The Federal Government has raised a committee to scrutinise reports of a data mining firm, Cambridge Analytica, which swiped the data of over 50 million Facebook users to sway elections in many countries, including Nigeria.
In 2015, the firm allegedly hacked into personal records of the then opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, in order to sway the outcome of the election in favour of then incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan.
A Presidency source told Sate House reporters yesterday that the committee would investigate whether Cambridge Analytica's work for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2007 and 2015 general elections, breached Nigeria's laws or infringed on the rights of other parties and their candidates.
He said this might, depending on the outcome of the investigation, result in the appointment of a special investigator and possibly, criminal prosecutions by the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN).
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said though he had not been briefed on the issue, Nigerians deserved answers immediately from the PDP, Facebook and Cambridge Analytica "On how and why they improperly obtained and used data to interfere in Nigerian elections."
Shehu said an investigation should help to determine if there was a linkage between the various killings and maiming that had characterized Nigeria's elections since 2007 and the misinformation activities of the Cambridge Analytica (CA) data flows.
Shehu added that the investigation would also help President Buhari achieve his wish to leave a legacy of improved elections.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, recalled that a whistleblower, Christopher Wylie, who worked with a Cambridge University academic to obtain the data, had 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.'
He stated: "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."