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Lekki Shooting: Media, Influencers At The Forefront Of Infodemic ( A Commentary)

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In the wake of the infamous Lekki shootings, gory images and videos of dead protesters -allegedly shot by the Nigerian Army- swarmed the internet. Millions of Nigerians at home and in the diaspora were infuriated. The anger was palpable as the reports of deaths and allegations that the army took the dead bodies away in their trucks spread like wildfire. Unfortunately, the whole narrative appeared believable due partly to information overload at the time the shooting took place. It was already dark and no one, apart from the protesters and a few journalists such as the BBC reporters who were on the ground, had the opportunity to independently verify all manners of eye witness accounts that were pushed online.

By the time numerous pictures and videos that went viral were discovered to be fake and in some cases doctored, the damage had already been done. Violence had erupted in Lagos State. Lives had been lost and wanton destruction of private and public property had left a big scar on the nation’s body polity. The destruction will cost the Lagos State government over N1 trillion and several years to rebuild.

Despite the unavailability  of sufficient evidence to back the claims of deaths at the Lekki toll gate shooting, certain individuals and organisations have continued to push the narrative, drawing the global attention to an episode that has yet to be proven to have had a single fatality in over six weeks of investigation.

READ ALSO: Between CNN And BBC Reports On Lekki Shooting

The media appears complicit as it was awash with misinformation and disinformation around the shooting. The media, especially journalists have shunned a major principle of journalism, which is sacredness of FACT above emotion. Like thousands of social media users, professional news hound are also being driven by emotion.

AN24.net had earlier reported that an absentee reporter Nima Elgabar, who led the CNN’s investigations on the events of Ocotber 20th, 2020 has only raised more questions than answers. The report, although titled “Exclusive investigation into the event” can only pass as commentary, using videos and pictures from micro-blogging site, Twitter. These videos have been seen several times and they did not point to any death. Twitter itself was a notable super spreader of fake news, especially during the #EndSars protests and the resultant Lekki Toll Gate shootings. It was on Twitter that we first learned that seventy-eight people were killed. Amnesty international (Nigeria) also used the platform to push aggressively that it had confirmed twelve people killed by the Army. Later, CNN claimed thirty-eight people died. One DJ Switch came up with another figure, using the same Twitter as a media platform. In all these, there was no alternative media platform except the BBC, whose reporter and editor were present live at the toll gate during the shooting. They provided a first hand account of what actually happened. For some reasons, this BBC’s first hand angle was bullied out of the social media space. It was more like the hyenas’ attack against their victims. Anyone who ventured to offer a different perspective or even ask questions would be attacked. For once, we saw the true meaning of cyber terrorism!

The CNN’s claim of keeping its sources’ identities secret for their safety also brings to the fore questions about the credibility of their report as the report also noted that one Peace Okon whose brother, Sunday Okon is missing has been very vocal about the search for her brother. She has visited police stations, Army barracks and granted interviews to various media houses yet she has not reported any harassment or intimidation from the Nigerian security forces. The Federal Government as well as the Nigerian Army have also debunked any insinuations around harassment of the people.

But CNN has claimed that families of victims have refused to come out for fear that they will become targets of the Federal Government, and a few local journalists have bought that unverified claim.

One of CNN’s sources for the investigation, DJ Switch said she counted 15 dead bodies during the shooting. The DJ who did a live streaming of what happened on October 20th has no single verifiable image or video to back her claim of dead bodies.

Popular American-based Nigerian writer, Farooq Kperoogi is one of several social media influencers who described the Lekki Tollgate incident as a massacre. Kperoogi shared the picture of Tony who was alleged to have been shot by the Nigerian Army but evidence emerged that he was killed in a road accident. Even at that he did not bother to apologise for causing Nigerians emotional torture, leading up to violence of unimaginable proportions.

Several blogs and news platforms  have at various times reported deaths from the Lekki Tollgate, all of which have been found to be either cooked up or at best unconnected to the Lekki incident.

Again, CNN’s “investigative” report merely amplified unverifiable claims of deaths based on pictures and videos sourced from the social media. Yet, the report only alluded to the fact only one person died and another missing indivdual-another pointer to the fact that there was no massacre.

The latest CNN narration clearly makes nonsense of the news organisation’s earlier claim that thirty-eight people were killed in the Lekki shooting.

It is disturbing that the media tasked with asking critical questions and presenting facts to pass information  is now populated with untrained bloggers and emergency journalists, ever ready to collude with mischief makers in pushing propaganda that threatens the state’s and the nation’s security and development.

It’s only a matter of time for journalists to realise that there would be no job or a profession called journalism again except professionals rise up to the challenge of reporting based on truths, facts, figures and not mere emotions. The job is going to “the social media influencers”. The Lekki shooting incident is a clear example!

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