Nigeria's Bayelsa state defends anti-rumour campaign

A billboard campaigning against rumour mongering in Yenagoa in Nigeria's southern Bayelsa state, 10 April 2013 The rumour billboards began going up earlier in April

Nigeria's oil-rich Bayelsa state has defended its decision to put up a series of advertising hoardings, urging people to "Say no to rumour mongers".

"People take delight in peddling rumours - false information," spokesman Daniel Iworiso-Markson told the BBC.

The campaign was promoted after reports that the governor's administration had been deposed caused "pandemonium".

Three hotline numbers are given for people to call if they have doubts about information they have heard.

The adverts urge people: "Do everything within your power NOT to pass on any information that is not confirmed or authorised by a credible and reliable source."

Start Quote

A billboard campaigning against rumour mongering in Yenagoa in Nigeria's southern Bayelsa state, 10 April 2013

Everybody can be affected or at the receiving end of a terrible rumour... even to the extent of breaking up marriage”

End Quote Daniel Iworiso-Markson Bayelsa state spokesman
'Enlighten people'

Mr Iworiso-Markson denied that the campaign would affect the right to free speech.

He said the scare in early March happened while state government officials were away in the capital, Abuja.

Information began spreading that the Supreme Court had "sacked" the state government and the government house in Yenagoa "had been taken over by military men".

"I just dismissed it but back home it was so intense, it was so real, to the point that it was almost causing some kind of pandemonium and chaos and we felt this was one rumour taken too far," Mr Iworiso-Markson said.

A committee, made up of journalists and PR managers, was set up to take on the rumour mill and and "educate and enlighten people", he said.

To illustrate their destructive nature, committee member and journalist Tarinyo Akono, said rumours were capable of breaking up marriages, AFP new agency reports.

Mr Iworiso-Markson said marriage breakdown was not covered in the committee's terms of reference.

"But the point is that everybody can be affected or at the receiving end of a terrible rumour... it can affect the individual even to the extent of breaking up marriages," he said.

Despite reports that the hotlines were not being answered, the spokesman for the oil-rich southern state - home to President Goodluck Jonathan - said calls had been received, even from "far-flung rural areas".

John Idumange, the committee secretary, told the BBC that the queries had so far covered "a huge range of issues" from whether a particular levy was legitimate to finding out if repentant militants had been granted an amnesty.

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