Lauretta Onochie

  • 2022: Three Key Areas To Expect Misinformation in Nigeria

    For most fact-checkers, 2021 is not a year to forget so quickly. It was the year they saw a plethora of false information about the novel COVID-19 vaccine; false theories about the cure for coronavirus and the metamorphosis of the COVID-19 virus from the delta to the omicron variant currently raging. 

    While the year might have proven itself a hard nut to crack, it has undoubtedly  left lots of viable lessons behind. Lessons not just for journalists but also to everyone who was not oblivious to the previous year’s drama. 

    As such, entering 2022 may be perceived as the soothing point that should set the pace for a calmer and less dramatic season, with a hopeful perspective that most citizens should hold, but perhaps not for fact-checkers, especially those in Nigeria who may be up for a big fight this year in these key areas. 

    The 2023 general election

    The 2023 general elections  are slated to be held in about a year.  Anyone familiar with the sociopolitical context of Nigeria would recall the  common knowledge that the year preceding a general election in Nigeria is charasterically as hot as the actual election year. Candidates announce their interest, political parties hold primary elections, and the dissemination of inter-party or inter-candidate allegations to gain an advantage becomes fraught or volatile. 

    For example, in 2018, warming up to the 2019 general election in Nigeria, Lauretta Onochie, a Special Assistant on Social Media to President Muhammadu Buhari was criticised on Twitter and forced to apologise to Nigerians after sharing a picture of a road in Rwanda, which she claimed was constructed by the Buhari administration in Nigeria. 

    “My big mistake, apologies to all, friends and wailers alike. It won’t happen again,” Lauretta apologised, but not after the information had already gone viral. 

    The claim was shared by Lauretta Onochie on Twitter. The picture depicts an acclaimed road construction by the Buhari administration. Source: Twitter Screenshots

    Still, in the same year,  2018, just months after her false road claims, Onochie claimed that Atiku Abubakar, her principal’s chief opposition and presidential candidate for the 2019 election, had shared food and money during his campaign rally to lure voters.  

    She accompanied the claim with an image of food packs with 500 notes attached to it: “saying keep them in poverty, then give them handouts. Atiku in Sokoto yesterday”.

    But unlike Onochie’s earlier false claim, the narrative she wove about Atiku also turned out to be   false, as multiple fact checks conducted showed  the image she shared was taken from a charity event. 

    While she again apologised, Onochie explained that “The story I posted was true”. “It’s the images that were the issue. I pulled it down, and I have apologized. I have never deliberately posted fake news and I never will,” she added. Yet her statement was not entirely true, as the tweet still remains on her twitter page till date. 

    The claim was shared by Lauretta Onochie on Twitter. Picture shows alleged  incentives shared by Atiku Abubakar to induce voters in Sokoto. Source: Twitter screenshots

    Even more, in a fact-check conducted by AFP on a pro-Atiku claim, the platform wrote: 

    “As the final hours tick down until Nigeria’s 2019 presidential election, a video has surfaced on Facebook claiming to show US President Donald Trump endorsing opposition presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar. Trump has made no such endorsement, and the video was a doctored version of footage showing the American president in October 2017, signing an executive order weakening the health reforms known as Obamacare.”

    Yet that’s not all, rumors about top political figures defecting to other parties usually makes the trend. In 2018, a number of claims circulated when some members of the National Assembly  defected from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). This year,   misinformation in this area is most likely to erupt since Rabiu Kwankwaso, a prominent politician and former presidential aspirant, has already debunked a claim about him defecting from PDP to APC. 

    Even more, president Buhari’s reluctance to openly endorse anyone as his successor may also open up space for debate and possibly breed misinformation. These  few instances of misinformation  created ahead of the  previous general election not only predict   possible  recurrence this year, but possibly a slew of electoral misinformation a year to the general elections. 

    The Covid-19 vaccine

    In an interview conducted by Nigeria Health Watch on “How misinformation impacts COVID-19 vaccine uptake,” some respondents bared their thoughts. 

