To Omoyele Sowore, the publisher of the ubiquitous online newspaper, Sahara Reporters, it may be true that Nigeria is a complex country, but it is a scam believing that only the politically experienced can effectively and efficiently govern and manage Nigeria in its complexities and take her to the promised land.
In this privileged interview with the Editor, FOLORUNSHO HAMSAT, the Ondo State born social order advocate, asserts that Nigeria’s career politicians are not super human beings, since experience, of course,
does not automatically translate into competence.
Sowore, obviously, belongs in the camp of the awakening youth that is increasingly despairing of the manner Nigeria is being run by the old brigade. Giving the aims for throwing his hat in the ring for the 2019 presidential race, the esteemed journalist assessed that Nigeria’s present political class has become tainted, so, it needs to be altered. Sowore also shared his little known lifestyle, his views about life, and more. Excerpts…
Why do you think young minds, especially in black Africa are scared of joining active politics and from taking political power, although they have always been the driving force behind the old men in power?
It certainly is not a lack of idea, or courage or creativity that keeps young people away from politics. Status quo politicians have made politics about money and not ideas and programmes and the will to implement them. Ideas are available to anyone regardless of age. I am sure by now that you have seen the video of my interaction with Buhari’s Minister for Communications. He was clear in his view that without money, no one would be successful in politics. I think this idea that political power can only be accessed with money, which for young people, might mean having to align with a godfather or godmother and basically having to mortgage one’s beliefs on the altar of necessity, puts people off.
Who was the Cuban Fidel Castro in your idea of a revolutionary and how do his ideas impact you if they really do?
For those of us who got our start in activism as students, Fidel’s improbable revolution was an epochal event. Fidel’s experiences in mobilizing against the dictatorial Batista regime and his work to convince his demoralized compatriots that a true rebirth and transformation was possible remind me in many ways of the task before us today. Fidel’s experience certainly provides a good sense for what is possible if a person stays committed to the cause of freedom. We are on a similar journey. Our revolution is with ballots and not bullets – but it is a revolution nonetheless. We are asking our young people and all Nigerians to join us on this improbable journey. Fidel remained committed to an ideal until it was realized. His tenacity, his doggedness, his clarity of vision, his boundless optimisms for his nation and his courage are the qualities that make him stand out to me.
You have always come to people’s consciousness as an activist; at what point did you embrace activism, and what was the circumstance/s that aided your decision?
I have always had a strong sense of fairness and a desire to uplift the downtrodden. In my case the opportunity to expand that natural sense of justice to political matters occurred when I resumed as a fresh student at University of Lagos. This was at the height of the struggle against Structural Adjustment Programme – the austerity measures imposed by General Ibrahim Babangida and the corrupt military junta he led. The unfairness of the programme, the sacrifices it asked common people to make, while requiring no similar sacrifices of the dictators and their civilian accomplices offended every sense of fairness. I joined other students and pro-democracy activists who were protesting the programme.
Around that time, Femi Falana came to University of Lagos to speak at an event. My participation in the Anti-SAP riots and the arguments that Falana succinctly and convincingly made about the ongoing abuse of civil and democratic rights under the military made it clear to me that the struggle was one that required constant commitment, not just optional participation. I signed up to be an activist right away. That’s almost 30 years ago and I have never looked back since!
Do you realize that the average young Nigerians still do not believe that you are serious with your presidential ambition given what they assume as your romance from beginning with Nigeria’s power men?
I will disagree with that assessment. The average young person in Nigeria has seen our movement, that we can Take Back Nigeria from all the marauders and thieves that have held us hostage, to the East, West, North and South of Nigeria – from Kaduna to Kano, Abuja, Ibadan, Lagos, Onitsha, Owerri. They’ve seen us engage in town hall sessions across the world. And they have keyed into our message. They know it is serious. No one can seriously look at my track record and see what we have been able to do through our widespread engagement with Nigerians and conclude I am not serious. No one that knows my history and my story will ever say that I have any type of romance with Nigeria’s status quo politicians.
As a pro-democracy activist, I worked with others to chase out Babangida, and Abacha and their goons from the political scene – leading to the restoration of democracy in 1999. Using Sahara Reporters as a platform we helped to truncate Obasanjo’s third term agenda and stopped him from becoming another Mugabe. We exposed the various frauds that have continued to dog former Lagos Governor Bola Tinubu for decades. I fought against the Yar’Adua cabal when they tried to prevent Good luck Jonathan from becoming President as specified by the constitution. And when Jonathan failed to fulfil his promises to the Nigerian people, we worked to make sure that he was unable to use the powers of incumbency to rig the elections by publishing election results in real time. When Buhari got in and failed to stop corruption, we have continued to expose the failings of his government as well. We have exposed Saraki’s kleptomania. We exposed the chief of army staff’s purchase of homes in Dubai.
