The Platforms Africa (WhatsApp) Forum clocks Seven months today, October 3, 2020 and testimonies abound on how a lot of people across the continent, particularly in Nigeria, have been affected positively by the WhatsApp group with members including prominent scholars of Development Communication, frontline Editors/journalists from major Newspapers, radio and Television stations across Africa; publishers of major online media; frontline medical doctors, Phamacists and other health personnel; Financial experts; chemical scientists; industry/political/opinion leaders and policy makers with sound minds.
3,662 useful documents including links, charts, press releases and PDF about updates on the novel Coronavirus have, between March 3, 2020 and today, October 3, 2020, been shared by over 177 members including six Professors and associate Professors of Development Communication, over 20 PhD holders of diverse discplines, Communication experts from blueship global conglomerates, frontline Medical Doctors, and accomplished administrators, on the forum. This is unprecedented; We have not had this record on any other (WhatsApp) groups in Africa purposely established to address misinformation about Coronavirus in the country (Nigeria) and Africa.
In particular, we – all the resource persons this forum is privileged to have – have provided genuine answers to hundreds of questions raised on the subject matter looking at it from diverse professional views. For the record and with all sense of humily and responsibility, several live-saving contact-supports have been provided here for many people in dire need of testing and clarifications.
Readily on mind, is the case, on April 25, of an aged widow, an Abuja/Nigeria-based 70 year-old grand-mother who lost a son-in-law to COVID-19 in Kano, commercial capital of Northern Nigeria. A Save-Our-Soul (SOS) audio from her was shared here by a prominent professional, Sir @Bamidele SADIKU. In the audio, the widow said that her daughter (Rakiya) and grand children were trapped and were left to die in Kano because the NCDC office in the city was, even during the period the metropolis was on a lockdown, shut down for testing and contact tracing of cases. She moaned, she cried and she groaned in the audio because she was already counting days her daughter and grandchildren would, like her son-in-law, be killed by COVID-19. This forum, through all our resource persons (frontline broadcast journalist with Silverbird, @Vivian SilverBird, supplied the phone contacts of the woman in question and her daughter, and other top resource persons swung into action and) swiftly rallied round and the NCDC official were drafted to Kano to fix the issue and wiped her tears. We never envisaged this on 03/03/2020 when this forum was established!
Beyond this, a lot has also been done and we can humbly say that though Coronavirus pandemic is still with us, the pandemic of misinformation, lies, half truth, rumour/fear mongering, racial/social profiling and others in the category of infodemic are being thouroughly delt with.
We do not have any misinformation in this category shared here in the last two months unlike in the first month when almost on daily basis our resource persons were fact-checking and providing alternative views to a lot of updates (infodemic) bothering on local solutions/cures, alleged relationship between 5G network and Coronavirus, Soldiers/Police alleged brutality, among others.
WHAT WE LEARNED
The following points are what we observed, which can be the learning points for further interrogations and interpretations.
(1) Though the World shares similar reaction of fear and misinformation during this pandemic, nations in Africa have a peculiar pattern in which its citizens reacted to the reality of the existence of the killer virus.
(2) Neo-colonialism-fuelled mistrust between the former colonial masters and their colonies resurfaced in the information dissemination pattern and the believability of news on Coronavirus from the former to the later.
(3) There is a huge gulf of information dissemination between the government’s agency in charge of orientation in Nigeria (Natuonal Orientation Agency – NOA).
We have been able to establish a similar trend of gross information deficit in other countries on the continent.
(4) The Presidential Task Force (PTF) in Nigeria has no communication expert as a member of it. This may be an indication of the perspective of government to the role of a deliberately planned information dissemination in the fight against Coronavirus.
(5) The volume of information available on the virus is still far below the demand or the people’s inquisitiveness to know what is actually happening.
(6) In the absence of correct information from NOA and other agencies, the people are fed with heaps of misinformation.
(7) The affected countries on the continent were on lockdown and this threw up the need for social support in terms of palliative to the people, and exposed the backwardness on availability of data for social security.
(8) The forecast by global agencies like World Health Organisation (WHO) on infection and death rates in Africa were confounded. Data, so far, from the continent showed that the predictions were wrong. This should be a major focus for further studies on need to review data on other issues from foreing agencies about Africa.
(9) The continent, on the other hand, performed woefully compared to Europe and others, in terms of palliatives to its people. There were accompanying unrest caused by theft, armed robbery in Nigeria, for instance. The unrest as recorded in Lagos and Ogun state, two states on first two weeks of lockdown declared by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, were blamed by some commentators partly on hunger and gross lack of palliatives for people including millions of young men and women (one million boys) who were ordered to stay at home with no known means of feeding.
(10) An engagement on wayout for this was initiated on this forum by Editor, Sir @Francis KOTUTSE from Accra, Ghana, and prominent members of this forum from Tanzania, Kenya and across the country (Nigeria) contributed to the debate.
A CALL FOR ACTION
We have discovered a pattern of less prominence being given by the media in Nigeria to figures of cases of COVID-19 being dolled out daily by NCDC. This is confirmed to be the case also in Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania.
None of the major newspapers in Nigeria (the full PDF format of at least five of them are shared here daily by Editor, Sir @Yakbu Lawal) used a story on COVID-19 figures as the lead today unlike what obtained when the pandemic started.
There is a noticeable gradual paradigm shift in prominence in media from increasing figures of cases to solutions and lessons from the pandemic.
While attempts are being made to ensure that a searchlight is being focused on solution – cure, vaccine, lifting of lockdown on religious centres across the continent, among others, we will like to call for a deliberation on palliatives and the best way to manage them.
A lot of information on how Spanish Flu pandemic of 1919 (in Nigeria) was managed medically are available (though scanty) but very few and/or next-to-none has been seen on how infodemic emanating from the flu was managed. This is same for issues on management of social security during and after the flu.
We humbly call for imput (deliberate expression of informed professional opinion from highly respected professionals here) on these. This, asides being a service to humanity, may be a legacy document for generations after us.
Many thanks, Sirs/Mas.
Platforms Africa forum