Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye; Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
The Federal Government has set up an in-house committee to investigate whether Cambridge Analytica’s work for the then ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2007 and 2015 general elections campaigns broke the country’s law or infringed on the rights of other parties and their candidates.
It said it was scrutinising the reports of the data mining firm which swiped the data of more than 50 million Facebook users to sway elections in many countries including Nigeria, where it reportedly waged a campaign to perpetuate discord and hack into personal records of the then leading opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari.
A presidency source who pleaded for anonymity, disclosed at the weekend that depending on the outcome, this may lead to the appointment of a special investigator and possibly, criminal prosecutions by the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami.
A whistleblower, Christopher Wylie who worked with a Cambridge University academic to obtain the data, told the Observer, a UK newspaper that: “We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company was built on.”
Among those whose personal data was hacked into in 2015 was the then opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari.
Cambridge Analytica, according to the reports, worked with Israeli hackers who were instructed to get dirt on Buhari during the presidential campaign.
According to reports, SCL Elections, a public relations firm that later became Cambridge Analytica, manipulated Nigeria’s 2007 by organising campaigns to weaken the chances of opposition parties.
As part of its engagement, the company organised “anti-election rallies” to demoralise opposition supporters from voting in the elections, which saw the emergence of Umar Yar’Adua as Nigeria’s president.
The Cambridge Analytica team came up with a video to portray Buhari as a leader who would enforce Sharia law in Nigeria. It was intended to sway the minds of millions of Nigerians and vote for the PDP candidate.
Currently, the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook are the focus of an inquiry into data and politics by the British Information Commissioner’s Office, the United States Special Counsel Robert Mueller and, separately, the UK Electoral Commission is also investigating what role the organisation played in the EU referendum.
When contacted to comment on the issue, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu said that although he had not been briefed on the issue, Nigerians deserved answers immediately from the PDP administration, Facebook and Cambridge Analytica on how and why they improperly obtained and used data to interfere in Nigerian elections.
“An investigation should help to determine if there is a linkage between the various killings and maiming that have characterised our elections since 2007 and the misinformation activities of the Cambridge Analytica (CA) data flows. It will also help President Buhari achieve his wish to leave a legacy of improved elections,” he stated.
But the PDP, yesterday, urged the government to extend the probe to the sources of the funds used for the 2015 presidential campaign of President Buhari.
The PDP said although it welcomed an open investigation into the Cambridge Analytical hacking saga, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Federal Government are chasing shadows in their desperate plot to implicate the opposition in the alleged hacking into the personal record of Buhari, prior to the 2015 polls.
In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, the opposition party stated that the government and ruling party were merely seeking to divert attention from its many scandals through the planned Cambridge Analytical probe.
The PDP noted that it was public knowledge that neither it nor any of its officials or members were ever linked or indicted in the hacking saga.
“It is also public knowledge that the document being relied upon by the APC clinically stated that, ‘there is no suggestion that Jonathan knew of the covert operation.’
“We are therefore aware that this new agenda is to divert public attention from the various scandalous allegations hanging on the neck of the Buhari Presidency, including the use of looted funds to finance his 2015 presidential election, the Martin Luther King award saga, the damaging Bill Gates verdict on the Buhari’s economic policies as well as the numerous financial scandals in the NNPC under his watch.
“This inquest should, therefore, be completely open and independent of government control, so that Nigerians will know the truth, not only on the Cambridge Analytica saga, but also on the source of funds for the president’s 2015 campaign and other sleazes under his watch,” the party said.