Still on fake news and #EndSARS protest

Arewa Agenda – As a young professional photographer, I was invited to cover an event at the PRNigeria Center in Abuja. Surprisingly, rather than minding my business of taking the pictures, my attention was drawn to the theme of the event when the moderator announced that “101 cases of fake news discovered during the #EndSARS protest.”

As a Nigerian youth I did support the #EndSARS campaign when it started by liking, commenting, retweeting and tweeting my own personal experiences with the police. I have been a victim of police brutality and extortion a few times. I can relate to the whole issue. I can imagine the pain because I have felt it myself.

The turn of the event from peaceful protest to violent demonstration by hoodlums and other criminalities were quite worrisome. The looting of palliative warehouses, jailbreaks and destruction of properties among others made created doubts in my mind on the rationale behind the movement and the sponsors.

While I refused that believe allegations that undesirable elements and opposition politicians were major sponsors of the protest, I am aware that fraudsters, armed robbers were major victims of defunct #EndSARS. With Fraud being the way to easy money among youths the police have classified fraudsters by certain characteristics. Unfortunately, innocent youths with similar characters usually fall victims and regardless they are extorted and sometimes brutalized.

Meanwhile, the #EndSARS protest was inspired by the Black lives Matter protest in the United States which was also social media-driven and just like the BLM the #EndSARS also lost its legitimacy, in fact it didn’t even last as long as the BLM did.

During the presentation at the Press Conference, the speakers disclosed that Fake news aided the escalation of the initial peaceful protest that turned violent. It maintained that there exists a mistrust between government officials and the teeming citizens. The misgiving propels spreading fake news.

The power-point presentation of the report mentioned public figures, celebrities, politicians, the media, religious bodies, and several other institutions highlights as some of the culprits as well as victims of fake news.

The major contributing factor to the #EndSARS campaign was the jaundiced import of the raw footage in which the SARS extrajudicially gunned down a Nigerian youth, forcefully snatched his vehicle and ran away with it. This provided the opportunity for other victims to share stories of their encounter with the SARS and police. They demanded for the disbandment of the police unit and an end to police brutality.

Therefore, some people saw a window of opportunity through the campaign to misinform and disinform in order to achieve certain goals. On social media, fact-checking is not a norm. Therefore, misinformation is the case as far as most of the news that goes round is concerned. Users interact without verifying or authenticating contents they come across especially if they are coming from known figures, automatically they assume they are facts.

There are also narratives and counternarratives on the Lekki shootings saga? Some claims were quite unbelievable even though fake news spreads at the time of the crisis, in some instances it is exaggeration of the truth.

Though I believe a point has been passed across and hopeful something positive will be done to prevent such in the future. But in order to achieve that for a start, the Nigerian Police needs to do more than just disband SARS and conduct a thorough inhouse investigation and prosecute those found guilty and also do a total rebranding of the service.

I also agree with some of the submissions at the event that fake news if not curtailed is capable of inciting violence that can destroy the country especially if there is no strong laws to check it because it constitutes a potential threat to democracy and national unity.

Government at all levels to create sustainable jobs as a way of getting youths positively engaged, while the social media must be deployed to dispel rumours effectively.

Sadiq K. Dangogo,

Abuja

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