Prof. Wole Soyinka
Eniola Akinkuotu, Abuja
Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, has asked Nigerians to be wary of a former President who pretends to be the conscience of the nation.
Soyinka said this in Abuja on Wednesday at a symposium on fake news organised by BBC News.
The playwright, who was a panellist at the event tagged, ‘Nigeria 2019: Countering Fake News,’ urged the traditional media not to act like the electronic media by spreading unfounded allegations.
Reflecting on the effect of fake news ahead of next month’s elections, Soyinka asked Nigerians to be wary of a former President who pretends to be the conscience of the nation.
The Nobel laureate said if the former leader had been referring to a certain person for eight years as a devil and is now telling Nigerians to vote for the devil, then there was reason for Nigerians to express some doubt.
Soyinka said, “We have got to develop very healthy scepticism. If someone in a position of power for eight years has lectured a nation for eight years and after that continued year after year to continue to direct the minds of a whole nation in one direction only saying ‘this is Lucifer from hell’ for eight years in office and several more years out of office saying this is Lucifer and then one day he changed his left hand and says behold your redeemer, which of the two is fake news?”
Although he did not mention the former President he was referring to, the only President who has ruled Nigeria for only eight years is Olusegun Obasanjo, while the Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the 2019 polls, Atiku Abubakar, could be the ‘devil’ that Soyinka was referring to.
Obasanjo until recently had described Atiku as very corrupt even going to the extent of dedicating some parts of his published works to lambast the ex-VP.
He said God would not forgive him if he supported Atiku’s presidential bid.
But he changed his mind recently, saying he had forgiven Atiku, urging Nigerians to vote for the ex-Vice-President.
…says those spreading fake news have mental problem
Soyinka said those spreading fake news had mental issues and thus psychologists and psychiatrists must be included in the fight against the menace.
He disclosed that he had seen his obituary countless times on social media and he had become tired of receiving phone calls from well-wishers.
He said sometimes ridiculous statements were attributed to him which many could find disgusting.
Soyinka added, “During the last Presidency, there was a statement attributed to me that I said that it serves President Jonathan right for marrying an illiterate woman. I never made any comment whatsoever about her and suddenly here it is staring me in the face.
“An account (on Facebook) has even been created in my name and from time to time a card is sent to me and it reads, ‘Wole Soyinka says anyone who votes for this person must be stupid, must be mentally retarded, his mother must be a goat and his father must be a gorilla.’
“And this comes on all the time and I don’t want to understate the numerous motivations going into this. Although basically, I think the commonality is that those who create fake news are sick in the head and they are also cowards because they lack the conviction for their own beliefs and so they try to attribute to other people what they are thinking.”
The activist, however, rejected the temptation to promulgate laws that could curtail press freedom.
Soyinka said the laws against libel, slander and identity theft were sufficient for the fight against fake news but said sadly, the police and other law enforcement agencies were not serious enough to tackle the menace.
He described as crazy, attempts by the Senate to pass a bill recommending capital punishment for purveyors of hate speech.
The Nobel laureate added, “I have insisted that it is something that must be treated criminally but I don’t want this to become an opportunity for our very bloodthirsty legislators to push the kind of law which they tried to enact the other time which they were decreeing capital punishment for any hate speech.
“I don’t know how far it has gone, whether they have dropped it or if it is on the President’s table but nothing I say today should be taken as an endorsement of that lunacy.
“If people are bloodthirsty they should go and join Boko Haram instead of using the legislative chambers to initiate another opportunity for slaughtering people for speaking their minds like Khashoggi. Let us be very careful about that.”
The playwright called on social platforms like Facebook to do more in tackling fake news and deleting fake accounts.
He said there was a need for INTERPOL and other multinational law enforcement agencies to join in the fight against fake news as some of the people engaged in the criminal act were operating from multiple jurisdictions.
Amaechi didn’t insult Buhari in audio tape– Soyinka
On the leaked audio tape depicting the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, insulting President Muhammadu Buhari, Soyinka said he had read several reports of the trending audio clip but had not been able to spot any insults as insinuated by the media.
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He said, “Just two or three days ago, I read an item where a minister was supposed to have insulted the President and it was carried in some media and I checked the statement and of course there was a video and so on and I looked through it, I read the text again and again and I said I have to relearn English language because I didn’t see where the insults were.
“So sometimes, print media feels compelled to compete with the electronic media and this is a great mistake because there is a reputation, there is an expectation and you should not be embarrassed to show yourself superior to a medium which is accessible to the lowest, the very dregs of society.”
Politicians, youth behind fake news – INEC
In his remarks, a National Commissioner and Chairman of Publicity and Voter Education Committee, at the Independent National Electoral Commissioner, Mr. Festus Okoye, said the spread of fake news would worsen as politicians try to outdo each other ahead of the polls.
He said this was what informed INEC to hold weekly press briefings ahead of next month’s elections.
Okoye said the purveyors and target of fake news were mostly the nation’s youths 22 million of whom, he said, had registered to vote in this year’s elections.
How fake news put me in trouble with my wife – Osinbajo
In his remarks, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo lamented the negative effect of fake news, adding that it even put him in some trouble with his wife recently.
Osinbajo said a blog put up a picture depicting him posing with strippers.
The Vice-President said upon a closer inspection of the photo, he discovered that he had indeed taken a picture with the women at an entertainment event but they were fully clothed.
He said the blogger picked a photo of where the women were not fully clothed and presented it to the public wrongly.
Osinbajo said, “I have been one of the targets of fake news. It can also sometimes cause you marital peace. I got a call from my wife about three or four weeks ago and she said Yemi what are you doing with strippers and I said what do you mean by strippers? So, I read a story in a famous blog that said, ‘Osinbajo caught with strippers.’
“And there was a photograph of me sitting between two perfectly clothed ladies but underneath this picture, the same ladies were not wearing much.
“In fact-checking, (I noticed that) the photographs with these two ladies at an entertainment event were taken when they were perfectly clothed but by the time the story was put out, it was as though I had taken a photo with them at the time they were not clothed at all.
“As it turns out, I wasn’t in the picture of where they were not wearing clothes but just the caption, the stories and all that gave the impression that here I was in the company of these ladies at a point when they were doing their business. I think the capacity of fake news to cause great harm is not in doubt at all.”
Osinbajo, however, rejected further legislation that would limit press freedom since it included the right to create a blog or post social media messages.
He added, “It will be impossible to regulate social media without in some sense substantially infringing on fundamental rights, especially freedom of expression. There is no way you will leave that power in the hands of the government or the legislature without finding some form of overbearing activity on the part of the government or the legislature.”
The Vice-President, however, called for an international convention that would enable several countries to tackle fake news jointly since those creating the false messages are in several jurisdictions.