    “Nobody can convince me to take the COVID-19 vaccine. I don’t trust the government to give me anything that is free and good for me. Nothing is free in Nigeria. I know they want to insert a microchip in us so that they can control us,” Mary was quoted as saying.

    “I would rather travel to Ghana or Dubai to take the vaccine than take it here in Nigeria. I trust the vaccine itself, but I don’t think the one they’re giving us here in Nigeria is real,” another respondent, Babatunde, was quoted as saying.

    While these are just two perspectives regarding acceptance of the COVID-19 vaccine in Nigeria, the responses signal the extent  of misinformation in rooting unfounded narratives around the vaccine. Relatedly,  current data from World Health Organization indicates that  as of 3 January 2022, a total of 15,485,143 vaccine doses have been administered in Nigeria. Though this is a remarkable increase in number, the achievement was not without the massive media  campaign initiated to fight against instances of viral misinformation disseminated. 

    Prominent figures like Dino Melaye and Femi-Fani Kayode, who also dissuaded people from taking the vaccine, caused a serious setback to the campaign. However, thankful to the numerous efforts of fact-checkers, the duo not only restated their stands, they  also took the vaccines. 

    Femi-Fani Kayode’s tweet against the COVID-19 vaccine. Source: Twitter Screenshot

    Yet with all this improvement, the fight is apparently not over, as the number of vaccinated persons is not nearly a quarter of the total population of the country. Also,  the emergence of multiple theories about the effect and people’s reaction to the vaccine in the last quarter of 2021 signals the prospect that  this topic, though reminiscent  of  the 2021 trend, is not likely to diminish in 2022. 

    Security (insecurity)

    The topic of security in Nigeria is no doubt a viral one.  Last year, Dubawa debunked over 100 security related claims. 

    False and sensitive claims emerging in the form of videos, images, voice notes and even forged screenshots were used to spread false security claims. 

    These claims were not only found to have caused panic but also to have instigated a lingering fear amongst the Nigerian populace. Though most of them were fact-checked almost instantly,  their wide negative impact was not a matching feat. 

    Till the last quarter of 2021, security issues that relate to banditry, kidnapping, Boko Haram and even ritual killings have been sensationalised by fake news merchants to either exaggerate the situation or tilt the narrative. 

    This was perhaps  why the Commonwealth Security Group wrote that:

    “Whilst disinformation and false news stories are a well-known and much maligned phenomenon of elections and political campaigns, less is understood of their direct threat to national security. This Situation Insight explores the threat that disinformation poses to security in Nigeria, where efforts are being taken at state and national levels to address false news stories that are stirring up intercommunal violence and hampering effective emergency response efforts.”

    This further reinforces the continued importance of fact-checking as regards security, not just in 2022 but in years to come. As such, until complete peace reigns in Nigeria, the possibility of security related misinformation is not only predictable but also anticipated by many people, given the experience of 2019.   

  • Verification tips ahead of Edo governorship poll

    In the build up to the 2019 general elections, Lauretta Onochie, President Muhammadu Buhari’s special adviser on social media, tweeted a picture of road construction that she claimed was the Nasarawa-Jos road.

    A fact-check by The Cable discovered that the picture was from iStock, an online photo library. Onochie later apologised for the misleading tweet and promised ‘it won’t happen again.’

    In another instance, a video surfaced on Facebook claiming to show United States president, Donald Trump, endorsing Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the PDP. 

    However, a fact-check by AFP discovered Trump made no such endorsement and that the video was doctored.

    BBC also documented how “written posts, photos and videos” were “shared on social media platforms, publicly on Facebook and in private WhatsApp groups, spreading unsubstantiated rumours about the candidates” in the build up to the general elections.

    Those are examples of how (political) misinformation thrives during election periods as political parties and their candidates reel out claims and promises in a bid to win voters to their sides and demarket their opponents. 

    Apart from its potential to cause violence, misinformation could mislead the electorate to make ill-informed political decisions and weaken electoral integrity.

    “Mis/disinformation, particularly through social media, has become an increasing problem to electoral integrity and citizens’ trust in their democratic institutions,” a 2019 study by International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) has found out.

