By: Quadri Yahya and Habeeb Adisa
2 mins read…
Nigerian fact-checkers have a difficult task to debunk fake news as the nation nears its general election. No doubt that social media platforms are fueling the problem of information disorder as it only takes a click to get fake news to go viral.
With over 100 million Nigerians with access to the internet, which increases the tendency for false information to spread, journalists have also attested to the wider reach of fake news which the fact or fact-check report may not be able to reach.
However, while some people deliberately share false information, some ignorantly share a piece of information that aligns with their biases.
Meanwhile, with the Electoral Act 2022, the price to pay for the spread of misinformation is huge.
In order not to breach the Act which states the punishment for the spread of false information, FactCheckElection provides a guide for social media users to detect whether a news article is true or false before sharing it.
Nevertheless, citizens must be sensitized and aware of the consequences of sharing fake news.
A minister rightly re-echoed one of the consequences of sharing misinformation by saying that the spread of misinformation could be the declaration of the 4th world war.
“Misinformation could be the declaration of the 4th world war globally”, Nigeria’s Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Prof Isa Pantami had said. “It is our collective responsibility to fight misinformation. Look at the implications for your country, continent, and the world”.
While acknowledging the role of journalists in the fight against misinformation, Prof Pantami noted that journalists must put in due diligence before publishing a piece of information.
He said, “A journalist’s work is verifying what information has been sent and not repeating what was said. What is legal and legitimate online is legal and legitimate offline. What is illegal and illegitimate online is also illegal and illegitimate offline.”
The Electoral Act
After several rejections for some reason, the amended Electoral bill was finally signed into law in February 2022.
A provision of the Act succinctly stipulated the punishment for an association or a person found guilty of spreading false information.
Section 75 (subsection 5) of the Electoral Act reads;
“An association, it’s executive members or principal officer who gives
false or misleading information, commit an offense, and is liable on conviction,
in the case of —
“(a) the association to a fine of N5,000,000; and
“(b) each executive or principal officer of the association to a fine of N3,000,000 or imprisonment for a term of at least two years or both.”
Although the Independent National Electoral Commission had reiterated its commitment to uphold the provisions of the Electoral Act yet, on many occasions have government officials and politicians been caught in the act of sharing fake news.
The Chairman of the Commission, Prof Mahmood Yakubu had urged political parties and others to study the Electoral Act.
“As the 2023 general election draws near, it is imperative for all stakeholders especially the political parties note the major features introduced by the new Electoral Act 2022 and the possible implications of these changes on the upcoming elections: the happenings that accompanied the recent party primaries attest to this”, Prof. Yakubu had said.
But politicians and ordinary citizens are undeterred by the sanction.
For instance, on August 22, Festus Keyamo, the official spokesperson for the All Progressives Congress Presidential Campaign Council shared fake news about the Labour Party’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi.
Also, a fake press release purportedly issued by the Independent National Electoral Commission circulated with a claim that the electoral body was investigating a case of criminal forfeiture against the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Some broadcast media organizations reportedly disseminate the news – without confirmation from officials.
Despite the provision of the Section earlier stated, INEC was yet to prosecute offenders.
An Abuja-based legal practitioner, Qudus Alalafia (Esq) noted that, by way of introduction and particularly for proper guidance, I make bold to say that ordinarily, there are lots of Enactments that prohibit the sharing of false information among Nigerians.
Alafia corroborated thus: “Concerning whether INEC is implementing the provision of the Act in this regard, it is my opinion that while INEC hasn’t been seen to adequately prosecute offenders of the prohibited acts under the Electoral Act, it is nevertheless making efforts to do same an act which is commendable putting into consideration that the electoral umpire is being mandated to, apart from his mandate to conduct elections in all states of the federation, also prosecute electoral offenders.”
The lawyer however advised sanctioning electoral offenders either by the electoral body itself or by the law enforcement agency.
He said, “On your second question, I will advise INEC through the government that INEC should be made to concentrate on the conduction of elections throughout the federation alone and be left out with the power to prosecute electoral offenders such power given to any of the already existing prosecuting agencies in Nigeria, preferably, the Nigerian Police Force.”