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WhatsApp’s big role in Nigeria’s 2019 elections

There is growing concern about the potential for the message and media sharing platform, WhatsApp, to undermine democracy in a number of countries across the world including Brazil and India.

Because WhatsApp is encrypted – and so offers users far greater protection from prosecution than Twitter or Facebook – it has become particularly notorious for spreading “fake news”.

This is a major concern in Africa, where WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in 40 countries. This is due to its low cost and the ability to easily share messages with both individuals and groups.

But is this really how WhatApp is used? And if it is, to what extent does this compromise the quality of elections?

A joint team from the Centre for Democracy and Development (Nigeria) and the University of Birmingham (UK) has spent the last few months researching the impact of WhatsApp on the 2019 Nigerian elections held in May.

Their report comes to conclusions that are both troubling, as well as encouraging.

The research reveals that the platform was used to mislead voters in increasingly sophisticated ways. But it also shows that Whatsapp strengthened democracy in other areas.

The term “fake news has become widely used over the past few years. However, it is problematic because it lumps together very different kinds of information and behaviour. For example, we need to separate out deliberate attempts to mislead others by creating false stories (disinformation) from the innocent sharing of made-up stories by people who believe it to be true (misinformation).

The 2019 Nigerian elections saw both disinformation and misinformation. We studied this by conducting 46 interviews in the states of Oyo and Kano, and the FCT, Abuja, as well as seven focus groups and a survey of 1,005 people.

During the course of conducting the research, candidates consistently told us that they predominantly used WhatsApp to share information about their qualities and campaign pledges. But many WhatsApp users said that a high proportion of the messages they received were designed to undermine a rival leader’s reputation – to “decampaign” them.

There were some high profile examples of disinformation. The most notorious story circulated on social media was that the president had died while undergoing medical treatment outside of the country, and had been replaced by a clone from Sudan.

Other fabricated communications were less outlandish but no less significant. Many ordinary citizens shared these messages, in some cases because they knew they were false and wanted to amplify their impact, but in many cases because they thought they were true.

The most effective decampaigning strategies were those that shared messages that resonated with individuals because they contained an element of the truth, or played on recent experiences.

The political influence of WhatsApp has expanded rapidly in line with its growing penetration. As a result, it has become part of the fabric of election campaigns and is now a key mechanism through which political leaders seek to communicate with their campaign teams and supporters.

Fully 91% of the people we interviewed were active WhatsApp users; as one person put it:

“I use WhatsApp more than I use the toilet.”

In Nigeria, election candidates were already using the platform to push messages in 2015. But the people we interviewed agreed that the 2019 elections saw a significant step up in terms of how the leading parties organised their social media strategy.

Politically, WhatsApp was used in an increasingly sophisticated way at the presidential level. In 2019, the two main presidential candidates – President Muhammadu Buhari and opposition leader Atiku Abubakar – both had dedicated teams pushing out messages over social media: the Buhari New Media Centre and Atikulated Youth Force. By forming hundreds of Whatsapp groups of 256 members, these organisations could send messages to tens of thousands of people at the touch of a button.

Buhari’s effort was better funded and particularly impressive. It established a network of local and regional representatives connected to a “central command” in Abuja. This enabled the campaign to rapidly send messages from the national to the local level, while also responding to hostile messages and rumours shared by its rivals.

While those in power typically had more money to invest in their campaigns, many opposition leaders pointed out that in important ways, WhatsApp had created a more level-playing political field. Those who had been involved in politics for some time explained that “fake news” was nothing new in Nigeria, but that in the past, it was sometimes impossible to counteract these messages because there was no way to get airtime on government aligned radio.

WhatsApp had changed this situation. Opposition leaders now have a cheap way of fighting back. It has also been used to coordinate anti-corruption campaigns and election observation, strengthening democracy.

It’s also important not to overstate the significance of WhatsApp. Things look very different below the national level, for example, where campaign structures were less developed and a significant proportion of activity remained informal.

