BY VICTORIA N. IKEANO
Fake news peddlers have upped their game and have taken it to a new dimension that would catch many people napping. In fact, they caught me as I had swallowed one such fake news, notwithstanding that a quiet voice within me doubted its veracity; but then I saw that It met the three basic tenets of reporting, namely who said it, where and when. Hitherto one way of doubting authenticity of a news story and considering it as fake is if it is not attributed to any person. Thus, when you see/read a story with a surprising, baffling, information and which information was extracted from “Sources”, “Insiders” you have every reason to doubt it and flag it as fake news. For example, ‘Sources within Aso Rock say that the First Lady gave birth to a bouncing baby boy recently”; ‘According to an insider ……’. But how do you doubt a news story that quoted its source and met the basic principle of who said it, where and when? That was the case with the recent news that Governor Hope Uzodinma was set to rename the state’s university after Mallam Abba Kyari, the late chief of staff to President Muhammadu Buhari.
It read: “The governor of Imo state, Hope Uzodinma has disclosed that the state-owned Imo State University (IMSU) will be renamed to Mallam Abba Kyari University saying the late chief of staff died as a patriot. This was revealed via a statement signed and released today, April 20 by the Chief Press Secretary/Media Adviser to the Governor, Oguwike Nwachuku. The Governor made this call when the management staff of the university led by the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Adaobi Obasi paid him a visit at the Executive Chambers of the Imo State Government House. The Governor went on to say that Mallam Abba Kyari played a pivotal role in the liberation of Imo State and no gesture is too big for a man who died as a patriot… The Governor urged the management staff of IMSU to live up to expectation while pointing out that his Administration is very committed to quality education in the State and that Imo State University as the epicenter can not be left behind. The University management through the VC commended the Governor for a job well done so far. She also called on all and sundry to support His Excellency to succeed”.
You cannot doubt a news item that is quoting from a press release. Some sites even reproduced the press statement on the letter-headed paper complete with the chief press secretary’s signature! This erased all seeming doubts. Having resigned myself to the ‘fact’ that this could be true, one could only wonder if the governor was aware of the full ramification of the decision, given the state’s recent history and the tension it could create in that part of our country. ‘A controversial decision’, I soliloquized. And I was looking forward eagerly to seeing/reading Imolites’ reactions to their governor’s audacious move. Alas, it was fake news. We had all been fooled as the chief press secretary denied the story, asserting that he never issued nor signed any such release. So, both the official letter headed paper and his own signature were forged? This is a dangerous dimension to fake news, that is, the forging of official documents and signatures. It is a criminal act in all respects. I take note though of conspiracy theory in some quarters that the government may have been forced to distance itself from the news because of the backlash of unfavorable reactions to it. Still, there is no denying the fact that fake news peddlers have devised sophisticated means of tricking us into drinking/swallowing their brew through forging papers and passing them off as authentic.
Early this month, a ‘Breaking News’ flew off like a wild fire, announcing that President Muhammadu Buhari had sacked, Abba Kyari and replaced him immediately with Babagana Kingibe. The source was a letter said to have been written by the secretary to the federation (SGF) complete with his office emblem. It gained traction in the social media. The letter by the SGF, Boss Mustapha, stated inter alia, “The termination of the appointment of Mr. Abba Kyari took immediate effect. And the President has appointed Alhaji Babagana Kingibe as the new Chief of Staff (CoS). The President thanked Mr. Abba Kyari for his absolute loyalty to him and to the nation during the period he served as his CoS. He prayed to God for his speedy recovery”. This one was intriguing. For one, such an appointment would be announced by the presidency as soon as it is made. So, one was waiting to see/hear the official breaking news on radio and television which did not come. Besides, President Buhari is not known to make immediate replacements, he usually takes his time. That appears to be his style. There are numerous examples to prove that. Above all, one wondered aloud whether Mr. President could literally stab in the back, a loyal friend/confidante who is recuperating in the hospital by sacking him? It is not in the character of our president who as a military officer is fully aware of the value of loyalty. It turned out to be a fake news with both the presidency and office of the SGF debunking it in toto although some people would have believed hence, its widespread sharing on social media.
Sometime last year there was a breaking news online with the title, ‘President Buhari sacks, replaces Buratai as Chief of Army Staff’. It read, “The president and Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, The Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, sacks Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai as Chief of Army Staff, replaces him immediately. Major-General Lamidi Adeosun has been appointed the new Chief of Army Staff. Major-General Adeosun who until his latest appointment was the chief of Training and Operations replaces outgoing Army Chief Lt. Gen. Tukur Burutai”. People flooded the comments section, commending the ‘sack’ and ‘new appointee’. Again, it turned out to be false. Sake news.
Few days ago, the news went viral that school resumption date has been pushed back by the Federal Ministry of Education to November 20, 2020 as per a statement signed by the minister himself Alhaji Adamu Adamu. The statement was as ironical as it was amusing for those with a discerning mind. The news spread quickly also by word of mouth and soon, parents and guardians were talking about it. However, the ministry disowned the fake press release in an authentic statement by the ministry’s director of Press and Public relations intimating, “The ministry will no longer take such information for granted especially when it posses the capacity to mislead a large number of innocent Nigerians, The said release is quoting the permanent secretary as giving an interview to Premium Times while at the same time, the minister is the one signing the press statement. Is the Hon. Minister the spokesman of the permanent secretary? Everything here points to insanity. Beyond the realm of insanity is the height of illiteracy.” It is about time this later-day purveyors of high-wire fake news are fished out and charged for the criminal offence of forgery.