Post falsely claims Nigerian official accessed election data server illegally

Days after Nigeria went to the polls to elect a successor to President Muhammadu Buhari, a social media post suggested that a photo showed Nigerian housing minister Babatunde Fashola illegally accessing election data on a “server” prior to the official release of results. But the claim is false: the picture showed Fashola viewing a public website for election results operated by a civic tech organisation based in Lagos.

“Someone please ask Fashola how he got access to this server that has the election result data,” reads the tweet published on February 27, 2023.

It suggested that the photo was evidence that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) “rigged the election before it started”. Nigeria held presidential polls on February 25, 2023.

A screenshot of the false tweet, taken on February 28, 2023

The image shows Fashola working on a laptop computer. Beside him is a large computer screen with the words “2023 presidential election result” written across it. The screen also features columns showing the collated ballot results for Adamawa and Kaduna states for the leading political parties.

Fashola ran the mobilisation for the campaign for the APC’s presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu.

Tinbu was declared winner of the keenly contested election, ahead of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Atiku Abubakar and a surprise third challenger, the Labour Party's Peter Obi.

The account that shared the false post is called “Dr Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed (STAN) #ObiDatti”. Its name refers to the vice-presidential candidate of the Labour Party.

Election officials arrived very late or not at all at many polling stations, and electronic devices for voting also malfunctioned in some centres. Instances of violent disruption of balloting in places like Lagos and Rivers states were also recorded.

Voting was postponed to the following day in many places due to these problems.

According to INEC, “technical glitches” disrupted the uploading of tallies from local polling stations to a central results portal.

But the PDP and Labour Party said the issues were deliberate and suggested that electoral commission officials colluded to manipulate the ballot in favour of Tinubu.

Voters and election observers also pointed out instances where the results which had been uploaded at the polling stations were absent on INEC’s results portal.

"We demand that this sham of an election should be immediately cancelled," Labour Party chairman Julius Abure said on February 28, 2023. "We also call for a fresh election to be carried out."

Prior to the polls, INEC introduced a new biometric voter accreditation system to help prevent vote rigging and ensure a credible electoral process. INEC chairman Mahmood Yakubu said it was not mandatory for the results to be transmitted to the election portal before they were announced.

APC’s Tinubu was declared the winner of the election in the early hours of March 1, 2023, after days of counting.

However, the claim that the photo shows Fashola accessing a server hosting election data is false.

Open website

By conducting a reverse image search, AFP Fact Check found that the photo was first published on February 27, 2023, hours before the false claim was made.

It was posted on Instagram by Fashola’s personal photographer, Lukman Olaonipekun.

A screenshot of the Instagram post by Lukman Olaonipekun, taken on February 27, 2023

The caption explained that the photo showed Fashola looking at a “screen as INEC results trickle in, at the APC National Situation Room in Abuja on Monday, 27th February 2023”.

On February 22, 2023, Tinubu’s media office published several photos of him visiting the situation room on Twitter. A few featured Fashola.

Moreover, “Civichive” could be seen on the screen to Fashola’s left displaying election results. Civic Hive operates a website that shows the result of the general elections in real time. It said the results displayed on the website were those announced officially by INEC.

A screenshot shows the URL of the website shown on the larger screen, taken on February 28, 2023

The web address on the big screen is the same as that of Civic Hive’s election results portal, and not an INEC’s "server".

Meanwhile, Civic Hive said it has no affiliation with the government or any political party, describing the claim that the photo in the false tweet showed INEC’s server as “unfounded” and “false”.

“We reject any attempt by fake news peddlers and merchants churning out slanderous words about our people and processes in the bid to shrink civic spaces like ours,” said Temidayo Musa, the head of Civic Hive’s Roadmap to 2023 election project.