Weaponisation of fake news and misinformation threatens Nigeria’s off-cycle elections

Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is warning of the dangers of weaponised fake news and misinformation in the lead-up to the country’s off-cycle governorship elections in Bayelsa, Imo, and Kogi states on November 11th.

INEC Chairman Prof. Mahmood Yakubu said on October 16th that the commission is “conscious of the critical role of the media in our political and electoral process” but that “a free and vibrant press is also obliged to adhere to professional and ethical standards”.

Prof. Yakubu who was represented by a National Commissioner and Chair of the Information and Voter Education Committee, Sam Olumekun specifically warned against the use of “abusive language directly or indirectly likely to injure religious, ethnic, tribal, or sectional feelings” in political campaigns. He also reminded the media of their constitutional obligations to provide equal coverage and visibility to all political parties.

The warning from INEC came at a workshop in Nigeria’s north central state of Nasarawa.

Nasarawa state shares borders with Nigeria’s capital city Abuja.

INEC’s warning comes amid growing concerns about the spread of fake news and misinformation in Nigeria, particularly on social media. In recent years, there have been a number of high-profile cases of fake news being used to manipulate public opinion and sow discord.

In the lead-up to the 2023 general election, INEC introduced a number of measures to combat the spread of fake news, including partnering with social media companies to remove false information from their platforms. However, the commission has acknowledged that it is facing an uphill battle against the spread of misinformation.

The weaponisation of fake news and misinformation is a serious threat to the integrity of Nigeria’s electoral process. It can be used to suppress voter turnout, undermine trust in the electoral commission, and sow discord among the electorate.

INEC has called on political parties, candidates, and the media to play their role in ensuring that the off-cycle elections are conducted in a free and fair manner. The commission has also urged the public to be critical of the information they consume and to only share information from reputable sources.

Speaking also, a national Commissioner and Member of the Information and Voter Education Committee Prof. Kunle Ajayi urged Nigerian media to be ethical and avoid fake news in the upcoming off-cycle governorship elections in Kogi, Imo, and Bayelsa states.

According to him, the media plays a critical role in the electoral process, but that it is important for journalists to be objective and unbiased in their reporting. He warned against the spread of fake news and inflammatory and sensational news, which could incite violence or endanger social life.

Nigeria: Media essential to democratic elections- DAI team lead

In his goodwill message, the team lead of the Development Alternatives Incorporated (DAI) in Nigeria, Rudolf Elbling said the media is essential to democratic elections and a watchdog for the transparency of the process.

He said that Nigerian journalists are well trained professionals, but it is always worthwhile to come back to certain principles that are crucial to a credible and peaceful election process. These principles include:

  • Editorial independence
  • Fact-checking
  • Impartiality
  • Keeping a proper tone in reporting
  • Guarding against hate speech

Elbling also said that the media plays a crucial role in educating the public about the electoral process and ensuring that citizens are informed about the candidates and issues.

He expressed concern about the safety of journalists in Nigeria, noting that elections can be dangerous for them due to tense and sometimes violent campaigns or the announcement of results.

Elbling said that the responsibility for protecting the physical security of everyone within its territory rests with the government, but that journalists may find themselves in precarious situations if security agents are not present or willing to attend to them.

In his welcome remarks, the Chairman of the INEC Press Corps, Segun Ojumu welcomed participants and highlighted the importance of accurate and unbiased reporting to ensure transparency, public trust, and the credibility of the electoral process.

Mr. Ojumu said that the workshop would cover a range of topics, including:

  • Election reporting: Ethical practices
  • Safety and conflict sensitivity in election coverage
  • Application of the Biometric Voter Accreditation System (BVAS)
  • Fake news and misinformation
  • Legal developments

Mr. Ojumu thanked INEC Chairman Prof. Mahmood Yakubu and the entire INEC management team for their support for the workshop, as well as the IVEC Chair and Directors and Deputy Directors, the DG of the Electoral Institute, and the DAI, for their contributions.

He also thanked all participants for their commitment to professional and ethical reporting, which he said is essential to the success of Nigeria’s democracy.

The Vice Chairman of the INEC Press Corps, Gift Olivia Samuel in her video presentation said the workshop is expected to help members of the INEC Press Corps to improve their skills in ethical reporting and enhance their safety awareness, which will contribute to the overall integrity and fairness of the electoral process.

She urged participants to ask relevant questions during the workshop.

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