Betta Edu: Over 50 social media influencers hired to launder Minister of Interior, Olubunmi-Ojo’s image

Betta Edu: Over 50 social media influencers hired to launder Minister of Interior, Olubunmi-Ojo’s image

No fewer than 50 accounts operated by social media influencers have been engaged to promote Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, Nigeria’s Minister of Interior, on soc

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No fewer than 50 accounts operated by social media influencers have been engaged to promote Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, Nigeria’s Minister of Interior, on social media.

Since taking up a ministerial role in the government of President Bola Tinubu in August 2023, Tunji-Ojo has made frequent appearances in the media, discussing his efforts to ease international passport registration and collection for Nigerians.

His public image in the media remained spotless until a contract scandal involving a company he personally founded became public knowledge in the first week of January.

Evidence emerged on January 7 that Tunji-Ojo’s New Planet Project Limited obtained a consultancy project from the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, then headed by the troubled suspended minister Betta Edu. The scandal left him dusting his files to find a Corporate Affairs Commission’s (CAC) filing showing that he had resigned his directorship from the company since 2019, but the CAC did not reflect the change on its public portal. Nevertheless, he remains a shareholder in the organisation.

The discovery prompted calls for his suspension and investigation just like Edu, but these calls were swiftly countered by an army of social media influencers and some self-acclaimed civil society groups with no digital footprints until the scandal.

Findings have now shown that Tunji-Ojo runs a well-oiled social media campaign, particularly on X, executed by a supervised network of hired influencers.

Their operational mode is consistent with established social media coordinated campaign trends. Unlike what many might believe, most of the posts about the minister are not from spontaneous or self-motivated X users. Once Tunji-Ojo posted, these influencers took it up and crafted their own contents around the subject, quoting his statements as they deemed fit or as determined in their central operation chambers.

As hired influence operators, they reposted and quoted tweets by the minister. They also curated their own content as a strategy to increase the likelihood of a greater reach — the higher the visibility, the more the strength of dominance the minister enjoyed on the platform.

Hashtags are central to influence operations. At least five hashtags — #RenewedHope, #NewDawnWithBTO, #RenewedHope, #NewDawnWithBTO, #SpotLightOnBTO and #BTO4RenewedHope — have been created and associated with the minister. These hashtags are mentioned in their posts to provide a metric for discoverability and monitor their effectiveness, and keep a tab on the trend of their paymaster’s activities.

Although #NewDawnWithBTO was created in 2023, it only became frequent on X after the scandal, which also coincided with the launch of an online passport application system by the minister. Between January 8 and 20, it appeared in more than 430 posts.

Evidently, some of these persons are not mere party supporters or the ministers admirers, but influencers who amplify information not for ideological reasons but for pecuniary gains, regardless of information credibility. Some influencers such as @lollylarry1, @jarmari01, @_chiefagbabiaka, @olaniranfaith, @abasisom and @samzyVG, most of whom used false identities, declared in their bios to be career influencers.

@lollylarry1 is a key figure handling the network. Members of the network exist in two broad categories: paid and unpaid.

A peep into her account further showed that she was involved in anti-EndSARS campaign by the government. She was also once involved in a social media campaign for Arora Akanksha, a young woman who aspired to become the United Nations’ Secretary-General in 2021.

Apart from that, some of the accounts have X verification badges. It also appears some influencers have more than one account for promotional purposes. Out of the 50 accounts, 22 have at least 1,000 followers, the highest being 154.6 thousand followers. Their moderate followings indicate they are mostly minor influencers.

An average minor influencer earns between N30,000 and N60,000 per campaign or depending on the period of activity. This helps to understand how much goes into the minister’s influencing campaign alone monthly. This is aside his statutory media aides’ remuneration.

A quick analysis of many of the accounts shows them to be supporters of the ruling party predating Tunji-Ojo’s ministerial appointment. And in a situation where there is evidence to show that participants have been paid, it is possible that the perceived beneficiary is completely unaware of such campaign as it may have been sponsored by associates or aides hoping to curry his favour.

Interestingly, Tunji-Ojo has a record of maintaining extravagant political operations. As a lawmaker that represented the Akoko North East/North West Federal Constituency from 2019 to 2023, he appointed over 220 individuals as special advisers, special assistants and personal assistants in one swoop.