The parent company of Cambridge Analytica boasted of its success in manipulating a Nigerian election by using religious leaders to suppress the vote, according to documents released on Thursday.
The documents were released by Canadian whistle-blower Christopher Wylie to a committee of the British House of Commons. They include a promotional brochure by SCL Group, the British affiliate of Cambridge Analytica, which later worked with Canadian firm AggregateIQ in elections worldwide.
The brochure suggests that SCL considered the option of bribing Nigerian voters to vote for the government, but decided that such “financial incentives” would be ineffective because the voters had so much contempt for politicians that they would simply take the money and mark their ballot for someone else.
SCL, which was working for the Nigerian government in the 2007 election, said it advised its clients that “a more effective strategy might be to persuade opposition voters not to vote at all.”
The company said it helped achieve this result “by organizing anti-election rallies on the day of polling in opposition strongholds.”
These anti-election rallies were “conducted by local religious figures to maximize their appeal especially among the spiritual, rural communities,” it said.
Election observers said the 2007 election in Nigeria was one of the worst they had ever seen. They reported incidents of ballot stuffing, theft of election materials, vote buying, underage voting, altering of official results forms and widespread violence. The European Union, which had 150 observers monitoring the election, said the election could not be considered credible and fell “far short” of basic standards.
The latest revelations about SCL’s activities in Nigeria will add fuel to the growing controversy about the role of SCL and its partners in influencing elections through a variety of tactics, including the misuse of internet browsing data and personal information harvested from Facebook.
Mr. Wylie, who became a research director at SCL in 2014, has testified that SCL and its partners behaved like a “colonial master” as they interfered in elections in Africa and the Caribbean. The companies were heavily involved in Nigerian and Kenyan elections in particular, including most recently the 2015 election in Nigeria and the 2017 elections in Kenya.
In his testimony to a House of Commons committee this week, Mr. Wylie said the B.C.-based consulting firm AggregateIQ – which he helped launch – had worked with Cambridge Analytica in a disinformation campaign during the 2015 presidential election in Nigeria.
He said AIQ distributed “incredibly anti-Islamic and threatening” videos on social media in an attempt to discredit the main opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari. The videos portrayed Muslims as violent and included “content where people were being dismembered, where people were having their throats cut and bled to death in a ditch,” Mr. Wylie testified.
The Globe and Mail has viewed the anti-Buhari videos, which tried to frighten Nigerian voters by claiming that he would impose sharia law on the entire country, force women to wear veils and support the violent tactics of the Boko Haram radical terrorist group.
Despite the dirty-tricks campaign, Mr. Buhari won the election.