Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Federal Government of Nigeria has set up a committee to investigate whether the work of data firm Cambridge Analytica for then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2007 and 2015 General Elections campaigns broke the laws of the country or infringed on the rights of other parties and their candidates.
It said it is scrutinizing the reports of the data mining firm Cambridge Analytica, which swiped the data of more than 50 million Facebook users to sway elections in many country including Nigeria, where it 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 Muhammadu Buhari during the presidential campaign.
According to those 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 Candidate 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 U K Electoral Commission is also investigating what role Cambridge Analytica 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.
He said “an investigation should help to determine if there is a linkage between the various kilings and maimings that have characterized 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.”