By Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu
Rumour and propaganda are serious antithesis to the development of a place. They are instruments usually deployed by debased minds and unscrupulous elements to achieve selfish ends.
While rumour manifest in unfounded and unsubstantiated claims, half-truth, and outright lies, sometimes, propagandists manipulate these instruments to change and influence people’s beliefs, attitudes and perspective on issues and as a result persuade them to believe or see these as real.
Rumours 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; they carry no factual certainty.
Apostle James in his classical imagery in the Book of James 3:6 warns us thus: “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.
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.
Recently, elements whose stock-in-trade have been to deploy arm twisting measures to subdue government into gaining one favour or the other, took to their usual trade by invading some social media platforms and reeled out some unfounded claims to malign and denigrate some public officials.
Away from the moral burden of peddling rumours and propaganda, these elements also grossly breached the Nigerian Press Ethical Codes of Conduct which include the respect for the truth; the respect for the freedom of the individual; the respect for constituted authorities; avoidance of publication of bad taste in language and pictures; avoidance of libel and sedition; avoidance of malicious publication; not settling personal quarrels on the pages of newspapers and airwaves; not promoting sectional interest; among others.
No matter what, a chameleon will always alter the shade of its skin to blend into the environment. We should not be surprise when a chameleon alters the shade of its skin because it is rather trying to broadcast its mood rather than evading a predator.
These propagandists are chameleon as well turncoats. Whenever they shade their colour of their skins, they are rather broadcasting their moods and not evading predators. They are full blown personification of the character in Aesop’s fable and juvelinia” The Wolf Crying Boy”.
We know them. Hughes Stanford was one of them. Stanford sought to appease the Christian mission which explored the Niger areas (later Nigeria). Stanford poured invectives on Africans only to be keenly avoided by the church leaders who rightly felt that they needed diplomats, committed missionaries and lovers of humanity, not raving racist and hate-monger who would ignite African resistance to their new values. He died without a job and without a penny in the world. But this was a time some more positive colonial agents were building their career in the emerging colonies.
David Dion, the renegade Jew, thought he could buy a lifesaving friendship into the German power caste by betraying his people but the reverse was the case.
Joseph Goebbel became Adolf Hitler’s propaganda minister in 1933.He exploited mob emotions and by employing all modern methods of propaganda Goebbels helped Hitler to power. His work as a propagandist materially aided Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. When Hitler seized power in 1933, Goebbels was appointed Reichsminister for propaganda and national enlightenment. From then until his death, Goebbels used all media of education and communications to further Nazi propagandistic aims, instilling in the Germans the concept of their leader as a veritable god and of their destiny as the rulers of the world. In 1938 he became a member of the Hitler cabinet council. Late in World War II, in 1944, Hitler placed him in charge of total mobilization. Unfortunately, despite Goebbel’s propaganda wizardry, Germany lost the war. On May 1, 1945, as Soviet troops were storming Berlin, Goebbels committed suicide.
What of Benedict Arnold (1741-1801), the American hero of the Revolutionary War (1775-83) who later became one of the most infamous traitors in U.S. history after he switched sides and fought for the British. Arnold was involved in several landmark battles for the US such as the capture of the British garrison Fort of Ticonderoga in 175, warding off British invasion of New York at the Battle of Chaplain. Arnold also played a crucial role in bringing about the surrender of British General John Burgoyne’s (1722-92) army at Saratoga.
Unfortunately, Arnold felt he was not adequately rewarded and became a turncoat. He entered into secret negotiations with the British, agreeing to turn over the U.S. post at West Point in return for money and a command in the British army. The plot was discovered, but Arnold escaped to British lines.
After fleeing to the enemy side, Arnold received a commission with the British army and served in several minor engagements against the Americans. After the war, which ended in victory for the Americans with the Treaty of Paris in 1783, Arnold resided in England. He died in London on June 14, 1801, at age 60. The British regarded him with ambivalence, while his former countrymen despised him. Following his death, Arnold’s memory lived on in the land of his birth, where his name became synonymous with the word “traitor”.
Even in the Bible, strong opposition from Sanballat and Tobias did not deter Nehemiah’s efforts to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. We may have been offended one way or the other, but the best way to vent our anger is not to become a turncoat by standing against a collective aspiration.
Abia will be a better place for all of us if the rumour-mongers and propagandists 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.
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