By Abubakar Shehu
As world economies brace for the financial impact of the COVID-19 virus and with Nigeria steeling itself for the economic strain that will come from slump in crude oil prices, persons recruited to blackmail and malign President Muhammadu Buhari are set to pocket huge payouts that rival crude oil revenue.
Details that have leaked from the circuit involved in the anti-Buhari propaganda indicated that paid activists, opinion influencers, public commentators and others that have been recruited for the purpose get paid as much as $10,000 for each round of damaging story that they deliver to undermine the president.
A favourite target for these reputational hitmen is the military against which they have coordinated series of damaging reports in recent days, ostensibly in an effort to indirectly undermine the image of the President, whose re-election campaign hinged significantly on restoring security to Nigeria’s troubled northeast region and other parts of the country where there are security breaches.
These paid activists, who must have proven portfolios of consistently being pro-opposition and antagonistic of the present administration, were specifically commissioned to work on actions that will generate news reportage that beam a negative light on the incumbent government. interfaces were created between them and select media organizations that are ready to publish the contents they generate and also amplify same using their social media assets.
In the space of one week, the recruited activists have launched major offensives on the President using incidents like the handling of COVID-19 Pandemic, Boko Haram attack on government troops in Yobe state, the routine transfers conducted in the army, donations from private sector for managing the corona virus spread amongst others. These offensives were responsible for the seeming lack of coherence in the claims being made against the president and the military like when the same activists that drew attention to the Boko Haram attack became angry with the army for re-organizing for efficiency.
By replicating these misleading information on various platforms and delivered by different activists, the mercenaries are able to create the impression that the view they are pushing is widespread and reflects the preponderance of perception in Nigeria.
A media analyst, who did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter, noted that the public opinion space is being poisoned by the mercenaries as they now make it impossible for people to make logical deductions based on the facts in the public domain. He said “It is amazing that the people who have anointed themselves as experts in the way President Buhari, through the military, is handling the war against Boko Haram, are able to report and celebrate 50 to 70 troops killed in an attack without minding to spare one line to mention the more than 120 terrorists that were killed in that operation.
“it is a grave danger that a few people, flush with bloodstained dollars, can totally dictate what the populace focuses on, including manipulating the mainstream media to point that they became incapable of independently verifying facts. When a neighbouring country, Chad, suffered a worse casualty count, these propaganda urchins stayed silent possibly because there was no dollar credit for maligning the Chadian President,” he stressed.
A consequent outcome of manipulating the mainstream media on the scale that the crisis entrepreneurs have done is a resounding loss of credibility. Media platforms have been compromised over time such that those that sponsors of these propaganda onslaughts want to believe their lies can no longer be reached by these same media.
This has compelled them to recruit some pastors into their ranks so that they are able to use the credibility of their pulpits to push the propaganda messaging at their members. Such pastors attempt to whip up sentiments against the government in their sermons like telling congregants that the present government is the most wicked and insensitive in history.
Some clergymen have also been lined up to put up defiance against measures announced to contain the spread of COVID-19, like keeping their churches opened in violation of the directive on social distancing. The activists have been quick to cite religious persecution in defence of such pastors by claiming that their freedom of worship should not be infringed upon.
A few of the mercenaries received their $10,000 payouts without being able to make the kind of dent expected of them in tarnishing the reputation of President Buhari and when they were queried over their failure they reported back that the amount was insufficient to do the job and still leave some profits for the hitmen.
The outcome was increasing the reward system by ten folds. Those that were able to convincingly push damaging contents about the military get the base $10,000 while those that are able to take on the credibility of President Buhari get ten times that amount, which is $100,000 or N40 million.
Leaked information indicated that these paid activists are positioned to further demonize the military by questioning any roles they are assigned in curbing the spread of COVID-19 especially as it pertains to enforcing the shutdown of several states of the federation, which would necessitate the enforcement of the restriction placed on movement as part of the social distancing strategy.
Several countries that have taken huge fatalities from the virus were compelled to activate their military to enforce quarantine and movement restrictions that have been found to help slow down the virus. In other places, the military was strategic in setting up emergency field hospital, which the military in Nigeria is also capable of.
But to ensure that President Buhari’s response to the virus is constrained, they have launched first wave of attack in the form of asking questions about the legality of the Federal Government shutting down FCT, Lagos and Ogun in response to the virus. Legal practitioner, Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa, SAN, had led the charge among those questioning the legality of the shutdown. While it appeared that these critics backed down from their criticism after being schooled by the attorney-general and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, in reality they have set down the groundwork for questioning any roles that the president assigns to the Army in countering coronavirus.
The mercenaries hired to undermine the president suppress more than the execution of their own projects as seen in the climbdown on asking about the legality of the shutdown. They are also implementing a strategy of dampening news about any exploit recorded by the administration, especially the military. The aim of this is to ensure that only negative news about the government and the military are promoted in order to drown out whatever positive achievements is recorded.
The killing of top Boko Haram commander, Abu Usamah, on March 22 is one of such instances. When Boko Haram terrorists make any seeming gains, these activists and their associates are quick to grant media interviews, pen analyses and produce other media contents that keep such attack in the news and allow it to maintain currency. But with the Military making such a significant kill, the activists deploy a tactic of first belittling the importance of the incident on social media and then churning out unrelated and irrelevant contents that will drown out the development in the media space.
This approach has proven dangerously effective in diminishing the work that the military has been doing especially when online searches will return negative contents about the troops and their commanders.
Need to Act
The antics of these activists are known to those in authority but there does not seem to be any action against them. This reluctance on the part of the government to curb their anti-Nigeria activities have made them bolder as they increasingly take on newer briefs to further undermine the office of the president, which is effectively undermining the integrity of Nigeria as a country, a major crime in any jurisdiction.
Checks revealed that authorities do not need to go after the activists since this will be interpreted as clamping down on them, which would be a proven instance of suppression of human rights by the government. What the paid activists are aware of and have extensively discussed in their circle is the capacity of government to identify the source of their funding, shut it down and take in those responsible for terrorist financing. Doing this will automatically kill off the contracts that have been undermining not just the president but also the military by limiting their ability to respond to threats.
The media analysts cited earlier is of the view tht time is of essence if the government must prevent permanent damage, not just to the perception of the president and the military but to the corporate integrity of Nigeria. Those damaging the military’s reputation in their bid to blackmail the president for money have to be stopped lest the country pay a steep price for it in the foreseeable future.