US-based Journalist and Human Rights activist, Omoyele Sowore has joined the race to be President of Nigeria, come 2019. This young and brilliant guy is a well known pro-democracy campaigner. He is founder and Publisher of the SaharaReporters.com, a website of citizen journalism, supplying videos, photos, news stories and commentaries that expose official corruption and abuse in Nigeria’s government.
Many don’t know he is an indigene of Ondo State. He was born on February 16, 1971. That was where he was raised. He studied Geography and Urban Planning at the University of Lagos and holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Colombia University. He teaches Modern African History at the City University of New York and Post Colonial African History at the School of Art, New York.
While in the University of Lagos, he was deeply involved in anti – military demonstrations and student unionism which ultimately culminated in his election as President of the UNILAG Student Union Government where he served between 1992-1994. His activism began in 1989, when he took part in student demonstrations protesting the conditions of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan of $120 million to be used for a Nigerian oil pipeline — the IMF loan conditions were to reduce the number of universities in the country from 28 to just 5.
In 1992 at UNILAG, Sowore led 2,000 students in protest against stealing in government. Police opened fire, killing 7. Sowore was arrested, interrogated and beaten, and later found out his family too had been put under pressure. But he refused to back down in the struggle for decent education in his country. He was an active participant in the June 12 pro-democracy struggle.
For his vociferous anti-government campaigns, he was harassed, arrested and detained for about 8 times in various detention centers. He almost lost his life in Abacha ‘ s gulag. Since that tragic baptism of fire, Sowore has remained consistent in his struggle to emancipate his country from the clutches of the racketeers and plunderers. He fled the country to the United States in 1999 from where he has continued to launch his anti-corruption missiles against the Nigerian ruling class, using his website-SaharaReporters.com
Last week, Omoyele Sowore spoke to City People Publisher, SEYE KEHINDE about his presidential ambition.
There are rumours that you have gone into politics and that you have plans to contest. Is this true?
It is true. But I have been in politics for almost 30 years, since I became a student activist at the University of Lagos in the early 1990s. As President of the University of Lagos Students Union and one of the leaders of the National Students’ Movement, I played a major role in helping to drive the military out of power. Since the restoration of democratic rule in 1999, my focus has been very political and I established Sahara Reporters as a platform that would help to ensure that the political class and the political system remains accountable to the Nigerian people.
I have decided to take my political engagement to the next level by offering myself to the Nigerian people as a credible candidate for the Presidency in 2019. It is a logical next step after 30 years of principled engagement in the Nigerian political process.
Is it also true you are going to contest elections What post are you contesting for? Where?
Yes I will be contesting for the presidency of this nation whose development has been “arrested” in 2019. It is clear that the traditional political system and the leaders it has provided to Nigeria has failed. It is not enough to try to keep these corrupt politicians honest by exposing them, they are starting to get resistant to public shaming as the judicial and police systems have failed to bring them to account for their misdeeds.
It is clearly not enough to try to give them good ideas to help grow the economy or improve security because they won’t listen and they don’t care.
What I have learned in my 47 years on earth, over half of which has been spent engaged in the Nigerian political process is that if you want to see things change you will have to do it yourself.
I will be leading a political movement of Nigeria’s Progressive People against the political status quo.
How do you see the political situation in the country today?
We are in a political crisis. Buhari’s government has abdicated its responsibilities in every area of national life.
Our political system continues to be defined by corruption. Not a single major conviction for corruption has been achieved under Buhari.
Divisions amongst Nigeria’s people has increased. Buhari has ignored the Farmer – Herdsmen conflicts and now Nigerians are losing their lives to a conflict that can be readily solved. It is the negligence of the federal government that has led states to start passing laws to deal with a crisis that only the federal government can comprehensively deal with.
We are also more disunited than ever before. When making their case to the Nigerian people in the run-up to the 2015 elections, the APC government had made a solemn pledge that restructuring would be one of the first things they would look into. That promise like so many others has been abandoned. As a result, various Nigerian communities continue to feel abandoned and left behind.
We are clearly in crisis.
How do you see Pres Buhari’s last 3 years in office?
Nigerians had high hopes that Buhari’s government would be better – but by every single measure this government has been a total failure.
