Can Africa Keep Coronavirus Under Control?

By Bunmi Makinwa

The map that is emerging of the global situation of coronavirus disease, better named as COVID-19, is strange and surprising.

Coronavirus Map: Distribution of COVID-19 Cases Worldwide, as of March 17, 2020. Credit: WHO

Take a map of the world with an all-white background and put black spots to mark the places where COVID-19 cases are high or significant. Africa stands out as the only continent that remains mostly white. The other continents have a large number of people who have COVID-19. Many of the countries with a high number of cases also have a correspondingly substantial number of deaths from the disease whilst African countries have recorded very few deaths.

What is strange about Africa? Why is COVID-19 unusually bypassing Africa?

Epidemiology is the study of incidence, distribution, and possible control of diseases and other factors relating to health. It uses a lot of data and statistical information to reflect its conclusions or findings. It gives an account of fundamental factors that influence course of diseases.

As in similar studies of humans, nature and society, when no coherent explanation is possible to explain a phenomenon, epidemiology infers, extrapolates and uses conjectures.

In understanding why Africa is spared to date of many cases of COVID-19, there are a lot of inferences and suggestions, but very little coherent or solid explanation. It is understandable. COVID-19 is a new and rapidly evolving disease. The scientific knowledge is growing but It is too early to draw conclusions.

Compared to the rest of the world, cases of COVID-19 are low in Africa. As at this time of writing, Egypt leads with 196 and also has the highest number of deaths at 6. South Africa is a distant second with 85 cases, followed by Algeria with 61 cases, Morocco has 38 cases and Senegal has 27 cases, in that order. Morocco has recorded 6 deaths and Sudan has one. All other African countries with COVID-19 cases are in single units.

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South African Development Community unites to tackle COVID-19. Credit: WHO

The current situation on COVID-19 does not say a lot about where things maybe tomorrow or in the near future. Whilst China was dealing with the first major epidemic and a high number of cases, most countries that became almost overwhelmed with the disease did not foresee the trend. Within weeks, Italy has a raging epidemic with 31,000 plus cases and over 2,000 deaths, and Iran has more than 16,000 cases with almost one thousand deaths. Spain, Germany, France and the USA are battling with rising numbers.

There is, therefore, no valid reason to celebrate or be lackadaisical about the current situation in Africa. Rather, it is as good a time as any to adopt an active and serious preparedness stance. African countries should anticipate any eventuality. There are already lessons to learn from other parts of the world.

African countries cannot be over-prepared, because its best preparedness situation in medical and health services will be not anywhere as strong as the services in China, Iran, South Korea, Italy, France or the United Kingdom – which health care and management capabilities were overwhelmed fast by the epidemic. According to WHO, healthcare and services in Africa, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, are the weakest in the world.

“Keep it out and be prepared”. This is my shorthand of a combined strategic imperative that should drive Africa’s readiness on Coronavirus or COVID-19 given the facts and data available regarding the disease.

From reports and personal observation, African countries have set up testing facilities at airports to monitor travelers and identify possible infected persons. This is excellent. It is doubtful that the same kinds of facilities are available at land borders which are often too numerous to count, and very porous.

COVID-19 is said to have an incubation period of between 14 and 21 days based on current knowledge. It means that an infected person with no symptoms yet may pass through the temperature recording tests at airports and manifest the disease later on. It has probably been the case with several international travelers who have been identified with the disease days after their arrival in countries.

It is also assumed that COVID-19 or a variant of it is not indigenous to African countries. If it exists already, it is most likely to be passive or not as virulent as the type that is ravaging other parts of the world. The assumptions are reasonable until facts prove otherwise. If the assumption proves wrong with time, there will arise a need to respond to emergencies.

For the above reasons and others, the efforts to “keep it out”, may not be as successful as it is touted to be. Therefore, the second part of the strategy, “be prepared,” becomes even more important.

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Senegal partners with UK lab to develop a hand-held coronavirus test kit. Credit: CNN.

Most African countries have Centre for Disease Control (CDC), or National Institutes of Public Health and similar bodies that are a repository of knowledge and skills in control and preparedness for communicable and non-communicable diseases. They have capabilities to test, confirm COVID-19, treat and manage cases locally, including the capability for contact tracing, isolation and follow-through medical services.

However, medical and care services are most beneficial and effective when disease burden is limited. The fact that most people in the continent do not have reasonable access to health care facilities is a grave complication when epidemics strike.

