Young Nigerians have demonstrated the ability to restore hope in Nigeria through their commitment to the truth and fight against misinformation in Nigeria says Abideen Olasupo
Young Nigerians are known for their industriousness, innovation, hard work and can-do attitude. The older generation describes them as ‘hot-headed’. What I see instead, as a young Nigerian is a generation of changemakers breaking retrogressive stereotypes.
We are now popularly known as the ‘soro soke generation’: the generation that speaks up. Therefore, when COVID-19 and the ENDSARS protests occurred last year, both arenas rife for propagating misinformation, it was not surprising to see Nigeria’s youth taking charge of affairs to spread the truth in a bid to protect their country.
Vehicles of Misinformation in Nigeria.
One of the primary challenges faced globally in the early days of the pandemic was the influx of misinformation about the existence and nature of the virus. In Nigeria, this not only posed a serious challenge to the government and other authorities who were working towards ensuring that people complied with restrictions, but also posed a huge threat towards the containment of the virus in local communities.
One platform that gave a free pass to sharing all sorts of misinformation was WhatsApp. This app which requires no profiles or passwords allowed a generation who were otherwise unengaged with social media an easy way to spread opinions with reckless abandon.
Whatsapp and conspiracies.
The use of Whatsapp peaked during the pandemic as it served as a vehicle for the spreading of conspiracy theories about the virus. These included theories that implied that COVID-19 was caused by 5G, that the virus only infected rich people and that the figures about the number of cases were fake.
From planting onions in the corner of each room to stave off the virus to sharing poor CGI videos of coronavirus leaving Wuhan in the form of a dragon. These false theories became potentially dangerous when they gained traction among many WhatsApp users in Nigeria.
David Ajikobi, Editor of Africa Check, an organisation which promotes accuracy in public debate and the media in Africa, states: “Nigeria was first heightened by conspiracy theories around the existence of the virus, its origin, whether or not it can kill an African and the features and effects of the vaccine.
Then followed the fake cures. These included unproven remedies, mostly mixtures of fruits and vegetables, which were being promoted by many, including prominent community and religious leaders.”
Young people fighting misinformation.
At this critical point, youth-led initiatives like KnowCovid-19 Nigeria stepped up to combat the problem. Through digital and traditional media such as social media, billboards, radio, television, SMS, they sent out daily updates of recorded cases of infections, infographics on where the cases were recorded.
Advertisements containing information on how citizens could protect themselves against the virus were also publicized. This allowed them to dispel falsehoods in real-time.
As David reaffirms, “With social media being the main hub for the spread of misinformation in Nigeria, the youth forming the majority of Nigeria’s population and its social media users, their role is significant.” Abdulhakeem Abdulkareem, the Co-founder of KnowCovid-19, adds that youth acted alone, with little “funding and a lack of collaboration from the government.” In fact, all work completed by the platform was through the efforts of young Nigerians who volunteered to be a part of the project.
Youth-led organisations such as endsarsprotests.com documented incidents and gave real-time updates for people to monitor protests and get verified information about what was happening on the ground – something they were denied by mainstream Nigerian coverage of the events. It was therefore the role of Nigerian youth to spread the truth to the global community through social media and other online spaces.
Throughout the EndSARS protests and COVID-19, one thing became self-evident: knowledge is power. The coordination of the peaceful protests and pandemic fact-checking was largely based on knowledge sharing and information distribution which was achieved through a synergy between social media and offline activities.
Young Nigerians showed their capacity to lead – keeping everyone informed in real-time, providing transparency in their engagements and ensuring that their demands are clearly spelt out.
For Nigeria, 2020 was the year when the writing on the wall was shouted on the streets. Decades of leadership mismanagement and rotting institutions were exposed and it was the youth who were pulling back the curtain. Young Nigerians have demonstrated their ability to restore hope in Nigeria through their commitment to the truth.
Nigeria has long been labelled the ‘Giant of Africa’. If the youth continue with the momentum they have started, this status will not only refer to its economy and size but its role in leading the global fight for truth and social justice.
Abideen Olasupo is a Global Goals Youth Panel Member and the founder and executive director of Brain Builders Youth Development Initiative. He also championed the translation of the SDGs into local languages and is currently mobilising community campaigners to meet stakeholders across all the 774 LGAs in a bid to help in the localisation, and most importantly, the achievement of the SDGs.