A rich supporter of former President Goodluck Jonathan reportedly hired SCL, a data analytics company, to paint President Muhammadu Buhari bad in the buildup to the 2015 elections.
SCL is the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, which is currently enmeshed in a scandal in the US.
Cambridge Analytica was accused of improperly using data on behalf of political clients. Reports say the company may have used data improperly obtained from roughly 50 million Facebook users to try to sway elections.
According to UK Guardian, a Nigeria billionaire whose identity was not revealed committed a large amount of money to the bid to stop Buhari.
“It was the kind of campaign that was our bread and butter. We were 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 newspaper quoted an ex-employee of SCL to have said.
Guardian said the company had established a reputation of weaponising information to harm an opponent.
“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’,” the report read.
“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.
“Seven individuals with close knowledge of the Nigeria campaign have 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.”
Their testimony paints an extraordinary picture of how far a western company would contemplate going in an effort to undermine the democratic process in Africa’s most populous nation.
However, Cambridge Analytica has insisted 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 campaign of Jonathan.
That work seems to have come about through Brittany Kaiser, a senior director at Cambridge Analytica, and a senior strategist on the campaign team of President Donald Trump.
Regarded by colleagues as a prolific networker, in December 2014 she was introduced to an oil billionaire who wanted to fund a covert campaign to support Jonathan.
An ex-employee reportedly 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.”
“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 Observer reportedly obtained an astonishing and disturbing video that Cambridge Analytica used in the campaign.
“Coming to Nigeria on February 15th, 2015,” the voiceover says in the manner of a trailer for a Hollywood movie.
“Dark. Scary. And very uncertain. Sharia for all.” And then it poses the question: “What would Nigeria look like if Sharia were imposed by Buhari?”
Its answer to that question is certainly dark. And scary. It’s also graphically, brutally, violent. One minute and 19 seconds of archive news footage from Nigeria’s troubled past set to a horror movie soundtrack.
There are scenes of people being macheted to death. Their legs hacked off. Their skulls caved in. A former contractor said: “It was voter suppression of the most crude and basic kind. It was targeted at Buhari voters in regions to basically scare the shit out of them and stop them from voting.”
“If Buhari wins, the film warns: women would wear the veil. Sharia law would be introduced. And the inference is, you may be macheted to death.
“It wasn’t just videos spreading fear. The Cambridge Analytica campaign team in Nigeria were jumpy too.”
There were the meetings: three sources have told the Guardian about one that took place between Cambridge Analytica employees and two people they were told were Israeli intelligence operatives.
“There was a two-hour meeting that took place in the hotel lobby between two senior campaign members and Israeli intelligence. After which they swept our hotel rooms for listening devices and said they would switch out our phones. The story we were told was that there were intelligence agents from a number of different countries, including Israel and France, who were supporting Goodluck Jonathan and helping the campaigns,” a source was quoted to have said.
There is no suggestion that Jonathan was aware of or implicated in this support. Another employee said: “Basically the Israelis didn’t want [Buhari] to win.”
Other employees questioned whether they were “real” Israeli intelligence operatives, or Israeli private contractors.
“A few weeks later, as the campaign was drawing to a close, there was another meeting at Cambridge Analytica’s London office,” the report read.
An expert had flown in from Israel with a laptop, sources say.
“And Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica’s now suspended CEO, and Kaiser, asked employees to take a thumb drive and download the contents on to their own computers.
“The content was private emails and the information, they were told, related to Buhari’s financial and medical records.
“One employee who was present at the London meeting said he had initially assumed the visiting expert was Mossad or Israeli intelligence passing on what he called legtimate information.
“But he began to realise this wasn’t the case, he said, when he saw the reaction of his colleagues. One of them had “freaked out”, he said. “He was like, ‘What the fuck? I don’t want anything to do with this.’”
The witnesses are clear – at least in their own minds. The information they were shown had come from hackers.
Back in Nigeria, the team still on the ground found out what was going on from their colleagues in London. There was more “freaking out”. This time with live, pressing concerns.
“They were fucking scared,” said a colleague who spoke to them while they were in the country. The campaign fixer, the person with local knowledge who navigated them through the ins and outs of Nigerian politics, made it clear to them: they needed to get out of the country right away.
Cambridge Analytica had put them all in danger, they said. If opposition supporters found out, there was no saying what might happen.
One member of the team missed his flight and instead of asking the office to re-book it, he got the first fight out – to Dubai – and put it on his credit card.
A spokesman for the company said its team remained in the country throughout the original campaigning period but “left in accordance with the company’s campaign plan”.
“Team members were regularly briefed about security concerns prior to and during deployment and measures were taken to ensure the team’s safety throughout,” he said. (The Cable)