The maxim, prevention is the cheapest cure, cannot be more appropriate at this time. In order to “be prepared”, African countries should adopt a preventive approach premised on behaviour change, a well-developed public health and change management field.

COVID-19 is a communicable, infectious disease. Unfortunately, merely reviewing measures taken by African countries to date reveal that less than 10 countries out of 54 have taken the preliminary steps of behavior modification and change that can enable people to “be prepared” to overcome the disease. Measures such as limiting the gathering of groups, enforcing reduced movement for social activities, and continuous enlightenment and education with rehearsals for practical understanding are very important.

It is difficult to ask people not to socialize, greet, congregate to celebrate, meet up with family and friends, as they normally do. It is challenging to ask people to wash hands with soap for at least 20 seconds every so often; not to touch mouth, nose and eyes; and to avoid handling public facilities. People just like to do what they normally do. It is human. The social and cultural practices of African peoples have proved tough and resistant to behavior changes that place individuals above groups and community. We have seen it in HIV and AIDS programmes, and in combatting Ebola.

Now with COVID-19, people must be ready and comfortable over time with the disruption of normal life and daily routines. It is difficult to stay home for days, weeks and maybe months, but people must be geared to practice and adopt the new behavior.

Official announcements setting stringent requirements to reorganize life in new ways, cancel public gatherings and events relating to education, work, leisure, and social life, are in order. People must be prodded towards changing their lifestyle.

Behavior modification and change are what it means to “be prepared” for COVID-19 in Africa. It is known that behavior change takes several steps from awareness to understanding, through acceptance, adoption, and ultimately the sustainability of new behavior. It also takes several supporting factors, including policy, politics, faith, social and economic contexts to effect a change of behavior in institutions, societies and amongst people.

The time to begin implementing a behavior change movement to contain COVID-19 in Africa was yesterday. There is no justifiable reason for any country to be taken by surprise having seen how the disease has evolved dramatically in several countries.

If, as time goes on, Africa remains unaffected by the ravages of COVID-19, nothing would have been lost by being prepared for the worst-case scenario. Indeed, it would be a much better situation than saying “had we known” after the unexpected havoc that the epidemic can wreak on a fragile continent.

Bunmi Makinwa was the first head of behavior change communication of UNAIDS at the global level from Geneva. He is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership.

Facts and Lessons on Coronavirus

By Bunmi Makinwa

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It is highly unlikely that you will be infected by Coronavirus, code-named COVID-19, according to prominent facts from the ongoing epidemic of the virus. This is not what you would think given the hysteria, myths and information that spread every day on the disease.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that may cause a range of illnesses in humans or animals. Among the most well-known coronaviruses are Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and Swine Flu. The most-recently discovered coronavirus causes coronavirus disease and has been code-named COVID-19 by the World Health Organisation (WHO). It is known so far to have originated from an animal.

Prevention and avoidance of infection is easy and possible through simple actions that each individual can take, and which organizations, companies and communities can facilitate.

The chances of recovery from the disease are also very high compared to other recent viral epidemics. Facts and data on COVID-19 reinforce the positive conclusions stated above. Yet the spread of COVID-19 is real and new facts are likely to surface as the epidemic becomes scientifically more familiar.

The caricature of Chinese people as being carriers of COVID-19 is incorrect. Though the first known cases of the disease and the largest number of infections and deaths were in Wuhan in Ubei province of China, COVID-19 has appeared in at least 64 countries, three of them are in Africa – Algeria, Egypt and Nigeria.

Egypt was the first African country to report a Coronavirus case, a Chinese person who has since tested negative and has been discharged from quarantine. Algeria has two suspected cases and one of them was confirmed for infection. The two cases were Italians. Nigeria has reported a case and the Italian who travelled to Lagos on February 25 had his case confirmed on February 27. He has been quarantined at a facility in Lagos.

According to the government of Lagos State, the patient’s symptoms have subsided. It means that his potential to infect others has decreased. If the trend continues, he will be released as he will no more pose any danger to others.

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It is likely that more Africans will be infected by COVID-19 as time goes on, especially Africans who live in or visit places that have a high number of cases of the disease. For example, two South Africans were detected to have the disease on board the cruise ship, The Diamond Princess, in Japan. The Diamond Princess has recorded 705 cases of COVID-19 and 6 deaths to date. It carried 3,711 people and was sailing from Singapore to Japan when the first case was discovered.

