Int’l Fact-Checking Day: How Public Figures React to Fact-checks in Nigeria and Why We Should Bother

Fact-checking no doubt has become an important area of journalism globally and is increasingly taking centre stage across many newsrooms.

In Nigeria, not only are major news agencies releasing fact-checks on a regular basis, establishing fact-check desks and empowering their reporters with advanced tools for research and verification, organisations, such as Africa Check and Dubawa, have been set up solely for the purpose of combating information disorder.

And it is not a one-way street. It has also been observed that Nigerian readers generally take a special interest in finding out if claims made by public figures or circulated widely on the Internet are true. As the public grow more sceptical, politicians also become more thoughtful in what statements they make.

We seize the occasion of the International Fact-Checking Day, celebrated every 2nd of April since 2017, to go over our fact-check reports in the past year and see how the people scrutinised reacted to being called out.

The good

In August, the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers and chief press secretary, Sarah Sanders, apologised for ‘miscommunication’ at a press briefing, following fact-checks by various media organisations. However, this hardly happens elsewhere, especially Nigeria. It is rare for Nigerian public figures and politicians to openly admit they were mistaken, and apologise over inaccurate claims.

What we have are instances where individuals and institutions have deleted public statements, claims, and data, after their attention has been called to their untruthfulness. In April 2018, it was discovered that the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, had pulled down inaccurate education-related statistics from their website after a fact-check by The ICIR published the previous month, without a public apology.

The figures, which originated from the Federal Ministry of Education as part of the third edition of Nigeria Digest of Education Statistics, had wrongfully claimed enrolment in public and private early childhood education dropped between 2015 and 2016.

Likewise, in December, then vice presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, Peter Obi, had deleted his tweet containing false figures about the country’s foreign direct investment.

“In 2015, we generated $41 billion in Foreign Direct Investment, but now we attracted only $12 billion last year,” he wrote, repeating a claim made at the vice presidential debate hours earlier.

“Even our stock market has lost over N2 trillion in one year. You can’t shut down your shop and be chasing criminals.”

After it was fact-checked, including by media aide to the president, Tolu Ogunlesi, who replied the tweet, Obi pulled down the post and released a new claim, but he did not apologise for misinforming Nigerians.

Obi has also been observed to adjust his claims following fact-checks. During the vice presidential debate organised by the Nigeria Elections Debate Group (NEDG) in December, the former Anambra State governor had stated that Nigeria’s GDP per capita is “under $1,900” as against $2,500 in 2015; but later adjusted this to “below $2000”.

The bad

It is not in all cases statistical reports are retracted for adjustment or where claims made are indirectly admitted as false through their deletion or alteration.


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