Tackling Rumour Mongering By Raheem Oluwafunminiyi
This writer is angry not because there is a problem with Nigeria (apologies to Chinua Achebe), not because we now have a clueless and myopic administration, which according to one of its aides, is the most cursed in the world, not because Boko Haram has now spread its tentacles towards Kogi state, threatening to go East, South and Westwards and not because the country is drifting towards anarchy and disintegration. This writer's anger is far from these, for anyone who lives in Nigeria must be ready to expect the un-expectable (apologies to Nigerians who now have to carefully look up the skies for a landing plane).
This writer's anger stems from the fact that many of those who claim to be holier-than-thou, holier-than-thy-pope and holier than past prophets of God (not the ones who adorn the crannies of our religious and spiritual edifices and call the name of thy Lord in deceit), seem not to understand that faith is a strong thing which must not be shaken at all in time of trouble, trial or tribulation. Faith as a conscious phenomenon is a situation where everybody in a desert prays for rain on a Monday and one person comes along with an umbrella. Faith is when one is swallowed by a big Whale and lost for days in the dark, yet is saved from such vicissitudes of life. Faith is just one vowel sound (not the types we learn from the mouths of our hungry and less paying teachers these days), which strangely starts with an F and having no affiliation with tags like Fatai, Fallacy or Failure, as many students in school are wont to say, but meaning complete trust and confidence in oneself above every other thing.
One may not be a traditional worshipper or an ardent follower of the free thinking religious club, but this writer so much have respect for them simply because they refuse to dwell their own brand of faith on rumours but on the fact that they have nothing to fear for when rumours abound. The reason this writer had decided to wax philosophically is based on the way rumours are spread and how we allow them to over-run our faith.
Well, rumours have always been part and parcel of the Nigerian society. It lives with us almost on a daily basis. The saying that rumours are carried by enemies, spread by the ignorant and accepted by fools, paints a very good picture of the attitudes of Nigerians towards a rumour(s). It attests to the weak level of our orientation in accepting rumours and therefore, at the spark of one, we all begin to seek for caution rather than question where such rumour emanated from, who began to spread them (even if this is quite difficult), how it came to be and why it was spread. All we do is just accept them hook, line and sinker.
This writer recall sometime in the late 90s when the entire country was overtaken by a rumour that beans, which served as one of the few protein foods around was poisoned by God knows who. Suddenly, a shocking bedlam set in. Almost every family refused to buy beans and those ones who had them in large stock freely threw them away. Compounding the issue was the Nigerian press which carried pictures and reports of families who had died as a result of eating a sumptuous meal of beans. It could only take the swift ingenuity of retired General Muhammad Buba Marwa to debunk such flimsy rumours with a public display of eating akara fried by market women. At the end of the drama, after so much had been lost economically and our psyche affected, it was discovered that the rumour only emerged simply because some people wanted a reduction in the price of beans which at the time was very high.
That was just one out of many we usually do not hear about, yet such rumours continue unabated. Not too long ago, there was a rumour that the NYSC Orientation Camp in Bauchi state had been bombed by Boko Haram at a time apprehension and fear ruled the air. For the timely intervention of those who matter, the issue would have caused further belief that the NYSC was totally helpless in tackling security and safety of corps members. As if that is not enough, we almost on a yearly basis are inundated with a rumour that people should not receive calls from some strange mobile phone numbers, when telecoms companies have come out time and again to say such number(s) are or were non-existent. One wonders how much must have been lost simply because many Nigerians refused to either make or receive a call to or from a strange number for fear of ‘vomiting blood’ or ‘dying’!
If we think the above cases are enough, wait until you read more. This writer received a text message from a friend months back who read thus: ‘Please stop taking orange! The Nigeria Police has announced this morning that they have confirmed 13 people dead in Lagos, and the orange is spreading faster. Please inform others. Send this to all your friends and family if you love them.’ If the text sounded absurd, then wait to read another shocking one which was sent to via a Blackberry device: ‘Ensure that you do not buy or eat water melon. We have been informed that Boko-Haram has poisoned trailer loads of them which are currently on their way to the South. Please warn your fellow Muslim.’ This writer was further shocked to the marrow when even siblings refused to break their fast with the water melon a Hausa neighbour had given as a gift weeks back. With this, many business men and market women who are into the water melon business would sure have been counting their losses.
Just some few days back, it was all over Facebook that news had reached Nigerians from surprisingly the Redeem Camp along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, that people should not wear red attires on a particular set date. This writer was still surprised when the Facebook post quickly traced the news to Pastor E.A Adeboye. Maybe because this writer take rumours unserious, that was why such was shrugged off, but when Baba Adeboye was mentioned, it was not hard to understood that mischief makers were at their pranks again. Not long again, a friend quickly put a call through telling this writer about what she had heard about the red attire story and warned emphatically not to wear such the next day. Since this writer was surely not ready to confront her, the reply given was only to please her.
Another rumour even went as far as saying there was a sanitary pad that had killed a lot of women in Jos and ‘Anyone who puts it on bleeds to death!’ said the message. It was one of the most hilarious of rumours one had heard in years.
With these, it should be understandable to many the reason behind the anger displayed by this writer. Many Nigerians who claim to attend church or mosque every second are usually the ones who readily accept those nonsensical rumours. They are nonsensical because our mentality refuses to probe yet swiftly accepts. How in the world would red attire adversely affect one when it is put on? What makes red attire attract evil on a set date and not on an ordinary day? Even if we assume that wearing red attire would cause harm, would those who did not hear the information be affected? Of course out of their ignorance some would argue? Yet if we do not wear a red attire and remain stark naked all day long, are we not covered by a red attire which run through our veins, keeping us alive? How possible is it for trailer loads of water melon to be poisoned by Boko Haram without people who are into the business or even the relevant authorities not having a pre-monition on it? How does a strange number received from the phone cause death to such person when one can’t even make any strange call from a strange number without the different network it passes through detecting? What would simply be in a sanitary pad that makes women bleed when actually such woman is supposed to bleed as a result of her monthly period?
It is true that in any ‘rumour’ so to speak, there is always an element of truth, however, one cannot just fathom the ignorance and lack of faith that eat deep into our consciousness as Nigerians when we hear rumours that have no evidence or fact behind them. It behoves us as right thinking people to always ask critical questions when things which ordinarily are absurd to the ears or attacks our sensibilities are dished on our tables. It is true that one needs to watch ones back, but we must also watch our front and sides to know where the bullet is flying towards. It is not enough to claim we strongly profess a particular faith for such faiths clearly places a dichotomy between belief in the supreme and non-acceptance of falsehood.
It is quite sad, however, that the relevant agencies are not doing enough to monitor mischief makers whose job is to spread falsehood and rumours in the land. Aside from the adverse economic effect of these rumours, it has simply led to unnecessary crisis, fear and apprehension in a nation where insecurity is now a regular reality. The National Orientation Agency must step up its game and come out of hibernation to sensitize Nigerians about rumours and rumour mongering. This was usually a norm during the military era. Social media sites and services rendered by mobile phone companies and networks should be monitored so that quick dissemination of information on the authenticity or fallacy of a particular rumour is known by as many people as possible to avoid crisis. Lastly, when we as a people do away with archaic reasoning and allow our senses to be enlightened on certain issues that affects us in this country, it is then we would have challenged the saying that ‘Nigerians are ignorant because they lack information’ and of course the anger displayed by this writer would surely have abated.
Raheem Oluwafunminiyi is a social commentator and political analyst. He could be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org