Theorizing the Journalism Model of Disinformation and Hate Speech Propagation in a Nigerian Democratic Context

Theorizing the Journalism Model of Disinformation and Hate Speech Propagation in a Nigerian Democratic Context

Adamkolo Mohammed Ibrahim (University of Maiduguri, Nigeria)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/IJEP.2019070105


Since its political independence in 1960, Nigeria has been a partially united country. Nigerians have always regarded themselves as ‘us' versus ‘them.' This creates a fertile ground for the propagation of hate speech and disinformation. The Fourth Republic in Nigerian democracy, which triumphantly began in 1999, after 16 years of military rule is now in its 21st year. However, since the emergence of the Trumpian fake news era in 2016, the Nigerian democratic atmosphere has been polluted with more devastating hate messages and disinformation which, aided by the ‘supersonic' social media, threaten the nations hard-earned democracy. As the constitutional watchdogs of the society, journalists are tasked to cleanse the democratic atmosphere of the filths of disinformation and hostility. To help the journalists achieve this goal, this article proposes the Journalism Model of Disinformation and Hate Speech Propagation through a critical review of extant literature. Policy recommendations were offered at the end.
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Since its independence in 1960, Nigeria has had several political republics, that is, periods of democratic regimes. The democratic regime, termed the First Republic began three years after independence, that is, when Nigeria was officially declared a republic from 1963 to 1966. The Second Republic was from 1979 to 1983. The Third Republic was from 1989 to 1993. The Fourth Republic, which began in 1999 is still ongoing. Except for the Fourth Republic, which has, so far, lasted for nearly 20 years, the whims and caprices of greedy political gladiators had been responsible for the premature truncation of the various republics by military interregnums. Politics has been defined as “who gets what, when, and how” (Lasswell, 1936, cited in Adum, Ojiakor & Nnatu, 2019).

In Nigeria, political power is often associated with greed, sectarianism and overzealous personal interests. These are accompanied with hurtful comments, derogatory insults, hate speeches and the spreading of propaganda, disinformation and rumour mongering. Hence, the tendencies for political activities in Nigeria to be tense and fearful to the extent of requiring “the presidential candidates of all the political parties in the country to sign a peace deal in the eve of every general election” (Mbah & Fidelis, 2019).

Disinformation and hate speech or dislike are not new to Nigerian polity. However, since the internet revolution in recent decades, 2015 is seen as the year Nigeria “finally woke up to the threat of disinformation and the way internet technologies are secretly and subtly used to undermine democracy” (White & Elliott, 2018, p. 5). Since then, whenever national, state or local council elections approach, Nigeria experiences tense and difficult times – chaos, crises, conflicts, media propaganda, hate comments and false information climax thereby exposing the “heightened political horse-trading, war against systemic and widespread corruption, debilitating poverty, weak institutions, threats of secession, etc.” (Pate & Ibrahim, 2020) that are already nibbling at the country’s fragile peace and unity. Because of the revolution in information and communication technology (ICT) and the attendant ‘relative’ democratization of access and participation, election times in Nigeria should ideally be the time for the free flow of genuine, verified political information and tolerance. However, like in many other African countries, it is during these times that Nigeria wrestles with the rise in ethnic politics, regionalism and smear campaign that often escalate to the extent of threatening the country’s political framework. Citing Agbese (2017) and Aminu (2018), Pate and Ibrahim (2020) agree that “Indeed, these are critical times for the media, the electoral process and the country” (p. 90).

Because of the widespread eruption of violent clashes across the country whenever political campaign seasons approach, an electoral peace accord committee was initiated in 2015 and headed by a former Nigerian military Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar. The committee was raised following the death of about 800 people during a fierce political campaign polluted with hate messages and fake news in the South-South geopolitical zone of Nigeria where the then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan hails, who was contesting for a re-election under the banner of the PDP against the main opposition candidate then Muhammadu Buhari. Since then, towards the eve of every General Election quadrennially, the presidential candidates of all the contesting parties are required to sign a peace deal for peaceful elections. Although the politicians are also required to eschew fake news and hate speech “capable of causing socio-political unrest in the country” (Pulse, 2018) and “corrupting the integrity of democratic process” (Wardle & Derakhshan, 2018, p. 46), unfortunately, no peace deal is signed ‘specifically’ for disinformation and hate-free campaigns, for example; and the peace has always remained as elusive as ever with the democratic process suffering the consequences. It is even more unfortunate the peace deal signing is largely ceremonial, with disgruntled politicians boycotting it.

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