Unfortunately, infected people may carry the virus for many days before they show symptoms, and they can infect others. Infection takes place through droplets when infected persons sneeze or cough. Fomites, object or substance that is capable of transmitting infectious organisms from one individual to another, also may carry the virus through to others. Metals and metallic objects are said to be efficient fomites for COVID-19.

Estimates by credible organizations are that infected people have 98 per cent recovery rate from the disease. The two per cent of patients who die from it are predominantly vulnerable

persons such as older people above the age of 50 and most of them have pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, chronic respiratory disease or cancer. It means that young people have a very high capability to recover from infection based on what is known to date about the virus.

In a larger context, whereas SARS has 9.6 per cent and MERS has 34 per cent mortality rates, COVID-19 has about 2 per cent mortality rate.

How does one avoid COVID-19? Remember the following simple measures.

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Wash and rinse hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 30 seconds. Do it frequently and encourage others to do the same. The hands are the major carriers of viruses and washing hands with soap and water properly kill most viruses. In the absence of water and soap, sanitizers are also effective but not as well as soap and water. Water alone if it is all that is available is useful but very weak as a cleaner for viruses.

Avoid touching the nose, mouth, eyes with hands. The hands pick up viruses and transmit them easily through these parts of the body.

Stay a good distance, about one metre or three feet, away from anyone who sneezes or coughs. The droplets from their sneeze or cough cannot reach you at this distance. Anyone who sneezes or coughs should cover their noses and mouths to avoid spreading droplets to others.

Fomites, such as clothes, utensils, and furniture, also transmit viruses. In public places especially, use fomites sparingly and clean hands frequently when public objects are used.

Stay at home if you feel ill and seek medical care as soon as possible if the illness persists.

It is important to be informed and to obtain new information on the new virus. However, avoid misinformation and myths. For example, the WHO recommends the use of face masks for those who are taking care of patients with COVID-19 or for those who may have a cough, cold, or sneezing. Wearing masks is not a substitute for regular hand cleaning.

There is a lot of wrong information about the current epidemic given the power of social media that turns just about anyone into specialists. Each country has credible sources of information and there are various international organizations that competently provide information. Top of the list is the World Health Organization, Center for Disease Control, National Public Health agencies, and well-established, reputable media organizations.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership.

The Real Amotekun is Yet Ahead

By Bunmi Makinwa

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The sound of “Amotekun” has drowned out all other issues in the Nigerian public space for many days, and there is a great likelihood that the Yoruba word will have meanings and connotations beyond the original meaning of leopard. Soon enough Wikipedia will include Amotekun. Maybe the word will also enter into the Oxford English Dictionary as was recently the case for several words of domestic Nigerian uses.

Listening to and reading about the loud pronouncements that have accompanied the establishment of the Western Nigeria Security Network, also known as Amotekun, one has to be deaf not to conclude that Nigeria is “not at ease” – to borrow a line from the title of the famous book by Chinua Achebe.

From its outing, there were whispers, gasps, exclamations of relief and contentment by many people who found the Amotekun security outfit a very appropriate step taken by five governors of South Western States. At last, the security situation might improve, and life might become normal, many people concluded.

But there were also hisses, jeers, facial contortions, by many other people on how unnecessary Amotekun was. Nothing could be farther from establishing better security than Amotekun because it would be manipulated to foster violence, the others contended.

Whilst the murmurs were still germinating and mounting gradually, Attorney-General Abubakar Malami threw fuel into the low fires and the explosion started. He said that Amotekun was illegal and unconstitutional. Those who support Amotekun or similar policies would have none of Malami’s points. They found that his statement was not only wrong, but it confirmed the status quo. In simple terms, it showed how the Northern ruling class wanted to perpetuate their hold on the rest of the country’s security architecture and other important spheres.

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Abubakar Malami

Who is right and who is wrong? This is the debate that is going on. It is loud and angry.

And the leadership of the country is silent. President Buhari has not made any pronouncement. Nor any of his proxies. Characteristically. The highest Federal Government official who has spoken on the issue remains the Attorney General. From a communication point of view, his statement is the official position of the Federal Government. This is the interpretation of the current silence in communication.

Silence has been used frequently as an instrument of governance by the current government, and it is a strong communication tool. Whether the government has used silence strategically, or merely by accident is less important than what effects the use of it has created.

