A Nigerian President was about to lose an election. All indicators were pointing to a crushing defeat. He had become unpopular with the people and an opposition candidate was doing unexpectedly well in the polls. It was time to stop him. So the President’s ally hired a company to launch an information warfare against the opposition candidate.
This was in late 2014 and early 2015 when President Goodluck Jonathan who would be defeated by Mr. Muhammadu Buhari was sensing defeat.
The secret has been blown open following revelations that a Facebook breach to influence the 2016 presidential election in the United States might have also affected Africa’s most populous nation a year earlier.
Shocking details have emerged on how data analytics company, SCL – the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, was hired by a rich Nigerian to keep President Goodluck Jonathan in power and defeat now President Muhammadu Buhari.
The aim was to launch an information warfare against Mr. Buhari, his All Progressives Congress party, his supporters, allies, propagandists and online influencers.
“It was the kind of campaign that was our bread and butter,” one ex-employee was quoted as saying, according to the Observer. “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.”
The detailed report in The Guardian of London described the attempt to sway the Presidential election in Nigeria as “a standard variation on what SCL had done around the world for 30 years – this time, with a twist. Weaponising information to harm an opponent was standard methodology”.
The Guardian said “it was a methodology honed and developed in the company’s defence and military work – the fifth dimension of warfare, defined by the US military as “information operations”.
“What was new, or at least new to those employees who have now spoken out, was bringing these techniques to the company’s election work”.
According to the report, at least seven individuals with close knowledge of the Nigeria campaign, described how Cambridge Analytica worked with people they believed were Israeli computer hackers.
“The sources – who spoke to the Observer over many months – said the company was looking for “kompromat” on Muhammadu Buhari – at the time, leader of the opposition”.
They said the hackers offered Cambridge Analytica access to private information about Buhari, and probably many other people around him.
According to the Guardian, “their testimony paints an extraordinary picture of how far a western company would contemplate going in an effort to undermine the democratic process in a country that already struggles to provide free and fair elections”.
However, their claims are disputed by the company, which insists it did not take possession of or use any personal information for any purpose and did not use any “hacked or stolen data”.
“The company confirmed, however, that it had been hired to provide “advertising and marketing services in support of the Goodluck Jonathan campaign”, the Guardian said.
“That work seems to have come about through Brittany Kaiser, a senior director at Cambridge Analytica, who would go on to play a public role at the launch of Nigel Farage’s Leave.eu campaign, and a senior strategist on the Trump campaign”, the newspaper reported.
The newspaper said in December 2014 she was introduced to a Nigerian oil billionaire who wanted to fund a covert campaign to support Jonathan. The billionaire wanted total discretion.
An ex-employee said: “[Kaiser] got a phone call. It was just before Christmas and she flew out to meet them in Washington DC. It was all a bit ridiculous. It was only six to eight weeks before the election and they were looking to spend nearly $2m.”
According to the Guardian, “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.
“Not least because his team had hired AKPD, once the firm of former Barack Obama strategist David Axelrod, which was pushing a slick, social media heavy Obama-esque message of hope.
“There were a lot of scared millionaires worried that Buhari would get in. It was all very last-minute. A team flew out to Abuja and put together a communications campaign. It was a straightforward, normal comms campaign in most respects,” the employee said.