You have heard it before, everything in Nigeria is BIG! Home to the largest population on the African continent and boasting the world’s biggest Black population — some 200,000,000 souls — Nigeria does everything in superlatives.
As a young man in the 1970s, I once arrived in Lagos to read in the local daily that a convoy of 250 tractors had been offloaded at the port and driven towards the Ministry of Agriculture, but lost their way, never to be found.
After a time, I got accustomed to that type of stories, some of which were given special colour by brilliant journalists such as the legendary Peter Enahoro, who wrote the hilarious How To Be a Nigerian. Look it up.
Sometimes you laugh with the brothers and sisters, sometimes you cry along with them when misfortune strikes, also in a BIG way. Like when 200 schoolgirls were abducted in Chibok a few years ago, and many people were wondering how such a large number of young women could be transported across such spaces incognito.
Along the way I got into contact with another BIG phenomenon from Nigeria in the shape of the incomparable Tajudeen Abdul Raheem (now sadly passed), whose infectious laughter accompanied every story he told, whether about the infamous “Letter 419” or some big man being transported in a plane cargo haul by his kidnappers, who happened to be state officials bringing him to justice.
The yarns are legion, and they are all BIG. In Nigeria, even a fuel queue at a pump station can resemble a political rally. And that is in the leading exporter of crude oil in Africa!
One may also want to consider the story about President Muhammadu Buhari’s office at State House being invaded by rats, which ate up all the carpets and curtains, and this after cleaning and fumigation had been done in there to the tune of $5,000.
As the local press reported, “After im no dey for office for about three months, rodents don cause plenty damage for di furniture and air conditioning units wey dey for im office and dis na why dey work from home.”
Ever watching for something new from that source, and never being disappointed, I have been dutifully following news stories about the rise in the peddling of fake news amidst the current political campaigns for the general election slated for next month.
Now that cannot be anything to crack jokes about — in Nigeria or anywhere else — as the consequences of anything going wrong can be very BIG indeed.
The place of fake news is going to be important in the Nigerian polls, just as it is important in all our countries elections. Basic to our reality is that almost of our political actors are inhabited by the most primitive desire to take unwarranted advantage of their opponents and get themselves into positions they do not deserve by any means possible, fair or foul.
To achieve this objective, no slander is too low, no lie too base, no calumny too crass as long as it does the job of bringing in votes.
In many volatile situations on the African continent, this could lead — in fact, has led — to physical violence and permanent antagonisms.
It is now reported in the country that fake news has been “weaponised” by political operators bent on doing their opponents in. The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) has said that this past week.
Its head, Idayat Hassan, has warned that the extent to which actors were engaging in fake news, disinformation and hate speech was alarming and called on all participants in the electoral process to undertake issue-based campaigns.
“These include challenges in the security and economic sectors, and its result of governance, such as education, health, power and agriculture, among others,” Idaat said.
“Debates that prioritise religious and ethnic division only serve distract citizens from making informed decisions while voting, especially since these issues do not discriminate along religious or ethnic lines.”
Needless to say, what she is doing in giving such a statement is standard practice in all our countries at such times, but very little attention is paid by political operators who regard every election as a zero-sum game in which one either wins or loses, nothing else.
The industry of disinformation and fake news has been greatly empowered with the advent of the digital age and the new platforms that have enabled anonymity and thus lessened responsibility.
At least with the traditional media, individuals had their runaway whims checked by a number of gatekeeping devices at every stage of news processing. With social media these have disappeared and the unscrupulous purveyors of fabricated news are having a field day.
Reports indicate that in this coming election there will be 95 million registered voters and 1,400 positions to vie for, figures that reinforce the idea that everything in Nigeria is indeed BIG.
The more reason to heed what Idaat has been saying. Any disruption in this mammoth exercise by anyone seeking undue electoral advantage could lead to BIG wahala. That is much worse than rats forcing the president to work via Zoom because his furniture has been eaten.
Make I beg, no fake news-o!
Jenerali Ulimwengu is on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]