Allwell Okpi ANALYSIS: How pro-Biafra disinformation machine churns out fiction as facts

The deliberate and sustained seeding of incorrect information on social media would have many thinking a new state is imminent in Nigeria. Not too fast.

Nearly 50 years after the civil war ended in Nigeria, the struggle to keep the dream of a separate Biafra state alive continues, including through a relentless disinformation campaign on social media.

Several online reports have depicted the independence of the south-eastern region of Nigeria as receiving the support of many world leaders, with its declaration as a sovereign state only a matter of time.

Even Pope Francis has said that Biafra was the “will of God”, urging the United Nations to do something, if these reports are to be believed. In turn, the UN is set to declare ‘Biafraland’ an independent nation in 2020 should President Muhammadu Buhari resist its impending secession. 

So inevitable is the push that the World Bank is preparing Biafra’s national currency and laying the ground for a central bank, we are told. A national airline is also on the cards, not to mention an oil refinery with US$200 billion in funding from US President Donald Trump.

This pro-Biafran content on social media is usually received with cheers by supporters of an independent state. But  – the headlines are fiction dressed up as facts.

Telltale signs of false news

In 2019 Africa Check spent a great deal of time fact-checking several of these false reports. Many had telltale signs of disinformation: they were poorly written, almost never attributed sources, and often contained mislabelled or manipulated photos and videos.

Organisations supposedly sympathetic to the Biafran cause, like the World Bank, refuted any associations when we contacted them, as did several experts we spoke to in the course of our work.

There are distribution penalties on some social media platforms. For example, if we debunked these claims on Facebook through our partnership with the company, any “false” rating drastically reduced the number of people who saw the posts. (For more on how this partnership works, see here.)

But the pro-Biafra disinformation machinery, like their decades-long campaign anchored in resource redistribution, is nothing if not resilient. We’ve seen far more dodgy content than we’ve been able to fact-check. 

Pro-Biafran organisations using propaganda tools

One of the organisations leading the renewed agitation for Biafran independence is the Indigenous People of Biafra. Its founder, Nnamdi Kanu, first revived Radio Biafra in 2009, using it to further the organisation’s pro-independence cause with broadcasts from London.

An image of Nnamdi Kanu, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) leader, hangs on a wall in a house in Umuahia, one of the pro-Biafran separatist regions, on February 13, 2019, ahead of Nigerian elections. Photo: CRISTINA ALDEHUELA / AFP

Researchers have found that the pirate radio station also supplies disinformation, similar to the online content we’ve rated. They recommended that this “potent tool” be used “to promote history and cultural integration” in Nigeria rather than being an “instrument of secession and disintegration”.

Prof Lai Oso, who teaches mass communication at Lagos State University’s School of Communication, likened Biafra’s online disinformation campaign to propaganda

Oso is also the president of the Association of Communication Scholars and Professionals of Nigeria.

“In this era when fact-checking is becoming common and advancements in technology have made it easier for people to find facts, propaganda or disinformation is not a good communication strategy,” he told Africa Check.

A professor of mass communication at the Enugu State University of Science and Technology, Emmanuel Udeze, told Africa Check that the false claims about Biafra seem to be taking advantage of the limitations of social media when it comes to gatekeeping

“This is the other side of citizen journalism. Because everyone can now do reports and disseminate information, you can’t prevent the publishing of false information online.” 

“And because of people’s varying levels of understanding, quite a number of people can be fooled to believe false information at first,” Udeze said. He felt that this approach was likely to backfire.

Udeze, whose research interests include the image of nations in international media, said that at its origin propaganda was used for good by the Catholic Church.

But during the two world wars in the 20th century misinformation and disinformation became part of propaganda, according to Udeze. In his view, it is not a durable strategy. “Negative propaganda can sway people but not for long.”

Misinformation persists about Biafran history

Biafra has a history of employing propaganda to push its separatism agenda, the resident historian at the Centre for Memories, Prof Rina Okonkwo, told Africa Check. 

The centre is located in Enugu, a city which served as the provisional capital of Biafra, and its mission is to be “a repository of the history and culture” of Igbo people, the predominant tribe of the secessionist republic.

Okonkwo said she has researched the civil war in preparation for the centre’s exhibition in January 2020 to mark the 50th anniversary of Biafra’s military collapse. 

“I believe there was a lot of misinformation then by the Biafran government. They made everybody believe they were winning the war when they were not,” she said.

Okonkwo, who also teaches history at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu, said this approach helped make the war go on for longer. 

“I’ve also found evidence of misinformation around the blaming of saboteurs for all the failings of the Biafran leadership,” she added.