After a heated political campaign and delicate elections in May 2015, President Buhari emerged as the winner on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) party. The manifesto of his party which was used as the preaching instrument across the country by APC had promised to change the country. The new APC government was going to repair the economy, forge a secure nation, and reduce if not eliminate corruption.

More than 15 million voters, constituting 54% of total votes cast, who favoured Buhari waited for the beginning of a new Nigeria to emerge as soon as Buhari came into office.  Silence. There was no team or energetic principals to run the affairs of state. President Buhari took about six months before he broke the long silence to appoint his cabinet.

The president’s frequent travels abroad for medical treatment were usually accompanied also by silence. His health was poor, a situation that was beyond him and anyone for that matter. But the silence, not informing the country, not appointing an acting president often, or not handing over to a designated official publicly, made his silence seriously problematic.

The herdsmen phenomenon generated national furore for a long time. Silence reigned on the matter from the number one political head of the country until it became uncomfortable to be silent.

Silence at critical times when serious issues are at stake seems to have become the norm. You may remember the following:

– The tense relationship between two principal security agencies, namely DSS and EFCC, which at times became public stand-offs.

– Closer to home, the President’s wife and First Lady Aisha Buhari has become a megaphone of how the domestic life in Aso Rock resembles an interesting soap opera of Nollywood. But Aso Rock is not meant to be a Nollywood stage. Silence is being used as an instrument for managing the crisis.

– The agitation by several groups from the South Eastern parts of the country for a re-establishment of Biafra which started as little noises and has become a storm.

– The power-play at the presidency that appeared to place the Vice-President under siege.

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Buhari departs Daura after INEC postponed the February 16 general election (image courtesy State House)

Operation Amotekun will mother many children. The ferocity of future Amotekuns will be determined by competent handling of the babies from birth. Security of people and assets cannot be compromised.

Those who use silence as a strategy for results state that “actions speak louder than words”. There are certainly uses for silence as a veritable instrument of management, leadership and communication. Silence is powerful when silence will bring solutions, healing, unity and contentment. Silence cannot stop disaffection that is obvious. A deep sense of insecurity and distrust permeates the country. Timely interventions and clear statement of positions forestall eruption of latent anger and misinterpretation of situations.

If there were any doubts in anyone’s mind, Amotekun has confirmed that Nigeria’s security situation is broken and needs mending.

In a country where the president is all-powerful and his voice can direct and influence thoughts and conclusions, the perpetual withdrawal and silence of Buhari leaves serious issues unresolved. There is too much dust in the air, and when the dust settles, we shall have yet another crisis swept under a bulging carpet covering the dirt. Silence has become a liability, and it will spawn more Amotekuns.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership.

When a Billionaire Goes to Jail

By Bunmi Makinwa

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Former Governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu

Billionaires do go to jail but only rarely. In any country, a billionaire who pays for his crime with a jail term makes headline news. In Nigeria on December 4, 2019, wealthy, former Abia State Governor Orji Uzor Kalu was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. He wiped away tears, he asked or begged security officers not to be placed in handcuffs as he was being led out of court. “Please don’t handcuff me. I will follow you.”

Kalu, a senator and Chief Whip of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) political party, will most likely appeal the judgment. It took 12 years to prosecute the case to this point. For now, he sits in jail for committing fraud of over 7 billion naira of funds meant for Abia State which he ruled from 1999 to 2007. He will forfeit huge personal assets to the government.

In the public space, he has acquired an ignominious title of criminal, fraud and corrupt person.

In less than five years of APC’s rule by President Muhammadu Buhari, three other former state governors have been sentenced to prison, also for defrauding their states. They are: Jolly Nyame of Taraba State – 12 years; Joshua Dariye of Plateau State10 years; and Bala Ngilari of Adamawa State, whose conviction of 4 years imprisonment was later upturned by the Court of Appeal.

The rate of imprisonment of such all-powerful former governors is unprecedented.

The prosecution of cases of “grand corruption”, as it was labeled by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, appears to have sharp teeth. They bite deep and bloody. The injuries are being spread around in a way that makes people shudder, even if they are “insiders” – members of the APC and strong, well-connected political persons. The expectation that “Once you have joined APC, all your sins are forgiven” as famously stated in January 2019 by APC National Chairman Adams Oshiomole may be far from reality.

