ElectionsMedia LiteracyPolitics

Fact-checking fake political endorsements staged for Nigeria’s presidential candidates

On July 14, 2022, a picture of Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s former president, and Peter Obi, the Labour Party’s presidential candidate, appeared online. Both political personalities seemed to be chit-chatting at an unknown venue. At the time, Nigeria’s political weather was still cold.

Then on July 16 of the same year, a Twitter account operating with the name and cognomen of Mr Obasanjo – appeared with a controversial tweet. The Twitter ghost used the trending picture of the duo with this caption:

“He is not a saint, but among politicians in Nigeria today, Peter Obi is a bundle of integrity.”

At the time, Mr Obi was beginning to gather momentum for his political ambition. So such a statement attributed to Mr Obasanjo meant an endorsement to many supporters of the LP presidential candidate. The tweet went viral on Twitter with over 30,000 likes and over 8,000 retweets.

However, the claim attributed to Mr Obasanjo about Mr Obi was only concocted to feign the endorsement for him. And in a matter of minutes, hundreds of Twitter users fell for it. But then, Nigerian independent fact-checkers would later debunk the claim, passing a verdict falsifying it. TheCable had contacted Kehinde Akinyemi, Mr Obasanjo’s spokesman, who dismissed the claim, saying “the former president did not utter such a statement” and added he does not operate any account on Twitter.

Coincidentally, however, on January 1 this year, Mr Obasanjo officially endorsed Mr Obi, saying the LP presidential candidate was most preferred to him and urging Nigerians to vote for him as president in the fast-approaching 2023 general election. 

This was a big plus for social media parodists who had promoted false endorsement of Mr Obi, using Mr Obasanjo’s name. They thought this would be an excellent propaganda strategy to adopt, and they did.

Sultan of Sokoto endorsed Obi? No!

On January 19, Osehi Ikhilor, a Facebook user with thousands of followership, announced in a lengthy post that the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’adu Abubakar, had endorsed Mr Obi as his most preferred candidate. “Hold me responsible if Peter Obi didn’t perform well. The problem of the North is from the north, not Peter Obi or an Igbo man. It will be worse and more deadly for the North if Tinubu wins; if they tell you an Igbo man is the problem of Nigeria, tell them Igbo man never rule Nigeria before, and the north is the world poverty capital.” 

Osehi Ikhilor was among many to share the story on his Facebook account. The post had gone viral on social media with hundreds of engagements from Peter Obi supporters and critics.

However, it would soon be clear it was just another fake endorsement for Mr Obi when the sultanate spokesperson, Bashir Adefaka, debunked the claim on January 20. He states, “the sultan would continue to support all efforts that will lead to the success of the election process. So, let any incoherent claims of naysayers be ignored. The Sultan is not a politician.”

IBB endorses Peter Obi — and other misinformation

After the controversy on Mr Obasanjo’s endorsement of Mr Obi on January 1, a Twitter account purported to be that of a former military president, Ibrahim Babangida, was used to stage fake endorsement claims in favour of the LP presidential candidate.  In the tweets, the parodying claims suggested Mr Babangida’s support for Mr Obi.

The tweet read in parts, “I am not against any political party or candidate. However, if the reason you want to attain the role of leadership is because you think it’s your turn or it should remain in a certain geo-political zone. You don’t have my support. I am who I am.”

Over 20,000 Twitter users would later like the tweets, and more than 5,000 persons retweeted it while over 800,000 accounts generally viewed the posts. Following the tweets, however, hundreds of Mr Obi’s supporters massively engaged with the tweets from the parody account, praising Mr Babangida for endorsing their candidate.

“Gen Olusegun Obasanjo will forever be a true elder statesman and a boss in the military. No serving General in the Nigerian Army today joined the military earlier than 1982. By then, Obasanjo had already finished his military career. I respect him a lot, with his endorsement,” the purported tweet also read.

But later, on January 7, the media office of Mr Babangida urged Nigerians to disregard any social media account opened in his name. Salman Yusuf, Mr Babangida’s media aid, said in Minna, Niger State, that his principal does not comment on national issues on social media.

“We wish to state that IBB has never owned nor operated any social media account, and he does not intend to operate any now or in the near future,” a statement by Mr Yusuf reads, urging social media users to ignore “warped imaginations and antics of cyber criminals who do not mean well for the country.”

Tinubu’s fake Joe Biden’s endorsement

In November 2022, Bola Tinubu, the presidential candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC), was seen in a trending photo with Joe Biden, president of the United States.  Kenedy Nosa, a Twitter user with thousands of followers and an ardent supporter of Mr Tinubu’s presidential ambition, promulgated the photo with this caption:

“Happening now: @officialABAT on a courtesy visit to US President Joe Biden as part of his US on international engagements. Obidiots say Tinubu cannot visit the US based on his indictment. He is there right now, living with the US President. Let your Obi visit too. Mumu pipo,” the tweet reads.

Then, dozens of Mr Tinubu’s supporters claimed the presidential candidate was in an endorsement meeting with Mr Biden. This false narrative trended until AfricaCheck, an independent fact-checking organisation debunked it, using advanced verification tools.

AfricaCheck’s google reverse image search led to several media reports that showed the original photo came from a 26 July 2021 meeting between Iraqi prime minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, and Mr Biden in the president’s White House oval office.

“There are significant variations in picture quality, with the part around Tinubu and the man sitting next to him looking blurry,” the fact-checking medium stated. “Objects behind Tinubu have their edges rough and overlapping in a way that is unnatural.”

LGBTQ for Atiku and other false endorsement narratives

Have you read about the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBTQ+) community endorsing Atiku Abubakar? This was false but made believed by supporters of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)  and lovers of Mr Abubakar. On February 13, a Facebook page, “Nigerian News Hausa“, promulgated claims that the LGBTQ members had endorsed the PDP presidential candidate.

But then, an in-depth online google survey revealed the claim was really unfounded.   The same story had been online since 2018 during the last general elections, but no genuine statement from the group to substantiate it. Many of the reports found online quoted sources from fack-checkers — including AFP — had declared were not existing

Spreading fake endorsement claims by politicians and their supporters is a practice during election seasons. In 2019, for example, Mr supporter Abubakar’s followers did a similar thing. They had distorted his statement and turned it into a false endorsement narrative.

The then PDP candidate had, in October 2018, expressed excitement about the outcome of his meeting with former President Olusegun Obasanjo. David Oyedepo, the founder of the Living Faith Church Worldwide, had accompanied him to Mr Obasanjo’s residence to seek his acceptance.

After the meeting, Mr Abubakar would later write on his Twitter page, saying, “it was exciting meeting with my former boss and having lunch with him in Abeokuta”.

“Thank you for the prayers, Bishop Oyedepo. God bless Nigeria,” he added.

But then, the PDP supporters took this statement by Mr Abubakar as evidence of endorsement by Mr Oyedepo, a renowned Nigerian pastor with thousands of followers. But the bishop denied it, saying he never endorsed the PDP candidate as claimed by his social media fans and adherents.

The researcher produced this article per the DUBAWA 2023 Kwame Karikari Fellowship partnership with Premium Times to facilitate the ethos of truth in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.

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