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Six major misinformation subjects Nigerian fact-checkers battled in 2020

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Fake news has gradually evolved to settle as a force that can’t be completely ruled out so long there is a trending debate in the media. 

As the never-ending fight against fake news continues in the new year,  Dubawa looks back and presents the major misinformation subjects in 2020.

1. Alleged Death of a Nigerian in the Ukrainian Flight Crash 

In January, a Ukrainian flight, Boeing 737-800, crashed shortly after take-off. Subsequent reports, originating from Nigerian news platforms claimed that a Nigerian, Dauda Onoruoiza was one of the 176 passengers that lost their lives in the crash. 

However, Dubawa’s findings revealed some red flags suggesting otherwise. Only Nigerian news outlets reported that Mr Dauda Onoruoiza was aboard while major international news outlets failed to report any Nigerian present on the flight. Dubawa assumed Mr Dauda had dual citizenship and proceeded to search his name on the plane’s manifest, but there was no Dauda Onoroizua on the list.

Dubawa also found out that the picture circulated with the reports belonged to one Mr Bernard Adeleye who was forced to come after seeing his picture in circulation and being proclaimed dead. Interestingly, Mr Dauda is now Mr Bernerd. According to Mr Bernard, “I am not dead; in fact, I have never travelled to Ukraine before. I have never travelled by air before let alone travelling to Ukraine. So, why will someone use my picture and claim that I was the Nigerian that died in the Ukraine plane crash? The picture that was used in the publications was the same picture that I used on my Instagram page in 2018, and this was the exact outfit I am putting on now. This has really affected me as I now wear a face cap to cover my face because whenever I am walking on the road, people call me “dead man walking.”

With this, it is safe to say the story was made up to justify Dubawa’s rating

2. Chloroquine, Hydroxychloroquine as Covid-19 cure

“We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic.” 

The above was a remark given by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) at a gathering of foreign policy and security experts in Munich, Germany, in mid-February. The remark serves as an acknowledgement of the mis/dis-information flying about the New Coronavirus. 

Recall the virus was first detected in Wuhan, China in December 2019 and was declared a public health emergency of international concern on 30th of January 2020 a few weeks before the index case was identified in Nigeria. Since then, fake news peddlers kept churning out content about the virus; who has it, how it spreads and most especially the cure.

Fake News about Covid-19 cure kept surfacing even after different health authorities announced that there were no cures or vaccines. Proposed cures like Cocaine, Garlic, Lemon Grass Tea, Warm Water, Sex, Chloroquine circulated but were quickly laid to rest by fact-checkers who were actively working for that purpose. However, one cure, Chloroquine, remained adamant and refused to leave the scene.  Dubawa had to do 3 checks on the topic and all came out false. 

Chloroquine Trends on Nigeria Twitter

The buzz about Chloroquine began when social media pages, back in February, circulated the antimalarial medicine as a cure for covid-19, these posts contributed to making Chloroquine the number one trend on Nigeria’s Twitter at the time. Dubawa suggested a February 17th report by China Science as a likely originator of the information. The report stated that: ”Antimalarial drug Chloroquine Phosphate has a certain curative effect on the #COVID19, Chinese experts confirmed based on the results of the clinical trials, according to an official on Monday.”

The fact-checking platform also found out that besides chloroquine phosphate, Favipiravir and Remdesivir were also circulated as cures at the time. To correct the misinformation, Dubawa stated, “It is essential to note the phrase “clinical effects” does not necessarily indicate a definite cure; but rather a potential solution to the virus. The post surmises Chloroquine Phosphate as a likely remedy to Covid-10, not a confirmed treatment.” Additionally, the WHO Director-General revealed that the organisation was conducting a number of drug trials but the malarial Chloroquine used in China was not one of the drugs, thereby falsifying the viral claims.

Donald Trump Hyped chloroquine as cure

Once again, in March, several reports suggested that health authorities have approved Chloroquine as a cure for covid-19. This time, it was the President of the United States, Donald Trump, that reignited the fire by endorsing the anti-malarial, making people contest prior reports that suggested Chloroquine was not a cure for covid-19. Subsequent reports on social media and print revealed the abuse of Chloroquine and even one death. A man, according to Forbes, died in Arizona, trying to immunise himself from Covid-19. The man and his wife allegedly used the version (Chloroquine) meant for cleaning fish tanks resulting in his demise and his wife in critical condition. In Nigeria, there were reports of Chloroquine poisoning.

