The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

Even a wildly successful Nigerian fintech giant like OPay is not immune to disinformation.

In the age of digital disinformation, Nigeria’s fintech giant, OPay, found itself compelled to issue a clarifying statement on October 2. At the heart of the matter: allegations of misconduct by its agents, fervently circulated across social media platforms.

The maelstrom began when social media aficionados unearthed and shared a video from August 23, 2021. Captured within its frames, protestors — masked in line with COVID-19 protocols — were seen laying siege to OPay’s Lagos office. Their rallying cry: grievances over purported unauthorized withdrawals.

Quick to counter the claims, the fintech powerhouse sought to allay concerns, underlining the video’s lack of currency. Yet, public sentiment was varied. Some clients voiced intentions to momentarily suspend their engagements with OPay, while others, venturing onto the company’s digital page, spotlighted issues with transactions.

This episode underscores a larger concern: the pervasive threat of disinformation and its potential to fracture a brand’s rapport with its consumer base, hindering overall business trajectory.

A 2022 World Economic Forum report flagged disinformation as a foremost global peril. A separate study, conducted in 2019 by cybersecurity firm CHEQ in collaboration with the University of Baltimore, posits that the disinformation phenomenon drains the global economy of a staggering $78 billion annually. This figure is punctuated by losses stemming from health-related falsehoods ($9 billion), financial inaccuracies ($17 billion), reputational safeguards ($9 billion), platform security measures ($3 billion), and the diminution of branding owing to proximity with fabricated content ($235 million).

Marketplace myths in the fintech landscape

Boasting a robust user base of 40 million and a formidable network of half a million agents, OPay’s presence in Nigeria is significant. Yet, competition is fierce, with over 200 fintech contenders vying for supremacy alongside this five-year-old behemoth.

Nigeria’s fluid economic canvas necessitates ingenuity from businesses to retain and grow their clientele. However, the omnipresence of disinformation threatens not only their reputations but also their bottom line. This impending cloud looms large for Nigeria’s business community, especially as those within the sphere underscore the challenges ahead.

Patrick Okigbo, Founding Partner of Nextier, elucidates that nearly 91% of Nigeria’s business ecosystem comprises micro to medium-scale enterprises. These entities, often local, are susceptible to the spread of spurious claims, sometimes initiated by local competitors, as Okigbo highlights.

Recent events lend credence to this. Even before OPay’s efforts to reinforce its commitment to user data protection, Dangote Group — under the leadership of magnate Aliko Dangote — found itself refuting claims about plummeting cement prices. This narrative gained traction even as BUA Cement, a rival, slashed its pricing.

Such instances underscore the fluidity of perception, as online discussions soon swiveled towards calls for Dangote cement to follow suit, with several netizens swayed by the allure of a competitor’s lower pricing.

In many such instances, those peddling falsehoods remain unscathed. However, a distinct case arose when Chioma Egodi penned a review of Nagiko Tomato Paste, a product by Erisco Food, in September. Accused of propagating misleading content, Egodi faced not just arrest but also a staggering lawsuit. Erisco’s CEO, Eric Umeofia, articulated the cascading ramifications of such misinformation, highlighting how a once-secured $30 billion credit line from China was now in jeopardy.

While political disinformation often seizes the limelight, the trendlines are clear: Nigeria’s commercial landscape is equally vulnerable, and without strategic intervention, enterprises might find themselves in an intensifying maelstrom of misinformation in the years ahead.

Quadri Yahya is a volunteer fact-checker and young journalist. His interests include media (data and solutions journalism, fact-checking, OSINT, social media), language, and literature; AI and cybersecurity. He is pursuing a major in linguistics at the University of Abuja, Nigeria.