The downside of national Information -by Tahir Sherriff

Filed under: Democracy & Governance |


Is it the truth?
Is it fair to all concerned?
Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
-Rotary Club: The four way test of the things we think say or do…

A common aphorism is ‘he who is not informed, is deformed’ Yet many have not concretely come to terms to what is to be refereed to as information or not. If a group of twelve year old’s watch a condom advertisement, can it be said to have informed or deformed them? Perhaps not. Our fragile society will benefit immensely from coming to terms with the down-side of information. With the reality that information accompanies with it vices that may include disinformation, mis-information, mis-leading information or irrelevant information.

Recent events in Nigeria bring the question of what should be accepted as information to light. We are bombarded daily with TV, newspapers, news-reports; stating opinions, making analysis, interviewing informing and persuading viewers and listeners with a myriad of data. These people are always ready to swear on a stack of bibles, but never agree to be held on the account of wrong information. Perhaps why this is often ignored like many other things crucial to common sense. The question i wish to bring forth is what is the price of wrong information, and what must be done to re-structure it? Can we work towards weighing the effect of information we are exposed to before communicating them? Can we verify that it does not mis-inform or that what we receive does not dis-inform? Where mis-information refers to false or inaccurate information that is spread unintentionally or erroneously, while disinformation, in contrast, is intended to mislead. Damian Thompson defines counter-knowledge as “misinformation packaged to look like fact.

I remember an incident in February 2012. The heat of the subsidy demonstrations had just subsided, Kaduna however was still tense, which was normal given its ethnic and religious leanings. I was on site with a colleague; an electromechanical engineer from Bangladesh working extended shifts to meet a PHCN commissioning deadline for the electrification of Gonin Gora power line, when we received texts simultaneously. Mine read: “Please be informed, people are being slaughtered in Gonin Gora right now, stay away from that region and please inform others.” The irony is, i received this text from a friend in Lagos. I admit we all need heads up on events especially in a place as tense as Kaduna, but what of annoying BlackBerry messages about a house burning in Ikot epkene on a Sunday morning?

Individuals, families, relationships and societies have been constantly exposed to the dangerous effects of mis-information. It has been responsible for great shifts in nations perspective, historical study by the American historical society shows a large percentage of the causes of both World Wars to be attributed to mis-information. Without realizing it, we tend to believe unverified information about other people or events and become vehicles of spreading the information, even spicing it up to make the tale more interesting, acceptable and worth retelling immediately.

Sharing a piece of information you are not clear about shouldn’t be a problem, we all have been engaged in a form of wrong information gathering or the other, but what if that information is so sensitive, that it affects the ordinary life of everyday people. What of information about a major ethnic group locked in conflict? What of information that results in the false penalty of a person or group? Or information that results to the death of a loved one. Of course some may argue that to promote harmony and continuity, institutions even as small as a marriage institution have to be open with all necessary information to promote togetherness, but what kind of information? Is the child of a drunk, who is ashamed of his parents way of life entitled to relate this information to his employer? And at what stage is the information required to be revealed?

Our nation has recently witnessed a national campaign of providing information of different dimensions and perspectives to the public in the said ‘intention’ to inform the masses, purported leaked documents of the government. Do this information pass ‘the four way test’? If they don’t, can they be perceived as information?

I do not wish to be quoted as re-defining the meaning of information, neither am i advocating for a control of information which obviously violates the democratic right of expression. But i believe they should be a measure of consideration required in relating information. There should be ethical boundaries especially when such information may affect national harmony.

written by: Tahir Sherriff