That’s practically all the major players in the political class. There is none of them that I have not had cause to do battle with. Anyone that assumes I have a romance with any big man does not know my history or my story. I have no godfathers or godmothers. I believe in one thing and one thing only. That a man or woman should have something they believe in, so strongly that they are willing to die for it. In my case, that guiding principle and belief is that for Nigeria to grow and prosper, men and women of conscience must be willing to speak the truth at all times, no matter whose ox is gored. That is why I established Sahara Reporters and for 12 years, that platform has been the most consistent voice addressing pressing issues in the nation. That fundamental belief is why I have stayed committed to the struggle for almost 30 years, and that is why I am presenting myself as an aspirant for the presidency of this great nation, a clear alternative to the misguided, rotten and burdensome leadership running Nigeria at the moment.
Some are even saying that your vying for political office was a ruse to just buy the conscience of the youth and sell to your choice among the leading aspirants for 2019 elections. What do you say to that?
It is not new to listen to some cynical views about this contest, some haven’t witnessed our type of audacity before now. I have been doing what I am doing consistently for almost 30 years. I will ask those who say such things to just keep watching. On Feb 14th, 2019 I will be on the ballot as a candidate for the presidency. Again, I will insist that the people who say such things should look at my track record. I have been a constant, fearless and consistent voice for good governance, democratic rule and the primacy of the rule of law for almost three decades. My record and my consistency speak for themselves. I do not start what I cannot finish. Just watch this space!
Tell us how you want to go about securing the confidence and trust of the Nigerian youth who are your ambition’s primary focus.
My record is the first thing I am asking everyone to look at. Secondly, I am not just standing, still hoping and wishing that people will come over to support me. That is the type of arrogance that we want to do away with. I am taking this message of national restoration and rebirth directly to the masses; straight to the doorsteps of our youth. We are using town halls, market squares – both real and virtual. We are going to schools, to street corners, to churches and to mosques. I am doing this because I value each and every person. Also, because I want to engage them one and one and take my message directly to the people that I seek to lead. I want them to look me in the eye and ask me questions. I want to be able to look them straight in the eye and make a commitment to them that I will lead this nation towards growth and progress, fearlessly, intelligently and courageously.
Are you going into election as an independent candidate or you have one of the existing political parties in plan to drive your aspiration?
Nigeria does not yet allow for independent candidacy. Ultimately, we will be running on the platform of one of the existing parties. I am currently working on forming a coalition of progressive parties. Already, some parties have offered us their platform. I’m in no hurry to declare the platform yet. We are going about the discussions meticulously. There are very small parties made up of people with whom we share a common vision. We must all come under one big tent. While I cannot yet tell you what platform I will be running under, I can very clearly let you know it will never be the APC or PDP.
What is your soft side like as a socialite and family man?
I am married and blessed with children. There is no softer side than being a father to nice kids.
Your media platform, Sahara Reporters, some are saying the flame of reporting and revealing exclusives have gone down so much since you declared your interest in partisan politics; did you observe that too, and tell us why, and will bringing back the flame not affect your political aspiration?
I don’t think they have gone to our site lately. Sahara Reporters is not just about Sowore. There is a staff team that is doing the work of reporting on news and issues – and that continues with or without me. We are still breaking leading stories. And we are still speaking truth to power. I declared two months ago – go to Sahara Reporters and do a search. You will see that we have continued to lead the process of breaking news, championing democracy, exposing corruption – wherever it is found.
What do you make of President Buhari’s recent meeting with American President Trump, and what would you have done differently on such an occasion if you were President Buhari?
