Twitter has suspended the accounts of a number of Nigerian influencers who have been accused by the US government of having orchestrated the deadly October 2020 protests against police.
The influencers have been accused of meddling in the diplomatic row over Venezuela’s envoy Alex Saab, currently being held by the government of Cape Verde.
Twitter says the accounts were responsible for trending posts criticising the detention of Mr Saab, who is awaiting deportation to the United States to answer to money laundering charges.
The 48-year-old Saab is a Columbian businessman and Venezuela’s special envoy acting as the president’s financier was in transit in Cape Verde, and was arrested on June 12, 2020 for allegedly helping Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to launder money.
The US complained to Twitter that the Nigerians were hired to execute an online strategy to ignite the protests in Nigeria, and to whip up international sentiments in favour of Mr Saab.
According to the US complaint to Twitter, intelligence analysis reports show that Venezuela is using fake Twitter accounts to spur people to stop the planned extradition of Saab to the US.
Folarin Faiz Falana, a Nigerian entertainer and whose father is Femi Falana, the lawyer to Mr Saab, is the alleged mobilisers of the pro-Saab influencers who are mainly in the entertainment industry.
It is alleged that the influencers tweeted to orchestrate protests against Nigerian police in October last year, causing the death of more than 47 police officers, destruction of police stations and destruction of public properties across Nigeria.
The Nigerian Twitter influencers were discovered to have opened fake accounts and engaged in twitter war over Saab who they claim had been ordered to be released by the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) community court in Abuja.
Intelligence report examined 547,000 tweets related to Saab’s case published in Africa and South America from October 2020 to February 2021. Pro-Saab Twitter traffic had increased since the new year and “the primer driver of that increase appears to be the deployment of Nigeria-based social media influencers”, the analysis said.
Saab was indicted last July of bribing Venezuelan officials and funnelling more than $350 million to overseas accounts as part of a food programme intended to serve those going hungry in Venezuela.
Venezuela’s Foreign ministry said Saab was in Cape Verde on a layover as part of a mission to acquire food for the government’s subsidy programme as well as medicine for the coronavirus pandemic and his arrest is part of the US “hounding and aggression against the Venezuelan people.”
Saab’s lawyers claimed that he cannot be charged in the US because he has diplomatic immunity and that he was on a Venezuelan mission to Iran related to a Covid-19 relief effort when he was arrested on an Interpol “red notice” issued by US.