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A Federal High Court, Lagos sentenced former Abia State Governor, Orji Uzor Kalu to 12 years in prison

Kalu’s case is a model of a person who did all the “right” things to wash himself clear of his sins. He had abandoned his political party that took him to governorship position, and joined APC; he campaigned vigorously, visibly for APC and presidential candidate Buhari in 2019 elections; he fought his way through electoral and legal hurdles to become a senator in 2019, a usual guarantor of immunity from sanctions for crimes perpetrated as governor; and he purchased his way to Katsina the home state of Buhari to have himself turbaned as a Moslem leader, showing total disdain for his Christian roots and life-long religion. Yet, he ended up paying for his sins.

It may be too early to draw conclusions. But some questions are appropriate.

Is the government in its second term in office showing its new hands – no friends, no foes, and anyone who falls into the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) net can be convicted and will serve jail term and suffer punishment?

Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Shehu Malami said on December 19, 2019, that 22 ex-governors are under probe or on trial. This is in addition to many high-level officials and political heavyweights who are being investigated or facing criminal charges. Are the graft fighting arms of government, especially the EFCC, more proficient and more certain of their abilities to get convictions in courts hence they are emboldened? Will more billionaires go to jail?

The legal defence squad of billionaires who face criminal charges in Nigeria has demonstrated over the years its ability to stall the legal process, frustrate and ultimately overcome the prosecution in most situations. The Administration of Criminal Justice Act, a recent law, is credited by some legal analysts as having equipped prosecution with more capability to limit the technical manoeuvering that draws out cases sometimes for decades, defeating and making nonsense of trials. Will the use of the Act strengthen the administration of justice and encourage upright judges to determine cases within a reasonable time?

Are various arms of government, especially the executive and judiciary listening more attentively to the cries of the general public who are daily being scammed by their elected leaders?

And by confiscating the gains of crimes through forfeitures of large assets, is the judiciary waking up to the reality that political criminals even when convicted live a sumptuous, obscenely wealthy lifestyle after jail? That the fruits of a crime stay with the criminals rather than return to the people whose life is diminished by corruption?

We should also not forget to ask: Do we as a society contribute to creating many fraudulent and criminal billionaires? A system that makes it imperative to have many millions and even billions of Naira to run for election in any political position has created political commerce from which “investors” must recoup their capital and ensure quick returns whilst in office.

When billionaires go to jail, there is often dancing in the streets. The real joy, however, lies in people reaping fruits of democracy through a vast, noticeable improvement in the lives of ordinary people. A change of ways by governors and political leaders towards a life of service and commitment to reducing poverty in the land is a worthwhile goal.

Then, fewer billionaires will end up in jail.

Bunmi Makinwa is CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership.

Presidential Election Gives Nigerians No Choice

By Bunmi Makinwa

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President M. Buhari (Getty Images/P. Ekpei)

If President Muhammadu Buhari figuratively rode on a horseback to assume office in 2015, as at today, he barely rides a three-legged donkey. A wobbling government has frittered away the goodwill of the expectant millions who brought him to office.

However, his main opponent, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, does not have a donkey to ride on. His questionable past and close embrace of proven and perceived corrupt political actors and ruinous leaders do not make him attractive. Despite the weakness of Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) party, Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party or PDP is not the shining star.

Yet one of the two is most likely to emerge as president come the election of February 16, in a few days.

The PDP governed Nigeria from 1999 to 2015. Its three successive presidents, and with control over most of the states, reinforced a faulty political system where massive looting of government coffers became the norm. Provision of services and improvement of peoples’ well-being receded and disappeared in most of the 36 states and at the federal government level.  Politics was the quickest gateway to wealth, riches and power.

Under PDP rule, when political leaders have taken their large share of the official budget, the little that was left could not maintain Nigeria’s elaborate political and administrative systems. Infrastructures became dilapidated. Salaries remained little and unpaid in many states. Social tension heightened.

Nigeria’s political system is problematic too. The “investment” needed to win votes or buy oneself an elected position has kept rising. The demand presses elected persons, in turn, to hustle to recover their wealth, equip themselves and their acolytes for future political positions. Many elected officials aggressively privatize official funds to their pockets for use as future powerful political kingmakers.

Amongst the citizenry, high and low, a culture of primitive self-preservation and material aggrandizement developed. Reliance on system and order gave way to brazen self-reliance, hopelessness in hard work, and spiritual solutions to routine life issues.