What exactly did Nigeria gain from that meeting? We do not know what they discussed in private, but President Buhari did us all a favour and wrote an article in Newsweek on April 30th telling the world what he planned to discuss with President Trump. He was going to talk about Boko Haram, Trade Investments, clean energy projects, concessioning of the existing rail infrastructure in Nigeria, power sector projects, and the implementation of a whistle blower policy. All of those points have been dismal failures. Boko Haram is still terrorising Nigerians. In fact, it is ironic that the Nigerian government – Buhari’s administration, has been the biggest financiers of Boko Haram through the payment of ransoms. Boko Haram is still kidnapping our daughters and attacking the military and civilians. Imagine this – a large convoy of terrorists rode on cars in broad daylight to kidnap over a hundred girls. And then weeks later after having received millions of dollars in ransom, they bring the girls back. In broad daylight. How can things like this happen in a nation with an army, air force and police? In his Newsweek article, he mentioned $430 million of investments by Cocoa Cola and a Cereal Company – Kellogg. Three years into his tenure, he is still talking about the intent, to concession railway lines. And then our President shamelessly talked about a whistle-blower policy – when his government has spectacularly failed to prosecute anyone based on the policy. Where are the convictions? As President, if I am out representing my nation, I will have more solid achievements to discuss. I will be talking about more substantive issues. I will use the occasion to meet with the titans of industry and commerce in America and link them up with their Nigerian counterparts so that deals can be made that will grow the economy. I will be championing the cause of the Nigerian worker, the Nigerian farmer – getting them major concessions and facilitating major job creating and economy boosting deals. What President Buhari did in Washington DC is open Nigeria’s markets to US agro imports, that negates his well touted growth in the agricultural sector. When I become President I would also not have missed the opportunity to advocate for more respect and consideration and respect to be shown to Nigeria and Africa, in American foreign policy.
What would be your primary focus in terms of developing Nigeria and Nigerians if elected Nigeria’s president in 2019?
My plans are intended to generate prosperity and growth through eight specific agenda items. Our plans can be described as S-P-I-C-E-R, H-E. This stands for Security. Power. Infrastructure. Corruption & judicial reforms. Economy & Jobs. Restructuring. Healthcare and Education. Our plans will create 5 million new jobs. We will reduce unemployment from 18% to less than 12%. We will provide workers with a living wage – by setting N100k/month minimum wage for the federal civil service and N50k/month for youth corpers. We will hire 160,000 new public health workers to expand health care at the local level and 200,000 teachers across the country. That will be at least 200 new health are personnel in each of the 774 LGAs. We will train and empower 1,000 agricultural entrepreneurs in each local area – that will be 774,000 new jobs that will boost the economy and agricultural production all over the country. Our infrastructure programme will double road and rail infrastructure. We will turn Nigeria into a construction site. Unlike other aspirants that have ever run for the presidency, not only have we proposed plans, but we also identify how we will pay for them.
You have your eyes on 2019. What if 2019 does not come to reality regarding your presidential dream, would you abandon the project?
I am convinced that with the support that we are getting, with the message of progress and growth that we are bringing and the dereliction of duty that Buhari has shown – 2019 will be our year. I can’t even imagine that the conscious youth of this nation will sentence their future to another four-year detention by the current political operators. The reality is that I have been engaged in Nigeria’s political system as an activist, citizen journalist, civil rights and pro-democracy advocate for the last 30 years. We cannot lose this!
You are about the most visible young Nigerian seeking the president’s office in 2019. Would you be ready to support any other young Nigerian in 2019 if the situation calls for it, and under what circumstance would you be doing that?
For the last 20 years, we have been supporting people for political office, hoping that they will implement the vision for progress that we have. That is why Buhari was voted in 2015. That is why Jonathan won in 2011. I am running because I believe I have something unique to offer the nation. I am running on a record of 30 years of consistency and dedication to Nigeria.
If I thought, there was someone else out there that could better articulate that message and more importantly deliver on it, I would be supporting them. I don’t believe there is a better bearer of this message than myself. I expect to be on the ballot on February 14th, 2019.
How would you visualize another four-year term for a Muhammadu Buhari presidency?
I would describe it in one word. Terrible. If a man can perform this terribly in his firm term – when he knows he will need to renew his mandate, what do you think will happen if he gets a second term and no longer needs to renew his mandate? We have no choice but to make our predictions about what a second Buhari term would look like based on his current performance. Buhari has nothing to offer Nigerians. It took him six months to name a cabinet – when the nation was in recession. He has surrounded himself with corrupt officials. His administration has failed to make any significant progress on corruption. Cases are stalled. Nothing works. Unemployment hovers at about 18%. The rate of violence is high. There are more people being lost to violence in Nigeria than there are deaths in some countries at war. Another four-year term will be more of the same. Stagnation. Rampant unemployment, intensification of Farmer – Herdsmen conflicts, rising terrorism by Boko Haram, armed robbery and kidnappings. It will be more of the same.
Tell us how you relax when not doing anything and where you like spending your holidays.
I am an avid runner, though long distance running is tedious, I find it relaxing. It helps me think through ideas and it is also the time I have to listen to music. My holidays are spent in my head.