Cynical Governance As the Source of Fake News -By Uddin Ifeanyi

Filed under: Democracy & Governance |


The Goodluck Jonathan administration was an especially incompetent stage in the evolution of Nigeria as a democracy. Now, this is an important proposition. But not in the sense in which its successor has deployed it to justify sub-optimal performance. Instead the cackhandedness of the Jonathan government explains the overwhelming support that saw the Buhari government victorious at the 2014 polls. It explains, just as well, the build-up of frustration over the last three years with the incumbent administration’s scorecard. We had reached a low from which up was the only possible trajectory. Or so we thought. After confirming this interpretation, it has been the uncommon luck of the incumbent government that it has found new depths.

For, without debate, the Buhari administration has resulted in a plethora of negative outcomes, none of which was envisaged in the euphoria that brought it to office. Arguably, the deterioration in the country’s security situation has been the more painful of the failures that have come to be associated with this government. Significantly, we have, in the last 36 months, added to a volatile mix (Boko Haram in the north, agitation for a return to Biafra in the east, and the on again, off again restiveness in the Niger Delta) a potent layer of religious and cultural divisions that has seen important constituents of the Nigerian nation (pastoralists, herdsmen, Christians, Muslims, etc.) descend to levels of barbarity that could previously only have been imagined.

Still, despite the consequent bloodlust (and the gory images that it has birthed), it would appear that a far bigger worry as we near a new political inflection point is the new tribalism that has sprouted on the back of the many new narratives from the Buhari government. In a sense, this tribalism may even be the cause of the diverse and rivalrous discourses. Nonetheless, it is hard to understand what gain there is in folks deliberately distorting stories, pictures, and videos on social media in support of their narrow confessions.

“Fake news”? Yes. And given the unsavoury uses to which social media conversations have been put globally, you could be forgiven for notching this up as evidence of our legitimate membership of the global community. Whereas, however, it was always going to be the case that the bifurcation of national sentiments was going to follow General Buhari’s election, his administration’s management of the public space hasn’t helped.

The incumbent government has been characterised by a paralysing cynicism, evident, for example, in the ability of the agriculture minister to hold two contradictory positions (on the state of the rice economy, to take but one instance) without blushing. It clearly does not matter to the administration that the claims, on one hand of the failure of rice mills in Thailand because Nigeria has achieved self-sufficiency in rice production, cannot be rationally squared with the administration’s decision to close the nation’s land border to rice imports, on the other hand. Not to worry, the administration sees the new tribalism, especially on social media, likes the division that it generates (because then the demands for public accountability are less strident), and feeds it with red meat regularly.

None was more provocative of this feeding of such base appetites than the recent umbrage which the government tried to raise around the gratuitous manipulation by the National Assembly of the 2018 Appropriation Bill, which was nevertheless still signed into an Act. This from a government which having budgeted N5.084 trillion as revenue in 2017 and earning actual revenue of N2.7 trillion the same year, proceeded to budget a revenue of N7.17 trillion this year.

Alright. We all know that no Nigerian government has ever taken such matters seriously! But, and this is the nub of the matter, the Buhari administration was meant to be different. It could be argued that the country’s current crisis, unfortunately, results from the fact that the Buhari administration has found it very difficult, in spite of its “change” mantra, to exit the campaign mode. In this sense, this crisis has been long in the making. For much of the incumbent government’s campaign to oust the Jonathan administration relied to some extent on this type of manipulation of public opinion.

Unable to find a forward gear, the Buhari government has had to explain its stasis through dynamic narratives. This, alas, is the fountainhead of the growing penchant on the part of both sides of the argument for and against the administration for deploying fake news in aid of their respective causes.

Uddin Ifeanyi, journalist manqué and retired civil servant, can be reached @IfeanyiUddin.