On the 7th April 1994, the Tutsi minority and the Hutu majority – who have lived together for centuries, speak the same language, practise same religion, and have the same culture – took to arms, leading to racial extermination of at least 900, 000 Tutsis. But this historical massacre – the 1994 Rwandan genocide – would not have manumitted into such violence if not complemented by the establishment of a radio station – Radio-Television Libre des Mille Collines – in June 1993, which chose a traditional language as a medium to stir the boiling waters of hostility in the heart of the Hutus – the majority, to take up arms.
The case of the Tutsi and Hutu exemplifies that the concept of fake news does not end at the shores of reporting false statements; it extends to the river banks of spreading divisive pieces of information capable of reconfiguring the mind-set of a people to violent settings. This was why the English investigative historian, A.E Samaan, argued that “fake news has now become an art form”, because with it, you can communicate and corrupt the most fundamental part of the human body – the mind.
Without equivocation, democracy and the people are two inseparable components. It is knitted with different threads of the populace – who determine its success. This was why Abraham Lincoln remarked that democracy is the government of the people, by the people, and for the people. However, just like the strength of a chain is dependent on the strength of its links, the ultimate strength of democracy depends not just on the people but how informed and united they are.
In Nigeria today, with an atmosphere littered with various debris of fake news, the starched garment of democracy has become dampened, thereby making it easily pliable. This is why, in 2018, an average Nigerian would have believed the news that herdsmen attacks in Plateau were revenge for the loss of 300 cows as reported by various media outlets, when in actual fact, the British Broadcasting Corporation confirmed such to be unverified and fake.
It does not take binoculars to see that the prevalence of fake news heightens the tension in a country, and gives people a reason to manifest their ill-fated notions. And when democracy is based on people with misinformed notions, it becomes a chain with weak links.
However, as sad as it is to accept, the era of fake news has come, but if a concerted effort is deployed to battle it, then it would not be coming to stay. This state in which Nigeria finds herself is not healthy enough for the 2019 elections, as it is very susceptible to the whims and caprice of dirty politicians.
The very first thing is to reconfigure the minds of the target of fake news, by dousing the embers of the biases that appeal to fake news.
Perpetrators of fake news look for sentiments to appeal to in their unsuspecting victims, ranging from religious to ethnic to political. Thus, if government can make a move to or successfully address the grievances of various peoples in the country, then it would have successfully cut off the power source of the sentiments fake news leverage on.
Next on, media organisations need financial shots in the arm so they may be capable of gathering quality news. Journalism in Nigeria needs to up its game to world standard, as its impacts are immeasurable. This was why Scott Pelley argued that “democracies survive based on their journalism”.
Media organizations must remember they are the fourth estate keeping the whole country in check, and as such must be wary of the culture of brown envelopes which turn media houses to politicians’ outlet where they perpetrate vendetta to political opponents. Also, it is important that media houses take their businesses online as 75% of Nigerians online are said to use social media. By registering a massive presence online – with blue ticks connoting verification – and constantly doling out credible information, fake news would be made to kiss the hot lips of nothingness, and reduced to history.
In conclusion, if there is anything to learn from the 1994 Rwandan genocide, then it is that people react based on what they constantly hear. So, if we must not fold up like the Tutsis, then we must change the narrative of what our people constantly hear and see.