Dubawa debunked the claim, reiterated that chloroquine hadn’t been approved as a cure and advised against its consumption. 

Pastor, Doctor Stella Immanuel and the Chloroquine Gospel

Out of the blue, on Monday, July 27th, the social media space welcomed a widely circulated video, showing a group of doctors led by Doctor Stella Immanuel. The Doctor, in the video, identified herself as a primary health care physician in Houston, Texas before presenting chloroquine as a tested and trusted cure for the new coronavirus. 

Dr. Stella revealed that she had treated over 350 COVID-19 patients with Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), Zithromax and Zinc.  Additionally, she said, “there is no need to wear a mask.” 

Dubawa, however, dismissed her claims on account that she was a very controversial person with a history of making bizarre claims and the references she provided were outdated and invalid in the context of the new coronavirus. Also, while she has publicly advised against the use of nose masks, she was caught wearing one while preaching in her church.

To further nullify her claims, health authorities cautioned against the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine.

3. The Focus on Bill Gates

As the search for the coronavirus vaccine intensified, the Gates family became the focus of fake news peddlers. First, a  Facebook user claims Melinda Gates divorced her husband, Bill Gates, for wanting to destroy Africa through a purported compulsory vaccination scheme. This turned out false after a check was carried out. Dubawa found that Mrs Gates’ statement was misconstrued.

Meanwhile, in May, the tech guru allegedly offered a $10million bribe to the House of Representatives to hasten the passage of a pending bill on compulsory vaccination for everybody in Nigeria. This claim remains unproven. The main accuser,  Mr Ugochinyere – author of the claim – failed to provide proof in support of his claims, rendering them baseless. Nonetheless, both the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the House of Representative disclaimed the accusation as the committee investigating the claim in the House of Representative continued its work.

A video – allegedly leaked –  was circulated on a Christian App – RIG Nation App. The video purportedly shows Bill Gate presenting to the CIA how to alter the brain functions of religious fanatics. At the time this video surfaced, the coronavirus was at its peak and the world was relentlessly looking for a cure. There were several reports announcing potent cures, as well as rumour that Bill Gate was planning to introduce a microchip as part of covid-19 vaccination. It is safe to say the post was a way of exposing  Mr Gates’ alleged ulterior motives and to warn against being vaccinated.

Dubawa found out that the video was old and has been recycled several times between 2011 and 2020. Reputable sources have also identified the video as a deliberate hoax; it was not leaked as we were led to believe. While the actual video was released to promote an uncompleted film project, it was recirculated in 2020 to include Bill Gates in the narrative.

Additionally, the scans, representing “religious brains” were doctored images taken from a 2010 issue of the American Academy of Neurology.  

4. The Nigerian Army and the #LekkiTollGateShooting

The October social movement which saw the participation of thousands of Nigerian youths across different states contributed to the wave of fake news already present in the media. The #EndSARS movement was an online and physical protest against police brutalityharassment and extortion of the Nigerian youth. 

While Dubawa received a handful of claims during this period, one particular claim from the Nigerian Army stood out as it caught the attention of international bodies who also joined in setting the record straight. This claim was as a result of the October 20th incidence at the Lekki Toll Gate, Lagos state, where the Nigerian Army opened fire at peaceful protesters. However, despite viral pictures, videos, reports and fact checks speaking to this, the Army repeatedly denied the event ever took place. 

5. Fake Buhari 

Buhari’s choice to be mute during the #EndSARS protest did not go down well with a lot of people as they expected the president to come out and address the issue. His absence sparked conversations on social media and brought back the popular ‘fake Buhari’ controversy. 

Several reports and images suggested the person in Aso Rock is one Jubril of Sudan, a clone of Buhari (who allegedly died years back). To make it more convincing and strengthen the narrative, the death certificate of the president was shared widely. Dubawa, however, demystified the viral image, revealing how it was doctored.

6. The Covid-19 Vaccine

The media received several claims relating to cures and vaccines in 2020. Why? 2020 was a tough year full of fear and uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccines became the only hope of the people. Since fake news peddlers are known for always preying on soft spots, the reason they focus on vaccines can’t be clearer. 

Fake news about the vaccines is as old as the pandemic. They had been circulating since when achieving a vaccine seemed like a Sisyphean project. In recent times, with several reports announcing the emergence of actual vaccines, the fake news in circulation have doubled if not tripled. Little wonder when Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, remarked that Fake news about a Covid-19 vaccine has become a second pandemic and advised governments and relevant institutions to implement measures to combat growing mistrust and misinformation.

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