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Jibrin of Sudan and the audacity of fake news

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By Dr Ugoji Egbujo

Tales were only once told only  by moonlight. The sun gave way to the moon and people gathered to wind down. They  shared  tales , fables , lullabies and all.

President Buhari

Those tales were useful because they were not to be believed.  Children were told scary fairy tales so they wouldn’t wander from home. No one actually wanted to deceive another.

Now men gather children and fellow adults and with constipated faces  tell them political   fairy tales in broad daylight. Politicians and the clergy now concoct  tales  and tell them without songs. And force  lumps of  rough tales down  throats as they would force medicine down the throat of sick children.  The scary thing is no one really knows if these  modern day tale bearers know their stories are imaginary. And if those who hear them know where to keep them.

Now adults are told political  fairy tales. They nod like frightened children. And hold on to them like scriptures.

About a year ago many said Buhari had died in London. Fayose was certain he was in the mortuary. He said he had the pictures.  Many of those who celebrated Buhari’s death went dumb when he returned. Fayose  gave up the ownership of  secret intelligence channels around the president that once made him the favorite of gossip magazines. He never talked about the mortuary  pictures we once  knew he  had under his pillow.

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But Nnamdi Kanu, the owner of the late dog named Jack didn’t take Buhari’s recovery and return calmly. He looked closely at the recuperated man and shook his head. He declared that the returnee was an  impostor of the Buhari that died in London. He said his men of the Biafra Secret Service had reliable intelligence that a certain Jibrin from Sudan had been  co opted to fill in for the  dead Buhari.

Ordinarily, with a little song, that  would have made a good  African fairy tale.

But without a song, and without the somnolence of moonlight, Nnamdi Kanu’s tale raised eyebrows. Many amongst his apostles who  had longed to kiss the feet of the Director  of Radio Biafra couldn’t help but doubt their god. But their unbelief sparked anger in the supreme freedom fighter. He labeled  those who couldn’t see Jibrin de Sudan in Buhari as morons.  They  knew if they persisted in their unbelief they would become rebels, saboteurs. So they started to believe. Some could only go half the way. So they deemed their supreme  leader’s Jibrin  theory  a  useful exaggeration.  So Jibrin became, in their hearts,   an apt  metaphor of a disappointing president. So they too, these intellectuals,  could say the healthy Buhari is Jibrin.

Cynics hissed. They had always doubted the firmness of  Nnamdi Kanu’s grasp of reality. After he expounded  Jibrin, they included hallucinations in the long list that must be overcome during any royal  rehabilitation for the supreme leader. After Jibrin  instructed a python dance and the Biafra secret service smuggled  Nnamdi Kanu into a hole outside the country  we all thought the Idea of Jibrin had been buried.

But Jibrin of Sudan has lived on. A certain pastor mounted the pulpit a few days ago and spoke about Jibrin. He said it took him a while but he has seen that the Buhari in Aso Rock isn’t the Buhari that went to London for medical treatment. The pastor spoke with priestly earnestness.  He must  have acquired the special  spirit of discernment as the IPOB leader.

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The problem with fake news is that it is potentially a weapon of mass destruction. It is true that corruption can kill Nigeria. But perhaps corruption is a slow virus. The plague that took apart Rwanda in a few months in 1994 was not corruption. It was  hatred spawned by fake news.  It was the fake news about the existence of weapon off mass destruction that brought Iraq to precipitate ruins.

If a picture of Buhari surfaces and his nose appears a little flatter than the beak of a woodpecker murmurs about Jibrin will fill  the air. Corruption is ruthless. But it is fake news that has the stubbornness and ruthlessness of a Californian wild fire.

The elections are here. Tempers are volatile. Idle poorly educated young men are the  combustible dry wood . They abound. Ethnicity and religion are the high velocity winds. They are here. Fake news is the fire.  Its factories are sprouting everywhere. Firefighters could be useless.

Nigeria is therefore particularly vulnerable. It has many  pyromaniacs in positions of influence.

Jibrin, fortunately,  is not the sort of news that can set the country instantaneously ablaze. But the sheer stupidity of the story and its baffling  tenacity  must trouble the lovers of peace. If the most outlandish of political fairy tales can survive for so long and manage to intrigue  minds that claim sophistication then the country is exceptionally  vulnerable .

Fayose may have dropped off the bus. But he and his colleagues set it on that ruinous path. If he hadn’t declared that he had mortuary pictures perhaps the demons  wouldn’t have found tilled grounds on which to sow their ‘Jibrinous’ hallucinations . What Jibrin does by its sheer ridiculousness  is to prepare the ground for a future mass hypnosis.

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Fakes news , like weeds , must abound. But if allowed to flourish only  in beer parlors and motor parks then the society may not be harmed. Real damage is  risked when fake news takes residence in  government houses and houses of God. And when it occupies radio and television stations.  Ordinary people took part in the holocaust and roasted ordinary people. Deliberate  insistent misinformation was all that was needed.

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