The Oasis Reporters
January 23, 2020
By Ahmed Magem
Lying and deceit not only destroy people’s reputations, they alienate them, not just in families, but also on the job, at school, and in various religious places. People equally get hurt and angry when they find out others have lied to them or about them.
Often lies and slander are used as tools to destroy the credibility and reputation of innocent or godly persons.
False accusations and lies are a standard means of persecution, intended to intimidate an individual or group to compromise the truth or to discredit their influence.
“Digital platforms are failing to assume their responsibility by allowing the dissemination of lies,” says Abubakar Musa, a lawyer who specializes in social media. “These companies do not have legal representation in the country and even if they do, you send them a certified letter and they don’t respond to you. It is impossible for them to filter everything, but if you raise a complaint, they should put forward a solution.”
Fatima Muazu, a lawyer specializing in new technology, says the failure of both corporations and small website owners to quickly respond to complaints is a big problem. “Sometimes they take so long to respond that the damage has become enormous and you have to go to court to ask for compensation,” she explains.
Some of the clients of Wale Adekoya, an expert in e-marketing explained to me some time ago at a seminar that many people are so traumatized by the damage unfounded rumors has caused them that, out of fear of reviving the issue, they don’t even want to publish the court decision that shows that what was being said wasn’t true. “They think no one would believe them”. This is the same experience with many victims of rape in Nigeria.
About 44% of Nigerians receive between one and five unfounded rumors online a week, according to the latest report by an Abuja based communication consultancy agency, Insight. The report found that 31% of people believe them to be true. When we speak about fake news we should broaden the term. Everyone is at risk. These types of falsehoods have always been around, but now they are spread immediately and on a massive scale.
The BBC detailed how deceitful posts spread on social media especially Facebook have stoked ethnic hatred, which led to multiple deaths. The situation has gotten so bad in one area of the country, Plateau state. That authority has had to resort to a surprising solution for the 21st century.
On 23 June 2018, a series of horrifying images began to circulate on Facebook. The BBC reported this story in English and Hausa because of the severity of the consequences of the stories.
One showed a baby with open machete wounds across his head and jaw. Another – viewed more than 11,000 times – showed a man’s skull hacked open. There were pictures of homes burnt to the ground, bloodied corpses dumped in mass graves, and children murdered in their beds.
The Facebook users who posted the images claimed they showed a massacre underway in the Gashish district of Plateau State, Nigeria. Fulani Muslims, they said, were killing Christians from the region’s Berom ethnic minority.
A massacre did happen in Gashish that weekend. Somewhere between 86 and 238 Berom people were killed between 22 and 24 June, according to estimates made by the police and by local community leaders.
But some of the most incendiary images circulating at the time had nothing to do with the violence in Gashish. The image of the baby, which was shared with a call for God to “wipe out the entire generation of the killers of this innocent child”, first appeared on Facebook months earlier. The video in which the man’s head was cut open did not even come from Nigeria it was recorded in Congo-Brazzaville nearly a thousand miles away, in 2012.
But the truth didn’t matter. The images landed in the Facebook feeds of young Berom men in the city of Jos, hours to the north of the rural district where the massacre was happening. Some of the Facebook posts suggested that the killings were happening right there in Jos, or that the inhabitants of the city were about to be attacked. Few stopped to question the claims, or to check the origin of the graphic pictures that were spreading from phone to phone.
“As soon as we saw those images, we wanted to just strangle any Fulani man standing next to us,” one Berom youth leader told the BBC. “Who would not, if they saw their brother being killed?”
The images helped to ignite a blaze of fear, anger, and calls for retribution against the Fulani – a blaze that was about to engulf a husband and father called Alhaji Ali Muhammed.
Ali was a potato seller from Jos, a city of around a million people.
On 24 June he went to a town called Mangu to meet some customers. It was a journey he’d made hundreds of times. He left shortly after morning prayers and expected to be back in time for dinner with his wives Umma and Amina and his 15 children.
On his way home in a shared taxi, Ali found the road blocked by a wall of burning tyres. A mob of Berom men armed with knives and machetes were interrogating drivers, looking for Fulani Muslims.
Ali was dragged from his car along with another male passenger. His charred remains were found three days later near the edge of the Jos-Abuja highway. His body was so badly mutilated his wives refused to see it.
Ali was one of 11 men who were pulled out of their cars and killed on 24 June.
Some were set alight. Others were hacked to death with machetes. Days later, their bodies were still being discovered across the city, dumped in ditches, behind houses and along the roadsides. Many were burnt beyond recognition.
Hostility between the Fulani and the Berom predates the rise of Facebook. But the police and the army in Plateau State are convinced that the graphic imagery and misinformation circulating on the platform on 23 June and 24 June contributed to the reprisals.
“It was the pictures, the supposed pictures that emanated from the attack [in Gashish],” said Tyopev Terna Matthias, public relations officer for the Plateau State police. “Jos South was not under attack. But because of those images they saw, the next day, the roads were blocked. People died. Vehicles were burned. So many people died”.
It was not the first time Matthias had seen incendiary posts on social media followed by violence in the towns and villages of Plateau State. “Fake news on Facebook is killing people,” he said.
