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Government probes role of Cambridge Analytica in Nigeria’s elections

By Azimazi Momoh Jimoh (Abuja) and Akin Alofetekun (Minna)
02 April 2018   |   4:30 am
The Federal Government has set up an in-house committee to investigate the activities of the data-mining firm, Cambridge Analytica, during the nation’s general elections in 2007 and 2015.

• APC is chasing shadow, says PDP • Wants sources of funds for Buhari’s campaign probed
• Alleges anti-opposition moves ahead of 2019 • Babangida restates call for new generation president

The Federal Government has set up an in-house committee to investigate the activities of the data-mining firm, Cambridge Analytica, during the nation’s general elections in 2007 and 2015.

According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports, the committee is to find out whether Cambridge Analytica’s work for the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2007 and 2015 elections campaigns broke the laws of Nigeria or infringed on the rights of other parties and their candidates.

The Cambridge Analytica was alleged to have swiped the data of more than 50 million Facebook users to sway elections in many countries, including Nigeria, where it waged a campaign to perpetrate discord and hacked into personal records of the then leading opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari.

A presidency source, who confirmed this development to State House correspondents in Abuja yesterday, added that depending on the outcome (of the committee report), 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: “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.”Cambridge Analytica, according to the reports, worked with Israeli hackers who were instructed to get dirt on Buhari during the presidential campaign.

According to those reports, SCL Elections, a public relations firm that later became Cambridge Analytica, manipulated Nigeria’s 2007 elections 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 and the United States Special Counsel Robert Mueller.“Separately, the UK Electoral Commission is also investigating what role Cambridge Analytica played in the EU referendum,’’ the source further revealed.When contacted, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, said he had not been briefed on the issue.

He, however, said 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 Nigeria’s elections.

Shehu said an investigation should help to determine if there was a linkage between the various killings and maiming that had characterised previous elections since 2007 and the misinformation activities of the Cambridge Analytica (CA) data flows.

In its reaction, the PDP said APC and its Federal Government were chasing shadows in their desperate plot to implicate the opposition in the alleged hacking into the personal record of Buhari.PDP said that while it welcomed an open investigation into the Cambridge Analytica saga, such a probe should be extended to cover the sources of the alleged looted funds used to prosecute Buhari’s campaign in 2015.

The National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement, yesterday, said the APC was merely seeking to divert public attention from its manifold failures and scandals, as it is already public knowledge that neither the PDP nor any of its officials or members was ever linked or indicted in any way, in the said 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 Kings award saga, the damaging Bill Gates verdict on the Buhari’s economic policies as well as the alleged numerous financial scandals in the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) under his watch.”

The PDP said the probe should, therefore, be completely open and independent of government control so that Nigerians would know the truth, not only on the Cambridge Analytica saga, but on the source of funds for the president’s 2015 campaign and other sleazes on his watch.The opposition party alleged that certain agents of the Federal Government and the APC were plotting to clamp down on key members of the opposition parties ahead of the 2019 general elections.

Part of the plot, according to the party, is to arrest members of the civil society, opinion leaders, media and professional groups who refused to buy into what the PDP called “the fabrications, lies, deceptions and propaganda of the APC and the Federal Government.”In another statement, Ologbondiyan said that the PDP had been reliably informed that the plot against the opposition would be hinged on trumped up charges of corruption, allegations of plotting to disrupt the processes leading to the 2019 general elections as well as alleged politicisation of security issues in the country.

According to the PDP, the first leg of this scheme is to commence a vicious intimidation and harassment of PDP members who have refused to succumb to pressure to join the APC.Meanwhile, former Military President, Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babaginda, has restated that the old generation has overstayed its welcome in the corridors of power and should pave the way for the younger ones to steer the ship of the state.

The former leader made the observation when a new political movement, the New Nigeria led by its leader, Moses Siloko Siasia visited him at his residence in Minna, Niger State yesterday.

Babangida said he and other like-minds proposed as far back as 1989 the possibility of handing over the country’s leadership to younger people who have the passion and zeal to propel it on the path of development and growth but the older generation was recalcitrant then.According to him, history has shown that a nation’s development fulcrum progresses better in the hands of younger generation, which he said, was more adventurous and full of fresh ideas.

Citing a former military head of state, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, Babangida said at 31, Gowon did well in keeping the country together and developing its infrastructure some of which are visible up till today, adding that “some of us assumed leadership at a very young age.”

“The older generation must give way for the new one. We have become analogue but this is a digital age; so the young people should be supported to use their digital knowledge to move the country forward,” he advised.The former president said he was fascinated when the Not Too Young To Rule Bill was presented on the floor of the House of Representatives and had followed the ensuing debate since then. “Some of us believe in that aspiration and would support its realisation,” he added.