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AFP: Nigeria Elections Filled With Disinformation

FILE: People sit under a billboard with a congratulatory message of the President-Elect Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress in Lagos. Sun., March 5, 2023

LAGOS - A disinformation campaign is targeting Nigeria's election regulators and supreme court judges, who will have to rule on claims of vote rigging following a presidential ballot marred by delays and fraud accusations.

Elections in Africa's biggest democracy are often impacted by vote-buying, disenfranchisement and violence. But disinformation has also become an issue, influencing the political discourse both before and after the ballot.

AFP Fact Check has debunked dozens of election-related claims, including allegations that a photo showed president-elect Bola Tinubu bribing a senior judge at his home.

But the picture, which surfaced after the February 25 vote, was old and showed Tinubu with an opposition politician in London.

"The impact of the disinformation campaign... is pervasive and will have implications beyond this election cycle," said Afolabi Adekaiyaoja, a research analyst at the Centre for Democracy and Development.

"In the short term, it will be used to discredit the processes and the relative outcome," he warned.

After days of delay in tallying the result, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Tinubu, a veteran political operator, the winner - a decision that left many young Nigerians disappointed.

"The presidential election was just a big mess," the popular rapper Falz told Arise Television.

INEC acknowledged technical difficulties in the vote counting but denied any large-scale vote rigging.

The PDP and the Labor Party have filed legal challenges to the result that could lead to a long legal dispute likely to culminate at the Supreme Court.

"The election... was invalid by reason of corrupt practices and non-compliance with the provisions of the electoral act," according to a formal petition Obi submitted to the court.

Both Obi and Atiku have asked the tribunal to declare them the election winner.

Their supporters believe that Tinubu and the governing party have already struck a backdoor deal with the courts to confirm his election.

This context has provided fertile ground for disinformation, such as the photo allegedly showing Tinubu bribing the Supreme Court's chief justice, Olukayode Ariwoola.

In reality, the image dates back to 1996 and shows Tinubu with opposition politician Dele Momodu, who also refuted the bribery allegation on social media.

Still, social media is replete with unsubstantiated claims of Tinubu attempting to bribe Supreme Court judges as well as the International Criminal Court - even though the latter has no role in Nigerian elections.

"[Disinformation] is really a major problem in Nigeria," said Kemi Busari, an editor at the Nigerian fact-checking organization Dubawa.

"People don't care about your fact-check. All they care about is their biases."

Missteps by the Nigerian government have also been seized upon by opponents hoping to spur disinformation campaigns.

Adekaiyaoja said "proactive communication" by the INEC and the judiciary could help counter the false narratives.

"Access to information plays a role in reducing the concerns that many citizens have around these processes," he said.