    It is thus important to take deliberate steps to guard against misinformation as the Edo state governorship election approaches. 

    According to Nigeria’s electoral body, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the election will be held on Saturday, September 19, 2020.

    Meanwhile, top political parties and candidates participating in the election have started campaigning, both offline and online.

    To make an informed choice during the election and avoid electoral violence, it’s important for the electorate to sieve the fact from fiction and avoid falling for any form of “fake news” coming from the political actors.

    1. Beware of doctored images and videos; your smartphone can be of help

    Before, they say, “seeing is believing”. Now, you have to verify after seeing before believing. Else, you will be deceived or misled.

    This is particularly important on the day of the election as the social media may be filled with hundreds or thousands of images with bogus claims, just as it happened during the 2019 elections. 

    Don’t fall for them. Before you believe or share any picture, do some verification. 

    Thankfully, you can use your smartphone to verify if the picture has appeared somewhere before or has been manipulated.

    If you see any suspicious picture (or video), here is how you can verify its authenticity:  

    1. Save the picture on your phone or copy the URL link (or do a screenshot if it is video)

    2. Open your browser app (preferably Chrome) and go to: https://images.google.com/

    Source: images.google.com

    3. Ensure the browser is on desktop mode: click the three dots at top right-hand side of the browser and select “desktop site” in the drop-down menu.

    Source: images.google.com

    4. Click the camera 📷 icon; paste the URL link or click upload an image to choose the picture from your phone

    5. The image search result will display when and where the picture has been used. It will also display visually similar images. 

    This will give useful clues on whether the picture has been used out of context or has been manipulated to suit certain interests.

    Alternatively, with Google Chrome, you can long press on a photo to do reverse image search, that is, to know where the image has appeared before.

    When you long press on the photo, a drop-down menu will appear.

    Select “Search Google for this image”, this will display other places where the photo has appeared before.

    Source: images.google.com

    Check here for other tools you can use to verify pictures on your smart phone.

    Meanwhile, you can also check the comments underneath the pictures posted on social media; someone might have seen the pictures before and offer some useful insights. 

    2. Check Mainstream Media/Multiple Sources

    The internet is filled with thousands of blogs peddling unverified stories, just to drive web traffic or promote certain interests. Avoid impulse sharing of such unverified stories. Verify any (suspicious) news on Mainstream Media; and ensure to check multiple sources.

    For instance, if Newspaper A reports that election is not taking place in a certain local government area, it is possible the report is based on some, not all, polling units in the said LGA. 

    Meanwhile, Newspaper B may also report that election is taking place in the same LGA, citing other polling units not covered by the former. 

    Thus, checking the reports from the two news sources or more will provide you a better informed perspective regarding what is happening in the LGA.

    3. Beware of concocted election results

    During the 2019 presidential elections, several bogus and unverified claims were flying around on social media. The forthcoming Edo governorship election will very likely witness the same.

    On election day, different results will be flying around on social media, do not believe or share them. Your source of results should only be INEC and credible news outlets that have their reporters on ground at voting centres.

    Also, INEC has launched an online portal where authentic results can be viewed online.

    Here is a step-by-step guide to check election results on INEC’s online platform.

    4. Check your biases 

    It’s always very easy to be deceived or misled when misinformation aligns with our biases. For instance, a report by Full Fact states we “are all prone to believing information when it is repeated, easy to process and when it aligns with our prior attitudes and world views (motivated reasoning).”

    So, when you see a piece of information that aligns with your personal bias (whether it is in text, audio, or visual format), be cautious and double check from multiple reputable sources before accepting it as the truth or sharing it.

    If, for instance, an election result showing the candidate of your favorite party wins surfaces online, you may be tempted to believe it without considering the credibility of the source or verifying from other sources because it aligns with your political sentiment. 

    However, it is important you put your biases in check and properly verify the result via other credible sources to avoid being misled. 

    5. Read beyond headlines; avoid liking or sharing unread stories

    Don’t like or share a news report if you have not read beyond the headline. This is because many blogs create headlines that are at variance with the news reports.

