President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, said the current insecurity in the country was being made worse by rising fake news and misinformation. Buhari stated this at an event in Abuja, organised by the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), titled, “Summit for National Integration, Peace and Security.”
The president lauded the country’s men and women in uniform for their gallantry in the fight against terrorism. He appealed to all compatriots to continue to support the security agencies in their task of keeping the country safe, saying terrorists must be crushed for peace to reign.
In a related development, the president condemned “the unprovoked and cold-blooded murder” of a Yobe State-based Islamic cleric, Sheikh Goni Aisami, by a soldier he had offered a lift, as confirmed by the police.
Represented by the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, at the event, Buhari stressed that fake news and misinformation endangered the peace, security, and development of any nation. He recalled several instances where the menace had caused disruptions in the polity.
The president said, “In recent times, in particular, the issues of peace and security have been on the lips of many Nigerians, against the backdrop of rampaging terrorists, bandits and kidnappers. This crisis of insecurity has, unfortunately, been exacerbated by the twin evil of fake news and misinformation.
“I want to use this important platform to commend our gallant men and women in uniform, and to appeal to all our compatriots to continue to support them in their onerous task of keeping our country safe.”
The president urged Nigerians to realise that security is the business of everyone, hence the tagline, “if you see something, say something.”
He said terrorists and bandits were not spirits. “They are human beings and they reside in our communities,” he said. “They must all be exposed and crushed for peace to reign.”
Buhari commended the NIPR for organising the event, noting that as a key stakeholder in the Nigerian project, the institute’s contribution to the discourse on national unity was a practical and positive contribution to the pressing challenges of peace and security in the country.
The president recalled several cases of alleged fake news in the past, urging Nigerians to crosscheck all information before passing them on.
According to him, “Let me cite some recent instances of fake news and misinformation in this regard. On August 10, the Kaduna State government had to debunk an online report claiming that hundreds of bandits had laid siege to the Kaduna-Zaria road.
“The widely circulated message even advised travellers not to enter or leave Zaria due to the presence of bandits at Dumbi and Jaji along the Zaria road.
“Imagine the apprehension and disruption of plans that this fake news could have caused. Imagine its impact on the security agencies, who are doing everything, including paying the ultimate price, to keep us safe.
“Also, in April 2022, a drone video went viral showing a group of five men wearing red clothes and cooking inside an unknown forest. Those circulating the video claimed that it was somewhere in Nigeria.
“But when BBC did a fact-check on the drone video, it discovered that it was not in Nigeria. The video was circulated just to create panic among the citizens and put the society on edge.
“In June 2022, there were reports of bandits using a helicopter to attack residents in four communities in Kajuru Local Government Area of Kaduna. The Kaduna State government had to debunk the story by clarifying that the chopper was actually an Air Force helicopter dispatched to repel an attack in the area. Again, imagine the panic that would have been triggered by this fake news.”
Talking about his personal experiences, the minister said he could not count the number of fake news that had been attributed him. He described himself as the “favourite whipping boy of the relentless authors of fake news and misinformation”.
On his part, president of NIPR, Mallam Mukhtar Sirajo, observed that Nigerians needed to prioritise the unity and peace of the country instead of personal gains.
“The country needs to entrench the culture of social justice, honesty, mutual justice, national mediation, and reconciliation, as well as youth inclusion,” Sirajo said.
Chairman of the occasion, Dr. Dere Awosika, who is also Chairman of Access Bank, said Nigerians should recognise the country’s diversity as its strength rather than a weakness.
Awosika stated, “We need to leverage every tool and every sector to foster national integration. The crucial role of the economy, for one, in fostering national integration, has been thoroughly undermined.
“In a country, where the economic resources are scattered across the various regions, there is a dearth of regulations and regulatory bodies that will aid the movement of goods and services.”
Reacting to the killing of the Sheikh Aisami, in a release issued by his spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu, Buhari said, “This barbaric murder of a compassionate man by a soldier he had assisted has no place in our training as soldiers, and it negates the entire ethos of military life, which is anchored on discipline and respect for the sanctity of innocent lives.”
The president added, “As the Commander-in-Chief, I am personally outraged by this criminal and wicked act by a law enforcement official trained to protect life.
“By our training, we are guided by a code of conduct that frowns on this kind of reckless and criminal act. It is not in our character and training to put innocent citizens in harm’s way. Of course, the action of this soldier is an isolated incident involving an individual, but it is capable of staining the collective image of our military.
“This incident is capable of making our fellow citizens to be fearful of assisting soldiers, thereby destroying the bond of trust between our military and the civilians.”
While condoling with Yobe State Government, the people of the state and family of the victim, Buhari said, “I call on the military authorities to punish the perpetrators of this heinous crime without delay, and flush out other elements with such criminal tendencies.”