The wave of misinformation currently targeting the Electoral Commission and Supreme Court judges in Nigeria, who are called upon to rule on the presidential election, reveals a vast discredit of institutions in Africa's most populous country, according to experts.
While elections in Nigeria are often characterized by vote-buying and violence, technical failures and delays in the transmission of results observed during the February 25 vote are fueling rampant misinformation this time around.
It is "really a big problem in Nigeria", observes Kemi Busari, Nigeria publishing director of the fact-checking organization Dubawa. "People don't care about fact-checks. All they care about are their prejudices," he laments.
The candidates who came in behind the declared presidential winner, Bola Tinubu, representative of the ruling party, Atiku Abubakar, and Peter Obi, second and third respectively, took legal action at the end of March to challenge the results.
Experts predict that these appeals will reach the Supreme Court, as in the previous presidential election in 2019.
In this particularly sensitive context, the AFP fact-check service has dismantled dozens of erroneous information around these elections, including a photo supposed to show President-elect Tinubu bribing the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Olukayode Ariwoola.
In fact, the image from 1996 shows Bola Tinubu in London with then-opponent Dele Momodu, who has refuted the allegations on social media.
Social networks, however, continue to carry baseless claims about alleged attempts by Mr. Tinubu to bribe judges of the Supreme Court, or even the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has no jurisdiction in electoral matters in Nigeria.
The strong penetration of social networks like Facebook, WhatsApp, or TikTok, which have some 36 million users in the country, allows rumors and false information to spread there like forest fires.
Some actions of the executive power in recent years had already undermined citizens' confidence in justice. In October 2016, the police searched the homes of two Supreme Court judges, who were finally cleared of all suspicion.
And in 2019, the highest magistrate in the country at the time, Walter Onnoghen was charged with non-declaration of assets, a political maneuver according to critics of power. Technical problems, in particular delays in the transmission of results after the vote, also fueled suspicions of fraud.
“The bitter disillusion felt by many Nigerians is due not so much to the fact that their candidate did not win but that the election they had dared to trust turned out to be flawed in such an unacceptable and inexcusable manner.”, summarized an editorial for the American magazine The Atlantic the best-selling novelist Chimamanda Adichie.
This disappointment stoked disinformation against the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), including false claims that a minister, an ally of Mr. Tinubu, had access to the computer containing the results before the winner is officially proclaimed.
AFP has thus invalidated a video having recorded thousands of views claiming to show the president of the Electoral Commission, Mahmood Yakubu, dining at Bola Tinubu the day after the election. The INEC has been targeted by "a series of desperate smear campaigns by troublemakers", according to its spokesman, Rotimi Oyekanmi.
For Afolabi Adekaiyaoja, an expert at the Center for Democracy and Development, Justice, and INEC would benefit from taking the initiative for more dynamic communication to limit the spread of false stories.
"Access to information plays a role in reducing citizens' concerns about these" electoral and judicial processes, he argues.