Many studies have looked at the Biafran propaganda during the war as well the role the old version of Radio Biafra played in it. 

Will there be more studies in the future looking at the impact of social media on the ongoing Biafra agitation? We wouldn’t rule it out.


 

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Comment on this report

Comments 8
  1. By Chigozie Agbasielo.

    Useless Nigeria media working tirelessly to stop biafra agitation which they failed woefully in all their attempts. I called you guys Useless. Biafra has come to stay and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Biafra or nothing 👏. You guys should watch and see. Don’t forget that our leader MAZI NNAMDI KANU HAS ALL THE EVIDENCE TO SINK TO NIGERIA AND THE CABALS, HE’S JUST WAITING FOR THE RIGHT TIME.

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  2. By Eric

    Dear Allwell Okpi,
    It is quite shameful that your media was also part of the corrupted international reporters that has taken a huge bribe from Corrupted Islamic government of Nigeria to misinformed the general public and the civilized world with rule of law and citizen-centric to report negatively about Biafra Agitation. The only people your conspiratorial reports may deceive are those without proper information and uneducated society in extreme poor Africa space.

    The world now knows the truth , the affected people now knows the truth about Nigeria and her allies in the killing of Biafra people. It has come to the knowledge of the international community with good governance and conscience that Nigeria Islamist terror government has been dishing out huge financial inducement to the world body and international media to fabricate false information to tarnish the Biafra agitation just as Africa Check has reported but the question the right-thinking people have been asking is for how long will the government keep doing this and what does it benefit unrecognized media like Africa Check to help a killer government to destroy the existence of humanity? Some of us have been wondering why is it difficult for Africa Check to check out the evil that is going on in Nigeria seat of power in Aso Rock where an Impostor from Sudan is used to replaced a dead Mohammed Buhari? What stops Africa Check questioning the Islamic government of Nigeria the rationale behind the widespread information about Islamization of entire Nigeria? What stops the Africa Check carrying out empirical research in Eastern Nigeria the rationale behind the Biafra agitation? In your report you have said that the world Bank has declaimed the rumor of Biafra bank and her currency, my question is, when did Nnamdi Kanu mention this in his broadcasts? Has he ever mentioned Biafra Bank and his currency let alone discussing with World Bank? Where did you read that from the several broadcasts of Nnamdi Kanu?

    My take on your write up is that if propaganda, as you have claimed, is what IPOB is doing to misinformed the public, and if this is only solution to save the life of the Old Eastern people from the impending terror attack and Islamization and wanton killings and also drive home the Biafra independent, then let join Nnamdi Kanu and other pro-Biafra agitators to dish out propaganda. The people of Eastern Nigeria need their freedom and a separate nation of Biafra will save lives.

    #STOP being induced financially to cover up evil of Nigeria government, #STOP poor journalism and stop interrogating less concerned individuals who are human instruments on Islamic government of Nigeria payroll to provide misinformed information to deceive the public. When was the last time Africa Check questioned Nigeria government the reason security forces are stationed in every meter across Eastern Nigeria? When was the last time Africa Check checked the reason Eastern region is being marginalized, politically, economically (infrastructural development)?

    From several analyses, it is a confirmation that Africa Check is a poor organization with less journalist because of lack of fund, therefore it needs financial funding and Nigeria government has agreed to help the poor medial reporter on the agreement to join other paid international media to write against Biafra independence and their supporters.

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  3. By Joe

    “Misinformation persists about Biafran history” Meaning Africa Check is lacks accurate information about Biafra or a newly established media

    “Telltale signs of false news” exactly what Africa check is doing.
    “Pro-Biafran organizations using propaganda tools” Like the one Africa check is using

    Is Africa Check now saying People were not killed about 3.5 million during the Nigeria Biafra civil war?

    Is Africa check now telling the world that Russia, Britain, Egypt, etc did not support the Nigeria government to exterminate the people of Biafra?
    How far did Africa check has gone to dig out information about Biafra history? how did you carry out your research?
    Stop writing rubbish and poor journalism. Stop being induced financially from corrupted government else, your Africa Check will go moribund.

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  4. By AC

    I was expecting to read where you debunked any information from our leader, rather you kept talking about fake news posted by your likes on social media to ridicule Biafra. Tell the world a single statement from Mazi Nnamdi Kanu that you have fact checked to be false. Biafra is an Ideology whose time has come. Our campaign on social media will be relentless until our people are completely united. You can not stop us.

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  5. By Zamani Dan

    No one takes Biafra serious because of their obsession with lies and propaganda which taints their agitation. The renewed noise is all because their favored political party lost the federal election in 2015 after 16 years in power.

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