In October 2022, the Edo State University, Uzairue invited me to speak at its 4th Convocation ceremony on the topic: “Fake News: Rethinking the role of the Mainstream & Social Media in National Development.”
I had a feeling that I was so chosen because of the general understanding that fake news was a media creation. Indeed, the government of the day as represented by its spokesperson, Lai Mohammed imagined that “the twin evil of fake news and misinformation” was responsible for Nigeria’s pervasive and intractable insecurity.
Unfortunately, the government was misled into believing that the best way to control the social media was to harass media professionals.
The truth however remains that the greatest problem of the social media lies in the fact that it is managed by ordinary people who have no media training. Anyone with any android phone could upload any information, real or imagined, safe or dangerous to the world at large thereby turning every subject into an unending controversy.
An overview of the current controversy concerning the validity of the certificate presented to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the 2023 presidential election by President Bola Tinubu would reveal that because of social media, no one seems to understand the issue at all.
Those in support or against the president have used every opportunity to concoct and misinterpret available narrative and, in the process, forced confusion and apprehension into the public space thereby creating doubt and cynicism within and outside Nigeria.
These social media minders are incidentally not illiterate or exuberant youths, instead they are politicians and their supporters who are ceaselessly seeking to be declared winners of an election held as far back as February.
They are greatly aided by societal institutions who have over the years failed the integrity test of handling issues which informed their existence.
We had thought that the problems of poorly organized elections and inconsistent settlement of election disputes would as usually find a solution at home; it is not so this time around as Nigeria’s 2023 presidential election has been allowed to provoke negative international comments. At the end of the day, those who thought they could rely on the Chicago State University CSU – the issuing authority of the certificate have found that the CSU itself is a comedian, speaking from both sides of its mouth and leaving everyone more confused than we were before the decision to resort to her.
Consequently, we can only now ask questions. First, why should a university that is convinced of the brilliant performance of its former student prevaricate on any enquiry about the same student? Second, considering that the only genuine method of replacing a diploma from CSU is clearly advertised on its website, why should CSU give the impression that it can be gotten from whatever source?
On September 19, 2023, a US judge, Magistrate Jeffrey Gilbert had ordered CSU to release President Tinubu’s results to the main opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar. Our politicians who always eulogize America’s judiciary did not ponder on why Gilbert so acted when his power is limited to making only a recommendation to a higher court.
The case eventually went to a senior judge Nancy Maldonado. Some Nigerian politicians started publicizing Maldonado’s judgement even before she sat forgetting the time difference between Nigeria and the US and thus making it difficult for the rest of us to differentiate fake from genuine information.
When Tinubu’s documents were eventually released some prying eyes identified other issues of interest. The admission of Tinubu to CSU was traced by them to a school certificate allegedly issued by Government College, Lagos in 1970. While one group sought to point at the irregularity of a school issuing a certificate four years before it was established, the other group argued that the issue was not Government College Lagos but CSU. Those who can understand this must be only a select group.
Some interpreters have told us that it is really not necessary to bother the CSU on the issue of certificate which they say was issued by a third-party vendor.
Those who disagree with this version say no such vendor-actor was identified by the CSU. Again, many people believe that a case of forgery was not established, yet a report published by many media organs stated that a former president of the CSU, Elnara Daniels had concluded arrangements to sue President Tinubu at a US criminal court for allegedly forging her signature. Elnara, according to the report said she never signed the controversial certificate adding that all she was waiting was for the school to officially release the results so she could promptly move to clear her name.
If this report is correct, how come no one has heard anything from Elnara several days after the results were officially released? Hope Elnara, is not a Nigerian creation?
Anyway, we are back from the US to Nigeria where the latest controversy concerns the admissibility of the Chicago evidence by the Supreme Court. One of the prominent consequences of the emergence of the social media is the uncontrollable rise of media trial. The minders of the social media in this segment are lawyers many of them senior advocates. Atiku did say earlier that he would present his Chicago findings to the Supreme Court. Whether he has done so or has probably changed his mind these lawyers armed with legal provisions are busy at work now telling us what the real courts must do.
Whereas one group says no new evidence can be presented, we are told by others that there is a supreme court rule which gives conditions for how new evidence can be received. In which case, the argument that no new evidence can be received is half-truth. We are also told that election cases are special matters and that accepting new evidence is not allowed by the Electoral Act which governs elections. If so, did the case of Uzodinma V Izunaso 2017 where how new evidence may be received was decided not concern elections?
If we listen to a new report that Atiku Abubakar may have been abandoned by the big wigs of his party, the PDP, the case may end earlier than we imagine. Last Thursday, when Atiku addressed a world press conference on the Chicago saga, not even one of his party’s 13 governors was in attendance. His vice-presidential candidate was also visibly absent.
The unconfirmed story is that the PDP flagbearer is now on his own as the big wigs of the party have since reportedly admonished him to drop the election petition against the president.
. There is nothing new about this if it is true. Nigerian politicians are generally unreliable, what they can gain is usually their sole motivator. During the Obasanjo administration, top officials of the main opposition party, the ANPP abandoned their presidential candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari at the election tribunal while he was seeking to retrieve his mandate.
At the end of the tribunal, Buhari found that the leaders of his party had initiated an alliance with the ruling PDP to get a few ministerial slots for themselves in what was described as the emerging government of national unity GNU.
The lesson here is that the heat and apprehension in our society do not interest our politicians, to them everything is up for bargain. There are perhaps two main groups that the heat may affect. Let’s start with the more distant victim- the CSU which presented a rather care-free attitude to the Chicago saga.
The University was unable to find a passport, social security card, driver’s license or any other form of identification in her record that matches the face of its former student. Its registrar unwittingly told the international community that whether the school’s diploma is genuine, or fake is irrelevant, the student’s transcript is the King. It means that from now on, any CSU certificate is suspect.
The second but main victim of the saga is the ordinary Nigerian whose welfare has remained constant for longer than makes sense. It is hoped that the West will not because of the Chicago saga employ transferred malice to handle every Nigeria as a criminal at first sight.
By Tonnie Iredia