Poetry takes on center stage to dispel mis- and dis-information on COVID-19

“Misinformation is a dangerous weapon;
for it takes one man to hit the trigger but a lot more are sure to hear the sound of the gun,
whether as pictures, as voice notes or in writing. Excitement or fear refusing us to let rationality’s light in, we share.
Believing we are doing the right thing. Forgetting…
a half truth is worse than a lie.”

26 year old, John Chiamama’s voice carries through with rhythm and rhyme. He is a poet, a writer, a DJ and a future producer, and he has a social mission to inspire the youth of Nigeria and combat social ills. John, popularly known by his stage name, Mindsmith, is also a practicing psychologist. In May 2020, he collaborated with media creator and video editor Godswill Ezeonyeka, to participate in a UNESCO Abuja-led Call for Jingles competition aimed to empower young women and men in Nigeria to control the flow of COVID-19 related mis- and dis-information.

John Chiamama & Godswill Ezeonyeka

In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, UNESCO Abuja conducted a survey to examine the social pulse and evaluate the impact of infodemic on communities across Nigeria. Over 65% of the respondents encountered mis- and dis-information spread through social media. Many expressed confusion on information sourcing, fact checking as well as the understanding of their role in the efforts to stop the spread of misinformation about COVID-19.

Fusing poetry with inspiring imagery and healing music in what Mindsmith calls “TheraPoetry” or therapy through poetry, the two artists crafted a jingle full of empowering messages countering misinformation, all against a backdrop of fleeting images of popular social media platforms. Mindsmith’s deep vocals weaves it all together to inspire young people to take charge.

I have seen that some elders in my family tend to accept and share whatever they received from social media platforms without any judgment. Because we keep abreast on new technologies. We, young people, compared with the older generations, should take more responsibility in guiding the media landscape and discourse into literacy...I used to get hundreds of shared (unverified) information about COVID-19 from my WhatsApp groups. The minute I urged my friends to stop and check before they share, I stopped getting any messages. That’s how bad it was.
Godswill Ezeonyeka

After spending time with young groups in their communities, looking for tools and creative messages to empower young people to take charge, the duo built their concept on the pillars of empowerment and shared responsibility. Their jingle, which came in the top three during the competition, picks on the thread that starts with an individual action, which spreads to the family and ripples out to create positive change in the whole community.

“Don’t share it, just because you hear it.

Don’t share it, just because you fear it.

Don't share it, if you can’t swear it.”

UNESCO launched the campaign as part of the Media and Information Literacy Programme as a prerequisite for citizens to recognize their rights to freedom of information and expression for informed decisions. Through the programme, UNESCO supports a deeper understanding of the functions of media, and helps empower citizens to critically evaluate media content and to make informed decisions, whether as consumers of information, or as creators and producers of media content.

The Call for Jingles Campaign winners were announced during a webinar held on Tuesday, 30 June 2020, under the theme, “Youth Power in Combatting Mis- and Dis-Information on COVID-19 and beyond”. Over 350 participants were in attendance, with Honorable Ministers of Youth in Nigeria and Sierra Leone as special guests at the event.

The Competition and the webinar that followed, both were a wake-up call to how capable the voices of youth are. It doesn’t take much to speak against mis-information, and to be the solution to dis-information. But it does save a whole lot when we chose to. I’m grateful to be part of the growing majority of African media professionals willing to change the narrative.

And the tip of his guitar was peeking tall behind him, a promise of more creative initiatives to come.