Post-Election Fact-checking Analysis #2: How Misinformation Shaped the 2019 Elections

All that separated Nigerians from hitting the polls — before its eventual postponement — were two days. Just then, the report of a survey claimed to have been conducted by Ballard Partners, a reputable US-based lobbying firm, hit the news. The report alleged that the incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari was well primed to win the election with a possibility of 51%, as opposed to Atiku who had a 42% chance (Note: Muhammadu Buhari actually won the election, at least according to INEC’s official result).

That turned out to be FALSE! The president of the firm, Brian D. Ballard himself, on his twitter handle said that his signature “has been forged” and that “Ballard Partners has not conducted any survey research on behalf of the People’s Democratic Party of Nigeria.” We also reached out to one of the Partners of the Firm who called it “fake news”. [See our full length fact-check on this claim]

February 16, 2019, the election was postponed barely five hours to the set time for commencement of voting due to “logistics glitches“. A few hours later, news surfaced that “Buhari just arrived his unit for accreditation, saying he is not aware that the election has been postponed.” Again, that was FALSE, as Buhari himself had released a press statement announcing his disappointment in the news! [See our full length fact-check on this claim and how we used digital photo verification tools to debunk the claim]

Having been postponed for a week, the presidential and national assembly elections held on February 23 2019. A fortnight later, the governorship, state house of assembly and Federal Capital Territory area council elections held too.

Again, claims did fly around. Several CSOs and election observer groups including Premium Times Centre for Investigative Reporting (PTCIJ) ( had reporters at polling units to monitor the elections and we leveraged on that to do real-time fact-checks. [See a summary of the claims we fact-checked on that day and an archive of the easy-to-share infographics we distributed on WhatsApp and Twitter]

In all honesty, some of the claims were TRUE, others UNPROVEN, some could not even be fact-checked at all (especially the ones that had to do with mass killings or underaged voters), but the majority remained FALSE!

The false claims ranged from outright misinformation to mismatched pictures. A classic example of the latter is the claim that a female Corp member was caught thumb printing ballot papers for PDP at the Ibadan North LGA collation centre, Oyo state. In actual fact, two male Corp members were caught and not the lady whose picture was used.

Post-elections, the result of the elections began to trickle in and misinformation now took the form of attributing praises and commendations of the entire electoral process to famous (credible) people who made no such statements. [Again, we fact-checked this. See the claim attributed to ECOWAS Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and EU’s Maria Arena]

Now, misinformation is not peculiar to Nigeria. During the elections in the South American giant, Brazil, fake news thrived. And in Bangladesh where Facebook and Twitter had to remove tons of fake news sites days ahead of the election. And in the United States of America. And in India. And in several other countries. Thankfully, we tried to debunk as much as we could [See a summary of the claims we fact-checked on that day and an archive of the easy-to-share infographics we distributed on WhatsApp and Twitter].

A 2018 study of 3 African countries (Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa) by Herman Wasserman of the University of Cape Town and Dani Madrid-Morales of the University of Houston has shown that 28% of Nigerians have once shared political news which they later found to be false. In fact, 1 in 4 of the people surveyed had thought the news was false; yet they shared.

Contacted by Dubawa, Herman Wasserman, said that “the findings [in the survey] suggest that media organisations would have to work hard at rebuilding relationships with audiences…educating audiences about the dangers of fake news is not enough, media literacy should form part of a larger, multi-pronged approach to restore trust in the media.”

We are still dealing with the aftermath of the election and trying to understand how misinformation spreads in Nigeria and effective ways to combat it. In the meantime, we urge Nigerians to always check before sharing and report suspicious messages to us! Check out how to contact us on our website!!

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