John Chuks Anyim
Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), Search for Common Ground says it debunked at least 55,000 rumours during the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria.
This was made known during the closeout and dissemination event on the “Working together against Corona Project” which is funded by the European Union (EU) through the Instrument Contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP).
Sher Ali Nawaz, Country Director, Search For Common Ground said the COVID-19 pandemic is only a health emergency but a threat to peace and security. This, according to him, is the reason why Search embarked on the project to strengthen access to information both online and offline on COVID-19, to mitigate the harmful effect of the crisis on social cohesion, stability and ongoing conflicts across the country.
Nawaz reiterated that countries must learn from the implementation of the project, explaining that pandemics may be inevitable in future.
The Country Director explained that the project was divided primarily into two parts. One part, he said, “is to counter the misinformation and disinformation by establishing Early Warning and Early Response in the digital space. This system was cutting edge, this included social listening, digital listening and countering it with key messages of peace and stability”.
Giovanni Squadrito, Head of the regional team for foreign policy instruments covering West and Central Africa, informed that the mandate of the team in the African region and Lake Chad was to checkmate the various misinformation and disinformation capabilities causing instability in the region.
“We were facing many social and socio-economic challenges. Misinformation was circulating, so we decided to respond to this crisis from the information and communication point which is a major angle. That is why we started this project with Search for Common Ground and other partners to provide reliable and trusted information using various media platforms,” Squadrito said.
“This contributed, and stopped the health crisis from becoming a bigger crisis as well as safeguarding the social cohesion, ” he added.
Joy Baiye, while giving an overview of the project, said Search trained journalists, bloggers and other relevant stakeholders on how to identify and report rumours on COVID-19 daily.
“We engaged and trained key informants in communities to recognise relevant rumours and how to report them. We conducted a real-time social media platform to understand what people are saying about COVID-19 daily. At the end of the project, we tracked 55,000 rumours across social media platforms.
“We also trained journalists on how to identify rumours. We have a rumours log where they log in to these rumours and provide alternate messages. For persons in rural communities, who were not online, For people who are not online in rural communities and were exposed to rumours, we brought toll-free lines for these communities and communities that do not have radio access or have poor radio signals. ”
Baiye said reaching communities that were not online was a challenge during the pandemic as identified by the Nigeria Centre for Disease. “Some of them had funny information that was not online. She said the programme successfully reached people without access to the Internet and countered the ‘funny messages they were already exposed to.
Director-General, National Orientation Agency (NOA), Garba Abari commended Search for Common Ground and the EU for implementing the -Working together against corona project’ in Nigeria.
He said the Agency is willing to go into partnership with Search for Common Ground for a mutual collaboration stemming out of the ‘Working Together against Corona’ Project. “In particular, we look forward to working with the social media influencers who have been trained and engaged by Search on the project leading to mutual utilization of the knowledge, learning, and improved capacities between both organizations, “he said.
“Specifically, we will work with Search for Common Ground in the scanning of the digital information ecosystem including tracking of hate speech, misinformation and rumour management leading to the production of snapshots and bulletins for the next 3 months in the first instance,” he added.
Search is one of the world’s largest dedicated international peacebuilding and conflict transformation organizations. Since 1982, Search has led programs around the world to help societies channel their differences away from adversarial approaches and towards collaborative solutions. From 2004, Search has implemented programs in Nigeria through a multifaceted set of activity streams focused on supporting community peace architecture, media programming, conflict analysis and capacity building.
From August 2020 to March 2022, Search is implementing a multi-country EU IcSP funded “Working together against Corona” project in Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Through the Project, Search supported a conflict-sensitive response to the COVID-19 pandemic that prevents further deterioration of social cohesion in fragile contexts. Across Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones, Search contributed to increasing the effectiveness and conflict sensitivity of COVID-19 response through real-time analysis of the impact of the pandemic on the conflict dynamics, production and dissemination of accurate, culturally accepted and trustworthy information through the traditional and digital new media.