2023 ELECTIONS: FAKE NEWS AND ITS IMPLICATION ON SECURITY
BY OLUSEGUN AGBAJE
Let me, first of all, express my immense appreciation to the organizers of this event for inviting me at this crucial period to present a paper at this very important symposium on the theme“2023 Elections: Fake news and its implication on security”.
It is indeed a great opportunity to share idea with the members of the Fourth Estate of the Realm, being one of the critical stakeholders in the electoral process, with a view to collectively exploring avenues of deepening the democratic culture in Nigeria even as the 2023 General Election beckons.
The term “fake” means not true, not real, not genuine, counterfeit or sham according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Suffice it to say that fake news is news that is not true, not real, not genuine, counterfeit or sham. There is no gainsaying the fact that fake news poses very potent and grave danger to election security as well as the generality of the society all over the world. Simply put, fake news is a menace to security.
But because securing the election is just an aspect of the electoral process, please permit me to quickly gloss over some other activities of INEC ahead of the 2023 General Election before enunciating the implication of fake news on security particularly the 2023 election.
MILE STONES TO NOTE AS WE MOVE TOWARDS 2023 GENERAL ELECTION
The conduct of the Presidential/National Assembly Election is exactly 43 days away from today on 25th February, 2023. The Governorship and State Houses of Assembly Election is slated for 11th March, 2023, while Polling Units will open at 8.30am for both elections and close by 2:30pm. Campaign in public by political parties officially commenced on Wednesday, 28th September, 2022. As we speak, the rate of political activities has increased as political parties, candidates and their supporters engage in serious campaigns, rallies, processions and media advertisement to woo the voters. The Commission has on her part published the final list of 15,322 candidates for the General Election contesting for 1,491 seats (1 Presidential, 28 Governorship, 109 Senatorial, 360 House of Representatives and 993 State Assembly constituencies) among 18 Registered Political Parties across the Federation. Other important statistics include:
- Electoral Data for the Federation
- LGAs 774
- Registration Areas 8,809
- Total Number of Polling Units 176, 846
- Electoral Data for Lagos State
- Senate 3
- Federal House of Reps. 24
- State House of Assembly 40
- LGAs 20
- Registration Areas 245
- Total Number of Polling Units 13,325
- Election Type Vacancy No of Contestants
- Governor 1 16
- Senate 3 28
- House of Representatives 24 162
- State House of Assembly 40 394
- Activities undertaken by the Commission towards having a successful 2023 General Election:
The Commission has continued to work round the clock towards ensuring that no stone is left unturned for the creation of very conducive electoral environment for an all inclusive participation of all stakeholders. It is worthy of note that out of fourteen (14) items on the Timetable and Schedule of Activities for 2023 General Election, ten (10) activities have been carried out successfully by the Commission. The Electioneering Campaign by Political Parties is still ongoing. Other outstanding activities include:
- Publication of Notice of Poll by the Commission – 30th January, 2023.
- Last day for Presidential and National Assembly campaigns by political parties is 23rd February, 2023 while that for Governorship and State Houses of Assembly is 9th March, 2023.
- Date of Election: Presidential and National Assembly – 25th February, 2023. Governorship and State Houses of Assembly: 11th March, 2023.
The ongoing collection of Permanent Voter Cards was devolved to Registration Areas (RAs) on 6th to 15th January, 2023 while on 16th January 2023, the collection of PVCs will revert to LGA offices and collection of PVCs will end on 22nd January, 2023. This will enable the Commission compute the Polling Unit by Polling Unit records of PVCs collected to aid her in determining if the margin of lead in an election will be affected by the result from a PU. Section 47 (3) of the Electoral Act 2022 says in case election could not hold in a PU due to a faulty BVAS, the numbers of PVCs collected at that PU compared with the margin of lead already established in the whole election would determine if the election for that PU should be rescheduled. Similarly, Section 51 (2) of the Electoral Act 2022 says the result declared from any PU in an election, must not be more than the number of accredited voters. Consequently, all those that are yet to collect their PVCs are to do so within the given period and avoid last minute rush as the Commission is not likely to extend the collection period. Remember, “NO PVC, NO VOTING”.
