Politics

March 23, 2024

How fake news almost ruined my 40-year marriage — Lai Mohammed 

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The immediate past Minister of Information and National Orientation, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has recounted how fake news on social media almost crashed his 40-year marriage.

The ex-minister gave the account in Lagos at an event to commemorate the 90th birthday anniversary of Prof. Wole Soyinka, Africa’s first Nobel laureate for literature. 

He recalled that one of the pressing challenges he faced in office as minister was the spate of fake news, misinformation, and disinformation. 

Speaking specifically about how the menace almost ruined his marriage, Mohammed stressed that the consequences of fake news, disinformation, and misinformation were far-reaching. 

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“Permit me to share publicly with you today, for the first time, how social media threatened the foundation of my forty-year-old marriage.

“It was sometime in 2018 when I came to Lagos from Abuja for an official assignment.

“As usual, I retired to bed about midnight. But about 3 a.m., my wife gently roused me from my slumber.

“At first, I panicked, fearing that there had been a security breach. But my wife’s mind belied that possibility, for she was calm and composed,” the ex-minister said.

He continued: “Solemnly, my wife asked me if I was fully awake as there were some serious issues to discuss.

“I could not fathom what was that urgent or serious to warrant being woken up at this time of the night.

“My mind immediately did a kaleidoscope of my rascalities and escapades in the last few months.”

$1.3bn in overseas account

Mohammed said the accusation from his wife was ‘a bombshell’. Narrated to him in Yoruba language, it roughly translated thus:

“Daddy, death can come knocking at any moment. Please, let me also, as your wife, be a signatory to your overseas account in Ali Financial which contains 1.3 billion dollars.”

The former minister said he could not believe that his wife could take, hook, line, and sinker the fake story in circulation crediting humongous sums of money in overseas accounts to government functionaries/ministers under former President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.

Lai said: “I spent the next two hours or so, sweating to convince my wife that there is no iota of truth in the allegation.

“I had to fetch a calculator and reproduce the Federal Appropriation Act for 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 in the middle of the night and explain to her why it is simply preposterous for me to have 1.3 billion dollars in a foreign account.

“I explained to her that there is no year my capital budget exceeded N5 billion, which, at about N400 to a dollar, was just 12.5 million dollars.

“I explained that, even if I managed to divert every kobo of it to my personal account, it would take at least 104 years to save the sum of 1.3 billion dollars being peddled that I stole,” he said.

Mohammed added: “My wife insisted that the whole world believed the story and that her friends had as a result, besieged her with all kinds of requests.

“She said every effort on her part to deny the existence of this foreign account only succeeded in depicting her in the minds of her friends as a selfish, greedy, and uncaring friend.

“Is my wife truly convinced of my innocence? The answer is in the wind.”

Mohammed reiterated that social media remained the platform of choice for the purveyors of fake news, anti-state groups, anarchists, secessionists, terrorists, and bandits.

He recalled that while in government, his ministry uncovered 476 online publications that were dedicated to spreading fake news against the Buhari administration.

‘Jubril from Sudan’

Mohammed specifically recalled the fake news that the former president had died while receiving treatment in a London hospital. And was replaced by a clone called “Jubril from Sudan”.

According to him, the challenge of fake news continued up to the campaigns leading to the 2023 general elections, where President Bola Tinubu became a target when videos and speeches attributed to him were manipulated and distorted. 

He said the purveyors of fake news were relentless in their efforts to de-market the laudable policies and programmes of Tinubu’s administration.

Mohammed said fake news had become exponential through the use of Artificial Intelligence and deep learning techniques to create highly realistic fake or manipulated videos, audio recordings or images.

“The consequences of disinformation and misinformation are far-reaching.

“They undermine democratic processes, sow discord within communities, and pose significant threats to public health and safety.

“Today, even the media is at risk of losing its credibility because of the proliferation of fake news on social media. 

“Therefore, the media, as custodians of the public trust, must take decisive action to combat the scourge of disinformation and misinformation,” he said. 

Mohammed said that social media platforms and other intermediaries accountable for their role in amplifying disinformation and misinformation should be held responsible. 

According to him, they should be checked through robust regulatory frameworks to curb the spread of false information while safeguarding freedom of expression.

He admonished social media platforms to prioritise the integrity of information over profit motives and take proactive measures to detect and remove harmful content from their platforms. (NAN)

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