Facing what seems a certain defeat at the polls next year, supporters of Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party whose campaign continues to deploy divisive tactics, have been caught doctoring INEC’s voter register with the fraudulent inclusion of fake underage photos as part of a broader plot to undermine confidence in the outcome of the 2023 elections.
PODIUM REPORTERS received exclusive proof of the fraud which showed Obi’s supporters exchanging technical instructions on ways to manipulate the voter register of the electoral body, particularly through the insertion of photos of underage citizens sourced online. The effort is expected to culminate in the release of a documentary showcasing the forgery as evidence of a check on INEC’s records.
According to the messages obtained through a whistleblower who requested anonymity to avoid backlash, the plot, which got the approval of senior figures of the Obi campaign, with the possible awareness of the candidate himself, was devised to cast doubts on the credibility of INEC’s records and the outcome of the elections in anticipation of a comprehensive defeat.
“Instruction for inserting picture evidence into the spreadsheet on a mobile phone. (Download Google Spreadsheet from appstore). Please insert picture on the last column (even if the spreadsheet arrangement changes),” one of the messages read.
The exchange took place in a Whatsapp group titled “OBIDients INEC Team” which serves as the coordination centre of the fraud where the technical leads direct other members, who number into several hundred, on roles they must play to perfect the forgery and subsequent disinformation.
Playing arsonist and firefighter, members of the group, with the backing of the virulent Obi online disinformation unit, proceed to spread the forged voter register showing underage voters after manufacturing them, with false allegations of INEC’s complicity in their predicted looming defeat.
This criminal effort has noticeably targeted Nigeria’s northerners, furthering negative tropes about the region’s assumed political advantage being the product of uncontrolled birthrate and the illegal involvement of children in electioneering, including voting.
Indeed, Obi’s supporters, most of whom are from the eastern region and with long ties to IPOB, the proscribed separatist group, have previously issued reckless allegations blaming northerners for the country’s woes. Obi himself has struggled to explain his actions as Governor of Anambra State when he supervised the mass deportation of northerners from the state and allegedly overlooked the destruction of their businesses.
This isn’t the first time Obi’s supporters have been caught forging documents to misrepresent the electoral body. Days ago, the group spread online a fake letter purportedly issued by INEC claiming to investigate a long-closed legal matter involving the presidential candidate of the APC, Bola Tinubu.
INEC denied the report and the NBC, which regulates the country’s broadcast industry, issued a fine to ARISE Television for uncritically amplifying the fake report without basic journalistic checks.
Olaniyan Durojaiye, a media expert who studies the fake news phenomenon and its impact on journalism, said the “strategy of these guys is to flood the news cycle with fake reports so much so that it becomes hard to separate truth from facts. Such climate is necessary for them to thrive because it becomes harder for the people to differentiate invented falsehood from objective facts, and even if they do it would already be too late.”
The solution, according to him, is stricter regulation and punitive measures. “Any responsible government must act to check bad-faith actors abusing free access to propagate dangerous false reports capable of harming the country’s democracy and existence. One way to do this is to make an example of those caught in the act. The NBC, for instance, should have fined ARISE TV more heavily for amplifying a fake report without carrying out any due diligence,” he said.