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Oct. 18, 2023, 10:43 a.m.
Reporting & Production

The Nigeria Fact-Checkers’ Coalition showed how collaborative journalism can work in West Africa

“I don’t want to build animosity between my neighbors because of information I can’t confirm.”

Violence fueled by fake news was Peace Oladipo‘s biggest concern during the Nigerian general election this past February. She knew that political parties’ weaponization of disinformation during the 2019 election had contributed to 150 deaths.

To do what she could as a freelance journalist, Oladipo shared fact-checks done by the Nigeria Factcheckers Coalition (NFC), a collaboration of 31 dedicated fact-checkers from more than 12 media platforms and civil society organizations in Nigeria.

“I don’t want to build animosity between my neighbors because of information I can’t confirm,” Oladipo told me.

She said she wouldn’t have paid attention to fact-checks if the organizations hadn’t collaborated for the election. In her view, that was “a major reason [the coalition] had more reach and scope.”

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With funding from the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), Nigeria’s Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development, and Africa Check and support from organizations like Google, the Macarthur Foundation, and the International Factchecking Network, the coalition worked to verify and debunk the false information that was rampant during the period.

One example of the coalition’s work was around a supposed legislative candidate in Lagos State — Olumide Oworu of the Labour Party, who is also an actor. Pictures that showed him injured and bloody in a white shirt had gone viral. His supporters claimed that his political opponents from the ruling party, All Progressive Congress — also fielding a veteran actor, Desmond Elliot — had attacked him.

The Coalition discovered that the claim was false and misleading (“Findings show that the picture in circulation had earlier been uploaded on his Instagram handle with a caption indicating that photo was taken during a movie production.”) Later, they showed that Olumide might not even have been a registered candidate.

Nurudeen Akewusola, a journalist with ICIR, fact-checked the claim. He learned a lot working with the alliance, he said. “Our role as fact-checkers during the election was not just about exposing falsehoods,” he told me. “It was also about promoting media literacy and encouraging citizens to assess the information they encounter.”

Akewuosola believes the coalition gave the fact-checking field an increase in visibility, because participating newsrooms shared them across their social media platforms.

“Once other [sites] like Africa Check, the ICIR, and Premium Times share the stories, the work becomes more credible and visible,” he said.

Tools like Slack and Gmail proved handy for the fact-checkers to access claims for verification, while regular training and other updates were carried out via Zoom and Google Meet as well as in-person. “Coordinating a diverse group of fact-checkers from different media outlets required communication and synergy,” said Kemi Busari, Dubawa Nigeria‘s editor, who helped coordinate the coalition’s activities. “We faced challenges in obtaining timely access to information and dealing with the sheer volume of misleading claims circulating online. Also, some colleagues could not participate in our physical training and other activities, but we made provisions for virtual participation.”

The coalition fact-checked 127 claims within six days of the presidential and governorship election period.

Freelance journalist Oladipo analyzed the coalition’s local impact for her undergraduate project. She discovered that radio stations in Ekiti State relied on the coalition’s findings to fact-check election-related information since they didn’t have the required skills and time to do it independently. The coalition, she hopes, “made fact-checking popular among the Nigerian audience.”

The coalition’s success during Nigeria’s 2023 presidential election offers valuable lessons for other fields.

“In niches like climate reporting, where complex scientific information is involved, collaboration among media organizations and experts can help b ridge gaps in understanding and promote accurate reporting,” said Ajibola Amzat, the Africa editor of the Center for Collaborative Investigative Journalism (CCIJ). “Similarly, pooling resources, skills, and knowledge through collaborative initiatives can enhance niches like solution journalism and data-driven reporting.”

Ejiro Umukoro, publisher of LightRay Media, urged media organizations to avoid negativity in competition.

“Once we have clarity on our interest, editorial policy and corporate governing structure, it can go a long way to demystify the negative ways of being competitive,” she said. “We should come to a point where we understand that there should be a collective meeting point for all media organizations.”

Following the coalition’s success, organizations like Nigeria Health Watch spearheaded collaboration among media platforms in solution journalism.

Efforts are also in place to strengthen investigative journalism and enhance media capacity in West Africa after the CCIJ signed an agreement with the Cell Norbert Zongo Centre for Investigative Journalism in West Africa this past August. The partnership will increase cross-border investigative reports on topics of common concern in the region.

This version of the story clarifies which organizations funded the Nigeria Factcheckers Coalition (NFC) and which organizations provided non-financial support.

Phillip Anjorin is a Nigerian fact-checking and solution-driven journalist interested in reporting how Africans solve their problems.

Photo from the Nigerian 2023 General Election by Commonwealth Secretariat used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Oct. 18, 2023, 10:43 a.m.
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