CORONAVIRUS IN NIGERIA: Viral stories, scams and false claims to ignore

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has led to the shutdown of borders, city-wide lockdowns, restrictions on movement, and an infodemic. An infodemic is an oversaturation of information; it makes it more difficult to navigate online.

This difficulty lies in the fact that we can get tired of sifting through information, constantly trying to decide which is misinformation or disinformation, a condition known as information fatigue.

Fact-checkers at the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) have engaged with this rising tide of health misinformation from the onset of the pandemic in Nigeria.

This is a short collection of the false narratives that have emerged over the past week, including our responses:

The Alleged Arrest of a Pastor

Disinformation narratives often leverage societal cleavages. Religion is particularly salient in the Nigerian context, and narratives have predictably sought to exploit religious sentiment. The most prominent story is that of the alleged arrest of Chris Oyakhilome, the founder of Christ Embassy Church.

This story builds on disinformation narratives around 5G that emerged earlier in the month. According to the report, the pastor was arrested for misleading the public on claims he made linking 5G and outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Prior to the report coming out, a controversial sermon by Pastor Chris was televised to millions online and shared widely on Facebook. It was during this sermon that he linked 5G to the Coronavirus. Shortly after, messages on WhatsApp groups started to pop up, with claims that he was arrested for misleading the public.

This story was false. Read our in-depth investigation here.

Chinese Doctors in Nigeria testing positive for COVID-19

Countries like Nigeria are being increasingly caught in the crossfire of the US-China information war.

Donald Trump is a trusted figure amongst many in Nigeria. His continued vituperation against China has contributed to a growing distrust of the Chinese.

tweet by Citizen of Nigeria (@FRNcitizen), whose account has been suspended by Twitter , made its way onto various WhatsApp groups with the headline, “BREAKING: one of the Chinese Doctors in Nigeria tested positive for Coronavirus. Smh”.

The NCDC officially denounced the story and urged all Nigerians to take responsibility during the pandemic. Read our fact-check here where we debunk the story.

Former President Obasanjo giving N5,000 to all Nigerians

In line with the trend of stories that exploit the poor economic conditions of many Nigerians, a claim that the former President Olusegun Obasanjo has personally decided to send N5,000 directly to every Nigerians’ account using their BVN went viral. 

At the time the story was fact-checked, the post had gained over 50,000 views on the website, ‘Legitfund.ng’, which is a copy of the ‘Legit.ng’ website.

In a similar vein, there has been an uptick in scams involving members of the public being asked to provide their bank details to facilitate their receiving funds.

This claim was found to be false. You can read our in-depth investigation here.

Buhari appointing a new Chief of Staff

In the early hours of Saturday, April 18, 2020, Nigerians received the news that Abba Kyari, Chief of Staff to the president, had died.

News of this tragic event sent the misinformation engine into overdrive. Barely a day into his death, an online newspaper, National Daily Newspaper, reported on both her website and Facebook page that President Muhammadu Buhari had appointed Ambassador Babagana Kingibe as his new Chief of Staff.

CDD fact-checkers found that the story is unconfirmed, and has no basis.

Sheikh Gumi Advising Buhari to Appoint Former Emir Sanusi as Chief of Staff

Other false claims around the now vacant position of Chief of Staff have also implicated the popular former Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi.

A viral story which spread on various WhatsApp groups in the northern part of Nigeria claimed that the renowned Islamic cleric, Sheikh Dr Ahmad Mahmoud Gumi, had suggested the appointment of a former Emir of Kano as the new Chief of Staff (CoS) to President Muhammadu Buhari. 

When CDD fact-checkers reached out to the cleric he said he was surprised about the claim and that he had never made such a suggestion to the President.

Thus, this too was a false story. You can read our in-depth investigation here.

CONCLUSION

As Nigeria continues to face the multi-pronged attacks of a global pandemic, crashing oil prices, a weak economy and public infrastructure, disinformation will continue to be a threat, especially because citizens do not feel like they can trust the leadership.

With the almost insatiable hunger for news, people turn towards sensationalist blogs, popular social media influencers and the like.

While Nigerian leaders have done little to inspire trust, it is even more dangerous to fall for narratives of deceit. There is a need to build a synergistic system of information sharing that is inclusive of citizens and addresses the fears and worries of the people.

CDD will continue working to provide a clear and accurate assessment of the information ecosystem.