The name Omoyele Sowore has become so popular in the political terrain. This is not because he contested the 2019 presidential election. Omoyele Sowore became more popular when he was arrested by the Nigerian State Security Service (SSS) for alleged treason after calling for a protest last year.
Omoyele Sowore is a Nigerian human rights activist, pro-democracy campaigner, former presidential candidate, and founder of an online news agency Sahara Reporters. A few days back, he spoke to City People Publisher, SEYE KEHINDE, on City People Instagram Live Chat where he revealed his ordeals while he was in detention in Abuja and many others.
What have you been up to for the past 3 to 4 months of the lockdown?
I have been in the second brand of lockdown. Before the last four months, I was locked down at the DSS headquarters in Abuja. After I was released, the Judge ordered me to stay in Abuja until honorary bail conditions imposed upon me for fighting for my rights can be discharged. Then the Pandemic came and we have been dealing with all kinds of issues.
So how have you been coping with all the challenges before you?
Well, I see them as part of the things that comes with the territory of our work. Well, you have worked in one of Nigeria’s most difficult Magazines in the past so you know what it means to be seen as an enemy of the state because you are in the business of telling the truth. So my situation not compounded. You know I am a Publisher of online web news that is very critical of the government and exposes corruption and puts all these people on their toes and their feet to fire. So I decided to challenge them by bringing a new brand of politics into the Nigerian political context, campaigned across the country, spoke my mind, and really connected with people and they weren’t happy about that at all, so they threw all kinds of challenges at me.
They got me arrested, detained, abducted me and tried to demoralize me and break my spirit, but as I said, all these things come with the territory of what we do as writers and activist and as public conscience and a revolutionary that wants to see a country that is different from what we have now. And I am very clear that I would never accept anything less than what we have now, no matter what it takes.
This country could be a fantastic country. We could be living in a country that is among the best in the world if not the best in Africa. We should be one of the six best countries in the world going by the kind of revenue we have made in the last sixty years because we are at the top six oil-producing countries in the world, but our situation has spoken to a different kind of condition which is pathetic and people like me have been doing this for a long time from student activist, to environmental activist. We have to do everything we can to have a country we can call our own but unfortunately, we are not there yet but we will get there whether they like it or not. On the day the Nigerian people will be tired of the irresponsible and irresponsive leadership and they will throw it off their backs.
So do you think the Nigerian problem is squarely poor leadership in nature?
Oh, absolutely yes. I happened to be very close to Chinua Achebe before he died and I listened to him speak about Nigeria’s problems. He had a very different kind of experience because they went through a civil war, left Nigeria and came back and later came to the conclusion that leadership makes all the difference in whatever you think about. If you don’t have leaders, you don’t have a country. There is a difference between a country which is literary and a nation which is of substance. Countries are just geographical expressions while nations are spaces of cultural integrity and respect. It is a place where you can have happiness and conditions that are suitable for human beings. Unfortunately, Nigeria did not become a nation but a business created by the British. I don’t really criticize the British because a lot of countries who were colonized by them have moved past that, so no excuses.
Nigeria does not look like a country that was well-founded. I’m not in any way insulting those that fought for our freedom. But this does not look like a country that was well-founded.
What went through your mind during the week of your incarceration
Well, nothing really because I have been incarcerated before several times but not as long as this. Remember I was a student activist and most of my senior colleagues like Gani Fawehinmi, Femi Falana, Segun Mayegun and I just to mention a few were all part of that period in the 90s had been to jail before and all but not as long as this.
When I was there in solitary confinement for most of the time, it was tough. Even psychologists say that the maximum time to spend in solitary and still be sane is 24hrs but I spend over 4 months. Bakare Olawale was made to join me towards the end of my detention. The idea was to prevent me from getting access to information so that they can break me and make me miserable. If you find yourself in detention, you have to decide not to jail yourself. Mental composure is very important. How you respond to your condition is very critical. You are being watched and monitored in detention so they can know how to apply pressure on us. There are times that I feel that my phone is ringing and I try to look for it and then I remember that it has been taken away. So they maximise pressure points to see how fast they can break you. I was only allowed to talk to my wife only 3 times in 5 months and all our conversations were being monitored.