We found that while candidates for Governor and Member of Parliament did set up WhatsApp groups, they were much less organised. In many cases, candidates relied on existing networks and social influencers to get the message out.

Candidates were also keen to stress that while they used WhatsApp during their campaigns, they did not rely on it. Voters expect to see their leaders on the ground, and expected them to provide a range of services for the community. Advertising good deeds over WhatsApp could help a leader get credit, but only if they had fulfilled their responsibilities in the first place.

In other words, WhatsApp can amplify and complement a candidate’s ground campaign. But it cannot replace it.

These findings suggest that the solution to the power of social media platforms like WhatsApp isn’t to ban them, or to allow governments to censor them. This would merely exaggerate the vast advantages of incumbency that ruling parties already enjoy.

A better solution would be to promote digital literacy, develop social media codes of conduct around elections, and empower WhatsApp uses to control which groups they are added to, and what information they receive.

The research was conducted, and publications authored by, Jamie Hitchen, Idayat Hassan, Jonathan Fisher and Nic Cheeseman.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence.

NNPC boss weighs in on reserves, contract disputes


The Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mallam Mele Kyari, has called on oil and gas industry players in the country to support the national oil company to achieve the national aspiration to grow crude oil reserve to 40 billion barrels and boost oil production to 3 million barrels per day.

Speaking at the 43rd Nigeria Annual International Conference and Exhibition (NAICE) of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, in Lagos on Monday, Kyari said that this could only be achieved if players collaborate effectively to ensure timely resolution of contractual issues and the passage of the necessary petroleum legislation.

“To achieve this ambition, huge investment is required across the value chain. We have to attract investment to deploy improved technology in the exploration and production of hydrocarbon from inland as well as the ultra-deep offshore basins,’’ he said.

Kyari challenged industry operators and stakeholders alike to desist from further lamentations of the challenges that plague the operating environment but pick up the gauntlet and confront the issues frontally with diligence and sure mindedness.

On the theme of this year’s SPEC conference entitled: Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and Mobile Technology: Changing the Future of the Energy industry, the NNPC GMD acknowledged the fact that the emergence of artificial intelligence has altered the dynamics of operations by providing quicker processes and interventions in the conduct of business in the industry made possible by effective deployment of big data.

He challenged industry players to be forward-looking and embrace this approach in seeking for solutions to the challenges that confront the industry.

He said that technology and innovations will continue to shape the way the oil and gas industry businesses and operations are conducted especially in the deep offshore and other hard-to-operate environment.

“Artificial intelligence, big data and the mobile technology will continue to shape our industry in practically unimaginable ways, but certainly the transformations they promise will lead to quantum shift in the delivery of our task,’’ he said.

The 2019 NAICE conference and exhibition was declared open by Dr. Folashade Yemi-Esan, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Petroleum Resources, who took time to visit the pavilions of exhibiting oil and gas companies.

Yemi-Esan commended the companies for great show at the stand while urging them to rally round the Federal Government achieve set targets in the industry.

Islamic teacher jailed seven years for raping 35 boys

A Chief Magistrates’ Court in Minna has sentenced a 33-year-old Islamic teacher, Abubakar Abdullahi, to seven years imprisonment for having anal sex with 35 of his pupils.

Abdullahi, a resident of Sabon Gari, Kontagora, was charged with the unnatural offence, contrary to section 284 of the penal code law.

The police prosecutor, Daniel Ikwoche, had told the court that one Murtala Abdullahi, a Hisbah Commander in Kontagora Local Government Area, reported the matter at the ‘A’ Police Division in Kontagora on July 22.

Mr Ikwoche said the complainant alleged that the accused lured 35 of his pupils who are between the ages of 9 and 14 years into his room and had anal intercourse with them on different occasions between March and July.

When the charge was read to him, he pleaded guilty and begged the court for leniency.

Read also: Police begin search for kidnapped Ganduje critic Dadiyata

The prosecutor thereafter prayed the court to try him summarily in line with section 157 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

In her ruling, Magistrate Hauwa Yusuf sentenced Mr Abdullahi to seven years in prison with hard labour.

