Another Lauretta Onochie Fake News Moment. Who Will Stop Her?

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The 2019 Elections

Should a presidential media aide spread fake news intentionally, and when called out, double down?

That is the latest controversial drama from Lauretta Onochie, an President Buhari social media aide. She thought she had unearthed fresh evidence for Atiku Abubakar’s corruption with a ‘stomach infrastructure photo’ supposedly taken at his campaign rally in Sokoto on Monday.

Thanks to the internet being free and reliable, the photo was fact-checked and revealed to have appeared as far back as February 2017.

What does Ms Onochie do? She hurls aspersions towards Punch newspapers for reporting on her falsehood, while devising a spin in praise of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

Since assuming the role of social media aide to Buhari in 2015, her reputation has been of a formidable attacker who doesn’t pull punches. Virtually nothing has been off limits, including accusing a number of northern politicians not in APC (of course including Atiku) of being sponsors of herdsmen killings of farmers.

If many of those claims are controversial and questionable, her support in this particular case is about as solid as a piece of wet tissue paper. After numerous people have truly confirmed the origin of the picture, does she not believe that the photo she supposes are from Sokoto are clearly not true for her purpose? What other “facts” does she have? It would not be the first time she will be caught in a compromising situation with a false tweet.

On a previous occasion involving a false photo of a supposed completed Buhari road project, she apologised; why is it difficult this time? Is it because the stakes are higher with elections and that to be twice beaten leaves her without any credibility as presidential media aide? Is the fear that one more apology will be the end of her stay on the digital media team?

Lauretta Onochie’s record on Twitter is a mix of abrasiveness and rashness. These are probably useful talents for Nigeria’s political environment. But tweeting a fake story and standing by it when called out is clearly not a proper way to behave. Real journalists make sure not to send false information, and correct or retract when they (mistakenly) do. Anyone whose tax-payer-funded work involves relations with the public on behalf of a topmost elected official should be held to those high standards.

The second occurrence of Ms Onochie’s conduct would, in a values-based environment where staffers are evaluated and appraised objectively, imply a pattern. It should be the end of her direct involvement in being paid to speak, tweet on behalf of and travel with the President in official capacities. But Mr Buhari and his advisers have been tediously slow in responding to embarrassing events around them, so there is little chance this particular aide’s job is even at risk.

Those on her team, colleagues and superiors, who do not speak up against her inclination to bait and infect are just as guilty. To continue leaving room for such behavior amounts to complicity in dangerous falsehood and intention to manipulate Nigerians ahead of the elections.

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