As individuals and groups continue to advance conversations for a more liberal, independent and free media space in Nigeria, happenings in the polity over the past 12 months have resurrected the old but important debate about the regulation of social/online media space in Nigeria, necessitating an overhaul, at least, to save the country and its distinguished men and women from the embarrassing publications of falsehoods and fairytales by authors masquerading as editors, publishers and bloggers.
Although the truth remains sacred, in some cases, the damage done usually destroys lifetime achievements, hard-earned reputations, long preserved legacies/names, before the true nature and intent of such malicious and false publications are unearthed. But in an era of pervasive social media consumption, correcting the wrongs becomes a herculean task.
A classic example of the aforementioned is the campaign of calumny against the person of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo perpetrated by some opposing political interests through a section of the media. Over the past 12 months, some media outfits engaged in the publication of unsubstantiated and outrightly baseless reports aimed at bringing to disrepute the person and office of the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Though the media groups erred in pushing those ‘rooster and bull’ stories, considered recognition of their courage and self-humility is not out place. At least, when they were confronted with their errors, they were honorable enough to retrace their steps.
Even though literally all the stories have been retracted and apologies tendered to the Vice President by those concerned (Vanguard, BusinessDay, Daily Sun and BBC), there is the urgent need to revisit the enforcement of Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, Etc.) Act of 2015 to regulate the social media space in the country. The enforcement of this act will go a long way to address some of the emerging issues in the social/online media space such as; the publication of falsehoods, deliberate act of sabotage, cyber bullying, etc. There should be consequences for these actions.
For instance, when on September 23, 2019, Vanguard newspaper published, on its website, a story alleging that the Vice President received N90 billion from FIRS for purpose of the 2019 elections, the organization was not sanctioned after it was found that the allegations were false.
However, on September 25, 2019, the medium published a retraction and an apology to the Vice President.
It said: “on our website publication of Monday, September 23, 2019, we published a story titled “N90 billion FIRS Election Fund: Osinbajo’s problem, not 2023 politics.” We have since discovered that the story lacks factual substance and we hereby retract it in its entirety. We tender our profound apology to Prof. Yemi Osinbajo SAN, the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on whom the story touches directly the All Progressives Congress, A.P.C. and the FIRS for any inconvenience or embarrassment the publication has occasioned them. We hold Professor Osinbajo, S.A.N. in the highest esteem.”
In the same vein, on October 2, 2019, another media outfit, Wazobia 95.5 FM, having mentioned the same story on one of its programmes “Dem say dem say”, aired on September 4, tendered an unreserved apology to the Vice President for the wrong done to him through the station’s broadcast of the story.
In yet another instance, the BBC News Pidgin Service pulled down a false story published on its website on July 8. It had reported a statement attributed to a former APC spokesman, Timi Frank that Vice President Osinbajo received N4 billion from ex-EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Magu. The medium, in what is seen as a smart but face-saving move, replaced the story with the Vice President’s reaction to the allegations by Mr Frank.
Most recently, and precisely on August 9, 2020, a section of the media (both social and traditional media) was awash with stories attributed again to the former APC assistant publicity secretary, Mr Timi Frank, alleging an illegal withdrawal of N10 billion from the TSA by the Auditor General of the Federation, wherein some allegations of corrupt practices were made against the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, SAN. Frank a renegade himself, was relying on the vacuous tweets of another fake news reporter, Jackson Ude.
Shamed by the emptiness of the content of the story published by its medium, BusinessDay, in its August 13, 2020 publication online, retracted the story and tendered its apologies.