Thanks to the UK Observer and Guardian newspapers, we now know that just before the 2015 general elections, an unnamed Nigerian billionaire hired a foreign data company called Cambridge Analytica for £2m to influence the vote for Goodluck Jonathan.
Cambridge Analytica went on to throw everything into the project aimed at stopping Muhammadu Buhari of the opposition APC from winning the election.
Cambridge Analytica staff were flown to Nigeria, Israeli hackers were hired to break into Buhari’s emails, these hackers were asked to exhume Buhari’s financial and medical records, staff were handed videos put together to scare voters in Buhari’s stronghold of the north, the videos were horrific and painted the picture of a Buhari who was going to enthrone a hardline Islamic republic and rule by Sharia once he became president.
“If Buhari wins”, the film warned, “women would wear the veil. Sharia law would be introduced. And the inference is, you may be macheted to death”.
'Get out of the country'
When staff of Cambridge Analytica in Nigeria got wind of the fact that hackers were on the project and had broken into people’s Facebook and email accounts just to win the election for their candidate, they fled Nigeria for fear that opposition supporters could come for their heads if the story leaked.
According to the Guardian; “Back in Nigeria, the team still on the ground found out what was going on from their colleagues in London. There was more “freaking out”. This time with live, pressing concerns.
“They were fucking scared,” said a colleague who spoke to them while they were in the country. The campaign fixer, the person with local knowledge who navigated them through the ins and outs of Nigerian politics, made it clear to them: they needed to get out of the country right away.
“Cambridge Analytica had put them all in danger, they said. If opposition supporters found out, there was no saying what might happen.
“One member of the team missed his flight and instead of asking the office to re-book it, he got the first flight out – to Dubai – and put it on his credit card. “Everyone just wanted to get out as soon as possible.”
The story of how Cambridge Analytica employed every dirty trick in the book to attempt to sway the Nigerian election for the PDP’s Jonathan, reads like a sci-fi thriller. It was an all-guns blazing operation; one where muck had to be raked aplenty just to get out the vote for Jonathan.
To be fair, everything is considered fair game during an election campaign. Buhari’s APC also hired a foreign firm called AKPD which was asked to frame an Obama-esque campaign message of hope for the opposition.
AKPD was once the firm of former Barack Obama strategist David Axelrod.
So, essentially, we had two foreign firms trying to outwit the other on Nigerian soil just to win an election for their candidates. The APC was backed by the Americans and the PDP was backed by the Israelis, France and the UK.
The Israelis, the Guardian writes, did not want Buhari to win.
Lucrative oil reserves
“The election was a big deal. At stake, the future of the most populous country in Africa, and potential access to its lucrative oil reserves. The sitting president was favourite to win, though Buhari was doing unexpectedly well”, the Guardian article reads.
The Cambridge Analytica meddling in the 2015 election just goes to show that 57 years after the British left us to manage our affairs, that oft-cited colonial mentality remains ingrained in our brains.
57 years after, we still allow foreigners invade the place for a share of the spoils.
One employee of Cambridge Analytica puts it this way: “It was the kind of campaign that was our bread and butter. We’re employed by a billionaire who’s panicking at the idea of a change of government and who wants to spend big to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Christopher Wylie, the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower who spoke to the Observer, called the entire operation “post-colonial blowback”.
“The west found a way of firehosing disinformation into weak and vulnerable democracies. And now this has been turned back on us. This really is about our chickens coming home to roost", Wylie says.
The Cambridge Analytica campaign in Nigeria was a case-study of how to weaponise data and information; and sadly, Nigeria was the guinea pig again. The ‘Oyinbo’ firm deployed the tactic it had perfected in Nigeria to influence the US election and Brexit.
It was a tactic that revolved around scaremongering. The ultimate goal was to choose a candidate who would align with the pecuniary and selfish interests of the West. And just like pre-independence, Nigerians lent themselves and their resources to a slave-master agenda and a hideous operation. Nothing could be more gullible.
The ultimate plan of course was to undermine Nigeria’s fledgling democracy and leave the country worse off.
As we head into another election season in 2019, it is important that we do not allow morally bankrupt firms like Cambridge Analytica to run any campaigns big on fake news, for any candidates. Companies—whether they be local or foreign—have a duty to remain above board in their operations, shun unethical practices and play the game by the rules.
By hacking into Buhari’s emails and emails of millions of Nigerians just to sway the vote of a developing nation, Cambridge Analytica proved itself the very scum of the earth.
We shouldn’t allow it happen here again.