The federal government 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 informed Sate House correspondents at the weekend that 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 laws of this country or infringed on the rights of other parties and their candidates.
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.
Contacted over 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.
But in a swift reaction, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its federal government are chasing shadows.
PDP likened the planned probe to a desperate plot to implicate the opposition.
The party said while it welcomes an open investigation into the Cambridge Analytica saga, it demands that such inquest be extended to cover the sources of the looted funds used to prosecute President Buhari’s campaign in 2015.
PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said the APC is 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 were ever linked or indicted in any way, in the said saga.
According to a statement signed by Olagbondiyan, PDP said, “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.”
The statement continued, “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 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.”