Government Will Go As Far As Necessary To Stop Fake News – Adesina
Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, was a guest on Channels Television’s Politics Today on Monday.
During the programme, he spoke with Seun Okinbaloye about strikes in the country, minimum wage and the government’s concerns about hate speech and divisive comments on the social media.
Read on for transcript of the interview or click here to watch the programme.
There has been a gale of strikes. First, it was university lecturers that went on strike and now resident doctors have followed suit. What is the President doing to stop this?
Yes, the President is the captain of the team but, then, he has so many other people working with him, who we can say will be the first line of defence when it comes to things like this. For the doctors, it is the Minister of Health first, and that will be done in conjunction with the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, who fortunately also is a medical doctor. Of course, for ASUU, you know there is a Minister of Education and that is being done along with the Minister of Labour. So that is the first line of engagement. I think the President is the very last line of engagement. But knowing that the President is the captain of the ship, his interest will be that there is peace and tranquillity in every sector of the economy. So, the needful will be done.
We are going into a work day tomorrow. What would you say to workers who have downed tools and, perhaps, to douse the tension about the strikes we are seeing?
Naturally, the President will be concerned because he is here to ensure that every sector of the polity, every Nigerian, gets the best from the polity. Naturally, he should be concerned if there are gales of strikes all around and he will do the best through his aides, through the ministers and those that have been appointed to be the first point of contact on these things. The best will be done.
The issue of minimum wage has been a major one on the lips of many workers across the country. What can you tell us that the government is doing, especially when you look back at the promises of government during the campaign period in 2015 about the number of people that will be employed? What exactly is the APC government doing in this regard?
You will recall that a committee has been empanelled to work that out. It is like a rainbow committee drawn from different parts; the public sector, the private sector, all stakeholders… As soon as the committee completes its work, I am sure the next steps will be taken.
Okay, let’s go to the major story of the day. In February of this year, the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed, said the nation is under siege of disinformation and fake news that can bring the country to her knees if not checked. Also, he did say, again earlier this year, that the Federal Government will not relent until it has exposed those behind the fake news phenomenon in the country and bring them to justice. Has the Buhari government been able to unravel why people will want to deliberately spread false news or information about the government?
There are many reasons. I can’t speak for those who are behind this development but I can hazard guesses why they do it. One will be pure mischief – to just cause disenchantment in the country; for instance, when they came yesterday (Sunday – September 3) with the fake news that the President was travelling to the United States of America today. If you see the last line of that story, they said that the trip may not be unconnected to the President’s health. Can you just imagine that? I took time to read some of the reactions that followed that fake news and you could see people say all sorts of rubbish. That was their intention; so that they can expose the President to odium if possible. So, one reason is mischief – to cause odium, to cause disenchantment. Another reason could also be to de-market somebody. You want to de-market somebody and play up another person. Then, of course, another one is they want traffic to their website – to their blogs and all that. They want traffic because traffic often determines advertising. So, they want traffic and they will stop at no extent to drive that traffic which I think is very unscrupulous.
Is government under any sort of pressure, politically of course, with this trend of fake news that has pervaded the social media?
Well, if you know the President, who I earlier described as the captain of the team, the President rarely gets under pressure. He has learnt to take things in his strides. Don’t forget that he has been head of state before. Now he is a democratically elected President, he has seen a lot. So, he has known how to take things in his strides. The trend (of fake news) may be unwholesome, it may be unsavoury, but in terms of ‘is it worrying to the President and the government?’ Not exactly.
How far will the government go in stopping this fake news trend?
Very far. As far as necessary. Government has a responsibility to ensure peace, to ensure amity, to ensure tranquillity in the country. The Constitution states that protection of life and property is the sole responsibility of government. And we know that fake news can erode peace in the country. Fake news can lead to anarchy; we have seen what it did in Rwanda – it can lead to genocide. So, it is the responsibility of government to do all that needs to be done to ensure that the country is not thrown into a tailspin by those who purvey fake news. Fake news and hate news have a thin line dividing them. You will find that people who purvey fake news are actually hateful people who people filled with bile who want to throw society into chaos. So, government will do all that it should do to stop it.
We heard the military come out to say that they are monitoring the trends and the conversation online. They did also say that they cannot make arrest though but, if you look at the reactions of countries like China, countries like the United States, is the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria going to make a major move on some of these (online) platforms in the coming days?
I don’t think we necessarily need to make that major statement because, already, within our laws, we have enough to tackle this trend. I think it was Barrister Femi Falana who made a pronouncement a week or two ago that already in our statutes, we have provisions that can deal with fake news and with hate news. So, it is just a matter of implementing what we have – using the laws that we have and anybody that is caught being behind fake news or hate news should just answer for it.
Is the Federal Government or Presidency restrategising on the manner in which it disseminates information in the wake of this trend of fake news?
Yes. Of course, you know that nothing is static in life and you must always use all the media of mass communication available to you. We are there; we are on traditional media, we are on digital media, we are on social media – we all use all these media of mass communication. But then, one thing we will not allow is for purveyors of fake news is to dictate the pace to us. No, we won’t start running helter-skelter when they come with their antics. Once we know that this is their intention and this is why they want to draw us out, we will not let them lead us by the nose. We will do what is right and proper at all times.