Ms Yusuf, however, said the convict will have the option of a N2 million fine after serving the first four years of his sentence.


EFCC raids ex-gov. Yari’s home in Zamfara

Operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Sunday evening raided the Talata-Mafara residence of the immediate past governor of Zamfara state, Ahaji Abdulaziz Yari.

Alhaji Ibrahim Dosara, the spokesman to the former governor, confirmed this in an interview with News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Talata Marafa on Monday.

Dosara said: “it is true that operatives of the EFCC were at the residence of His Excellency in Talata Mafara yesterday.

“My principal is aware of their coming and they were able to check all the rooms and offices and after several hours of searching, they left.

“This is the highest we can go because we do not know what they are looking for and we cannot preempt their investigation. But we are holding on to the issue for now, pending the outcome of their investigation.

“They are constituted authority and they have the right to investigate anybody.

“Until when they are out with the result of their investigation, we will not be able to go further. When they say something that requires our attention, then we can talk about it,” he said.

An eye witness also told NAN that the EFCC operatives arrived the house situated off Sokoto Road in Talata-Mafara around 6 p.m. amidst tight security and blocked the front and back entrances of the residence.

He said that they ordered those inside to remain where they were while disallowing any further entry.

“These people remained inside until after 11 p.m. We were around waiting to see what will happen next only to see them with some bags that no one could tell the contents.

“We also learnt that they were at the former governor’s brother’s house as well as that of one of his close associates where they were said to have carried away some things,” he said.

In a reaction, the EFCC said the raid was over allegations of economic and financial crimes against Yari.

EFCC’s acting spokesman, Mr Tony Orilade told NAN inAbuja on Monday that “we did visit the former governor’s residence in respect of ongoing investigation.

“What we fight is economic and financial crimes. Whatever allegations we have should be centred around economic and financial crimes,” he said.

The former governor becomes the second notable personality to be raided this year by EFCC after his tenure expired.

A similar raid was conducted on the properties of former governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo.

Buhari lauds Nigerians for ignoring ‘Revolution’ March

President Muhammadu Buhari has thanked millions of Nigerians, who deliberately ignored calls on social media to join a phantom ‘revolution’ but instead went about their businesses.

The President made his feelings known in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, in Abuja on Monday.

Shehu stated that the president was humbled by the support, ”not for himself, or the governing party – but for the democratic values of modern-day Nigeria.”

He, however, acknowledged that there were few hundred persons, who for their own reasons, decided to engage on the protest march against national interest.

The statement read in parts:“Today, millions of Nigerians went about their businesses: work, seeking employment, attending school/college and caring for their families.

”By doing so, the millions defended our country’s hard-won democratic rights – by ignoring calls on social media to join a phantom ‘revolution’.

“There were a few hundred persons today who, for their own reasons, decided to act upon the demands of a group calling itself Global Coalition for Security and Democracy in Nigeria, which went on social media to ask everyday Nigerians to overthrow the government they only elected some six months ago.

“The President is humbled by the support – not for himself, or the governing party – but for the democratic values of modern-day Nigeria through the wisdom of those millions of citizens who preferred democracy and decided not to undermine an elected government.

“Today, joining those millions of Nigerians was not only the President and governing party at federal level, but many state governments from the opposition, trade unions, civil society organisations, media and NGOs with focus on freedom of speech.

”All have, rightly, united in protecting Nigeria’s young democracy and the rights of all to elect leaders and lawmakers.

“The Global Coalition for Security and Democracy in Nigeria’s attempt to incite citizens into a revolution against their own democratic rights and interests has failed – as will all attempts to take away from the people their hard-won rights and freedom to choose who leads their country.”

We’ll comply with order on El-Zakzaky’s release, says DSS

The Department of State Services (DSS) says it will comply with the order that Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), should be allowed to go to India for medical treatment.

A high court in Kaduna had given the order on Monday following an application filed by Femi Falana, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN).

In a statement on Monday, Peter Afunaya, spokesman of the secret police, acknowledged that the service had received the order.