People scramble for “money by all means”, especially through political favours, in a situation where material well-being is a primary determinant of people’s self-worth. Absent the government, all basic needs are met by each person according to whatever access is possible to any resources, state or privately-owned.

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Nigeria Votes (guardian.ng)

On February 16, 2019, Nigeria will pick either Atiku or Buhari to rule the country for another four years. It is not because there are no qualified, capable and exemplary candidates among the more than 40 other presidential aspirants. It is mainly because the political system is cast in stone, and only the candidates of a few major political parties can have the resources and means to meet the demands stipulated by the constitution, political tradition, and corrupt processes that produce candidates for political offices.

Several of the other aspirants have qualifications, experience and drive that will make any country proud of its possible leaders.

The political system is dominated by political parties that can afford enormous resources to set up structures, reach out to a sprawling, federated country of 36 states and one federal territory, use mass and social media that communicate with some 180 million population, and provide reliable security for themselves and supporters.

Candidates for elections must dole out monies to members of their own parties and voters who have given up on what elected leaders do when they are in office. Rather, party officials and voters want immediate gratification – whatever materials, food and money that they can get from candidates during the election campaign. Elections are costly, not only for the official organizers but also for candidates who must deploy huge amounts of money for every step of the election process, from seeking the nomination of political parties to seeking votes of the electorate.

For the coming election, Nigeria faces yet again the sad choice of having to choose between two leading politicians neither of whom can take the country to its level of development and realization of its potentials.

The gargantuan victory of President Buhari in 2015 over then-incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan gave Buhari a powerful entry. But his three-pronged campaign on corruption, a stronger economy, and security with special focus on ending Boko Haram insurgency are nowhere near being successfully prosecuted.

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Atiku (image via News24; File, AFP)

At the same time, Atiku will only be Atiku – focusing on further enriching himself, his cronies and beloved others.

Those who strongly support Atiku claim that he is different from Buhari and will perform better given the weaknesses of the current government. They say that Atiku will make the expected noise to discourage the rampage by herdsmen and organised attacks on certain people and religious groups. He will choose his lieutenants from various parts of the country. He will enable the South-eastern part of the country mainly the Igbo ethnic group to contest strongly for the presidency. He will make public money spread around through his customary largesse. He will unite the country that appears to be fragmenting. Yet, the claimants have only weak arguments to explain how the expectations will be met.

The strongest criticism of Atiku is that the popular demand to combat and at least reduce corruption will suffer greatly if he becomes president. But his supporters maintain that if corruption is the price to pay to have a more united country, a stronger economy and less structured federalism, it is time to let corruption continue under Atiku’s rule. It is a sad bargain to accept.

Whether 76-year old Buhari or 72-year old Atiku wins in the soon to be held election for the next president, Nigeria loses because neither of the two persons has the disposition, experience, appropriate mindset, nor determination to make Nigeria a better place for its people. The current political system presents only the rich and mighty, not the best that the country can offer.

Asked about February 16 election for the president, someone retorted: “Some people will vote for Atiku. Some will vote for Buhari. One of the two will win despite a large number of frustrated people who will spread their votes among the numerous other candidates. The status quo will remain because Atiku and Buhari are from PDP and APC which are two sides of the same coin.”

To buttress his point, the person explained that Atiku was in PDP before he joined APC, and then returned to PDP a few months ago to buy the political platform to aim for the presidency. The leadership of both parties boasts of the same persons who have led Nigeria’s politics for the past 30 plus inglorious years.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership.

More Fake News Here.

By Bunmi Makinwa

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Can one avoid fake news? It is highly unlikely.

Anyone who uses social media, also called social networking services, will receive fake news. The more frequently one uses social media, the more fake news one receives. The challenge is to identify and ultimately avoid spreading fake news as the personal and social impact can be damaging. In fact, it may also have legal implications.

The growth of technology, media technology in particular, in combination with the ease of creating one’s information through cheap mobile telephony, has democratised “news” both for good and bad uses.

An active user of social media receives information many times each day from friends, families, casual acquaintances, and unknown people. It has become easier than ever to generate and spread information. It can be about anything. In several formats, including text, video, photo and voice, anyone can use just a smart telephone to express views, ideas, wishes and news that can reach numerous people across the world in rapid time.

