In 2015, two foreign firms attempted to manipulate Nigeria’s presidential election to help then-president Goodluck Jonathan win re-election.
Eight years later, their plots to discredit the candidacy of now President Muhammadu Buhari in favour of Mr Jonathan, would be exposed by The Guardian of London.
The business of election manipulation
In the early days of 2015, Team Jorge, a hacking and disinformation firm led by an Isreali cyber attacker, reached an agreement with a Britain political persuasion consultancy organisation, Cambridge Analytica. The two firms then began a secret mission to hack into Nigeria’s electioneering processes to ensure Mr Jonathan retained the presidential power.
The brain behind Team Jorge, the Guardian revealed, is Tel Hanan, who boasted to have worked covertly on more than 33 “presidential-level” election campaigns on behalf of clients. Mr Hannan’s outfit and Cambridge Analytica would work “separately but in parallel” in Nigeria for the same client and purpose.
The secretive collaboration of the two firms was described by investigators as a clandestine mission “to manipulate Africa’s largest democracy”.
Hacking Nigeria’s electioneering system
The firms swung into action by hacking into Nigeria’s electioneering system, targeting the APC’s strategic moves. A series of emails exchanged between Team Jorge — obtained by investigators — revealed how the election manipulators worked tirelessly to amass electoral fortunes for Mr Jonathan.
The Guardian described their clandestine moves as the “dark arts of politics”.
They first found their way to film some secret meetings of Mr Buhari’s presidential campaign team, using a mole, to gain access to rare information they could use in favour of Mr Jonathan’s ruling party.
The election machinery firms claimed they knew about the postponement of the 2015 elections — by one week — beforehand and admitted that worked in their favour.
Not knowing they were being filmed, the election hackers told Guardian’s undercover reporters posing as potential clients, in slideshows, how they provided election-influencing services in Nigeria.
One such undercover footage, for instance, showed Mr Hanan, the Team Jorge leader, demonstrating how they hacked Gmail and Telegram accounts “to gain intelligence that could be used against a political adversary”.
In another slideshow titled, “Wreaking havoc during African election day”, Mr Hannan displayed how, on election day, the covert team unleashed cyber attacks on leaders in Mr Buhari’s APC to set them off balance.
Lai Muhammad, then APC’s spokesman, was one such target. On election day, his phone suddenly stopped working; he could neither receive nor place a call to anyone.
“We were at the party’s situation room in the morning of the presidential election, only to discover that his phone line had been blocked,” the Guardian quoted a source. “He could neither receive nor make calls, and that was very serious because he was the live wire of the opposition.”
The intruding election manipulators were also reported to have produced a series of YouTube video content, research works and stories to support Jonathan’s campaign.
Despite the foreign firms’ cyber intervention, however, Mr Buhari defeated Mr Jonathan to become Nigeria’s president.
Their secret mission to manipulate Nigeria’s democracy failed.
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