The government’s own bureau of statistics has put unemployment at almost 19%. Over 20 million Nigerians who are qualified to have jobs, most of them young people, have no jobs. And the situation is getting worse. The same report indicated that unemployment rose in 2017.
The economy is in shambles. It took Buhari over 6 months to name ministers – in an economy that was in recession. On the monetary policy side Buhari made some terrible blunders. He was warned by experts that his maintenance of different foreign exchange regimes was going to make things worse. He still did it anyway and only stopped that disastrous policy when the naira was devalued to half its value when he took over.
Security was one area where Nigerians really hoped Buhari could make a difference. He has made things worse. Not only is Boko Haram still active – they just kidnapped over 100 girls a few weeks ago. Under Buhari the farmer – herdsmen conflicts have become worse. Healthcare is a disgrace. When even the President has to go overseas for treatment, what do you think the quality of care is for ordinary Nigerians? His wife even revealed that there is no single syringe in the Aso Rock Clinic.
How about the ruling APC?
The APC has been an abject failure. They have taken Nigerians for a ride and the Nigerian people will show them the door like they did to Jonathan and the PDP in 2015. The APC – or the All Progressive Criminals – as I call them control governance at all levels in Nigeria. Presidency. Senate. House of Representatives. State governments. They control every single lever of government. Yet see where we are. The failures of Buhari and the failures of the APC are one and the same.
For someone who has over the past 25yrs been actively involved in ensuring that Nigeria is a better place how do you feel each time you look at where we are today?
I feel frustrated and hopeful at the same time. When I became an activist almost 30 years ago, we were fighting for a return to democratic rule – and we achieved it in 1999.
In the 2 decades since the restoration of democratic rule, the task has shifted to nurturing democracy and upholding democratic norms. This includes fighting corruption, upholding the rule of law, ensuring the sanctity of the electoral process, affirming the right to free speech and religious freedoms.
That fight is ongoing – but we have made some progress and I am Proud of the role that I have played in that journey towards a more perfect form of our democracy.
In just 20 years we have had the first transfer of power from one civilian government to another.
I was part of the fight to ensure that an orderly constitutional transfer of power to a Southern minority Ijaw man occurred after Yar’adua died.
Our efforts at Sahara Reporters which included the real time reporting of electoral results also helped to ensure that for the first time in Nigeria’s history an opposition party beat the incumbent party. That’s a huge deal – and we did it as Nigerians.
Now, it is time for us to take over the political process with a true movement of the people. It will be a daunting task – but it is one that I am absolutely certain that the Nigerian people under the right leadership can pull off.
I believe I am that leader that Nigeria needs. All of my experiences in almost 30 years of activism has prepared me for this moment. In taking my activism from the streets to the people’s rock at Aso in Abuja, I will be following in the footsteps of activists like Mandela and Barack Obama.
Who is Sowore?And what are the lessons life has taught you?
Omoyele Sowore is a Nigerian from the Niger Delta region who has spent his entire adult life fighting for a better NIGERIA.
I come from a poor family – one of 16 siblings.
But despite the poverty of my upbringing, despite the fact that I had no godfathers or godmothers, I have achieved a significant amount in my political and personal careers.
As a teenager I became a student activist at the University of Lagos and I have remained a committed advocate for the Nigerian people ever since. In 2006 I established Sahara Reporters as a platform that would fearlessly and courageously speak truth to power. And as a vehicle for bringing true change to Nigeria. Today I have built Sahara Reporters into a globally acclaimed platform that is effective change and progress not only in Nigeria but across the African continent. Here is what I have learned in almost 30 years of committed activism. 1. Your past doesn’t define you. 2. Any dream and any vision that uplifts people and enhances humanity can be realized 3. A people united can never be conquered by enemies from without or within.
The most important lesson of all is that the Nigerian people are a resilient and resourceful people. At every point in my life I have seen the immense character of the Nigerian people – their indomitable spirit. Their refusal to ever give up. Their ability to sing even through their tears. That is what I am counting on as I lead this movement to take back nation and set it on the path to true greatness and irreversible progress.
You are one of the pioneers of the changes that the media has witnessed in recent times. How did you achieve this?