“This is to inform the public that the Department of State Services (DSS) has received the order granting Ibrahim El-Zakzaky leave to travel to India for medical treatment,” the statement read.

“Consequently, the Service is liaising with relevant stakeholders to ensure compliance. Conformity with the order is in line with the Service’s avowed commitment to the Rule of Law inherent in a democracy.”

The court had said officials of Kaduna government, which is trying the IMN leader for treason, and some DSS operatives would accompany El-Zakzaky on the trip.

The IMN leader has been in detention since December 2015 when he was arrested over a clash between some of his supporters and soldiers.

Different courts had ordered his release but the federal government did not comply with the orders.

Security guard, teenagers allegedly steal N2.7m from MFM offering box

The police on Monday arraigned two men and a minor in a Yaba Chief Magistrates’ court in Lagos for allegedly stealing N2.7million from a church’s offering box.

The suspects, Osita Egbo; 32, Joel Okafor; 18, and a minor, were charged with two counts of conspiracy and stealing, to which they pleaded not guilty.

The Prosecution Counsel, Sgt. Modupe Olaluwoye told the court that the defendants committed the offence at midnight on July 2 at the Mountain of Fire Ministry church, (MFM), Onike area of Yaba, Lagos.

Olaluwoye said Egbo was a night security guard at the church while the two teenagers were members of the church.

The prosecution alleged that they stole from the church offering boxes three times in the last one month with a fourth accomplice, but were never caught.

Olaluwoye said that a fourth accomplice, another minor, confessed to the crime after he felt cheated by the defendants.

He said that the defendants stole a total of N2.7million from the church’s offering box.

The offence, he said, contravened provisions of Sections 411 and 287 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2015 (Revised).

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Section 287 stipulates a three-year jail term for stealing while Section 411 provides for two years in prison for conspiracy.

Chief Magistrate Oluwatoyin Oghere admitted the defendants to bail in the sum of N1million each with two sureties each in like sum.

Oghere ordered that the sureties must be gainfully employed and have evidence of three years’ tax payment to the Lagos State Government.

She adjourned the case until Sept. 25 for mention.

Court grants EFCC’s request to freeze Bauchi State’s account

The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Monday, granted the prayer of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to freeze the First City Monument Bank (FCMB) operational account number: 0998552074 of the Bauchi state government.

Taiwo Taiwo, the judge, urged the EFCC to put the party concerned on notice of the order within 21 days.

He then adjourned the matter till September 3.

In 2018, the anti-graft agency had frozen accounts belonging to the Benue state government and Akwa Ibom state, respectively.

Three bank accounts belonging to the Benue state government were frozen. The commission had linked Samuel Ortom, governor of the state, to the tune of N22 billion fraud but the governor had denied the allegation.

The EFCC had said between June 30, 2015 and March 2018, Ortom ordered the withdrawal of N21.3bn from four government’s accounts in Guaranty Trust Bank, First Bank of Nigeria and the United Bank for Africa.

Senate President heads to Saudi Arabia for Hajj

The President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, on Monday departed Abuja for Saudi Arabia to join millions of Muslim faithful from around the world who are gathered in the Holy Land for this year’s Hajj.

A statement by the Special Adviser on Media to the Senate President, Ola Awoniyi, said Dr. Lawan, while in the Holy Land, will seize the opportunity to pray for the peace, unity and progress of Nigeria.

He will also pray for the success of the ninth National Assembly, now on annual recess, as the lawmakers engage themselves in Legislative activities for the betterment and advancement of the country.

Dr. Lawan is expected back home as soon as the Hajj rites are over.


Nigerian airline operators protest more frequencies granted Emirates

Local carriers under the aegis of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) has called on the Federal Government to immediately withdraw the new frequency granted Emirates Airlines to operate out of the Federal capital, Abuja.

AON, in a statement made available to the media on Monday said granting such a right to a foreign airline at a time when a fully Nigerian owned airline just started a direct operation to the home base of the foreign airline would lead to job loss, capital flight and direct plundering of an already battered economy.

