FEBRUARY 15, 2021. Ajani Olaide, a resident of Shasha community narrated how his uncle was killed during the ethnic crisis that ensued between Hausa traders and the Yoruba ethnic group, in Oyo State. It was hard to believe that the end had come for the deceased.
He had attempted settling a dispute between a pregnant Yoruba woman and a male trader of Hausa extraction, whose farm produce spilled to the entrance of the said woman’s outlet. But, suddenly the deceased was hit from behind by another northerner, and he died a peacemaker.
The incident began on 11th February, 2021 in Akinyele Local Government Area of Oyo State, South-West Nigeria. It later became an issue of national interest.
“He tried to resolve a misunderstanding between a Hausa trader and a pregnant Yoruba woman when he was hit from behind by another Hausaman. And he died,” Olaide stated on the verified Facebook handle of the Television Continental.
It was a time the country was grappling with COVID-19 pandemic. The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) had issued public health advisory to alert the public against the implication of non-adherence to the rolled out preventive measures.
But amidst the pandemic, inter-communal crisis between the Fulani livestock pastoralists and the Yoruba crop farmers intensified.
The crisis in Oyo State led to complete disregard for the public safety guidelines prescribed by the NCDC. Thus, the number of confirmed cases in Nigeria kept rising, despite inadequate health infrastructures.
Between December 2020 and 10th January, 2021, NCDC had recorded 1,000 confirmed cases milestone.
As of January, 2021, 1,358 deaths were already captured by the Centre with 100,087 confirmed cases.
Still, the anxiety for the COVID-19 cure exacerbated the spread of disinformation. Some health experts described this as ‘infodemic’. The social media became major tool for the spread of misinformation about the pandemic.
Twitter users precisely amplified false information on the Oyo crisis during the pandemic, a situation capable of creating division in the country.
When the crisis intensified, the public were more interested in personal safety than compliance with the COVID-19 public safety guide – an issue made worse by the spread of false information.
Non-compliance to the public safety guideline, according to the Centre, was worsening the public health response efforts targeted to limiting the continued spread of the disease.
As such, the ethnic crisis made compliance more problematic, implying that a civil war or communal unrest, could cause a wider spread of COVID-19.
In his opinion, it was natural for humans to seek protection in whatever forms necessary during unrest, thus, compliance to the guidelines could be difficult.
“During a period of crisis or war, the human natural instinct is safety and survival, protection from being killed. So observing covid-19 protocols is not a realistic expectation,” he stated.
Twitter ignites misinformation, spiking ethnic crisis during COVID-19
The social media platform placed the ethnic groups at the cliff. Northern Nigerians took to social media to condemn the attacks, and even threatened to retaliate by attacking Southerners resident in the north. Findings later showed part of the video shared during the incident was false.
For instance, in the heat of the occurrence, on February 12, a video surfaced on Twitter showing an alleged gruesome killing of northerners. The gory video shows footage of the northerners being set ablaze. It was shared by @AM_Saleeem on February 13.
The 45-second video shows that few of the victims were still alive before they were subsequently lynched. The video, as of the time of filing this article, has garnered over 46, 000 views, shared by almost 3, 000 persons.
— My Deen My Swag ? (@AM_Saleeem) February 13, 2021
The same footage was also shared by @El_abdool and @SirTafawaBalewa. It has been viewed over 46,000 and shared 1,000 times via social media accounts. Still, it was an old video, not related to the Oyo crisis but meant to incite a violent clash in the country during the pandemic.
Contrary to the false claim, the incident occurred in Edo State, on February 8, a different state, some 189.02 kilometres away from Oyo state.
“The incident happened in Ogheghe Community, Ovia South-West, Edo State. Four persons were involved and they were alleged to have been caught with firearms which they could not give reasons why they bore arms. They were not with any government recognised security organisation,” Chidi Nwabuzor, the Police spokesperson told this reporter.
Meanwhile, analysis of the Twitter accounts showed the three handles which conveyed the misleading information have organic followers.
How it started
Sunday Adeyemo, otherwise called Sunday Igboho, a Yoruba activist has been at the centre of the crisis. On 23rd January, 2021, he was applauded by the Yoruba local farmers for intervening in the ethnic clashes that had claimed lives in the recent past. At the public outing, he was repeatedly captured on national television not complying with the pandemic safety guideline.
“The Fulani kidnappers cannot seize our lands from us. Our land rightly belongs to us…..,” Igboho, stated while addressing a massive crowd in Igangan, Ibarapa North Local Government Area (LGA), of the state.
Analysis of the video showed non-compliance with the safety protocols. The gathering defied the recommended two-metre social distancing, as well as other measures including the use of face masks to prevent community spread of the virus. The video has been viewed 73,330 as of May 28, 2021.
The activist warned the Fulani herders accused of kidnappings and asked them to vacate Igangan community in seven days. The notice did not exclude the Fulani clan head, also known as Seriki Salihu Abdulkadir. Shortly after, the clan head was attacked, his home, cars, and other properties set ablaze, allegedly at the instance of the activist.
As of date, there is no publicly verifiable evidence to establish that the activist was responsible for the attack. However, there was reprisal. Abdulakadir also left the abode forcefully.
Igboho fake Twitter account becomes misinformation tool to aggravate ethnic crisis during COVID-19
Similarly, findings showed that social media platforms – Twitter, Facebook and YouTube became the vehicles to amplify voice of the Yoruba activist. They also served as channels to indirectly achieve a predetermined objective of ethnic division.
For instance, a major Twitter handle, now suspended @SundayIgboho0 was created in the name of Igboho. For about a month, the handle reeled out information as if it directly came from the activist. Besides unverified handles, the most popular of them posted photographs of reprisal attacks such as when the activist’s home was set ablaze and other misleading information.
A section of the media fell for the source as a reliable one until it was deleted following public disclaimer by the activist.
As of the period, the major handle was archived by this reporter having realised the danger it was capable of. The Yoruba activist later denied the Twitter handle when it became a cause for worry before it was eventually suspended.
Meanwhile, while tweets were made via the handle, hashtags such as #Stopthekillings, #StopkillingNortherners #SundayIgboho were trending with some misleading videos and photographs shared to spike ethnic tension. The heat of the initial occurrence indirectly led to another communal clash in Shasha, Akinyele LGA of the state.
Igbo secessionist latch on crisis to promote secession
On January 27, NnamdiKanu, leader of the South Eastern secessionist group, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) latched on the ethnic tension in a video posted on YouTube. It was to further promote his pending agenda of seeing the southeast region secede from Nigeria to create a new nation known as Biafra.
“Unless you prefer epileptic power supply, or you chose to live your life without running water, abject poverty or deprivation, your only alternative is a revolution.”
Somehow, this message was posted five days after the Yoruba activist issued warning to the Fulani group, resident in the South West state to vacate the area.
Conclusively, Dr. Eze, submitted that the pandemic would potentially lead to further spread of the disease, and other communicable ailments, except the crisis is nipped in the bud.
This publication was produced as part of IWPR’s Africa Resilience Network (ARN) programme, administered in partnership with the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR), the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), and Africa Uncensored. For more information on ARN, please visit the ARN site.
This report is republished from The International Centre for Investigative reporting.