+Why He Lives In AMERICA
Omoleye Sowore, the founder of Sahara Reporters hardly grants interviews. Since he started his online new agency in 2006, he has granted only few interviews and you can count them on your finger tips.
Sahara Reporters is an online news agency based in New York City that focuses on promoting citizen journalism by encouraging everyday people to report stories about corruption, human rights abuses and other political misconduct in Nigeria. It is a frontier news source for advocacy journalism.
Since 2006, Sahara Reporters has published over 5,000 reports. In December 2009, it drew worldwide attention by being the first news source to identify and publish the photo of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, known more commonly as the “Underwear Bomber”, who is a suspected terrorist accused of attempting to blow-up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day by detonating a plastic bomb that exploded in his underwear.
Over the years, Sahara Reporters has gained a large following both in Nigeria and amongst Nigerians abroad.
Although Sahara Reporters report from New York and are protected by the First Amendment, both Omoyele Sowore and the organization have received various threats from individuals whose illegal activities have been exposed on their website, as well as the Nigerian government.
Omoyele Sowore was born in a little village called ‘Kiribo’ in Ese-Odo local government area of Ondo State.
He is from a small Yoruba-speaking tribe known as “Ijaw-Apoi”. His father was a local teacher and mum a full-time housewife. He’s the first son from a polygamous family and has 16 brothers and sisters.
At 12 he learnt how to ride a motorcycle (Suzuki 100 cc.) so that he could fish at the lake for the entire family before going to school every morning.
Sowore was a Students’ Union President of the University of Lagos, Akoka, from 1992 to 1994.
He studied Geography and Regional Planning at the University of Lagos from 1989 to 1995 (for six years), after being expelled twice for political reasons and because of his student activism.
In 1994 he graduated, got his final results in May 1995 and did his Youth Service in Yola, Adamawa State, from 1995-1996 but was never given a discharge certificate till date.
He fled Nigeria to the United States in 1999 for urgent medical treatment of his vital organs.
He has a Masters’ degree in Public Administration from Columbia University in New York and graduated in May 2003.
He teaches at the School of Visual Arts in New York and also the New York College of Technology where all the subjects relating to Africa, especially pre-colonial and post-colonial studies are being taught by him.
He is based in a seventh-floor office on a stretch of West 29th Street in Manhattan from where he runs his website.
In a recent interview, he disclosed that he has ‘eyes’ and ‘ears’ (impeccable sources) in Aso Rock Villa, which he said, explains most of his exclusives. He is 46.
Omoyele Sowore is a human rights and pro-democracy campaigner and does not hide that. His website of citizen journalism, supply’s videos, photos, news stories and commentaries that expose official corruption and abuse in Nigeria’s government.
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 the President of the 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 University of Lagos, Sowore led 2,000 students in protest against Nigeria’s notorious kleptocracy. Police opened fire, killing seven. 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 corrupt Nigerian ruling class using his website – SaharaReporters.
SaharaReporters is supported by grants donated by the Ford Foundation and Omidyar Foundation. As part of its policy, the medium does not accept adverts and financial support from the Nigerian government.
It was Sahara Reporters that forced an associate of convicted ex-Delta State Governor Mr. James Ibori, Emmanuel Enaboifo, out of his exalted position as finance director of a bi-national commission that oversees the oil-rich zone owned by Nigeria and Sao Tome & Principe. Many more examples abound.
He spoke to City People Publisher SEYE KEHINDE last week about his life, plus how Sahara Reporters became such a powerful brand locally.
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 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 operate. Tell us a bit about how you operate from the US. Do you have reporters like other media houses?
Our model 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.