- By Chiagozie Nwonwu, Fauziyya Tukur and Yemisi Oyedepo
- BBC Global Disinformation Team
A BBC investigation finds that Nigerian political parties are secretly paying social media influencers to spread false information about opponents the day before the Di Kontri general election in February.
The BBC’s global disinformation team talks to whistleblowers who work for two of Nigeria’s political parties, and prominent influencers they describe as “industry”.
Whistleblowers say parties give out cash, gifts, government contracts and even political appointments for day-to-day work.
We change day names to protect the identity of day. “Yemi” is a prominent strategist and “Godiya” is a politician.
“We don’t pay an influencer up to 20 million naira ($45,000) to deliver results. We also give gifts to pipo. Oda pipo prefers to hear: ‘What do you want to do for the government, be a board member, be a special assistant? ‘”, Godiya say.
Situation rooms in a common can as the election approaches. Dat na wia political parties strategize, develop plans and monitor the success of the campaign.
But for these rooms that whistleblowers describe, we get an anodic function: tracking how the fake stories we assign to influencers perform.
Strategist Yemi says that they develop false stories to improve the chances of candidates to date: “You fit in deliberately misinformed as sweet.”
The BBC talks to multiple influencers who say paying for fake political posts is common.
An influencer we ask not to call out by name, with almost 150,000 Facebook followers, tells us that political parties pay me to post completely false stories about political opponents.
I say I’m not koro koro, but I’m going to plant coded fake stories through smaller influencers of ode, I’m going to hire.
On the other hand, Rabi’u Biyora is one of the main wey dem sabi influencers for supporting the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party.
Tell us that an opposition party is trying to “woo” me to stop promoting the APC candidate and instead support him.
Posts for im Facebook timeline confam wetin im tok. I say that I do not collect gifts or anything like that.
But we discovered a Facebook post from 2019 in which I say that I receive a car and money from a party in exchange for my support on social media.
We ask this question, but I stop to answer us.
With around 80 million Nigerians online, social media plays an important role in national debates on politics.
Our research reveals that they use different tactics to reach more people on Twitter.
Many play on divisive issues such as religious, ethnic and regional differences.
By July, the posts of associate Kashim Shettima, APC vice-presidential candidate, were widely shared by influencers with members of the militant Islamist group Boko Haram.
This story gains momentum on Twitter and is shared thousands of times, thus reaching WhatsApp and ODA platforms.
Using reverse image search, we discovered that pipo wey bin dey inside di photo with Shettima na Fulani nomad parents wey dia pikin register for schools for 2017, not members of Boko Haram.
A month later, influencers are promoting a claim without evidence that Labor Party presidential candidate Peter Obi is linked to and following the orders of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (Ipob), a separatist movement Nigeria outlaws as a terror group. I am part of deny dis.
Pipo shared this information that includes Reno Omokri, special assistant to former opposition chairman Goodluck Jonathan, and we got more than two million followers on Twitter.
When approached for comment, Reno Omokri says I’m awaiting impeachment, but says the main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), doesn’t pay me to campaign on their behalf.
Meanwhile, fake tori say PDP presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar got sick and dem rush am out of di kontri bin get many share for Twitter.
Godiya, di politian wey we interviewed, says political parties tell influencers to stir up as much excitement as dem fit with paid posts.
“We use photos that don’t fit or even relevant to di tori and try to sell them. We take photos of East African war zones from the 1990s and attach them to tweet about pipo from my ethnic group getting killed. When pipo it becomes emotional dem go retweet, dem go like, ye go get power,” he said.
According to whistleblowers, they sometimes give hired influencers framing their own words. Sometimes they are given actual tweets and are supposed to post them at specific times.
Dem say they pay influencers based on the number of followers they get.
Dem also says that the payment is mostly made in cash to avoid testing.
It is not illegal for political parties to hire social media influencers for Nigeria, but spreading disinformation on social media is against di kontri laws and Twitter policy.
The BBC does not question Nigeria’s main political parties, APC, PDP and Labor Party, about the whistleblowers’ allegations. Dem no response to our request for comment.
In response to our findings, Twitter did not remove some of the accounts where we reported the lawsuit and said we have a responsibility to protect election conversations from interference, manipulation, and misinformation.
However, we are concerned about the platform’s ability to tackle disinformation for Africa after Elon Musk takes over the company, when I am near the mainland headquarters of Ghana.
The BBC contacted Twitter again after the changes, but received no response.
Idayat Hassan, director of the Center for Democracy and Development, says that the activities of these influencers amount to “political interference”.
“They undermine democracy, they undermine confidence in the electoral system and they instigate conflict,” he says.
But the politician Godiya sees me differently and defends his tactic: “No game. Someone can win, and God help me, I’m not on the losing side.”