By Tabia Princewill
AS we enter the electioneering season, we must all be vigilant while we re-tweet, share and re-post sensitive information. The majority of our population does not possess the exposure, the training or the critical thinking necessary to spot “fake news”, nor do many of us know how to go about fact-checking when faced with controversial, sensationalist or obviously deceptive stories on social media.
The latest story making the rounds on WhatsApp details how the Federal Government allegedly paid N80 million to unknown gunmen to organise the Dapchi girls kidnapping. We are a nation that has been so brutalised by corruption, criminality and insensitivity that we believe anything is possible, no matter how callous or grave the accusation. Some pro-PDP elements still believe the Chibok girls kidnapping was sponsored by the APC.
In fact, some now believe government would willingly put girls’ lives at risk to prove a point, which is that President Muhammadu Buhari did better when it came down to rescuing kidnapped girls. Because of all these conspiracy theories, it is impossible to know the truth in Nigeria as successive governments allow such bizarre narratives to gain ground without immediately tackling them with concrete facts to support their arguments. Governments’ laissez-faire attitude in regards to misinformation is a cause for concern.
Much of what one reads is sponsored by one camp or the other to suit its agenda. Nigerians will buy anything and we should all be worried about this, including politicians, if some have any foresight, because, if a majority of our people lack the education or the vision to make up their own mind, they can be swayed and bought by anyone: So nothing is permanent and it seems we are about to become a lot more unstable and volatile, therefore frightening away investors.
Any erratic behaviour on our part poses a challenge to a fledgling democracy such as ours. As it is, the only people who dare come to Nigeria are the hawkish capitalists ready to profit at all costs, people with no social vision of pro-people growth (a vision which, according to Bill Gates, our government itself lacks, like all those before it). We are burning the candle on both ends, doing everything to destroy ourselves and now engaging foreigners to assist us in doing so, as the Cambridge Analytica story shows.
The dream of Nigeria breaking up which foreign powers have nursed from inception must not be allowed to become a reality. They want a smaller country, one that’s easier to manage and manipulate. We seem to be doing everything within our power to assist this dream; perhaps some of our politicians have been promised a stake in this new business venture. It wouldn’t be the first time the political elite sold us out for a few scraps from the coloniser’s table.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal shows just how vulnerable we are to manipulation from inside and outside Nigeria as politicians create storylines for their personal gain. To reference the Guardian UK article which quotes a former employee describing the work the Cambridge Analytica team did in Nigeria for the Goodluck Jonathan camp during the 2015 elections: “It was the kind of campaign that was our bread and butter. We’re employed by a billionaire who’s panicking at the idea of a change of government and who wants to spend big to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Companies such as Cambridge Analytica specialise in weaponising information, using it to spread falsehood, fear and misinformation, to manipulate people into a certain course of action. Cambridge Analytica also had a hand in the fear mongering that produced Brexit and Donald Trump’s win.
“There were a lot of scared millionaires worried that Buhari would get in (…) It was voter suppression of the most crude and basic kind. It was targeted at Buhari voters in Buhari regions to basically scare the shit out of them and stop them from voting,” a Cambridge Analytica employee said. The firm released propaganda warning that if Buhari won, Sharia would be imposed across the country and people would be killed using machetes etc. Interestingly enough, the violent, doomsday scenarios described by those films perfectly match the herdsmen-versus-farmer conflicts today. Is there truth to the theory circulating that some people currently under investigation for corruption are determined to bring this government down by any means?
Unfortunately for President Buhari’s government, it hasn’t needed much help in destroying what it worked so hard to build. Its self-inflicted problems and the growing lack of trust in its ability to deliver are ultimately more of a bother than the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The latter confirms what many had long suspected, that powerful forces influence elections around the world. Western governments and their “friends”, business people, multinationals, both at home and abroad, have been perfecting subversive techniques for decades but for use in developing nations where they profit off of bad governance.
Ironically, Western publics are shocked to find these illicit practices which virtually rob us in developing countries of our choices as free-thinking individuals, are now also at work in their own democracies. The chickens have come home to roost. The Cambridge Analytica scandal confirms huge sums were spent by the immediate past government and its proxies; but without successfully prosecuting anyone, who is to say this sort of electoral manipulation won’t happen again?
To be sure, it will, because politicians are even more desperate than in 2015 and our people are even more divided on ethno-religious lines and ready to believe whatever garbage they are fed in the name of electioneering.
We still don’t know who is arming the herdsmen, who arms the Niger Delta Avengers, Boko Haram, whose sponsors, former President Jonathan once said had infiltrated his cabinet. Despite all the revelations of financial misappropriation and mismanagement (Vice President Yemi Osinbajo recently alleged N100 billion was illegally disbursed by the CBN two weeks before the 2015 elections); without convictions this only spurs counter claims and denial.
Osinbajo says there is proof: we need not discuss it. Nigerians already know, or at least suspect what went on. What we need are convictions to ensure it doesn’t happen again. This government was voted in to correct past abuses and to plug in the loopholes that allowed them to happen. Politicians manipulate Nigerians into doing their bidding: corruption is the sole reason our country is still so underdeveloped, yet you continuously find Nigerians ready to kill themselves defending those guilty of perpetuating injustice using fake news and misinformation to justify their dangerous, erroneous beliefs.
A NUMBER of people discussing what sounded like a call to arms, wondered what the General’s motivation was for telling Nigerians to retaliate when attacked by herdsmen. Nigerians must be wary of the well-protected and disconnected elite in this country: their children won’t be arming themselves nor will they suffer losses.
Some people online are asking if perhaps VAIDS (Voluntary Assets Income Declaration Scheme)is after the General? It is true that Nigerian politicians, etc, often make strange declarations, followed by the “I’m being witch-hunted” speech once they are questioned by government for either corruption, tax evasion etc.
It is definitely strange that rather than advocate concrete ways citizens can hold the police and military accountable, the General encourages what sounds like an-eye-for-an-eye. Rather than encourage anarchy, he could use his influence to lobby for justice for those involved, especially because of his status as a retired General.
The army respects him, he has ways of reaching out to those in charge. Why he chose this course of action is a mystery.
IF only our religious leaders were pro-poor as opposed to gagging us with false preaching about waiting for heaven as opposed to getting justice here on earth.
His message to young people last week was simple: “You have it in you to shout even if we older people and leaders, very often corrupt, keep quiet.” Will Nigerians listen?
Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.