Posted by News Express | 14 April 2018 | 1,795 times
Throughout history, infernos are usually caused by mere sparks from passing trains or a strike of the match-stick. This may not be an exception to what is described as the most deadly forest fire in the history of the United States that engulfed the dry Woodlands of north-eastern Wisconsin in early October 1871. As the fire raged on, the flames and intense heat killed more than 1,200 people and consumed some two billion trees.
The above illustration is apt to Apostle James’ classical imagery in the Book of James 3:6: “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” The point here is that like fire, the words we speak have the potential for causing great harm. This is similar to the admonition in Proverbs 18:21: “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”
As James 3:6 rightly pointed out, rumours are inimical to society's progress. They undermine good human relations. They generate tension, chaos, panic, and can cause a city to evacuate, even when a single bullet has not been shot. There are assumptions, or stories and statements in circulation, without confirmation or certainty as to source or veracity. Rumours may or may not contain elements of truth, but their veracity is anyone’s guess: rumors carry no factual certainty.
Recently, rumours were widely circulated in Abia and other south-eastern states about alleged forced vaccination of pupils by soldiers, and the outbreak of the Monkeypox virus. The rumour further alleged that the soldiers, in their numbers, were visiting schools to force pupils to accept injections considered to be dangerous to their health. The rumour alleged that the exercise claimed the lives of some students. The news did not only create tension, panic and confusion in the states, but forced parents to storm schools to withdraw their wards.
Pandemonium was let loose in the 27 local governments of Imo State, based on the rumour that there was an outbreak of the disease in the state. This created a panic movement, as parents rushed to pick their wards from schools at the same time, resulting in stampede and heavy traffic in the state capital, Owerri and its environs. As a result, commuters were compelled to trek uncomfortable distances to their respective destinations.
Unfortunately, despite the reaction from the Deputy Director, Public Relations, 82 Division, Nigerian Army, Col Musa Sagir, who urged the public to regard the development as rumour, stressing that soldiers were not visiting schools anywhere, but were in Ozubulu, Anambra State, for free medical exercise. He said that soldiers were not visiting schools anywhere. A statement by the Anambra State Government, issued by Prof. Solo Chukwulobelu, noted that the medical exercise was part of the army’s social responsibility to members of the public, and that the activity had been called off until the residents are fully sensitised. The rumour peddlers were not satisfied. Instead, they continued with the unsubstantiated news that was capable of causing mayhem, if not properly managed.
On this note, the efforts of Abia State Government in containing the rumour from getting out-of-hand should be commended. The state government, through the various agencies, deployed diverse forms of public communications machinery to douse the tension.
It is worthy to note here that the social media have become veritable tools in the hands of mischief-makers, who manipulate it to spread fake news of undesirable dimension in the society. An obvious instance was the recent face-off between members of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and soldiers shortly before the Operation Python Dance II assignment in Abia State. Various social media platforms were deployed maximally to dish out pieces of information and photographs that grossly misrepresented the true situation.
What will continue to agitate the minds well-meaning Abians is what masterminds of these mischievous practices stand to gain. They have deployed the roles of the media of carrying of ideas, presenting representative pictures of the society, classifying the values and goals of the society, monitoring the government and making it accountable to the people; informing, educating and entertaining the people; promoting the concepts of accountability, integrity, honesty, fairness and equity; giving voice to the voiceless in the society; agenda-setting; fostering national unity and integration; promoting society’s culture and the moral value system; and promoting the sustainable national interests at all times, to the contrary and to the detriment of humanity.
Abia will be a better place for all of us, if the rumour-mongers could heed the biblical injunctions of Exodus 23:1: “You must not pass along false rumours. You must not cooperate with evil people by lying on the witness stand;” and Leviticus 19:16: “You must not go around spreading false stories against other people; don’t do anything that would put your neighbour’s life in danger. I am the Lord.”
Finally, rumour and propaganda are twin concepts, because they serve the same purpose. Propaganda is a powerful weapon, especially in war. It is used to dehumanise and create hatred towards a supposed enemy, either internal or external, by creating a false image in the mind of soldiers and citizens. On the other hand, rumours are as dumb as the people who start them, and as fake as the people who help spread them. I believe rumours are carried by haters, spread by fools, and accepted by idiots. My passionate appeal to all Abians is to shun rumours and propaganda, because they cannot serve us any good. We should always balance stories and cross-check information for authenticity, before spreading them.
•Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu writes from Abia State and can be reached via email@example.com
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