AS a scholar and teacher of journalism, I am troubled by an emerging character of Nigeria’s diasporan and homeland digital-native news formation, which had functioned as alternative outlets for the sort of critical journalism that the homeland legacy news media have abandoned. They start by attracting attention to themselves through what seems like uncompromisingly adversarial journalism against venality in government. But just when they succeed in persuading people to invest faith in their journalistic integrity, they cash out and become indistinguishable from, and sometimes worse than, the compromised homeland legacy media they were thought to be an alternative to.
It started from Elendu Reports, the first successful diasporan citizen media outfit, which, after sensationally unmasking high-profile corruption in the high reaches of government in Nigeria in 2005, turned around to furtively serve as “media consultant” to the same politicians it exposed as venal.
Most other online-only news outlets have followed this template, the latest being the dubiously named “International Centre for Investigative Journalism” (ICIR). (Neither its reportorial purview nor its workforce is “international,” but it ignorantly calls itself one nonetheless).
I became aware of ICIR after it routinely tagged me to its reports on Twitter about a year ago. It appeared to be committed to the sort of critical enterprise journalism that has gone out of fashion in Nigeria but that is crucial to sustaining democracy. So I subscribed to its news feed.
Although I liked what the site did, there was always something fundamentally defective about its reporting. It usually lacked depth, thematic coherence, and intellectual sophistication. The quality of English of its reports was and still is also bewilderingly dreadful. It appears like a crucial criterion to be hired as a reporter on the site is an ability to demonstrate capacity to write illiterate English, to show contempt for grammatical correctness and completeness, and to write mind-numbing clichés and solecisms.
But I chalked this up to the possibility that the owners of the site had the passion to uncover sleaze in government but lacked the education to do so. That’s good enough for me. I thought they might improve in the coming years.
Nevertheless, before they even gained traction in the Nigerian public sphere, they have chosen to cash out.
On June 24, the site published what it purported to be a “fact-check” of “social media influencers who shared fake news during the 2019 election.” I had been alerted several weeks in advance that some people had been “commissioned” by Bola Tinubu’s media team in Lagos to both launch an aggressive media onslaught on my person and to buy credibility for Buhari’s fraudulent “reelection,” which I have spent a great deal of energy exposing as the most barefacedly duplicitous election in Nigeria’s history.
I thought this would come in the form of the predictably sterile “attack” pieces in newspapers and on social media platforms, which I am already used to and for which I have developed a thick skin since Goodluck Jonathan’s days. But my informant said, “This would be different.”
Just when I got tired of waiting, a”Damilola” who said she was a reporter for “Sahara Reporters” sent me a WhatsApp message weeks ago about videos of rigging that I shared on Twitter during the presidential election. She said she wanted to know the source of the videos or whether, in fact, I witnessed the events in the videos. No one who has even a day’s training in journalism would ask me those sorts of boneheaded questions.
First, the videos had gone viral before I shared them, so I couldn’t possibly be their original source. Second, the “reporter” obviously knows that I live in the United States and couldn’t have witnessed the rigging in the videos. If, for any reason, I did, I would have stated so—and would be the first to share them.
Most importantly, though, no real journalist does a story about other journalists’ confidential sources of news, although I was, in fact, not the source for the videos she “fact-checked.”
The “fact-check,” which was published on ICIR’s website (and not Sahara Reporters) by two bylines, said I shared two “fake” videos during the 2019 election.
The first so-called fake video was of INEC officials furiously thumb printing ballot papers on behalf of a political party. I wrote the following to accompany the video: “See shameless rigging by INEC officials: Thumb printing on an industrial scale.” I didn’t mention the year this happened, and said nothing about what party was a beneficiary of the mass thumb printing because I couldn’t tell that with any certainty, although other people who shared it before me said it was during the 2019 election.
The “reporters” said their “investigation” confirmed that the video indeed showed INEC officials thumb printing ballot papers except that they found it wasn’t during the 2019 election. But I never said it was. Nevertheless, the “reporters” said I “implied” it was during the 2019 election. Was sort of “fact checking” is that?
You can’t fact-check what’s on my mind. That’s babalawo (or is it mamalawo) journalism! I am capable of saying it was during the 2019 election if I wanted to, but I didn’t. Others, however, did. The fact of INEC officials feverishly thumb printing ballot papers on a mass scale in support of a party, irrespective of when it happened, was worth sharing, particularly in light of similar things that went on at the time, which the second video confirmed, as I’ll show shortly. So the video wasn’t fake by any definition of the term. If anything, it’s the analysis of it by the venal, uneducated philistines masquerading as “reporters” that is fake.
The second so-called fake video they said I shared was real even by their own analysis. They confessed that they “set out to debunk many videos we believed to be old or not related to the elections. We were not prepared to deal with actual, blatant rigging, not with the PVCs and not with the improved vigilance that was supposed to be a key feature of the 2019 polls.” If you ignore the woolly, incoherent thought process, you will see their bias seeping out like fetid pus. They were disappointed to find the video to be an authentic “recent case” case of rigging. All I said about the video was: “Why would anyone accept the outcome of an election like this? Democracy is supposed to be one person, one vote.”
They agreed that the video, which clearly showed INEC officials rigging on behalf of a party, was from the 2019 election. They only said they couldn’t “emphatically state that those stamping and thumb printing the ballot papers are INEC officials” and that they “could not distinctly make out the party being thumb-printed.” That’s blatant partisan claptrap. They could “fact-check” the thought-processes that resided in the inner recesses of my mind, which I didn’t verbalise, but they couldn’t fact-check an obvious fraud in a video. Nevertheless, neither the video nor what I said about it was inaccurate by any stretch of the imagination.
Can’t Tinubu’s media team get smarter mercenaries for their hit jobs that these pitifully lowbrow vulgar buffoons? Other dimwitted daggers for hire like a faceless, ignorant “Okanga Agila” have joined the fray to attack me.
But the truth remains that it was Buhari’s government that hired Israeli disinformation agents to spread fake news on social media against his main opponent, Atiku Abubakar.
According to a May 17, 2019 Associated Press news story titled “Israeli Disinformation Campaign Targeted Nigerian Election,” “One of the pages that Facebook cancelled appeared filled with viral misinformation attacking Abubakar, the former vice president of Nigeria. The page’s banner image showed Abubakar as Darth Vader, the Star Wars villain, holding up a sign reading, ‘Make Nigeria Worse Again’.” The AP story added: “The report also featured a page that explicitly lionised and boosted Buhari, with amateur videos eulogising the accomplishments of his presidency as though he were not locked in a tight battle for re-election.”
Interestingly, the ICIR “investigative report” on fake news only briefly referred to this report but didn’t point to the fact that it was Buhari who hired an Israeli firm to spread fake news during the election. ICIR has killed itself before it’s even had a chance to live. That’s such a shame!