The airline operators who claimed it is unfair for Emirates to be allowed such increase in frequency, insisted that the move effectively at a massive disadvantage, the Nigerian economy and the jobs of our youths and huge capital flight places our indigenous carriers.

“The Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) hereby cries foul against the recent commencement by Emirates Airline of an additional flight, now increasing its frequency to four (4) flights daily into Nigeria on the eve of when a Nigerian Carrier began flights to United Arabs Emirates  (UAE) operated with 100% Nigerian Pilots, Cabin Crew, Engineers and Dispatchers.

“It is very unfair for Emirates to be allowed such increase barely two (2) weeks after the launch of flights on July 5, 2019 to Sharjah, UAE by Air Peace, our very own Nigerian airline. The move is effectively at a massive disadvantage, the Nigerian economy and the jobs of our youths and huge capital flight places our indigenous carriers,” the  group said.

Stating reasons why the Federal Government needs to rescind the decision, AON said, “Government must stand tall to play the role of aeropolitics to support Air Peace, otherwise it will end up the same way as others such as Bellview, Arik Air and Medview that went before it; as they were unable to play in the wild and aggressive field of international aeropolitics.

“Emirates Airlines as at today, operates two daily flights out of Lagos and two daily flights out of Abuja. Also, Etihad, from the same Arab country, operates daily flights out of Lagos as well.

“This translates to five flights daily and a total of 150 flights per month from UAE; as against a Nigerian carrier that only just started operating three flights weekly (12 flights monthly into UAE). This is a colossal plundering of the Nigerian economy through capital flight and a huge loss of Nigerian jobs,” AON posited..

While the United Arab Emirates (UAE) based airlines enjoy unrestricted economic support in Nigeria with more frequencies, AON regretted that Air Peace is still waiting to be allocated a dedicated Lounge or departure wing at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport to signify that this is a Nigerian airline; as against the case with Emirates that has a huge lounge at the Dubai International Airport that is heavily branded in the airline’s colours. The same goes with Etihad in Abu Dhabi, British Airways in London, Lufthansa in Frankfurt and Air France in Paris  to mention but a few.

The AON  pointed out that despite the support of government of United States of America for Open Skies Policy, the three major airlines in the U.S are crying against  its  implementation.

“It is little wonder that the three major carriers in the United States (United, American and Delta) cried out against the same open skies and anti-competitive behavior.

“The US airlines accused them of being funded by their government to the tune of over $50 billion and undercutting US carriers by offering below-market fares on flights that go to other destinations beyond the Middle East, at the expense of American jobs and the American Economy,” AON noted.

The 2017, the economic policy of the Trump administration to protect the American economy, jobs and the airlines subsequently forced the Emirati airlines to reduce their flights by about 30 per cent.

This, AON said, is a classic example of domestic airlines crying out against unfair competition and having their government standing behind them with full support to effect change and ensure that domestic airlines with private funds get “A Fair Deal” against foreign competition from state-owned airlines.

According to Megisson, “It is unfair to unleash a band of ravenous and voracious wolves against a harmless and privately funded puppy that is still trying to find its feet and doing all it can to survive, create economic impact and jobs for our youths. It is the role of Government therefore to protect our very own Nigerian carriers and preserve the Nigerian economy and the jobs of our unemployed youths.

“The additional double daily flights given to Emirates, a highly subsidized airline is not necessary at this time as statistics show that half of the flights out of Abuja are half empty and the fact that the Emirati airlines already have an unfair trade advantage of 150 flights monthly out of Nigeria; as against 12 monthly flights for Nigerian airlines that should have been allowed to stabilize and grow its operations into the UAE to a level where the airline can compete favourably on the route.

“We would therefore like to use this medium to call on the government to review all existing BASAs to readdress the unfair trade advantage given to foreign airlines against Nigerian airlines.

“This will go a long way to safeguard the Nigerian economy from continued plundering of our resources, preserve the lively hood of workers in the aviation sector, create jobs for our many unemployed youths, promote technology transfer, and significantly reduce capital flight in line with the vision of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.”

