Information has always been recognised as an asset to organisations. So what's new ? The pace at which data is gathered and analysed together with use of the information provided is a game changer. This article analyses the attempt by Cambridge Analytica to influence the political outcome of the Nigerian 2015 election
Nigerian Political landscape
Nigeria is a unique geographic expression and so is the combination of nations and peoples that make her up. It is like making a country out of Germany, France and United Kingdom, nations and peoples with distinct identity, language and culture but living as one country. This complexity of people inevitably makes any calculations based on western models of political campaigning and persuasion difficult. To compound the situation, Nigeria is a young democracy with significant levels of poverty. Poverty makes money and the meeting immediate pre-election day needs an important factor in influencing elections.
There is also a general mistrust of politicians by the electorate. Nobody really expects the politicians and parties to deliver on campaign promises. Politics in Nigeria is more about personalities and Geopolitical power sharing. Nigeria also has a vibrant youthful population of 33 million and growing (ages 18-35) who are gradually becoming aware of their political power and are already organizing. The youths as a distinct political block are very socially engaged in the digital media platforms like YouTube, Facebook etc. therefore making it easier to reach using more targeted campaigns of a digital nature to influence voting patterns. So goes a summary of the Nigerian political landscape
Cambridge Analytica working through its parent company SCL was hired in 2014 by concerned Nigerian billionaires to preserve the political status quo, to keep the incumbent former President Goodluck Jonathan in power for another 4 years. Their plan to effect this relied on methods and techniques not particularly suited to the Nigerian political landscape. The Nigerian youths can be reached through digital means but do not form a pivotal group. The grass root who are the largest political group cannot be effectively engaged through Facebook and other social media. Local newspapers and radio are more effective. So is the traditional rulers network and party grass root activists. Cambridge analytica ignored some pivotal parameters in Nigerian politics
The Nigerian political landscape has powerful regional based political parties, with it's leaders forming grand alliances to win elections. These alliances do have real implications and cannot be ignored in any political calculation. Cambrdige Analytica's Nigerian handlers should have been aware of this.
Methods employed by Cambridge Analytica and why they failed
An article in the UK’s guardian newspaper highlights some of the methods and assumptions used to try to influence the 2015 elections in Nigeria . See link for details
Basically, Cambridge Analytica’s approach and plan ignored the peculiarities of Nigerian politics.
They looked for a “Kompromat” on Buhari using "Israeli hackers" to acquire and weaponize negative information on him. Apart from the fact that this technique is a breach on Nigerian law. It would not have been effective. The Buhari brand was seen as clean and incorruptible at the time of the election and a good response to the Boko haram threat. A few stolen documents published online would could not sway the electorate and the alliance forged between the Southwest and Northern geopolitical zones.
The disinformation campaign was initiated late , 6-8 weeks before the election.
The adverstising plan included showing gruesome videos and projecting fear of imposition of Sharia law obviously targeted at the mainly Christian South west, ignoring the fact that the elites of the North do not really want sharia. Furthermore, It is inconceivable in the minds of Nigerians that sharia will be introduced to all Nigeria. A very naïve assumption. No one would have believed the propaganda put forward. An issue that in itself would have spelt the end of Nigeria as we know it.
Party political alliances are real and do deliver on election day. Former Goodluck Jonathan did not have a viable alliance to deliver a win. Furthermore, he had his term of office , and also expended some of the late Umaru Yar Adua’s term a Northerner. To Nigerians Geopolitical zone former President Jonathan belonged to have had their turn of Presidency. Zonal politics and zoning of presidential candidates is very much in the psyche of Nigerians. If Cambridge Analytica was supporting another candidate from the same Geopolitical zone as President Buhari , it is marginally conceivable that they may make some inroads at least to the elite and digitally connected electorate which by the way do not form the majority of voters. A winner also must have a majority and 25% of votes in 24 of the 36 states that make up Nigeria. Its the grass root voters that deliver winning votes , the bulk of which would not be reached through digital media and other data harvesting techniques deployed by Cambridge Analytica
Any plan that ignores grassroot, Cash and carry politics, geopolitical zoning , the possibility of election rigging and western business influence is dead in the water as far as Nigerian politics go. You must plan to mitigate all issues on all fronts.
One unexplored but legitimate approach to swaying election outcome is to mobilise the "lethargic groups" in the voting population , only 46% of registered voters participated in the last election, where did 54% go ?.
We should collectively frown at sinister manipulation of democracies around the world.
'Yemi Oluleye Bsc, ACIB, MBA. CISSP , Certified TOGAF
Consulting and Research Director at Y-Digital Technologies