INTERNATIONAL NEWS coverage of Africa, particularly Nigeria, tends to focus on conflict and strife, including the threat posed by the insurgent group Boko Haram, economic concerns about the country’s reliance on oil and projected scarcities of water, land and fuel.
But the country the size of France, with a population larger than Russia’s on a continent four times the size of the U.S. also boasts a complex society looking toward the future and beyond broad generalizations.
Nigerian blogger, lecturer and social media innovator J.J. Omojuwa is the founder and chief strategist at The Alpha Reach, an Abuja-based firm that helps companies, nonprofits and governments in and around Africa shape their online presence.
Omojuwa has described himself as “an ordinary Nigerian with a Twitter handle” – with more than half a million followers – and spoke with U.S. News from Lagos about how the world perceives his native region, and what the future of social media influence looks like from there.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What do you think international news coverage gets wrong about Nigeria and West Africa? What issues do you think should be covered more by international press?
They often discuss our ethnic and religious diversity without nuancing them. You often hear, in the case of Nigeria, “Muslim north, Christian south” when as a matter of fact you have loads of communities in the north that are largely Christian and communities in the south that are Muslim. There is no wholly Muslim North or Christian South as often depicted by the foreign press.
We hear frequently about “fake news” and “alternative facts,” provoking widespread debates about whether anything can be considered “true.” How does that problem manifest itself in Nigeria and West Africa?
J.J. Omojuwa(COURTESY OF MAYOWA ABOAH)
It is as true in Nigeria and indeed the sub-region as it is globally. Fake news is a phenomenon that is of great concern to everyone, from individuals to public and corporate organizations. Sometimes, even respectable platforms are guilty of this. Nigeria, for instance, has battled with terrorism and communal clashes over the years. Major news platforms are sometimes guilty of using images from other countries as part of their report of what’s happening in Nigeria. This often gets tackled by savvy citizens, who are able to cross-check the metadata of the shared images.
What advice would you give to anyone who feels overwhelmed by trying to find accurate information?
I think those who are desperate for accurate information must take the responsibility for ensuring they are intentional about where they pick their information from. Despite the prevalence of fake news, there are still a number of respectable platforms who continue to abide by the rules, ethics and guidelines of sound reporting. Other than that, proponents of fake news are quite consistent with sharing…so as soon as you note the trend, you should report such handles to the respectable platforms or at least “unfriend” or “unfollow” depending on what platform it is.
When you look to the future, what kinds of people do you see emerging as the most influential leaders?
Entertainers will increasingly lead popular culture and as we go forward; conventional superstars that aren’t politicians will be dragged into political spaces to take stands as the people table issues that are of concern to them. I expect to see more superstars shaking up the political system as the people crave for a new kind of politics.