow the Tweeter trolls to spread the lies for days. 3. Inflict damage. 4. Collect more money from Saraki for a job well done. 5. Then retract, claim innocence and offer a diluted apology. 6. Repeat.
Chief Dele Momodu lost his bearing and sense of credibility since Senator Saraki declared his intention to run for the office of the President of Nigeria. Chief Dele Momodu an attempt to push Saraki into Aso Rock through the concrete walls has been manipulating facts to present lies as truth. Chief Dele Momodu has made full use of the popularity he enjoys to gossip and spread fake news. He cites questionable figures and theories of governance and democracy to justify Bukola Sarakis corrupt acts, rascality and abuse of office. Yet, it seems almost futile to argue with him by citing contrary data and theories.
While I am against curtailing free speech and creativity, I am a proponent of publicly disgracing mischievous “manufacturing” of gossip by newsmakers with the intent of creating fake news. Fake news is the greatest bane of the mass media in the age of the internet and social media. In Nigeria, it threatens to destroy the bedrock of our multiculturalism. This dark twin of legitimate news has pitched tribes and religions against each other. And Chief Dele Momodu knows this. Yet, he remains a shameless purveyor of fake news.
No doubts the birth of the social media should be celebrated as the irreversible democratization of the world of information, particularly in Nigeria. It has empowered ordinary Nigerians - hitherto the passive recipients of information from NTA- to generate and disseminate information ourselves without having to own a printing press or a television network. This is a lot of power - but without the corresponding responsibility. What is troubling is the massive abuse of the internet as a medium for the propagation of the vilest forms of slander, hate speech, and false information.
For Dele Momodu and other purveyors of fake news on social media, “Truth” often has little more meaning than: “This is what I think should be true”. Dele Momodu’s access to people in authority and corridors of power has become a way of making good money from his lies. Cloaked with the authority of Ovation and Boss newspapers, Mr. Momodu’s tweet of even the most bizarre piece of information could take on the shape of a fact. Nigerians of different political and cultural inclinations already tend to be attentive to information that supports their unexamined prejudices, regardless of its veracity. Mr. Momodu is feeding these prejudices, intentionally.
People like Chief Dele Momodu who willfully and maliciously spread the fake news on the freezing of the accounts, out of mischief and to make money from PDP, acted irresponsibly - maybe even criminally. To the people who quickly shared the post, withholding any judgment on the news they received - you are as culpable of propagating fake news as Chief Dele Momodu.
Dele Momodu’s heated rhetoric and blanket lies only serves to divide the country more. Someone close to Chie Dele Momodu should please let him know that he is free to keep campaigning for Bukola Saraki as much as he like. He should, however, stop devising and spreading divers false, malicious and scandalous reports to Nigerians using Social media.
Finally, in a rational universe, a media mogul like Dele Momodu would at least make an honest attempt to acknowledge the need for objectivity and integrity in news reporting. Unfortunately, because of his zeal to land a lofty appointment when Bukola Saraki starts to “Grow Nigeria” in Panama, Chief Momodu has lost his objectivity. It’s sad that he doesn’t care about his credibility anymore. He is thus a disgrace to the media industry.
While we should let, journalists get on with doing their jobs, Nigerians must be vigilant and willing to challenge and disgrace desperate purveyors of fake news like Chief Dele Momodu. We should learn to recognize common indicators of fake news, understand the consequences of careless sharing, and learn to become fact-checkers. That’s what patriotism and good citizenship call for.
Together, we can.
You can email Churchill at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @churchillnnobi