Meanwhile, the Commission has opened an online accreditation portal for the
media for the 2023 General Election on 5th January, 2023 to 5thFebruary, 2023. All interested media organizations who wish to deploy journalists to cover the election are to apply via www.imap.inecnigeria.org.
In the same vein, the Commission at the State office has activated a help
desk to directly receive complaints from all stakeholders and the general public through phone number: 08145419483.
FAKE NEWS AND ITS IMPLICATION ON ELECTION SECURITY IN 2023
Election is the bedrock of democratic systems all over the world and securing the conduct of election is very important for its consolidation and overall credibility. In Nigeria, the Independent National Electoral Commission is the body saddled with the conduct of General Election as well as the Area Council Election in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
It is important to stress that peace and security are very important ingredients for the social, economic, educational, technological, cultural, and most importantly, the democratic growth of a nation. While the Commission is not empowered and does not have the capacity to create the necessary peaceful environment needed for the conduct of elections, the specific duties for the security agencies are to:
- Put forward set of guiding principles on constitutional, peace agreement, and legislative content which has the potential to reduce electoral conflicts. This should be drawn up in partnership with INEC.
- Identify areas of threats, flash points and share same with INEC while providing adequate security in the said areas.
- Training of its personnel on the Election manual, election process human right issues etc.
- Effective civic education and citizens engagement strategies and tactics.
- Security of election personnel and materials on Election Day.
- Arrest of offenders, thorough investigation and collation of evidence for effective prosecution of election offenders.
- Prompt transfer of electoral offences file to the Commission for prosecution and availability of the police for further investigation where needed or as witnesses for prosecution.
The Commission in line with its powers under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and the Electoral Act 2022 has the powers to issue regulations and guidelines for the conduct of elections wherein the role of security agents on election duty is well spelt out.
It provides at paragraphs 104 of the Regulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of Elections, 2022 that Security Agents on Election Duty shall:
- Provide security at the Polling Units/ polling stations and collation centers to ensure that the Polling Units, counting of ballots, collation and declaration of results are conducted without any disturbance;
- Take necessary measures to prevent violence or any activity that can threaten to disrupt the elections;
- Comply with any lawful directive(s) issued by or under the authority of INEC;
- Ensure the safety and security of all election personnel and materials by escorting and guarding the materials at all levels as appropriate;
- Arrest on the instruction of the Presiding Officer or other INEC officials any person(s) causing any disturbance or preventing the smooth conduct of proceedings at Polling Units/Stations and Collation Centres;
- On the instruction of the Presiding Officer, stand at the end of the queue of voters at the Polling Unit at the official close of poll to prevent any person joining in;
- Escort the Presiding Officer and other election officials to deliver the election results, ballot boxes and other election materials safely to the RA/Ward Collation Centre; and
- Escort Collation Officers to deliver election results to the Returning Officer and subsequently to the Resident Electoral Commissioner or Electoral Officer, as the case may be, for the submission of election materials and results.
According to section 27(3) of the Electoral Act 2022:
“Notwithstanding the provisions of any other law and for the purpose of securing the votes, the Commission shall be responsible for requesting for the deployment of relevant security personnel necessary for elections and registration of voters and shall assign them in the manner determined by the Commission in consultation with the relevant security agencies:
Provided that the Commission shall only request for the deployment of the Armed Forces for the purpose of securing the distribution and delivery of election materials and protection of election officials.”
