By Seun Adeuyi
An online suppression campaign has been staged by two networks of Nigerian Twitter accounts, who are amplifying pro-government content to delegitimize the nationwide #EndSARS protests against police brutality.
According to DFRLab, since October, 2020, these two networks, which comprise of a cluster of recently created grassroot sockpuppet accounts, and a group of high-follower paid influencers have posted and amplified content and hashtags supporting President Muhammadu Buhari and of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Also, the accounts shared and amplified content meant to suppress #EndSARS protesters, pushing for accountability on the part of government. To achieve this, meme-like graphics were circulated by the accounts in a loosely coordinated manner.
Over the span of a few minutes to several hours, these images, would be posted and amplified by the networks. The accounts frequently interacted with and amplified each other’s posts through retweets and quote tweets.
A Distinct set of hashtags such as #OneNigeria, #LeadWithLove, #EndViolence, and more recently, #EndViolenceInNigeria were used to coordinate the accounts activity.
Even though there is no direct evidence linking Buhari’s government to these accounts, the content being shared is strongly biased in favor of President Buhari, his government and the Nigerian armed forces.
It would be recalled that the current cycle of #EndSARS activism was sparked on October 4, 2020, when video footage taken in Delta State claimed the Nigerian Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) shot and killed a young Nigerian man before speeding off in his car.
The scale and resilience of the #EndSARS campaign on social media is noteworthy — the hashtag made 302 billion impressions between October 1 and November 18, 2020.
Nationwide protests were organized within a week to call on the Nigerian government to disband the unit altogether. Within another week, the international communities rallied behind calls to #EndSARS.
An inflection point was October 20, 2020, at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos. Video footage and social media posts suggested Nigerian soldiers had opened fire at protesters at the toll gate.
The Nigerian army initially denied deploying any soldiers to the scene at all, but in a series of cascading retractions it later admitted to the deployment, but not opening fire, then subsequently admitting that soldiers fired their rifles, but claimed no live ammunition was used.
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State has since instituted a commission of inquiry into the incident, but fears remain of a possible cover-up.
Abubakar Malami, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), has also suggested that hoodlums dressed in Nigerian military uniforms could be behind the shooting.
Amidst fears of a cover-up and the rewriting of the narrative by state forces, these suspicious networks of accounts have now surfaced, according to the DFRLab.