Because of those images roads were blocked. People died. Fake news on Facebook is killing people.
In the US, Asia, and Europe, Facebook has come under intense scrutiny for its role in the circulation of “fake news”. But what happens when viral misinformation is allowed to spread through areas of Africa that are already in the midst of ethnic violence?
And what is Facebook doing to ensure its platform is not being used to disseminate lies, spread fear, and foment hatred in Nigeria’s troubled heartland?
One Army officer even said that his team had set up a hotline for locals to report misinformation, and that the army is now using radio broadcasts to debunk false stories.
Meanwhile, police officers have had to use their personal Facebook accounts to help to expose rumours, but the scale of this is apparently overwhelming.
A recent news report caught my attention and some things just did not seem right to me. On close scrutiny, I could see a hatchet job being done and a “pull him down syndrome” at play.
While Nigeria’s image in the international community keeps getting battered I am particularly interested in hearing and sharing stories of Nigerians doing exploits in the Diaspora.
These news headlines prompted me to take a closer look. Fake news and smear campaign was written all over the story which totally lacked any merit.
Serving General Arrested as US Authorities Uncover $16m in …
Army General Arrested For N12 billion NDDC Contract Scam …
Army detains general over $16m in wife’s account
U.S Govt arrests top-ranked Nigeria Soldier over unexplained …
Army Arrests General After $16m Was Found In His …
I did some investigation and made some contacts that got in touch with authorities in the USA and the wife was neither arrested nor investigated. In fact, she has less than four digits in her account.
From what I have read about this man, he is a very brilliant officer who was the best overall at the Army War College, USA three years ago.
Some of the prominent servicemen who had gone through USAWC in the past were President Muhammadu Buhari, Colin Powell, Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton and Norman Schwarzkopf.
The said General who was seconded to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), was brought again to public glare with a story that alleged that American authorities found about $16 million in his wife’s account and they wondered how she could amass such wealth, invited her for questioning but there was nothing to explain the millions of dollars in her account and they got across to their Nigerian counterparts who invited Charles Nengite.
Obviously reading through and following the story one could see that this story is another fake story aimed at bringing this Niger Delta son and, a proud Nigerian asset to disrepute. Whoever follows how the US authorities operate will realize that these allegations are actually baseless, and too shallow. This is reminiscent of some accusations against some leaders before the 2015 elections.
I got to discover that the said General was seconded to the NDDC in 2018 and not 2016 as alleged. He is serving his father land as a true patriot that he is, and his wife who was accused earlier, is right there in the United States as a student, pursuing her post-graduate studies, and the stories about her arrest were false.
As the news first broke my mind could not fathom how it is that we would want to bring down one of our best for anything whatsoever. I feel obliged to put down my avid support for a patriot at this period when we remember our fallen heroes. This also means showing tremendous love and respect for our men in uniform.
Oh you, who believe, uphold justice and bear witness to God, even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or your close relatives. Whether the person is rich or poor, God can best take care of both. Refrain from following your own desire, so that you can act justly- if you distort or neglect justice, God is fully aware of what you do.
– Qur’an 4:135
The Qur’anic verse has been one that first came to my mind when the fake story recently broke in some sections of the media. After reading through the news piece over and over again, it was very easy to see that this is nothing but fake news aimed at tarnishing the image of an individual for some sinister purpose.
Being someone who has been following this man’s story for about 2 years now, it really irked me to see another smear campaign targeted at him. This was reminiscent of recent fake news where it was alleged that President Muhammadu Buhari married a second wife with pictures and videos flying all over the internet. Alas, it was discovered to be a lie. The young man who cooked up such story was eventually arrested in Kano.
This same General was alleged by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to have rigged the 2019 elections for President Buhari in Akwa Ibom in various blogs, and this prompted the Army to investigate it and he was cleared of any wrongdoing. This information can be found on the Army’s website.
A man with such stellar record and indeed a pride to Nigeria should be one that is celebrated and not pulled down with smear campaigns. I call on all Nigerians to learn more about this officer and gentleman and make him an icon of pride through success. At this time in our history we need more Charles Nengites to emerge and restore our fading image.
Obviously, the smear campaign against this General is the handiwork of some detractors envious of the excellent profile of this General. Hence they resort to the use of fake stories. We have seen how people just wake up one day, cook up fake stories and share on WhatsApp to friends and groups.
Nengite is just the latest victim of fake news, a phenomenon – more commonly associated with election campaigns and geopolitical intrigue – that is now affecting everyday lives. From the teachers falsely accused of being child abusers in parents WhatsApp groups and forced to leave their schools, to the women who are made out to look like prostitutes after their angry exes register them on sex sites, fake news is no longer a problem that just affects the political elite. It is also widely used in the workplace, even among jealous colleagues or acquaintances.
For me, it’s Nigeria first, and this officer made Nigeria proud. I call on you compatriots, to not let this young patriot down. He, in my opinion deserves a national honour and, it is my utmost prayer that the President decorates this man soon.
Written by Ahmed Magem.
With additional excerpts from the BBC