Will Nigeria ever get better?
Politics and religion are involved
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In addition, there are political ideologues who are trying to exploit the pandemic for their own purposes and to influence public opinion along party lines. Supporters of the opposition PDP tried to create the narrative, compared to the way the current government dealt with Covid-19, their party had the Ebola crisis much better under control. Confirmation that the President's Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, had tested positive for the virus has provided the opposition with new ammunition - this news was accompanied by rumors that ventilators had been withdrawn from an isolation center in Abuja so that Kyari could care for the presidential residence could be.
Supporters of the ruling APC party are also trying to politicize the crisis - by focusing more on the irresponsible actions of some individuals connected to the opposition. When the son of the 2019 PDP presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar contracted the virus, fake photos and videos were circulated: dancing in clubs, ignoring the government's isolation recommendations.
Thought leaders and opinion leaders in Nigerian society also participate in the misinformation in this health crisis. Above all, the religious and traditional institutions play a special role in that they either deny the existence of the corona virus to their supporters or recommend senseless remedies to them. The traditional head of the Yaruba, for example, put together a mixture of different herbs that should help against Covid-19.
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In northern Nigeria, some Islamic clergymen portray the pandemic as a Western conspiracy or as a ploy used by the political class to siphon off public funds. The Imam Sani Yahaya Jingir ignored the ban on religious gatherings with more than 50 participants and led a well-attended Friday prayer in the state of Jos. Another imam, who was also holding the Friday prayers, was arrested in Kastina state, resulting in a riot, with one death, 90 arrests and property burned down.
The Nigerian pastor David Kingsley Elijah, who had told his congregation that he was going to China "to destroy the coronavirus", ended up being a victim of fake news himself: Posts appeared on social media saying he had really traveled to China, there but fell ill and was admitted to a clinic. All wrong.
Wrong reaches more people than correction
Such misinformation is spread in Nigeria in different ways, depending on the geopolitical area and regional demographics. Facebook and WhatsApp are the most popular messaging platforms, while Twitter, Instagram and traditional media complete the spectrum. Many posts spread across the services. WhatsApp has a special function, not only because everything is possible: sound, photos, video, text, links to blogs and other platforms. The audio messages are particularly important: in languages like Hausa, they also reach those who cannot read or write.
Trust plays a huge role when it comes to whether or not the news will be believed. The content finds greater resonance when it comes from religious leaders, friends and family, or even from bodies with a certain degree of authority. US President Trump's remarks about the "very, very encouraging initial results in treating the coronavirus with chloroquine" went much further and were believed by more people than the subsequent explanation and correction by the FDA. The credibility of the information depended, at least in part, on the fact that it came from Trump, who, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center, 58 percent of Nigerians think is doing the right thing on international issues.
In order to combat all this misinformation and targeted disinformation quickly and effectively, the Nigerian government must engage in sustained communication with its citizens. It must consistently and transparently provide information that is based on people's concerns. A look at the official Twitter account of the NCDC, for example, shows that questions and messages from individual citizens were rarely unanswered. Government agencies such as the National Orientation Agency (a type of communications agency) can also involve civil society to ensure that correct information is widely disseminated to the public and that false news is quickly countered. A lot more needs to be done against this second pandemic, that of fake news - because it makes dealing with the coronavirus crisis extremely difficult.
Translated from English by Carsten Luther
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