Twitter suspends top Nigerian influencers’ accounts over #FreeAlexSaab campaign

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Twitter, has suspended the accounts of some Nigerian social media influencers for their alleged involvement in a paid campaign for the release of Columbian businessman, Alex Saab – wanted in the US for money laundering.

The influencers, according to their Twitter monikers, include Pamilerin, Samuel Mbah, Danny Walter, Tife, Valhalla, Mr Ahmed, Adonai, Volqx, Lamar, Four-eyed Edo Boy, Biisi.

Although Twitter has not released any statement as regards the massive suspension of the accounts, the profile pages of the accounts showed that “Twitter suspends accounts which violate the Twitter Rules”.

It was also learnt many other accounts outside Nigeria were also suspended indefinitely for involving in a coordinated online campaign to obstruct justice.

According to an intelligence analysis report published by Financial Times, Venezuelan government is using fake Twitter accounts to sway public opinion and stop authorities in the West African islands of Cape Verde from extraditing its chief dealmaker to the US.

The report analyzed more than half a million Twitter posts related to Saab, a Colombian citizen accused by the US of running illicit fuel and gold trading schemes to help Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro evade sanctions.

The 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.

“The campaign was for about a month and plenty influencers were on it,” an influencer, who wants to be anonymous, told The Guardian on Tuesday. His Twitter account was also suspended on Monday night.

Saab was indicted last July of bribing Venezuelan officials and funneling more than $350 million to overseas accounts as part of a food programme intended to serve those going hungry in Venezuela.

He is also suspected of helping Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro to orchestrate a swap with Iran as part of a plan that has brought oil, workers, and supplies to Venezuela in exchange for about 9 tons of gold worth $500 million.

Saab was arrested in Cape Verde on June 12 when the private jet he was traveling on stopped during what Venezuela has described as a humanitarian mission.

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Venezuela’s foreign ministry said in a statement that Saab was in Cape Verde on a layover as part of a mission to acquire food for the government’s subsidy program as well as medicine for the coronavirus pandemic and his arrest is part of the U.S. “hounding and aggression against the Venezuelan people.”

Saab’s lawyers claimed that he cannot be charged in the United States 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 U.S. authorities.

The papers filed in Miami federal court include translations of documents showing Saab’s official designation as a Venezuelan envoy to Iran as well as correspondence between officials in the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Iranian officials about his coronavirus relief mission.

The papers also include correspondence between Maduro and an Iranian official regarding Iranian oil shipments to Venezuela.