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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Fake news nearly ruined my marriage -Lai Mohammed

Immediate past Minister of Information and National Orientation, Lai Mohammed, has recounted how fake news allegedly peddled on social media almost crashed his 40-year-old marriage.

The ex-minister gave the account in Lagos at an event to commemorate the 90th birthday anniversary of Prof. Wole Soyinka, Africa’s first Nobel laureate for literature.

The text of Mohammed presentation at the event, on the topic, The Media in the Age of Disinformation, was made available to newsmen on Saturday.

Mohammed, the Managing Partner of Bruit Costard, a lobbyist and public relations firm, recalled that one of the pressing challenges he faced in office as minister was the spate of fake news, misinformation and disinformation.

Speaking specifically on how the menace almost ruined his marriage, Mohammed stressed that the consequences of fake news, disinformation and misinformation were far-reaching.

“Permit me to share publicly with you today, for the first time, how social media threatened the foundation of my 40-year-old marriage.

“It was sometime in 2018 when I came to Lagos from Abuja for an official assignment. As usual, I retired to bed about midnight, but at about 3 a. m., my wife gently roused me from my slumber.

“At first, I panicked, fearing that there had been a security breach, but my wife’s mien belied that possibility, for she was calm and composed. Solemnly, my wife asked me if I was fully awake as there were some serious issues to discuss.

My wife pleaded, Daddy, death can come knocking at any moment, please let me also, as your wife, be a signatory to your overseas account in Ali Financial, which contains $1.3 billion

“I could not fathom what was that urgent or serious to warrant being woken up at this time of the night. My mind immediately did a kaleidoscope of my rascality and escapades in the last few months.”

Lai Mohammed and his wife

Mohammed said the accusation from his wife which, according to him, was a bombshell narrated to him in Yoruba language, but roughly translated thus:

“Daddy, death can come knocking at any moment, please let me also, as your wife, be a signatory to your overseas account in Ali Financial, which contains $1.3 billion”.

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The former minister said he could not believe that his wife could take, hook, line, and sinker, the fake story in circulation crediting humongous sums of money in overseas accounts to government functionaries/ministers under former President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.

“I spent the next two hours or so sweating to convince my wife that there was no iota of truth in the allegation.

“I had to fetch a calculator and reproduce the Federal Appropriation Act for 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 in the middle of the night and explain to her why it is simply preposterous for me to have $1.3 billion in a foreign account.

I explained that, even if I managed to divert every kobo of my ministry’s annual budgetary allocation to my personal account, it will take at least 104 years to save the sum of $1.3 billion

“I explained to her that there is no year my capital budget exceeded N5 billion, which then, at about N400 to a dollar was just $12.5 million. I explained that, even if I managed to divert every kobo of it to my personal account, it will take at least 104 years to save the sum of $1.3 billion being peddled that I stole.

“My wife insisted that the whole world believed the story and that her friends had, as a result, besieged her with all kinds of requests. She said every effort on her part to deny the existence of this foreign account only succeeded in depicting her in the minds of her friends as a selfish, greedy and uncaring friend.

“Is my wife truly convinced of my innocence? The answer is in the wind! “

Mohammed reiterated that social media remained the platforms of choice for the purveyors of fake news, anti-state groups, anarchists, secessionists, terrorists and bandits.

He recalled that while in government, his ministry uncovered 476 online publications that were dedicated to spreading fake news against the former administration of Buhari.
Mohammed specifically recalled the fake news that the former president had died while receiving treatment in a London hospital and was replaced by a clone called “Jubril from Sudan”.

social media remain the platforms of choice for the purveyors of fake news, anti-state groups, anarchists, secessionists, terrorists and bandits

According to him, the challenge of fake news continued up to the campaigns leading to the 2023 general elections where President Bola Tinubu became a target, when videos and speeches attributed to him were manipulated and distorted. He said the purveyors of fake news were relentless in their efforts to de-market the laudable policies and programmes of the Tinubu’s administration.

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Mohammed said fake news had become exponential through the use of Artificial Intelligence and deep learning techniques to create highly realistic fake or manipulated videos, audio recordings or images.

“The consequences of disinformation and misinformation are far-reaching. They undermine democratic processes, sow discord within communities, and pose significant threats to public health and safety.

“Today, even the media is at the risk of losing its credibility because of the proliferation of fake news on the social media. Therefore, the media, as custodians of the public trust, must take decisive action to combat the scourge of disinformation and misinformation,” he said.

Mohammed said that social media platforms and other intermediaries accountable for their role in amplifying disinformation and misinformation should be held responsible

According to him, they should be checkmated through robust regulatory frameworks to curb the spread of false information while safeguarding freedom of expression.

He admonished social media platforms to prioritise the integrity of information over profit motives and take proactive measures to detect and remove harmful content from their platforms. (NAN)

Rotimi Ijikanmi
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