Nigerian social media space was flooded Sunday, May 2, with a video supposedly showing the mass conversion of people to Islam in the north-central state of Niger by terrorists. But this narrative is false.
The one-minute-long clip features a crowd of hundreds of people gathered in an open space. A few women at the centre point their right index fingers towards the sky. At least one of them, echoing the words of a man whose face is not shown, tearfully recites the Muslim profession of faith known as the shahada.
Femi-Fani Kayode, a former Nigerian aviation minister shared the video on his verified Twitter account at 11:32 a.m. WAT on Sunday.
“Boko Haram and ISWAP [Islamic State in West Africa Province] forcefully converting people to Islam in the parts of Niger State that they have captured, conquered, occupied and flown their flag,” he declared in the caption. “This is happening just two hours from Abuja! I warned you!”
He would add about seven hours later he was not sure if the video was filmed in Nigeria, but insisted it was still “evidence of the sheer cruelty of the Islamist terror groups and the individuals they are forcefully converting.”
The video he shared was watched over 82,500 times and shared about 2,000 times as of Monday morning.
Many other Twitter users, including prominent activist Deji Adeyanju, uploaded the video with similar descriptions and it equally went viral on social networking platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp.
The earliest appearance on the local internet, based on search results, was in this tweet by IKEM (@IkemIgbo1) who shared the video at 1:24 a.m. WAT on Sunday.
“Breaking: The communities that were occupied in Niger state since last week, the people were forced to convert to Islam by Boko Haram, Mind you some people here are not indigenous to this very place. Very disgusting. #YorubaNation now,” he wrote, before tagging the accounts of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and separatist leader Nnamdi Kanu.
Debunked by state governor
Abubakar Bello, Governor of Niger State, reacted quickly to the claim by describing it as “fake” and “totally misleading and the work of those who wish to see the country up in flames.”
“As citizens, we should rather use our vantage position to complement the peace efforts of the government than spread fake news, cause disunity, raise unnecessary alarm capable of causing disaffection among the peace-loving people of Niger State and Nigeria at large,” he tweeted on Sunday afternoon.
Some of the first red flags suggesting the claims may have been false include the presence of a wooden stage and rope barriers, suggesting the event was well-planned, and the absence of arms.
But, what is the video’s origin?
HumAngle traced the video to a town in northern Côte d’Ivoire, a French-speaking country in West Africa also known as Ivory Coast. According to estimates, 42.9 per cent of its population are Muslims, 33.9 per cent are Christians, and a significant number are followers of traditional religions.
Brahima has uploaded a total of 31 videos as of May 3, most of which were filmed in the same open-air environment and are related to the same activity. Many of the videos show locals calmly recording the proceedings on their phones and some with smiles on their faces.
While HumAngle could not message Brahima for details because he only received texts from accounts he followed, a look through the comment sections of his uploads is revealing.
In several places, he replied to questions in French saying the events took place in a place called Kolia, a town in the Bagoué Region of northern Côte d’Ivoire.
“Veins seulement à kolia tu n’a même pas besoin de parler avec elle tu seras gueri (just come to Kolia; you don’t even need to talk to her; you will be cured),” he wrote in one comment, suggesting that the gathering was convened by a female “miracle worker.”
He commented under another post: “Elle soigner les maladie et d’autre problème viens prend ta bénédiction et inchallah dieu du va donner (she heals sickness and other problems; come take your blessing and inshallah, God will give).”
In one of the uploads, we can see a local woman run to the wooden platform to touch the cleric who has a long tasbih (Islamic rosary) wrapped around her left hand. In other videos, several women are seen rolling, sitting on the ground, or standing with their index fingers raised as they cried mournfully. Young and middle-aged men wearing t-shirts and identification cards hung around their necks could be seen trying to maintain order.
The video that went viral in Nigeria was originally uploaded on Wednesday, April 28. It is the only one where people could be heard reciting the shahada, an expression said often by Muslims and seen as a gateway into the religion for converts.
Not the first time
The reason many people claimed the video showed terrorists in Niger, north-central Nigeria, is that Boko Haram insurgents had reportedly seized control of Kaure, a community in the state, leading to the displacement of thousands of people in the past month.
“Sambisa is several kilometres from Abuja but Kaure is less than two hours drive from Abuja. So nobody is safe anymore, not even those in Abuja,” Governor of Niger State lamented on Monday, April 26.
After the news broke, a video of young men rapidly firing automatic rifles into the air was circulated with Nigerian internet users claiming and fearing that they were terrorists in Niger State. Checks by HumAngle, however, showed that the video originated from Algeria, North Africa.
HumAngle has in the past also fact-checked other videos claimed to show terrorist activities in Nigeria but which, in fact, were filmed in countries such as Guatemala and the Niger Republic in sometimes unrelated circumstances.