When I began writing and publishing content on the internet, I was only hoping to reach a few like-minded readers to share opinions and information about the rot in our society. By then I had been away for a few years, I was nostalgic and later angry about the disappointing condition of Nigeria under democratic rule, but most importantly, being a voracious consumer of Nigerian news, I was appalled by the way the media lapsed into a conniving coma.
In reality, I did not start internet publishing with that original decision to change Nigeria’s media landscape, but soon I realized that the public trusted and yearned for more of our kind of reporting. I decided to step fully to the plate and give my best in conjunction with others across the word. What you now refer to as a pioneering effort was made possible by all these compatriots and collaborators who channeled their energy, resources, and labor to make Sahara Reporters what it is today.
You have built Sahara Reporters into a formidable global media platform. How has the journey been?
As with every endeavor of this magnitude, it has been a long and tedious journey. It is already public knowledge how enemies of press freedom are ganging-up against the platform and its operators consistently, using every means possible to try to take us out of circulation.
When you started out, what was the whole idea?
I did not start as Sahara Reporters. The initial intention was to use my passion to provide information to the public in a such a way that they could be moved to act and to protect their rights from being trampled upon by politicians and the elite in general. It was an attempt to use my rights as enshrined in the Constitution, as well as international instruments, to receive and legitimately share information without applying for a government license to do so.
Many see you as a controversial person because of your fearless stance on issues? How do you cope with the backlash that comes your way?
I got over all that when I was at the university and under military rule, when it was dangerous to be fearless. Before graduating from the University of Lagos, where I rose to become a Student Union President, I was no longer bordered by fear-mongering. As you know, I was beaten, brutalized, detained and thoroughly victimized by the university authorities and the Nigerian military government.
The moment I took on a different area of activism, this time in advocacy media, I knew that some people would go to any length to hurt the platform, but today it has grown beyond just my person.
How do see the state of media practice today in Nigeria?
Media practice in Nigeria today is in shambles. There is not just that public-spirited media that I used to know when I was a student activist, the type personified by defiance like the days of Punch, Guardian, Tempo, TheNEWS, Tell etc. Once you have the media landscape dominated by practitioners who are more interested in becoming government spokespersons than growing their respective professions into intellectualized institutions, we are doomed. Can you believe that people can’t choose which is more corrupt between the media and the police in Nigeria today?
How do you see the state of online media practice with all its attendant criticisms?
Online Media is not different from Offline Media except for the ability and alacrity to reach a higher number of readers instantaneously. Its advantage is that it provides a variety of opportunities to add several multimedia contents to a piece of a story. It is easier to develop and to a great extent, it provides options for mass participation via distribution and engagement. Those values are helping to allow a broad range of issues to get covered and for the public to get engaged in ways that democratize information sharing. My point also is that it will boil down to the integrity of its users and operators for it to be good for society.
Many people don’t know how SaharaReporters operates. Tell us a bit about how you operate from the US. Do you have reporters like other media houses?
Our model at Sahara Reporters is to rely on citizens as reporters, we haven’t operated in a newsroom fashion, over time we have hybridized the model
How do you see the state of Corruption in Nigeria? How do we sanitize the country?
Corruption will not go away if there are no long-term consequences for engaging in corruption. You just saw the other day that Senator Dino Melaye had a book launch that could be considered the greatest affront to decency. Honestly speaking, it was the most audacious act of impunity. At his book launch, he had on the high table pretty much everyone who ought to have been in jail for corruption. That, by the way, included Melaye himself. Consequences, consequences, and severe consequences are the only way to curb corruption. There has to be revolutionary justice against corrupt public officers.
Who is Omoyele Sowore? Tell us about your background?
Where you were born, growing up years, etc.
I grew up in Kiribo in Ese-Odo LGA, attended the University of Lagos, where I obtained a B.Sc in Geography and Planning, self-exiled myself in 1999 to the US, obtained a Masters degree there and started Sahara Reporters precisely in 2006.
I am 46 years old. I am married and I have kids.
Do you feel fulfilled professionally?
It was never a professional endeavor, as I have said repeatedly, it was a continuation of activism. I cannot feel fulfilled until everyone is free.