•Says warning not for Nigerians
•UK insists there’s increased threat in Abuja
•Warns assault may be indiscriminate, western interest targeted
Olawale Ajimotokan and Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
The federal government, yesterday, lashed out at some foreign embassies for allegedly issuing an unverified terror warning on the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, posting clickbait, and causing panic in the country.
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, delivered the disavowal at a ministerial session of the on-going UNESCO Media and Information Literacy Week in Abuja. Mohammed said if, indeed, such security alert was necessary, it was for the attention of citizens of the issuing countries in Nigeria and not for the Nigerian public.
But the United Kingdom insisted there was a terror alert, which it updated as having an increased threat of attack by terrorists on Nigeria’s seat of power. It, however, warned that the attacks in Nigeria could be indiscriminate and might affect western interests, as well as places visited by tourists.
Mohammed, while responding to the development, noted that the threat of disinformation to national and global peace and stability was glaring, saying it undermines the trust by citizens in the system.
He accused both the traditional and new media of being complicit in the spread of a misrepresentation.
The minister said some media outlets and social media personalities were usually caught spreading unverified information on their platforms just for clickbait and the attendant monetary gain.
Mohammed stated, “Suddenly, this alert found its way into the media, both new and traditional, thus, creating panic in the polity. Schools were shut. Businesses were closed. Travel plans were altered. Lives were disrupted. No one cared to find out about the authenticity of these alerts. They just published, got the benefit of massive clickbait, and damned the consequences.
“Well, I can assure all that our military and other security agencies have continued to do everything possible to secure and protect Nigerians and foreigners living in Nigeria. Terrorists have been hard hit and put on the run. Bandits have been decimated and scattered.
“Our country is safer today than at any time in recent times, thanks to the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform.
“We do not discountenance the fact that terrorists, bandits and their kind would always want to do whatever it takes to disrupt our nation’s peace, security and stability.
“But our security forces have been proactive. Nigerians, too, should continue to be alert, but must not panic. Like I said in a recent statement, as far as insecurity is concerned, the worst is over for Nigeria.”
The minister was a panelist at the UNESCO session, with the topic, “National Media and Information Literacy Frameworks, Sustaining Beyond Disinformation.”
The session, moderated by a Tunisian, Dr Tawfik Jelassi, the Assistant Director-General, Communication and Information Sector, UNESCO, had as panel discussants, Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Professor Isa Pantami; Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu; and UK Minister of Technology and Digital Economy, Damian Collins, who participated virtually.
While admitting that the act and spread of disinformation in Nigeria had been giving him sleepless nights, Mohammed admonished Nigerian media outlets and social media personalities against spreading security alerts without verifying their authenticity and considering their consequences.
In his remarks, Pantami warned that fake news could trigger a Third World War. He appealed to journalists to verify information before releasing it to the public.
Pantami said, “We have to take action. Social media has all of us as journalists – people just sit in the comfort of their homes, without board of editors, and post anything online. People enjoy negative news than positive news.”
He urged the media to show good example, because of the implication of the news spread on the country.
But the British High Commission, which hinted at the increased threat on its website, claimed it was still open for essential services. It had raised the alarm after the United States issued a similar alert about imminent attacks on the Nigerian capital.
The British government said most attacks were conducted by Boko Haram or Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and occurred in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states in the North-east.
The UK added that between May and July 2022, ISWAP had conducted a number of attacks in Kogi and Niger states, as well as the Federal Capital Territory. It also stated that there had been significant attacks in other states, including in Gombe, Kano, Kaduna, Plateau, Bauchi, and Taraba states.
The UK government maintained, “Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Nigeria. Attacks could be indiscriminate and could affect western interests, as well as places visited by tourists.
“Further attacks are likely. There is an increased threat of terrorist attack in Abuja. The British High Commission remains open for essential services. You should stay alert, minimise travel within the city and follow the local news and the advice of security authorities.
“Public places where crowds gather have been targeted in the past, including places of worship, markets, shopping malls, hotels, bars, restaurants, football viewing centres, displacement camps, transport terminals (including train networks), government buildings, security and educational institutions (schools, further education colleges and universities are all regular targets), and international organisations.
“Attacks have taken place around religious and public holidays in public or crowded places, including places of worship as well as during election periods.”