October 7, 2022

With more than 200 million inhabitants, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa by a wide margin. But given the relatively few fact-checking organizations in the country, the ratio of fact-checkers to the overall population is comparably tiny.

Setting out to reverse this trend, a group of African fact-checking organizations is banding together in a coalition to maximize its impact in the country ahead of the 2023 election season. The collaboration includes eight local or regional fact-checking groups: Africa Check, Dubawa, FactCheckHub, FactsMatterNG, Daily Trust, TheCable, International Center for Investigative Reporting and the Center for Journalism Innovation and Development.

“The media, especially social media, is awash with loads of information aimed at pushing one political agenda or the other. There are claims and counter-claims, some of which advance existing ethnic and religious narratives, and engender distrust among Nigerians,” states an open letter from the collaborators directed at Nigerian politicians. “It is the duty of all citizens to ensure that this seventh general election since 1999 is credible by all standards. And you play a significant role in this; hence this open letter is addressed to you.”

The letter warns of disinformation and influence peddling and of an increase in circulating misinformation, calling it a “dangerous trend.”

“We can have a greater impact by coming together to synergize our strengths,” said David Ajikobi, Nigeria editor for Africa Check. “It is also necessary because the coalition will facilitate peer learning and accountability among Nigerian fact-checkers. This will lead to each fact-checker imbibing mutually agreed best practices, producing better fact checks, and running more impactful media literacy campaigns.”

Nigeria’s falling social cohesion was one of the inspirations for the collaboration and the letter. A 2021 survey of more than 5,000 respondents in Nigeria measured indicators such as identity, trust, social justice, corruption and future expectations. It found Nigeria had “become more divided along ethnic, social, political, economic and religious lines, thereby threatening the social fabric, unity and peaceful co-existence of the country.”

“We felt that ahead of the election, why can’t IFCN verified signatories come together in collaboration and see how we can pull resources together to ensure the election goes well in Nigeria?” said Opeyemi Kehinde, editor and team lead at FactCheckHub, an Abuja-based fact-checking organization.

Nigerian fact-checkers cited the 2018 presidential election in Brazil as an example of disinformation successfully influencing an election outcome. Their open letter pointed to a study that found Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro benefited disproportionately from disinformation disseminated by his supporters. Examples include doctored photos of opposition party members partying with Fidel Castro, which, they said, influenced the vote by portraying the opposition as radical.

“The letter highlighted their (Nigerian politicians) responsibility to ensure that any information flowing out of their campaign is accurate and fair,” Ajikobi said. “It also put everyone on notice that we are scrutinizing claims made by politicians and their supporters before, during, and after the 2023 elections.”

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Seth Smalley is a reporter at Poynter and the IFCN. Get in touch at seth@poynter.org or on Twitter @sethsalex.
Seth Smalley

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