News about the Chibok girls, which normally aroused widespread emotional responses, now seems like a confession of mad theories and ideological hocus-pocus. When fresh reports revealed that another eighty-two girls were released by their captors, Nigerians—both sympathisers and conspiracy theorists — welcomed the news with ambivalence.
“I wonder what they’ve dealt with since they were taken. I wonder what care they’ll get in their return. I wonder what they won’t admit to. I wonder if they will forever be pariahs in their communities. I wonder if they will be forced to go abroad where they will be a different kind of pariah. I wonder if the monsters who kidnapped them will ever be punished. I wonder who’s behind it all. I wonder if those are even the right girls. I wonder who the girls are if those aren’t the right girls. I wonder what Nigeria will do to protect girls from terrorists. I wonder how many girls have been raped, murdered and forced into “marriage” for the sake of religious fundamentalism. I wonder what Boko Haram really is and who really is behind it. I wonder a lot of things.”
These are important questions which deserve answers especially what “Boko Haram really is” and what care the girls will get after they return. BBC’s explores some of the latter in this report. In the same vein, Wole Soyinka argues that Boko Haram is an offshoot of a political agenda set to keep the nation in perpetual unrest. Based on Soyinka’s argument, one could make the case for the Chibok girls as a political project. But, we can’t make solid conclusions till answers are provided.
True, facts are hard to verify these days. Heavy information overflow, fast news, and the lack of media gatekeepers have paved the way for existence of fake news and alternative facts. Alternative facts gained wide coverage when America’s Kellyanne Conway, a senior White House aide, used the phrase “alternative facts” to defend Sean Spicer’s inaccurate inauguration report . Judging from her position, reality as presented by mainstream media is not what it really is.
Also, by avoiding the absurd professional practices of journalism, fake news becomes real journalism. No one can verify “what is useful, credible and important”. Amarnath Amarasingam states that the fact that some people get their news from various sources, fake news becomes the truth. People now turn to blogs, Facebook posts and tweets for news and strains the ethical framework of journalistic practices.
Despite these factors, events happen and deserve credible reportage. What should be held as the absolute truth presented by media? It’s imperative to answer these questions, before delving into how these factors affect the doubts that has wrapped the Chibok girls’ stories in Nigeria.
First, the Nigerian media failed to fulfil its role as the watchdog of the society. They are, sadly, the paid Pied Piper playing tunes as directed by their masters. And when the fourth estate fails on this level, it affects the credibility of reports presented to the audience. It’s not a new phenomenon. It’s what lead Ikhide to question Tobore’s human trafficking story.
Again, the absence of gatekeepers is problematic especially “in the world of twenty-four-hour news and constant streams of user-generated material, the effects of gaffes, blunders, or plain old poor decisions are much more difficult to control or contain.” To meet deadlines, most media houses churn out stories and draw hasty conclusions thereby mis-informing their consumers. And often, before clarification, a story could go viral which is impossible to backtrack and “very difficult to even control”. It’s the failure of leadership that allows digital media present news without media gatekeepers “who are considered influential as to their role in shaping the media agenda”
The Chibok story went viral before questions were asked and after three years, Nigerians are more worried about the story behind the capture girls. Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri questions are potent enough to make Nigerians think deeply about the Chibok story. She asks:
“[Let’s]Find out the circumstances that led to their abduction? What made it possible for such high number of girls to suddenly enrol for WAEC exams in a region that historically has the highest record of out-of-school pupils and child brides? Who paid the WAEC fees? When? In what language was the exam written? Who ordered them to converge in a hostel? How were they abducted? Where were they taken to, at first? What kind of houses were they ‘kept in’? Private homes? Forests? Villages? How were they distributed across locations? What and who did they see during their confinement? How did they survive? How were they rescued?”
The pursuit of truth is hard where profits is the sole focus of most media houses. One is forced to conclude on inconclusive reports. Professor Moses Ochonu says it’s unscholarly to believe in conspiracy theories, but with various presentations of this story, I am beginning to smell something foul in the whole saga.
That said, I believe the girls were kidnapped but one wonders if they are victims of political schemes or, true hostages of an extremist groups. Nigerian media has a major role to play in exposing religious zealotry, illicit political schemes and more importantly, in clearing doubts about happenings in the country. This may prevent a recurrence of the Chibok saga.
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