Such shared information may be fake news which contains misinformation and inaccuracies. The information may be designed purposefully to deceive or mislead the receiver. Or it may be used to inform, or promote a viewpoint, sale, generate interest in an issue, or perhaps to entertain. Most people re-post information quickly and hardly spend time to verify its authenticity.

Fake news varies in appearances and implications. As Nigeria’s 2019 elections for president, governors and other offices draw nearer, fake news will increase in frequency and sophistication.

The relevance of newspapers, radio and television notwithstanding, social network services are very effective means of communication. Their impact on political discourse and communication is significant in Nigeria.

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(image via pulse.ng)

According to available statistics, Nigeria’s active users of social media increased from only 52 million in 2013 to about 90 million users in 2017. With a huge population of young people, the country will most likely surpass its hitherto growth rate of about three percent for active users. Especially if the costs of mobile telephony decreases and the economy picks up in the near future, more young people will use the Internet with social media as primary means of communication. The mobile telephony subscription in the country rose from 1.6 million in 2002, to 87.4 million in 2010, and it is now at about 154 million.

Some fake news can be sighted from a mile off. Especially by astute communication and media professionals. A casual observation will show if the name of the purported media organization is wrongly portrayed, or if there are wrong spellings, unusual language or style of presentation. In some cases the hyperlink used as source of the news or information does not exist. Or the statements made are simply doubtful.

Yet, fake news can be cleverly done. It is possible to use modern innovations to modify photos, voices, images and scenes, and combine them to look credible. In such cases, it is difficult to spot the manipulations. More advanced analysis or technology is required.

Recently, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka spoke of a fake website that had his identity all over it. He succeeded to trace the originator but the person has not taken the website down.

Many wealthy people, celebrities, well-known persons, leading brands and organisations have fake information about them and attributed to them on the social media. Facebook, Twitters, websites and blogs, WhatsApp and Instagram are popular in Nigeria, and they contain a lot of fake news despite deliberate efforts by the platforms to identify and eliminate fake news and their creators.

Whilst there is general agreement that fake news should be discouraged and stopped, there is little common position on how it can be done. Current libel laws may be already adequate. Others ask for special policies and laws to counter fake news, whilst some countries place special taxes on use of social media. There have been several instances where national authorities closed down access to the Internet.

Just as one does in daily lives, one must apply common sense to determine what is fair, right or wrong. There are no better ways than to question claims and appearances.

For ease of doing things, you may want to consider the following ten points for social media messaging (text, voice, video, cartoon, photo and other materials). I call them my intuitive 10 laws of social media scams. They are particularly relevant in Nigeria as the political space heats up with ongoing campaigns.

  1. All freebies on social media are scam. If the freebies are actually free, everyone and too many people have already taken whatever was available before I get to know.
  2. If it sounds like fantastic news, a truly phenomenal happening, I hesitate. If it sounds untrue, it most probably is untrue.
  3. Who said it? The same liar. He/she lied about things in the past. Forget it.
  4. Oh, this story is credited to a well-known person, a public figure etc. If it is really true then I should find it on websites of the relevant major media, including newspapers, radio and TV. Is it there?
  5. This does not sound like the same person I knew as a public figure. He or she would never do it, or say such a thing.
  6. Does this quoted person have the qualification or experience to speak with authority on the issue? Can I find his background information or depth of knowledge through a regular Internet search?
  7. Alright, this item quotes a reputable major news organization. Let us check it on the website or in the information area of the news media.
  8. The fact that it is written does not make it true. Anybody can write anything about anybody at any place at any time for any reasons. Where else can I check the truth of it? Who should know?
  9. Allegations of corruption and abuse of office stated about every top politician is likely to be true. But proof is hard to come by. Choose which ones to accept and act upon. Avoid the ones that may lead to a libel case.
  10. Buhari does not hate Atiku. And Atiku does not hate Buhari. They are friends, and will remain friends after the elections. Please, do not send me these hate stories.

Bunmi Makinwa is the Chief Executive Officer of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership.

Ekitis and Fayemi: Moral Values and Integrity of Choice

By Bunmi Makinwa

There are new lessons and confirmation of old ones that have emerged from the July 2018 gubernatorial election in Ekiti State.

