Experts in the information ecosystem have criticized the Nigerian Government’s N24.5 million budget proposal to tackle fake news in 2024, despite its acknowledged threat to democracy and social cohesion.
The Nigerian President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, had on Wednesday, November 29, 2023 presented a budget of N27.5 trillion for the 2024 fiscal year to the joint session of the National Assembly in Abuja, the nation’s capital. The budget is christened the ‘Budget of Renewed Hope.’
A look at the breakdown of the budget shows that the ministry of Information and National Orientation have a budgetary allocation of N24.5 million to tackle fake news; this is slightly higher than the N22.6 million budgeted for the cause in 2023.
The funding will support the agencies in facilitating “special enlightenment campaign on government policies and programmes; testimonial series to gauge impact of government policies on the citizenry, advocacy against fake news, hate speech, farmers-herder clashes, banditry, rape etc.”
This was contained in the proposed 2024 budget retrieved from the website of the Budget Office of Nigeria.
Other budgetary allocations to the ministry shows that the government would spend N40 million to produce calendars; N30 million was voted for external publicity and engagement with foreign media; N20.7 million was voted for media interactions by ministers, influencers, and analysts on print and social media.
The government also said it would spend N21.7 million on the development of social media platforms and networking with other platforms.
The FactCheckHub recalls that the former minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, had in the 2023 budget defense earlier in November 2022, decried low budget allocated to the ministry to tackle fake news, disinformation, and hate speech across the country.
Mohammed said his ministry was incapacitated in the war against fake news, disinformation and hate speech currently ravaging the nation. But it seems Mohammed’s appeal fell to deaf ears.
The FactCheckHub reported how the menace of information disorder nearly marred the 2023 general and off-cycle elections as politicians and their supporters leveraged on false narratives to pursue their political ambitions.
Media experts working in the information ecosystem have said the budgetary allocation targeted at combating misinformation is insufficient and shows the lack of political will to stem its rise.
He said: “That figure sounds like a comic relief — a joke. It’s like going for a battle and when the people see the quality of the material you’ve as your arsenal, they can tell if you’re ready for the battle or not. If you are going for a battle and you’re coming with a catapult while your opposition are with something bigger, it’s clear that you’re there for a joke.”
He said the budget is too weak to make any significant impact and shows that the Federal Government is not ready to complement the efforts of fact-checking organizations working hard to minimize the impacts of misinformation and fake news in the country.
“The implications are numerous. The implication can also tell purveyors that they now have a free day; so it can even encourage them which may undermine the efforts of fact-checkers.”
He said: “the adequacy of this budgetary allocation relies heavily on the strategies and initiatives it intends to support. Notably, while parts of the budget are earmarked for media appearances by ministers, engagement with social media influencers, and substantial funds allocated to various media-related activities, the absence of plans for collaboration with experts to address the fake news challenge raises concerns about the effectiveness of these initiatives.
“Sizable portions allocated for non-core activities, such as N40 million for calendar production, N30 million for external publicity, and N20.7 million for media interactions by ministers and influencers, appear to divert resources from the core issue. This indicates a potential misallocation of funds and raises questions about the government’s readiness to tackle misinformation effectively.
“Moreover, the allocation of N21.7 million towards the development of social media platforms seems somewhat disconnected from addressing the immediate challenge of misinformation. While enhancing online presence is crucial, this allocation may not directly confront the pressing issue of fake news.”
Silas urged the Nigerian Government to ensure strategic use of the limited resources towards initiatives which directly target misinformation in order to enhance government’s effectiveness in addressing this critical issue.
On his part, Ikulajolu Adesola, a fact-checker and Journalist with BBC told The FactCheckHub that the allocation to combat misinformation is not enough and shows that the federal government takes the issue of information disorder with levity.
“Information is a vital sector and the 2024 budget has not provided enough allocation to fight fake news, and this can also be traced to how the previous years were handled. There needs to be nationwide outreach on how to combat fake news and it should be catered for in the budget; but it didn’t receive enough attention in the 2024 budget. We can do better.”
Adesola argued that while the federal government focuses more on clamping down on freedom of speech and information, they fail to invest enough in sensitization and awareness creation.