They tried all possible ways to find incriminating things that can be used against me in the media. When they didn’t find anything, they started looking for a way to let me off. They couldn’t do that because they thought there would be a blew back to them.
So they abducted me and later released me grudgingly but didn’t withdraw the full charges.
The ridiculous money laundering charges were withdrawn but they kept the charge that I insulted the President Buhari. Femi Falana took charge of the case and we are left with Felony of trying to overthrow the government through the call for a protest, August 5th last year.
Talking about Sahara Reporters, are you still actively involved in the running of the company or it has been handed over to management to run?
Since I started running for office, I resigned as an active owner of Sahara Reporters. Sahara Reporters was still active even when I was in detention. One of the reasons, while I was not allowed to talk to anyone, was to prevent me from influencing what was published at Sahara Reporters. It was later discovered that with or without me, it would continue running. Sahara Reporters has become a public trust that is run by other people, though I’m the founder. It’s my dream and I want Sahara Reporters to prosper but every journalism platform out there that is doing a good job also to prosper. We don’t really have enough press in Nigeria compared to the United States. We have not been able to reach the point where factual information is circulated on the media.
Right now, the media is going through a lot in terms of challenges right now. How do you see that?
It has always been like that. The media’s job is a thankless job. Everybody wants to control what goes out in the media, particularly the government. And unfortunately in Nigeria, the government is still competing with the private sector in terms of media. They still have their own media which should not be allowed like the NTA. They also have organisations that are controlling the private media space. They introduce bills like hate speech bills, social media bills etc which is targeted at the media because they don’t want a media that scrutinise the government.
The media is not doing enough in terms of fighting for the media space and we all are guilty of this problem. There are a lot of ways they have criminalized simple reporting. They arrest you and charge you for criminal libel which is unheard of in modern-day journalism. But the journalists not doing a good job because most of them are aspiring to become Chief Press Secretary, Special Advisers to politicians etc. They no longer aspire to become the appendage of the people they are reporting against. Otherwise, you have established in your reporting.
How do you always feel when you see the state of Nigeria now with all the challenges we are facing and the fact that we have not been able to do much to get things changed?
It is very sad and that is why I am restless and its the reason why I have taken all the risk I have taken. After we fought for against the military rule for the civilian rule, we got something I like to call ‘Morontocracy’, the government of morons for the morons and by the morons. I left Nigeria in Feb. 1999 and I stayed out of Nigeria, went to school, got married and had kids. And each time I came back since 2003, it breaks my heart. It was what led me to set up Sahara Reporters and participate in politics because I know that there are so many things that can be done with good governance. Good governance is not rocket science.
For someone who is inarguably aware and informed about how things can work in this country make me restless. That’s why I took the risk to run for office. It’s also the reason that after I ran for office, I declared that we need a revolution and I was arrested and did not renounce it. Even when they sent a delegation to me in detention led by Yisa Funtuwa and Garba Shehu, to ask me to renounce the revolution, I refused and said it was not possible until we find a country that belongs to us. Jose said specifically to me that nobody has ever fought a government and won and I told him that maybe for the first time, we’ll find someone who can fight and win against the government. I don’t know if that person is me but I know that this system is not sustainable.
Then they left me and two weeks later, they charged me for Money Laundering and Cyberstalking and Treason because they were hoping they could pressurize me to abandon the struggle and when they found out that I wasn’t scared, they went to the next level to charge me with bogus offences and that made me stay over 4 months in detention after they had met me until I was granted bail with some of the harshest conditions. The only person that has ever been restricted to a city when he was charged with Treason in the history of Nigeria was Obafemi Awolowo In the 60s. And me the second person restricted to Abuja. I was in detention from Aug 3rd to December 24th, 2019.
Are you likely to run for Presidency in 2023?
I am running from now, I’m not waiting till 2023. I keep telling people, what Nigeria needs is liberation, if you can get it now, then why wait till 2023. So the race has started and it’s a race for human rights, freedoms, respect for the dignity of our people, the end to unemployment, respect for social and physical infrastructures and so on. We are not running the race of our times but our lives and it’s both political and non-political, partisan and non-partisan races that have to be run.