It is against this backdrop that the task of securing the electoral process rest squarely with the security agencies coupled with section 27(3) of the Electoral Act 2022 that the Independent National Electoral Commission established the Inter- Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) with a view to bringing all the various security agencies together, each with its unique characteristics under a common roof with INEC for the sole purpose of shaping suitable security strategies for the provision of water tight security for the conduct of elections in Nigeria with the Resident Electoral Commissioner as the Chairman of the Committee in the State and the Commissioner of Police as the Co-Chairman as the Nigeria Police is the security lead agency. Other members of ICCES include Independent National Electoral Commission, Nigeria Army, Nigeria Air force, Nigeria Navy, Department of State Services, Nigeria Immigration Service, Nigeria Customs Service, Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps, Nigeria Correctional Service, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Federal Road Safety Corps, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission and National Youth Service Corps.
Unfortunately, one of the big threats to securing the electoral process is fake news. In recent times, fake news has become the order of the day especially with the advent of the internet and easy sharing of information among people on social media. Fake news which simply mean ‘misinformation” and “disinformation” spreads like wild fire in every facet of the society including the democratization process. The alarming rate of fake news in Nigeria today is a cause for concern as it threatens national peace and security and no doubt one of the dreaded challenges facing the country at the moment. According to the former Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, the ENDSARS protest that almost turned the Country upside down was triggered by fake news which emanated from Ughelli in Delta State. No doubt, fake news triggers religious crisis, genocide, communal clashes, jungle justice, electoral violence, etc.
Ahead of the 2023 General Election, purveyors of fake news are not relenting in their malicious efforts to put the Commission in bad light. In the light of this, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) recently raised concerns on the potentially disruptive influence of disinformation on elections. According to the Centre, the common forms of fake news in elections include the dissemination of false information to discredit political opponents or to influence voters and the voting process. It added that the falsification and/or manipulation of contents, polling data, delegitimization of electoral institutions, including INEC, the Nigeria Police and other state agencies are other handworks of fake news peddlers. The CDD averred that the spread and impact of fake news is a concern all over the world and that threatens the sustainability of democracy worldwide.
In the current political season in Nigeria characterized mostly by INEC preparations for the Conduct of credible election and campaign by political parties to woo the electorate, the rate at which fake news is used to misinform the general public is very worrisome as hardly a day passes by without one or two fake news going viral particularly in the social media and sometimes enlivened by some mainstream media without crosschecking the facts. For example, the alleged scattering of voter’s cards in Lagos by one George Natural on Face book in August, 2022 was fake news targeted at diminishing the credibility of INEC. Other cases in point include:
- Alleged carting away of INEC voter registration machine from St. Bridget Catholic Church in Surulere, Lagos which was reported by virtually all the mainstream media on 29th July, 2022 was fake news.
- Alleged location of Polling Unit opposite a politician’s house at Ikoyi which went viral on social media in August, 2022 was fake news.
- The viral message on social media in December, 2022 asking people not to thumbprint the INEC PVC collection register was fake news.
- The insinuation by some groups that INEC is denying a certain segment of the public the opportunity to collect their PVC in the ongoing Collection exercise is also fake news among many others.
Fake news is a negative trend that must be nipped in the bud because of its potential to mar the 2023 General Election. Apart from poisoning the mind of the citizenry thus leading to breakdown of law and order, fake news is also a huge distraction to the Commission and other critical election stakeholders like the security agencies. According to the Department of State Services (DSS), “the spread of fake news and hate speeches on social media poses the biggest threat to the 2023 general elections”. The agency stated that,” sharing of fake news along with incorrect and inflammatory commentary have led to violence in parts of the country”. The Spokes-Person of the agency, Mr. Peter Afunanya while answering questions from journalists in June last year maintained that,
“we are into elections and political programmes have started. What the media and every stakeholders must do is to ensure that the game is played according to rules. Nigerians must avoid any act that promotes hate and disintegration and say no to separatist movement, terrorism, fake news, hate speech, religious bigotry and any act that tends to divide us as a nation. Social media and fake news are biggest threat to human existence not only to elections. Fake news is major cause of violence in our society now. As journalists, you should always fact-check information before publishing. We must understand that Nigeria is the only country we have and every one must put hands on deck to ensure that there is peace. The media should be up and doing in ensuring that peace is restored in the country. Slanting news to achieve ulterior motives should be avoided and I want to assure that the DSS won’t abdicate its responsibilities and would continue to do the right thing no matter whose ox is gored.”
