In Nigeria, to infract the law and escape retribution, be a cleric or a politician under the sanctuary of the government of the day. Pastors and imams emanate and fecundate fake news and hate speech without scruples because of some seeming ‘’self-immunity’’ effectuated by the sensitivity of religion here.
Clerics in the country defy the law unabashedly and with unrestrained arrogance. And when there is an attempt to hold them to account the refrain becomes ‘’our religion is under attack’’ by unbelievers.
On March 22, 2020, David Oyedepo, founder of Living Faith Church, better known as ‘’Winners’ Chapel’’, held services against the advisory and restriction on religious gathering by the Ogun state government. This was at the time the figure of COVID-19 cases in the country was creeping.
The police were said to have advised the bishop not to proceed with the religious activities, but he ignored them and persisted in his insouciance against lawful authority.
Oyedepo even bragged at the service: “Shutting down churches would be like shutting down hospitals. There are many, many places that would never have any medical solution but in church.’’
Also, at the weekend, a televised falsehood by Pastor Chris Oyakhilome rippled on social media channels. The pastor claimed coronavirus is illusory; that it is a grand conspiracy of the bastions of a ‘’New World Order’’, and that it is spawned by 5G – fifth-generation mobile technology.
Hear him: “Don’t think what is happening right now has to do with a virus. It’s not a virus. The world has chosen to be deceived. As they have been deceived many times before.
‘’If you still don’t yet know what is going on, know today; it’s not about the coronavirus. This is basically a group of people serving a devilish cause trying to checkmate humanity to hell. Don’t be ignorant, either silent. This isn’t a time to sit on the fence because there is no fence. This isn’t about religion because as you can see, there isn’t one either. It boils down to two options: Life or Death.’’
The pastor dug the pits of ignorance deeper and cited a movie ‘Divergent’ to buttress his claim.
‘’There’s a movie called ‘Divergent’ from 2014. That’s what the groups that are interested in the new world order are up to, to put the vaccine in your body containing a digital ID, by which you as a human being can be controlled, you cease to be yourself,” he said.
Not yet done, he re-affirmed himself in another televised show of dopiness. He claimed the federal government locked down Abuja, Lagos and Ogun to install 5G, icing the misinformation with fiction that 5G technology killed people in Wuhan, China, not coronavirus.
“The federal government was pushed to lock down Abuja and Lagos specifically. Why? Because of 5G in Abuja and Lagos. Because they already tested 5G in Abuja and they’re digging in Lagos,’’ he claimed.
“They’re engaged in the draining in Lagos. That is why the federal government had to shut down Abuja and Lagos so that the 5G could be installed. And there are other cities planned for.
“As I said before, what kills people in Wuhan was not coronavirus. It was the 5G. If you say it’s not, then tell us how you discovered yours.”
This fish story by Oyakhilome catalysed and even diffused through educated membranes like native perfume. The implication of which is a strain on the fight against COVID-19 in the country. Since the famous cleric said 5G technology is responsible for coronavirus why should those taken in by this fable take the necessary precautions against the disease?
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) dispelled the inveracity –though I do not think it is enough until Oyakhilome is arrested and made to face the mortalities of his crime of spreading injurious misinformation.
To clear the fouled air, the NCC said: ‘’There is no correlation between 5G Technology and COVID-19. 5G is an advancement in today’s 4G technology, designed to transform the world positively. 5G is the fifth generation of mobile technology which is an improvement on today’s 4G technology with enhanced capabilities. The 5G technology provides the platform for new and emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data to improve the way we live and work.’’
The commission also explained in a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ column that: ‘’5G technology will transform the world by connecting everything with everybody. It will create millions of jobs, it will add billions of dollars to the economy (GDP), and can solve some of our problems such as insecurity and improve governance and efficiency in the society.’’
On whether the radiation from 5G is different from those of 2G, 3G and 4G? It said: ‘’No, they all belong to the same class of Non-ionizing Radiation.’’
Really, we live in a country where ordinary citizens are harassed and hounded into prison for ventilating their opinions under a highly contentious law – Cybercrime Act. Journalists and bloggers have been the biggest casualties of this law. Why is Oyakhilome not being charged under this same law for misinformation? Is he above the law?
As a matter of fact, what Oyakhilome has done has the propensity of rolling back the gains made in the fight against COVID-19 and also of derailing efforts at containing the spread of the disease.
Also, I think what he has done can be termed a terrorist act for its capability of leading citizens astray to mass death and certain doom. He should be held to account. If he escapes the law on this, then the government has no moral authority to arrest any Nigerian who spreads fake news.
Fredrick Nwabufo is a writer and journalist