SINCE the outbreak of COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, there have been bogus and unproven claims by conspiracy theorists appearing on multiple platforms across the internet.
The spread of misinformation about the virus seems to be very well coordinated, with some focusing on videos and audios that are shared online and others spreading their misinformation through posts on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms.
The claims being shared about coronavirus and its vaccines have highlighted the importance of identifying false information about the coronavirus and those who are spreading it.
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COVID-19 in Nigeria
On the 27th of February 2020, the Federal Ministry of Health, in a statement, confirmed a COVID-19 case in Lagos State, Nigeria.
It was the first case to be reported in Nigeria since the outbreak in China earlier in January.
Since the first reported case, Nigeria has now confirmed 158,042 cases of coronavirus, with 137,025 discharged patients and 1,754 deaths.
Data obtained from The ICIR COVID-19 Dashboard, which tracks cases of the virus, shows that 116.810 million cases have been reported so far, with 2.594 million deaths across the world since the outbreak started.
Africa has only reported 3.977 million cases and 105,456 deaths.
While Europe has total cases of 34.923 million with 832,251 deaths, Northern America reported 33.978 million cases with 774,292 deaths. South America has 18.434 million cases and 477,985 deaths while Asia has so far reported 25. 443 million cases and 403,255 deaths.
The ICIR takes a look at controversial statements made by some conspiracy theorists concerning the outbreak COVID-19 and vaccines produced to tackle it.
The ICIR and its fact-checking arm, FactCheckHub, have also, on numerous occasions, found some of these claims false and misleading using in-house investigative skills and modern-day tools.
Dino Melaye is a Nigerian politician, a former Senator and a member of the 8th Nigerian National Assembly representing Kogi West Senatorial district. He is from Ayetoro Gbede in Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi State.
On the 16th of December, Melaye, in a viral video that has been shared many times on social media platforms, advised Nigerians and Africans not to accept the use of any COVID-19 vaccines.
Say no to Covid 19 Vaccine. pic.twitter.com/1eoRdvB45l
— Senator Dino Melaye. (SDM) (@_dinomelaye) December 16, 2020
“For 100 years now, we could not find a vaccine for cancer. For over 40 years, we are yet to find a vaccine for HIV/AIDS, for over another 100 years research is still going on to find a vaccine for diabetes. How is it possible on earth is it possible that in one year, you find a vaccine for COVID-19?”
“I am calling on African leaders not to allow Africans to be used as guinea pigs by developed nations for their satanic reasons,” he said in the video.
“We say no to the application of any vaccine in Africa. We call on the minister of health of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to immediately discontinue the interaction with those who want to give us vaccine.”
Despite approved vaccines going through guidelines and approval processes by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Melaye had, on numerous occasions on the social media, expressed doubts about the vaccines.
The 47-year-old former Senator said it was impossible to have secured a vaccine for the novel virus given that other diseases like cancer, diabetes and HIV/AIDS still had no vaccines.
He also claimed, without providing evidence, that some people who took that vaccine died within three days.
Countries such as the U.S., Brazil, Russia and the UK have begun administering the vaccines without reporting health incidents.
Melaye had earlier, in a video shared by Instablog, said the vaccines “were killers and the federal government will be held accountable if any vaccine is applied on Nigerians and has negative effects.”
He also stated in April 2020 that 5G technology was evil, a killer that was being used to mobilise flu that had come in the form of coronavirus and would be deployed to kill the human body’s immune system and those with underlying health conditions. These have been found to be untrue.
Pastor Chris Oyakhilome
Also, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, founder of Christ Embassy, also known as LoveWorld Incorporated or Believers’ Loveworld, has also been at the forefront of releasing bogus statements relating to COVID-19 and vaccines.
In April 2020, he had claimed that 5G technology was dangerous to human cells and linked it with the coronavirus outbreak. This has been fact-checked by The ICIR and found to be false.
He also, in a seven-minute video titled ‘The Deep State Has Failed’ published on the Youtube page of Chris Embassy Toronto New York, called the coronavirus outbreak a hoax and said ‘forced vaccine’ for the whole world would not work.
Yahaya Adoza Bello is a Nigerian politician, businessman and the current governor of Kogi State.