OTHER CHALLENGES OF INEC AHEAD OF THE 2023 GENERAL ELECTION
Apart from fake news, other current and anticipated challenges ahead of the 2023 General Election include:
- Insecurity in some parts of the Country as a result of Bokoharam activities in the North East leading to the displacement of thousands of people who now take shelter in Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) camps, separatist agitation/unknown gunmen in South East which led to the destruction of some INEC offices and other assets as well as killing of two (2) staff of the Commission, banditry in the North West and North Central parts of the Country that have displaced many people and kidnapping in the South West and South-South parts of the Country are sources of concern as they posed very big threat to the conduct of elections in the Country.
- Vote buying through different means including the use of physical cash and transfer of money to voters’ account for the purpose of inducement during elections and disallowing them from making informed choice. This monster popularly called ‘see and buy’ in the local parlance is a very worrisome trend that currently undermines the credibility of elections and an albatross to the electoral process.
- The mindset of the political class on what it takes to win election which usually involves non-adherence to the extant laws to win election at all cost.
- Seeming inadequate capacity to handle electoral offences.
- Emerging political movements in some parts of the country.
To address the above challenges, the following recommendations are hereby proferred:
- The security agencies must rise up to the occasion and deal decisively with all issues of insecurity including Bokoharam, unknown gunmen, banditry and kidnapping across the Country to create the necessary peaceful atmosphere required for the conduct of elections.
- If we must tame the monstrous phenomenon of vote buying, all hands must be on deck. The political class must stop giving voters money in exchange for votes and voters should also resist all attempts by anybody to induce them with money during election. The security agencies must use all legal means at their disposal to arrest and bring vote buyers and their collaborators to book to serve as deterrent to others.
- The political class must change their attitude to good practices in politics by ensuring that they play by the rules. Furthermore, security agencies must ensure that there is adequate deployment of men and materials to checkmate the activities of all unscrupulous elements that would constitute any form of hindrance to the peaceful conduct of election.
- Establishment of a special body like the Electoral Offences Tribunal to handle electoral offences in collaboration with the security agencies. Furthermore, the judiciary must muster the courage to quickly dispense off issue of electoral offences to serve as deterrent to others.
- The security agencies must closely monitor the threat posed by the anticipated clash between the emerging movements and the old order so as to avoid breakdown of law and order particularly in Lagos and Kano States as well as other flashpoints before, during and after the election.
Let me conclude by stressing that the danger posed by fake news against ensuring adequate security for the conduct of elections cannot be overemphasized. Therefore, concerted efforts should be made by all relevant stakeholders including security agencies, the media, the executive, legislature and the judicial arms of government among others through vigilance, diligent application of existing laws as well as arrest and prosecution of fake news makers to serve as deterrent to others.
At this juncture, let me on behalf of the Hon. Chairman of the Commission commend the Nigeria Police Force for organizing this laudable symposium and her usual cooperation with INEC towards strengthening the electoral process as the Commission will continue to explore all available legal instruments concerning the electoral process to create the needed level playing field for all Stakeholders to participate in the country’s democratization process.
Thank you for your rapt attention.
INEC, LAGOS STATE
12TH JANUARY, 2023
- Fake news and its implication for National Peace and Security by Hussaina Abaji & Dango E. Salamatu, 2020 NTA Journal of Communication.
- How fake news threatens 2023 elections- Group, Punch online news, 5th October, 2022.
- Electoral Act 2022
- Social media, fake news biggest threat to 2023 General Election –DSS, The Guardian online, 22nd June, 2022.
- INEC Regulations and Guidelines for the conduct of election 2022.
- The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as Amended).
BY THE HON. RESIDENT ELECTORAL COMMISSIONER, INEC LAGOS STATE, MR. OLUSEGUN AGBAJEBEWARE All Rights Reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or part without prior express written permission from Juliana Francis