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Ekiti State

The first time that I witnessed an election up close was in 1983 in Ibadan. No, I was not an observer or a politician. I was “inside” the political campaigns, sitting next to gubernatorial candidates of political parties. I saw political thugs of candidates in cars and trucks that drove recklessly on town roads. I observed thugs using dangerous weapons to attack other thugs and supporters of political opponents of their leaders. I saw men lying in their pool of blood and barely breathing whilst policemen watched them dying. I was a terrified, fairly new reporter covering the campaigns.

At the then capital of Oyo State, I also witnessed heavily armed policemen who guarded the offices of the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) whilst vote counting went on inside. Only the returning officers of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) that constituted the federal government were allowed inside. The NPN agents were fully protected by the frightfully armed policemen. The officials of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) the opposition party that governed Oyo State were prevented from entering FEDECO premises to witness or observe the vote counting.

As results were announced on radio stations, the city was locked down by security forces. The winning candidates circulated freely. The candidates of the opposition party were locked up in their homes or detained in police stations. According to the security forces, the security actions were necessary to “maintain law and order”.

When a political party constitutes the federal government in Nigeria, it has control of the security forces, and with it the power to manage and decide outcomes of elections is almost unlimited. The federal government uses this power when the stakes are high.

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Voting in Nigeria (via Techpoint)

In 2014 in Ekiti State, candidate Peter Fayose defeated sitting Governor Fayemi with a near 100 per cent vote count in the gubernatorial election. Fayose had the backing of the strong Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that formed the federal government. The party hence was in charge of the security forces and they backed candidate Fayose. During the election the state was locked down by security forces.

In the recent July 2018 elections in Ekiti State, sitting Governor Fayose’s hand-picked PDP candidate, Mr. Olusola Eleka, deputy governor, was defeated by former Governor Fayemi. The latter had the backing of the strong All Peoples Congress (APC) party that forms the federal government. The state was locked down by security forces.

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Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi

 Lesson one – the party at the centre with control of security forces can use the so-called “maintain law and order” in ways that are open to various interpretations . The security actions that were taken by the federal government during elections in Oyo State in 1983 do recur in several elections. They were similar to the security actions taken in Ekiti State in 2014, and again in Ekiti State in 2018.

Lesson two – money has become absolutely crucial to win elections among Ekiti people. And the amounts needed to influence voters and buy results of party primaries and elections has increased significantly. The use of money is more public than ever. The Ekitis were general perceived as tough, stubborn and fiercely loyal in their political beliefs. They would hold a position, support a candidate and protect their beliefs with their lives, if necessary. The Ekitis have changed. Money has become the dominant factor for the voters. They guard their stomachs with their lives. Governor Fayose used “stomach infrastructure” as official governing policy. His opponents adopted it for the elections. At every stage of the recent electioneering process, within their means, for all parties, including APC and PDP, money was the currency of engagement.

Lesson three – the more money is spent by candidates to win their elections, the more money the candidates have to recover once elected. In addition, the successful candidates have to look after their party, members and their personal future interest. What do people expect from their governments, governors, elected politicians? Having spent huge amounts of money to buy party delegates during primaries, and also to buy voters during elections, there must be a lot of holes to plug once in office.

Lesson four – Nigeria has become more homogeneous in expectations from political leaders, especially during elections. Ekiti people are no longer an exception. “What we get NOW from the candidates for political offices is the only benefit to us. Once they assume office, we get nothing”, say the voters. For various reasons, including poverty, loss of confidence in the political leadership, pressing needs and sharp “marketing” by politicians, people have given up on higher standards of politics as service to the people.

Lesson five – election results are almost invariably contested. Only in rare instances do candidates accept their losses and cheer the winners. Campaigns and elections are desperate, win-or-die times for politicians to attain power and wealth. The reports of observer groups on Ekiti elections vary. Whilst some say that it was reasonably free and fair, others say that it was unfairly conducted and over-militarised. Both APC and PDP are accused of carrying out activities that could undermine the proper conduct of voting and determination of results. Several cases are in court to ascertain whether party primaries and state-wide elections were done properly.

Can the in-coming government of Fayemi recover some of the lost moral values of Ekitis? Can he rally his people to bring back the personal integrity of Ekitis on choice of political leaders? Can he rekindle the high ground that he took when he lost gallantly to Fayose in 2014? Can he raise the “bar of excellence” as he stated while conceding defeat? Or faced with the realities of desperate politics of acquisition wealth and power, will he fall further into the “stomach infrastructure” miasma?

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership. Formerly, he was Africa Regional Director of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).