    Headlines can be sensational and misleading. It is, therefore, important to read the actual story, check the author, the source, the date of publication and other vitals before believing the story and hitting the like or share button.

    EDITOR’s NOTE: This article has been updated with information on Lauretta Onochie’s apology following her misleading tweet in the build up to the 2019 general elections.

    The researcher produced this fact-check per the Dubawa 2020 Fellowship partnership with Legit.ng to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.

  • Did the Border Closure Initiative Earn Nigeria 512 Million Litres Extra?

    Lauretta Onochie attributed the reduction in PMS importation- 512 million litres- to the border closure initiative; adding it happened in the last three months. She also said the Federal government has over 2 billion litres in reserve.

    While reduction in PMS importation did occur in the third quarter of 2019, it is MISLEADING to attribute it to the border closure. This is because the seaports and pipelines were importation occurs, were not closed! More so, reduction was recorded in June- second quarter- whereas the closure commenced in the third quarter.

    Full Text

    NBS’ recent publication- Q3 Petroleum Report– got everyone talking. Among them was
    Lauretta Onochie, aide to President Buhari on social media. She applauded the border control initiative, claiming its progress was evident.  

    The same sentiment was shared by Mele Kyari– Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC)- who believes it may be connected with the border closure.  

    Did Nigeria actually close its borders?

    Nigeria never closed its land borders per se- it only took measures to enhance security; according to reports. This was premised on checkmating acts of terrorism, banditry, smuggling and proliferation of weapons. The Federal Government released a statement to this effect on August 20th. 

    The initiative was codenamed EX-SWIFT RESPONSE and comprised of several security agencies. These included the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) and the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) in collaboration with the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN) as well as the Nigeria Police Force (NPF).  Mr Joseph Attah- Public Relations Officer, NCS- also reassured the public that the criteria for admittance into the borders were legitimate documents and identification; those without this were denied access.

    Nonetheless, there are still reports of the devastating effect the border closure has had on neighbouring countries. This is owing to skyrocketing prices consequent on this restriction. Additionally, this land closure raises questions on whether Nigeria is keeping her side of the ECOWAS treaty with respect to trade and free movement. 

    Alternatively, oil imports seem to be unaffected; as these happen through Nigeria’s ports where monitoring is apparently effective. 

    PMS importation activity reduced in the third quarter of 2019

    The NBS report revealed that Nigeria imported a total volume of 5.09 billion litres of petrol as against the 5.6 billion litres imported in Q2 2019. Additionally, it consumed less- 4.9 billion litres in Q3 2019- when compared to the 5.18 billion litres in Q2.

    A look at the breakdown showed that 1.99 billion litres of petrol was imported into the country in July; 1.64 billion litres in August, which dropped to 1.46 billion litres in September.

    Additionally, the report indicated that Nigeria has over 2 billion litres in reserve as at the Q3 under review.

    Is the reduction in importation a result of the border closure? 

    First of all, Nigeria imports finished oil products through pipelines and seaports. Nigeria never closed her seaports as we already established. While we can deduce that the claim alludes to the fact that the closure curbed illegitimate smuggling of unfinished oil products, it is still a stretch to say it is responsible for the 512 million litres saved.

    It is also important to note that the reduction in fuel importation commenced in June (page 49- NBS Report). This was prior to the border closure- raising more questions… The documentation clearly shows a dip to 1.5 billion litres in June from 2.0 billion litres in May. It did, however, increase the following month- 1.99 bn litres- before dipping again in the month of August.

    Therefore, it stands to reason that the recent reduction in PMS importation cannot be entirely attributed to the border closure. This is especially true as Nigeria locked down her land borders on August 22; several weeks after this decline commenced. 

    Conclusion: 

    It is true that fuel importation reduced by 512 million litres in the last three months (July, August and September). Also, findings show that there were over 2 billion litres in reserve. But, Lauretta said “in the last three months”, also attributing it to the border closure; the same border closure, Kyari said commenced- August 22. August 22 to September 30, is not three months! This leads to the next point that there are probably other factors to attribute the reduction in importation other than the border closure. This is also evidenced by said reduction commencing in June- prior to border closure.  

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