Bello has, on numerous occasions, made bogus claims about the coronavirus outbreak and lately discouraged vaccine use in the country.
The governor, in a widely circulating video seen by The ICIR, discouraged supporters present in the gathering from taking vaccines.
The governor, who did not provide any evidence to back up the claim made against COVID-19 vaccine, said: “They want to use the (COVID-19) vaccines to introduce the disease that will kill you and us. God forbid!”
He questioned why COVID-19 vaccines were being produced in less than one year. “There is no vaccine yet for HIV, malaria, cancer and for several diseases that are killing us… We should draw our minds back to what happened in Kano during the polio vaccines that crippled and killed our children. We have learned our lessons.”
“If they say they are taking the vaccines in the public, allow them take their vaccines. Do not say I said you should not take it, but if you want to take it, open your eyes before you take the vaccines,” he said.
Also, Bello, in a Channel’s TV programme last December, questioned the need for Nigeria to procure COVID-19 vaccines.
He also said that no one in Kogi State had tested positive to COVID-19 and that the virus did not exist in the state.
However, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has reported five cases of COVID-19 in Kogi, and The ICIR, in an earlier report through Professor Oyewale Tomori, a professor of virology and chairman of Expert Review Committee on COVID-19, refuted the claim of the Kogi State government, stating that he was a danger to the country’s health security.
The Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 had also, on the 2nd of February, 2021, warned against travelling to Kogi after classifying the state as ‘high-risk.’
The PTF hinged its decision on the state government’s repeated denial of the existence of the deadly disease and its poor attitude towards report tests and isolation centres.
Also, during the programme, he based his argument on the varying temperatures between Nigeria and other climes, saying that “what is applicable over there may not work in Nigeria”.
“We don’t need to participate in this marketing of COVID-19 vaccine. We should channel the money we want use to buy the vaccines to other things. The Presidential Task Force (PTF) should give the right advice to the president.”
The governor also said “it is better to invest in tackling more deadly diseases that are killing people everyday, not COVID-19 that has 99.9 per cent recovery rate.”
Another notable conspiracy theorist is the United States-based medical doctor Stella Immanuel, who, last year, came up on the social media with claims of discovering the cure for COVID-19.
Immanuel, a medical doctor, in a video that went viral last year, said she had treated over 350 COVID-19 patients, including those with diabetes, high blood pressure (HBP), asthma and the elderly with a combination of hydroxychloroquine, zinc and azithromycin.
“I put them on hydroxychloroquine, zinc and Zithromax and they are all well.”
Immanuel added that she had recorded no casualty, and that she, as well as other medical staff working with her, was administered with the same drug as a preventive measure against contracting the virus.
The ICIR fact-checked her claims and found that the use of hydroxychloroquine, zinc and Zithromax combination as cure for COVID-19 was MISLEADING.
Femi Fani-Kayode, Nigeria’s former aviation minister, who has made claims and retweeted posts from a British conspiracy theorist and author David Icke, is a strong purveyor of unproven claims about coronavirus pandemic and vaccines.
He has also made repeated claims about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s efforts in tackling the COVID-19 outbreak.
Fani-Kayode had also, on the 1st of May 2020, in a tweet, linked the House of Representative controversial Infectious Diseases Bill to Bill Gates.
Femi Gbajabiamila, speaker of the House of Representatives, had, in May 2020, introduced a bill that sought to replace the Quarantine Act with a Control of Infectious Disease Act.
The bill, which quickly passed first and second reading at the House of Representatives, had 82 clauses which generated controversies among Nigerians.
The contention surrounding the bill was not only regarding its provisions but also the speedy passage it got from the lower chamber.
Fani-Kayode, in a series of tweets on the bill, alleged that the bill was a means to depopulate Africa, sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
He said, “I told you that the demons called Bill & Melinda Gates want to kill millions with their evil vaccine. Now a law is secretly being passed in your country that will make it compulsory for you to take a vaccine that will kill you like flies. Am I still just a conspiracy theorist?”
“Only a fool will believe that a man who believes in reducing the world’s population will produce a vaccine that will save the world. Then you say the vaccine is COMPULSORY? If Bill wants to reduce the population of the world let him start with his family and leave Africa alone.
