The Nigerian civil society is up against Coronavirus. It is largely defining its position in terms of countering misinformation. So far, the Centre for Democracy and Development, (CDD) has advanced to be recognised with a publication titled “Health Misinformation: False Stories From Ebola to Coronavirus”. Before it, the Kano based Centre for Information Technology and Development, (CITAD) started it all with a multi-language campaign which explains the pandemic’s many sides.
CDD is arguing that the management of pandemics in Nigeria has had to confront misinformation such as the claims that bathing with salted water or eating kola nuts were adequate treatments in the case of Ebola. It is saying Coronavirus is facing similar scenarios such as claims that “African blood is immune to Coronavirus”; a statement falsely credited to a former Nigerian president calling Coronavirus a geopolitical hoax; a story falsely credited to the Sultan of Sokoto to the effect that the Italian first victim of the Virus in Nigeria was paid to act it out as well as the touting of certain food items as cure for Coronavirus.
Listed among the items CDD is discrediting as cures are taking one’s bath with Detol, salt & hot water, garlic, drinking alcohol, regular sex.
CDD is not discounting uncritical consumption of rhetoric from powerful individuals such as the automatic understanding of what Donald Trump said about Chloroquine. Trump spoke as a politicians and many Nigerians who didn’t listen to the clarification his scientists offered consumed the Trump statement hook, line and sinker.
The think tank recognises that Whatsapp could be a powerfully double-edged facility, spreading ‘good’ and ‘bad’ or ‘harmful information at the same time.
Situating misinformation, CDD asserts in a contextual analysis in the 12 page document that noted the legacy of Nigeria’s weak institutions, the phenomenon of low trust in government, low social capital, division among the elite and low government responsiveness, concluding that “These leave the country especially vulnerable to the essential challenge Coronavirus presents: optimally allocating relief during a health pandemic”. It argues that the distrust in government also means that citizens are more likely to seek alternative solutions rather than look to
the government to provide them.
In support of CDD’s categorical position that Nigeria’s public health workforce and infrastructure at the moment shows them to be grossly ill-equipped and unprepared to take on a national health crisis, it asks if there are “any indicators as to what policy adjustments the government can make to ensure that Nigeria is as prepared as it can be”. It was a rhetorical question, the only reply to which is itself partnering with the National Orientation Agency, (NOA) to keep up the pressure against misinformation by complementing the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, (NCDC), the Federal Government and the World Health Organisation, (WHO).