By Owei Lakemfa
A veteran journalist called me on April 4 to confirm if indeed the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) issued a statement advising government against approving the Fifth Generation Mobile Technology (5G) claiming it is dangerous and linked to the outbreak of Covid-19. The NUJ also reportedly rejected the invitation of Chinese doctors in order to avoid: “… a situation where Nigerians will be used as a Guinea pig for any experiment” I told him it was an incredible and absurd story but that I will make enquiries.
I immediately called the NUJ National Secretary, Mr. Leman Shuaib Usman who confirmed the union issued the statement. I asked whether the NUJ had investigated its claims about 5G being dangerous to human beings, or made enquiries from the National Communication Commission (NCC) about it. The answer was negative.
I then asked the basis on which the NUJ is officially rejecting the 5G which will have tremendous effects on journalism practice. There was none based on knowledge, investigation or research. Next, I asked the basis on which the NUJ made a link between the alleged installation of 5G masts in China and the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic; was it based on investigation, published research or verifiable information? It was none of these.
Then I enquired why the NUJ was rejecting the invitation of Chinese doctors to help us fight Covid-19. Mr. Leman told me it was based on the observation that while Wuhan was the epicenter of Covid-19, it did not devastate Chinese cities like Shangai and Beijing, which confirmed the hypothesis that it was a controlled Chinese virus.
I told him that the logic of the NUJ leadership is that the Chinese should be condemned for being able to contain the virus, stopping it devastating more Chinese cities and decimating its population. I appealed that he reviewed the entire issue and if the NUJ had erred, it should have the courage to recall the statement.
The co-signatory was the NUJ National President, Mr. Christopher Isiguzo who I called next. I made my observations and told him that he and Mr. Leman owe Nigerian journalists the duty of withdrawing the embarrassing statement which from my discussions with them is based on rumours, conspiracy theories and false news. He listened and promised to call me the next day.
He did not, but sent me a statement by the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) rejecting the invitation of the Chinese doctors as if that in itself justifies the NUJ leadership’s violation of the ethics of journalism.
Every rookie journalist is taught that while comments or opinions are free, facts are sacred; that a journalist must report only facts and if in doubt, spike the report or the portion he cannot confirm.
The NUJ President followed this up on Wednesday by sending me a video of the self-serving rantings of a transactional pastor whose commercialization of God’s words according to Forbes statistics, has earned him a hefty $30-$50 million profit. The pastor who could not even define what theory is, could be heard in his usual sophistry, claiming that Covid-19 is a scam; the figment of human imagination and that what is killing people is the 5G technology not any virus. It is tragic the depths people can go in order to deceive and profit off peoples’ lives.
The NMA appears ill-informed about the Chinese doctors whom it assumes are being employed by the Nigerian government. Based on this misinformation, it argues there are unemployed Nigerian doctors, and implied that the money government is going to pay the Chinese doctors can be better utilized providing necessary medical equipment and facilities .
However, the verifiable information is that these doctors are being brought in by the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) as part of its corporate social responsibility. They are to spend one month in the country, and to share experiences with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and not to practice medicine in Nigeria.
The fact is, given the titanic battle China waged against Covid-19, Chinese doctors are some of the most experienced in fighting the virus, and a drowning man is not interested whether his rescuer is Nigerian, Chinese, Yemeni or Dutch.
The NMA went low when it wrote that: “The spike in cases and the death toll from COVID-19 in Italy coincided with the arrival of the Chinese in the guise of offering assistance.” This cynical and unsubstantiated claim gives the impression that Chinese doctors are going around the world spreading the virus and deliberately infecting non-Chinese. In this, the NMA without any empirical evidence or facts, is accusing its Chinese counterparts of betraying the physicians global ethical code (The Hippocratic Oath) which is basically, to respect and save human lives.
The rejection of 5G or the false claim that it is the source of the Coronavirus is like people rejecting telephone on the basis that it is the cause of small pox.
The 5G network is basically an improvement on the high-speed mobile internet (4G) which was an improvement on the voice and mobile data (3) itself an advancement on the Digital Voice (2G) and the Analogue Voice (1G) In rolling out 5G which some countries like South Korea, Britain, United States, Switzerland, Finland and Germany have done, the approving authorities put into consideration basic issues like health, security, labour, commercial and social implications.
The 5G will not be decided by rancorous debates, rumours or fake news. It is the logic of science, the pull of technology, demands of knowledge and commerce and the inevitability of an idea whose time has come. It should be clear to all that 5G is global and not a Chinese invention.
Bodies like the NUJ and NMA need to start thinking and discussing the likely implications of 5G on their members. Otherwise, it would be like the introduction of the internet when the media was dragged by the ears into the new world. Many media organisations which could not adapt, died while all parts including reportorial, sub-editing, photography and production underwent fundamental transformation.
Many of the purveyors of fake news on Covid-19 and 5G are pathetic victims of imperialist propaganda; mere repeater stations of foreign half-truths and falsehood. Africans and the underdeveloped world should focus on what benefits their people and how they can also contribute to human development and not be cheerleaders at the turf battles for global leadership. They should not become disciples of Donald Trump, the archangel of vicious agitation, propaganda and fake news.
I am convinced that this is a world without end, but if creation were to be destroyed as in Biblical times, it will not be by water, fire or virus; it will be fake news the next time.
Owei Lakemfa is a former secretary general of African workers, is a human rights activist, journalist and author.