Fani-Kayode had, in an earlier article published on the 1st of April titled ‘COVID-19 And Mark Of The Beast,’ alleged that the virus was a demonic spirit cultivated and manufactured through the introduction and usage of 5G, saying that it was “invoked from the pit of hell.”
He had also on the 29th of March tweeted that coronavirus outbreak was an agenda against former United States President, Donald Trump.
“One of the many objectives of the Illuminati & those that are behind the coronavirus pandemic & the emergence of a New World Order is to get @realDonaldTrump out of power in this year’s pres. election by sparking off a massive recession & crashing the American & world economy,” tweeted Fani-Kayode at the end of March. “They also want as many Americans to die from coronavirus as possible & blame it all on Trump. Despite all their efforts I’ve got news for them: they will fail miserably & @realDonaldTrump will be back in power after the 2020 election.”
The ICIR then sent a message to the former minister to back up his claims, but he did not respond up till the time of filing this report.
Fani-Kayode’s claim that the NCDC Bill was sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was denied by Paulin Basinga, the foundation’s director of Nigeria Country Office, in a written presentation to the panel. Basinga dismissed the allegation as ‘entirely false’ during a probe launched to investigate the allegation made by the Coalition of United Political Parties that the parliament’s leadership was paid 10m dollars by an international body to foist the bill on the country.
The foundation denied sponsoring the House of Representatives to introduce and pass the Quarantine Act (Repeal and Enactment) Bill 2020 otherwise known as NCDC Bill.
“To be clear, the foundation has not offered any financial incentives to any member of Nigeria’s legislative branch for the passage of legislation nor has it offered any grants to organisations in Nigeria in connection with the same.”
He also, on January 12 this year, shared a 2019 post by Robert O. Young, a US naturopathic practitioner, who surfaced online in Africa with a claim that Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, was planning to depopulate Africa.
Young had, in a 2019 video, suggested that vaccination was a means to depopulate Africa.
Young had said in the clip, “For the purpose of sterilisation and population control, there’s too many people on the planet we need to get rid of. In the words of Bill Gates, at least three billion people need to die.”
The ICIR conducted a fact-check on the viral video on the 28th of January, 2021, and found that Young’s 2019 claim, shared by Fani-Kayode to his more than 900,000 followers on Twitter, was FALSE, as at no time did Bill Gates make the claim about depopulating Africa.
According to his Wikipedia profile, David Icke is a former footballer and sports broadcaster.
David Vaughan Icke is a controversial 68-year-old British conspiracy theorist that has been active for over two decades.
Amongst his numerous claims was disputing the explanation provided by the US government regarding the cause of the 9/11 attacks.
After the outbreak of coronavirus, Icke began to make controversial and unproven claims about the virus on several internet platforms.
Icke had, in a May 6, 2020, posted on his website that COVID-19 was a scam.
He had also linked Bill Gates and his wife Melinda, his foundation and Anthony Fauci, an American physician-scientist and immunologist who serves as the director of the United States National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, with COVID-19 outbreak.
He had in April 2020 claimed in a YouTube video (now deleted) on the London Real channel that there was a link between the coronavirus pandemic and 5G mobile phone network.
The ICIR, in April 2020 fact check, found no link between coronavirus and the fifth-generation technology network.
Icke had also on May 9, 2020, shared on his Twitter handle a link to a 28-minute video titled “Bill Gates’ plan to vaccinate the world.” He uploaded on The Corbett Report Youtube page talks about Bill Gates’ vaccination plan, coronavirus vaccine, and his 2019 10 billion dollars vaccination donation pledge.
He also used his YouTube channel to publish most of his claims, which have now been deleted from the video-sharing platform.
The channel had more than 900,000 subscribers at the time it was removed.
The Google-owned video clip service said it acted after repeatedly warning Icke that he had violated its policies by posting misleading information about the coronavirus pandemic.
Twitter, in November 2020, also indefinitely suspended his account, in what the social media platform said was a sanction for violating its rules regarding coronavirus misinformation.
Facebook has also kicked him off their platform for publishing ‘health misinformation that could cause physical harm.’