Wole Soyinka, Nigeria’s only Nobel Laureate, says those who spread fake news are cowards and may need psychiatric evaluation.
He also directed what appeared to be criticism at Obasanjo’s support for Atiku’s candidature.
The literary icon spoke during a symposium in Abuja, on Wednesday, but did not directly mention neither Obasanjo nor Atiku, in his speech.
He questioned the former president’s change of heart, which seemed to refer to Obasanjo’s initial stance on his former vice-president.
His words: “We have got to develop very healthy scepticism. If someone in a position of power for eight years, has lectured a nation for eight years and after that continued year after year to continue to direct the minds of a whole nation in one direction only saying ‘this is Lucifer from hell’, for eight years in office and several more years out of office saying this is Lucifer and then one day he changed his left hand and says behold your redeemer, which of the two is fake news?”
Obasanjo had heavily criticized Atiku, who was his vice, during his eight years of presidency.
In his book titled ‘My Watch’, Obasanjo described Atiku as a “shameless liar”.
At a time, Obasanjo said God would never forgive him if he supports Atiku. However, he took a different turn in 2018 when he endorsed the candidacy of Atiku Abubakar.
Speaking further at the symposium, which was themed ‘Nigeria 2019: Countering Fake News’, Soyinka advised that psychiatrists be involved in the advocacy against fake news. He reasoned that peddlers of fake news have mental problems.
He went on to share his experience on how fake news has affected him, saying he had heard of news of his own death numerous times and laughable statements which never originated from him had been circulated as his.
He continued: “During the last presidency, there was a statement attributed to me that I said that it serves President Jonathan right for marrying an illiterate woman. I never made any comment whatsoever about her and suddenly here it is staring me in the face.
“An account (on Facebook) has even been created in my name and from time to time a card is sent to me and it reads, ‘Wole Soyinka says anyone who votes for this person must be stupid, must be mentally retarded, his mother must be a goat and his father must be a gorilla.’
“And this comes on all the time and I don’t want to understate the numerous motivations going into this. Although basically, I think the commonality is that those who create fake news are sick in the head and they are also cowards because they lack the conviction for their own beliefs and so they try to attribute to other people what they are thinking.”
“I have insisted that it is something that must be treated criminally but I don’t want this to become an opportunity for our very bloodthirsty legislators to push the kind of law which they tried to enact the other time which they were decreeing capital punishment for any hate speech.
“I don’t know how far it has gone, whether they have dropped it or if it is on the president’s table but nothing I say today should be taken as an endorsement of that lunacy.
“If people are bloodthirsty they should go and join Boko Haram instead of using the legislative chambers to initiate another opportunity for slaughtering people for speaking their minds like Khashoggi. Let us be very careful about that.”
He advised that social media platforms like Facebook should put in more efforts in curtailing fake news. He also called on the need for INTERPOL and other global law enforcement agencies to join hand in the war against fake news.
Soyinka also took out time to comment on the leaked audio of Rotimi Amaechi, the Minister of Transportation.
“Just two or three days ago, I read an item where a minister was supposed to have insulted the president and it was carried in some media and I checked the statement and of course there was a video and so on and I looked through it, I read the text again and again and I said I have to relearn English language because I didn’t see where the insults were.
“So sometimes, print media feels compelled to compete with the electronic media and this is a great mistake because there is a reputation, there is an expectation and you should not be embarrassed to show yourself superior to a medium which is accessible to the lowest, the very dregs of society.”