On 25th February, after millions of young voters cast their votes at their various polling units, they sat in front of their screens to monitor the ongoing polls across the country. Passive participants stumble across Twitter posts made by online influencers about the irregularities at some voting centres. And in a bid to ensure result sheets aren’t manipulated during collation either by election officials or party agents, a consensus was reached that voters should snap result sheets and upload same on the microblogging platform for millions of Nigerian users to see and crosscheck with the ones uploaded by the electoral body on its Result Viewing portal (IReV).
Not long after and to pressurise the Independent National Electoral Commission to upload results on its portal as promised, Nigerians trended hashtag #Uploadtheresults on Twitter, and it garnered over 26,000 tweets.
Afterwards, users flooded the space with result sheets supposedly from polling units. But some of the purported result sheets posted on Twitter and other social platforms did not tally with the results uploaded on the INEC portal.
As such, millions of social media users in the country accused the electoral body of manipulation in the already fraught elections. The development further decimated young people’s trust in the electoral body.
“What is rather my concern is whether my vote really counts as a Nigerian”, a first-time voter, Adekola told FactCheckElections. He noted that “I saw several videos of the counts from the North”, and his preferred candidate “won the presidential elections.”
Young people made up the highest number of eligible voters among the over 93 million Nigerians who registered.
But the seeming misinformation contributed to Africa’s largest democracy’s new record of abysmal turnout since 1999, according to observers.
The team leader of this non-partisan fact-checking organization, Habeeb Adisa, disclosed that not less than 20 questionable pieces of information were fact-checked during the post-election era.
The Nigerian Fact-checkers’ Coalitions (NFC) noted that misinformation soars in the aftermath of the general election.
Post-Election: How It Started
The role of social media networks cannot be downplayed in the just-concluded Nigeria’s elections.
In the first month of 2022, the number of social media users in the country surpasses the total votes cast in the 2023 polls.
Nigerians who are active on social media are 32.9 million, according to Statista. On the other hand, PREMIUM TIMES’ analysis shows that the 2023 general election recorded total votes cast of 25.3 million.
These numbers accurately justify why candidates for the elections were unrelentlessly and consistently engaging their followers on social networks, especially on Twitter, where 80% of followers of major contenders are robots.
A report by Dubawa detailed how campaign spokespersons spread fake news to promote presidential candidates.
The champions of misinformation include; Femi Fani-Kayode, Nigeria’s former aviation minister and the Director, New Media of the All Progressive Congress (APC) Presidential Campaign Council.
According to the report, on February 11, the spokesperson of the ruling party candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu shared a disturbing false narrative suggesting Nigeria was about to experience another coup de tat.
For context, Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999 after years of bloody and forceful military takeovers of government.
The former minister had claimed, via his verified Twitter page with over one million followers, that Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), had a secret meeting with army generals ahead of the general elections.
But after the Department of State Service (DSS) picked up the spokesperson trying to dishonour a rival candidate, Fani-Kayode retracted his statements and expressed regrets over his comment on plotted military undemanded interference in government.
Another champion of misinformation is Dino Melaye, PDP’s campaign spokesperson.
In November 2022, Melaye dug up a dead matter to disparage Kashim Shettima, a running mate of Tinubu, even after the rumour of Shettima dining with local terrorists called bandits has been put to rest by an investigation into a picture of him (Shettima) eating together with some men.
“Shettima is a commander of bandits”, Melaye tweeted the false narrative, less than a month the photo from 2017 resurfaced online and was declared unverifiable for lack of proof.
Also, some days before the polls, Festus Keyamo, APC mouthpiece would tell 1M of his followers on Twitter that “Peter Obi bribes CAN pastors with ₦2 billion”. Obi, a third-force, a youth-propelled candidate is a rival of Tinubu in the race for the presidency.
But when the news started making the rounds, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) distanced itself from the purported ₦2 billion allegedly given by Mr Obi to churches under its umbrella. The website that published the news article later deleted it.
Some supporters of the Labour Party flag bearer also fit into the frame of the champions of misinformation. Largely domiciled on Twitter, Obi’s supporters spread misinformation with a purported press release by the INEC, saying the electoral umpire was investigating drug allegations against Tinubu.
After pro-Obi online influencers on Twitter and Facebook virally shared the press release with millions of social media users, INEC would deny the said probe.
Meanwhile, a pro-democracy think tank, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) has revealed in a 10-page report that politicians pay some online influencers to deliberately share misleading information.
A BBC investigation also unearthed how Nigerian politicians pay millions to influencers to spread disinformation.
Influencers Make Misinformation Go Viral
Followers of online influencers summed up to thousands and millions. And when they make a post, it gets retweeted or shared by hundreds of social media users whose bias aligns with such a piece of information.
Hence, these online influencers significantly contribute to how viral content goes on social platforms.
But unfortunately, some of the content posted by these influencers are misleading.
For instance, over six thousand people will be exposed to a thread made by David Hundeyin where he misleadingly claimed his anointed candidate won Nigeria’s 2023 election nationwide.
Similarly, Rinu Oduala, an activist and supporter of the candidacy of the LP’s presidential candidate, Obi tweeted that there is massive rigging on the INEC server.
FactCheckElections investigated the claim and discovered that it was false. Later, the social media user deleted the post, which her over 6,000 followers mostly likely have reacted to.
Also, at a time when all Nigerians and the global community thought Aishatu Binani would break a new record for the first female governor-elect in Adamawa State, news of her emerging winner of the election has gone viral.
On March 19th, an Instagram user with over 170 thousand followers, among numerous sources, declared Binani as the ‘First female governor-elect in the history of Nigeria’.
How Media Misled During Polls
FactCheckElections acknowledges the role of traditional media in the concluded elections.
But some newspapers unknowingly spread misleading content during the polls.
For instance, without providing any evidence, Sahara Reporters newspaper claimed that the Nigerian Police Force arrested a teenager who was paid N5000 to ‘deliver live ammunition to Jada, the hometown of the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar.
FactCheckElections investigated the claim and confirmed that no evidence a teen was arrested to deliver live ammunition to PDP’s presidential candidate’s hometown.
Also, an online newspaper, Policyinsider.Africa published a report that Atiku of the PDP was currently leading in 25 states, saying he cleared six states in the south-south region and nineteen in the northern states.
FactCheckElections found that the electoral body was yet to start announcing the result at the time. Besides, the outcome of the elections shows that the report is misleading.
We also clarified a video clip posted on the DailyTrust newspaper Twitter handle, claiming Kano residents were ‘protecting’ their votes by following INEC officials taking ballot boxes to their offices.
Findings showed that the Tiktok video was unrelated to the gubernatorial elections.
Our research revealed that the Tiktok video posted on March 19 by the newspaper and some Twitter users had earlier been posted on Feb. 24th.
Experts Give Caveats
Editor for Dubawa, Kemi Busari conceded to the point that misinformation can influence voter behaviour, adding that “Information disorder generally affects the credibility of an election”.
Earlier in January, the National Peace Committee (NPC) led by former Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar said fake news can jeopardise peaceful election conducts.
“I appeal to you all to be moderate in your language, show respect to the views and concerns of one another and listen to the concerns expressed,” he said.