BREAKING: DSS, police stop ‘RevolutionNow’ protest in Osun

Armed police operatives and Department of State Security on Monday stopped members of ‘Revolution Now’ group, from taking their protest to the streets of Osogbo, Osun State Capital.

The protesters, led by Olawale Adebayo, had earlier addressed newsmen in Fagbewesa area of Osogbo.

Shortly after the address, the protesters were about storming Olaiya Junction to kickstart the protest, when armed DSS men and police arrived and stopped them.


More to follow…

Police: Why we fired teargas at #RevolutionNow protesters (video)

Tijani Fatai, an assistant commissioner of police, says members of #RevolutionNow movement were dispersed from the National Stadium, Lagos, because they did not seek permission from the police before gathering.

The activists had converged on the stadium ahead of a nationwide protest.

Addressing journalists after members of the movement were dispersed, Fatai justified the use of teargas in dislodging the protesters.

Asked why the police fired teargas at them, Fatai responded: “Because it is an unlawful assembly.”

Below is the video:

Court grants El-Zakzaky permission for medical trip to India

A high court in Kaduna state has ruled that Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), should be allowed to travel to India for medical treatment.

The IMN leader, who has been in detention since 2015, had applied for medical bail, citing poor health.

He and Zeenat, his wife, were arrested after some of his followers clashed with soldiers in Zaria, Kaduna state.

Femi Falana, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), had a filed a bail application on behalf of El-Zakzaky and his wife.

Dairus Khobo, the presiding judge, had ordered that the IMN leader and his wife should be allowed to seek treatment abroad but that they should be accompanied by the officials of the Kaduna state government and personnel of the Department of State Security (DSS).

EL-Zakzaky’s supporters have been demanding his releasing, accusing government of disobeying court orders.

Two weeks ago, IMN members clashed with the police, leading to the loss of at least 20 lives, including a Channels Tv reporter and a senior police officer.

The government had subsequently got an order to proscribe the group. While announcing a ban on the activities of IMN nationwide, Mohammed Adamu, inspector-general of police, said anyone in support of the group would be treated as an enemy of the state.

Gunshots as policemen, soldiers chase away #RevolutionNow protesters in Lagos

Members of the #RevolutionNow movement who converged on the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, on Monday, were forcefully dispersed by soldiers and policemen.

The protesters, who arrived at the stadium around 7am on Monday, for the kick-off of the protest met a detachment of policemen at the entrance of the stadium.

Some soldiers later joined the policemen.

Eliaz Ozikpu, one of the protesters said that he was discussing the protest plans with others when security operatives crossed over the road to meet them.

“We were standing here, while they watched us from the other side. Suddenly, they moved on us and said we can’t talk to the press. We weren’t even talking to the press yet. We were addressing ourselves,” he said.

One of Sowore’s supporters being led to a police van

The protesters, however, started chanting calling for the release of Omoyele Sowore, convener of the movement who was arrested Saturday by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS).

Shortly after, policemen fired teargas and shot into the air to disperse the protesters. Some members of the movement were also arrested.

A policeman, who spoke off the record, said that Mohammed Adamu, the inspector-general of police, ordered that the protesters should be dispersed.

“We have a standing order from the IGP, not even the CP in Lagos can stop us,” he said.

Policemen at the entrance of the stadium

Peter Afunaya, spokesman of the DSS, had told reporters in Abuja on Sunday that Sowore was arrested because he “crossed lines”.

“Sowore has as a matter of fact threatened the peaceful co-existence and social harmony of Nigeria, there is apprehension, there is anxiety, citizens and residents are worried as to what will happen next. We want to use this opportunity to assure law-abiding Nigerians, friends of Nigeria, and citizens of the world, that come tomorrow (today) 5th August 2019, there will be absolute peace in Nigeria, nothing will happen,” he had said.

“There won’t be any revolution, the government that has been elected democratically will be in place, there will not be any forceful takeover of government and the DSS will not stand idly by and watch self serving people take laws into their hands.”

More photos below: