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Friday, May 01, 2020

ARTICLE: Fake News and the Drawbacks of Negative Public Perception in the Fight against Covid-19 Pandemic in Nigeria by Dr. Celestine Jombo



Many writers and pundits alike have continued to engage with the issue of fake news in Nigeria owing to its debilitating effects on national psyche and public governance. From the standpoint of numerous but sometimes conflicting perspectives, disparate interpretations had been given to the various reasons put forward as responsible for the ugly trend. I would pitch my tent on the issue with the school of thought which portends successive governments in Nigeria as the unofficial proponents and harbinger of  fake news in the African most populous democracy.

What is fake news? Or when does a piece of news becomes fake? Is it when a government official says one thing but does another, sometimes the exact opposite? Does reporting such becomes fake news? By and large, when official pronouncement of state consistently turned out to be lies or were not carried out as purposed, the fertile ground for fake news to continue to thrive may have been prepared. When governance is shrouded in secrecy and official happening or engagement of the state becomes top secret with no appropriate and satisfactory channel to carry citizens along, the scornful seeds of fake news may have been sown only waiting to germinate.

On the current issue of Covid-19 pandemic, the NCDC DG had said at the onset of government response that the centre is poised to conduct 1000 testing per day. That was about four weeks ago but the actual figure of samples tested so far displayed on the centre's website till date is a little above 13,000. In similar developments,  from when the late CoS Abba Kyari tested positive to covid-19 up till his demise, conflicting statements from government officials and agencies on the issue kept flooding the public space, all in a bid to conceal the true state of health of the CoS from the public. If not, how would one reconcile the official statement of the Federal Government that  no private hospital was allowed to treat Covid-19 patients with another issued some weeks later that the late Kyari died in a private health facility in Lagos?

The fallout from these is the negative perception of members of the public who believe government is being economical with the truth and should not be trusted. In situations like this, how would citizens not choose to believe fake news mongers when government official sources of information is equally flawed and not reliable. With these developments, it is evident that government persistent inconsistencies and hypocrisy could largely be responsible for the average Nigerian negative attitude to the laid down protocols for the prevention and management of the ravaging pandemic. It is suffice to say that the  credibility of Nigerian government at all levels has depleted grossly of late. It is therefore important for the FG in all its endeavours to operate and behave in a manner that enlists citizens trust and confidence in the entire process if the fight against the deadly virus is to be won soon.

It is high time the Nigerian FG shrugged off its larger than life attitude and dictatorial tendencies which had continued to widen the gulf between the government and the governed. If not, what would one make of the Quarantine or Vaccination Bill currently under consideration in the nation's House of Representatives? Reports had it that the Honourable members almost passed the bill into law without getting to read through it or peruse its contents, save for the few members who insisted that the contents of the bill be tabled for parliamentary scrutiny before any further consideration. What stopped the government from making the bill public? What is it hiding from the parliamentarians, and the larger populace? Is the way and manners the issue is being handled by  the leadership of the House of Representatives under Femi Gbajabiamila not lending credence to the conspiracy theories hovering around the media space?

There is no doubt that the deliberate ploys of some mischief makers and political jobbers, who are continually bend on distorting facts and figures, with the sole aim of swinging public opinion against the government cannot be underestimated. Nonetheless, public officials should be determined now, more than ever before, to be transparent in the discharge of their official assignments and as well be ready to be accountable to the people in the performance of their onerous responsibilities. By so doing, the channels of communication between government and the governed can gradually be enhanced to build citizens' confidence in the state, which could in a way depopularise fake news proliferation and eliminate negative public perception against government efforts at combating the deadly disease in Nigeria.

Celestine Jombo, PhD
writes from
Akure, Ondo State.

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