The VENT REPUBLIC reporters caught up with Omoyele Sowore, the popular Publisher of Sahara Reporters and former Presidential Candidate of the African Action Congress.
The #RevolutionNow crooner talked on different issues ranging from his activism, pro-democracy struggles, incarceration, his relationship with Nnamdi Kanu and Bola Tinubu among others.
Below is the excerpt of the conversation:
TVR: Hello Comrade Omoyele Sowore; nice to meet you!
Sowore: Thank you, same here!
TVR: Let us go down memory lane, the waters of your hometown Kiribo was badly affected by oil spillage which destroyed the livelihood of the local fishermen; was that the raison d’etre behind your activism? Was that the remote cause?
Sowore: I grew up in the Niger Delta region, I traveled great lengths in the creeks with my late father who was a teacher, we experienced during our travels by canoe how oil spills and pollution devastated the ecosystems of region on the Ijaw-Ilaje side of the region where I grew up. However, this was partially the reason I became an activist, my activism was mostly fired by physical violence of the Nigerian state against Nigerians, it was followed by political and economic injustices that made me to frequently refer to Nigeria as a “Federal Republic of Injustice”
TVR: You have said publicly that but for the free education policy of the then Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), you would have ended up as a palm wine tapper as your parents were too indigent to send you to a private school. How easy was it for you to get admission to the University of Lagos which prides itself as the nation’s pride and school of first choice?
Sowore: This is very true, when I was younger only 6 kids from my hometown made it to secondary school and your parents have to be a bit financially stable to send you over to secondary school around us. In 1980 when a secondary school was brought over to my hometown we had some 100 students enroll in school that year, I was one of them, in fact, I was promoted from Primary 4 to Form 1 in the secondary school. That’s how I escaped being a palm wine tapper. If I had ended up being a palm wine tapper, I would probably be one of the best around!
So, I was admitted into the University of Lagos on merit after a second trial writing JAMB.
TVR: In 1989 when you got admission to Unilag, many students studied ‘prestigious’ courses like law, engineering, medicine, architecture etc. Why the choice of Geography which some will describe as a non-professional course?
Sowore: In my first trial I wanted to study Business Administration but after looking around I noticed Geography and Planning had future considering how wide and holistic the course was. Geography is actually a prestigious course and very professional, it has such diverse branches, it is unbelievable how powerful a course which helped in designing Google Maps is referred to as “non-professional”
TVR: Why did you join student’s unionism in Unilag? What was the motivation?
Sowore: A number of factors, one of it was a lifelong passion for social justice, always read about great students’ union leaders like Segun Okeowo of the “Ali Must Go” fame, however, it was my chanced meeting with Femi Falana, Odion Akhaine Sylvester, Gbenga Olawepo, Baba Aye, Damian Ugwu and several others that drew me into hardcore student union politics.
Femi Falana came to speak one day at UNILAG around the 1989/90 and I was just wowed and I didn’t look back since then.
TVR: Unilag is the nation’s only public university in the city and this influenced the students’ union as it was seen as a fast way to make money. Coming from an indigent background, was this a reason you also joined students’ politics?
Sowore: No, if you were an anti-establishment students’ activist you fate was clear, you are likely to be rusticated/expelled and have your future mortgaged. I was a radical anti-establishment student. I left UNILAG with two expulsions to my credit, broken bones, poison in my bloodstream and a pair of trousers and two torn shirts.
TVR: Tell us about your 1992 campaign for Student Union President. How did you defeat the money bags as a near penniless student?
Sowore: The 1992 SUG election was defined by a some circumstances beyond the control of the money bags. In the midst of election campaigns we engaged in a massive anti-military protest known as “Babangida Must Go” all the radical students’ union leaders and activists were either expelled or rusticated as the school was closed down for months, when we returned the students largely decided they would mostly support those who were radicals , particularly those who didn’t apologize to the government and the school authorities during their rustication and prolonged closure. I was highly favored in that regard, however, the conservative christian movement on campus had a candidate in the election, they almost got us.
TVR: Why didn’t you proceed to the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) as was the norm with former University Students’ Union Presidents?
Sowore: In NANS I was a “Senator” by virtue of being an SUG President, but in my days my position in Lagos was probably more prestigious than that of the NANS President. Our vibrant Students’ Union Government in Lagos was in the eye of the pro-democracy storm. Lagos was the hotbed of youth activism in the 1990s, it was the hottest please to be.
TVR: Tell us about your twice expulsion experience while in Unilag. How did you defeat the authorities?
Sowore: I was expelled twice for political reasons, each time we pulled a massive resistance against the Nigerian state, I was expelled alongside the students’ union leaders and activists and then they would close the school down, whenever they reopened we would mobilize for lecture boycotts and they had no option than to grant us “Amnesty”
When I was done with school though they withheld my final year results for months until a new Vice Chancellor was appointed and he decided he couldn’t continue to handle our troubles, that was how I was allowed to go to do my National Youth Service Corp ‘national assignment” in 1995. I ought to have graduated in 1993/1994 session.
TVR: Did you use your office as Students’ Union President to make a fortune as politicians and the military at the time greatly courted the students’ union executives with many being on their payroll?
Sowore: No, I wasn’t there for fortune, I went to the students’ union to fight power, that was all I did throughout my tenure as president of the University of Lagos Students’ Union Government (ULSU). Already told you I left with nothing, but I never wanted anything but a legacy of fighting for students rights.
TVR: How did you get involved in the June 12 struggle?
Sowore: NANS did not participate in the June 12 elections. NANS took a position that the transition program wasn’t legitimate and that General Ibrahim Babangida was just playing games on Nigerians, we were right till this day. However, the moment Babangida annulled the elections we saw an opportunity to end decades of military rule. We joined hands with civil rights leaders across Nigeria to wage a revolutionary war against military rule. They did not survive it, even though it took longer than we envisaged.
TVR: Tell us your experiences when you couldn’t get a job after your NYSC due to your activism? How did your parents feel as in Africa, education is seen as a tool of upward mobility? Did you feel a sense of failure in not being able to earn a living in your motherland?
Sowore: When I left the University of Lagos I knew I was “unemployable” in the sense that I was already a marked man by the operator of the Nigerian state. When I was done with NYSC, the SSS arrested me and handed me over to the Nigerian Airforce Intelligence in Yola, they threw me into a guard room meant for military deserters at the edge on an airstrip there in Yola when I was released they refused to give me my NYSC Discharge Certificate till date.
TVR: Democracy returned to Nigeria on May 29, 1999 but you chose to relocate to the United States in February that year. Why the decision to check out? Why didn’t you stay back home to contribute your quota to nation building?
Sowore: I was shocked in 1999 that Nigerians were embracing the same people that destroyed Nigeria and fought against democratic progress and development of Nigeria. Olusegun Obasanjo suddenly became the darling of the public, I was super convinced that things won’t augur well for Nigeria, so I opted to go check on my health and later, to study. It was a great clairvoyant decision.
TVR: Columbia University, New York is an Ivy League School. How did you get admitted there and why the choice of Public Administration?
Sowore: First, Public Administration was natural progression for Geography and Planning, so I opted to go that route. On how I got admitted, it was on merit. I think I had a compelling story told in my admission statement plus high quality recommendations that made it easy to get admission in to the prestigious School of International Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University.
TVR: Most African Immigrants do survival jobs in the West to pay the bills. Did you ever do any and which ones?
Sowore: Oh yeah, I delivered newspapers, was a security guard at a sporting store and I think for a few weeks I worked in a nursing home.
TVR: You were once with Jonathan Elendu of Elendu Reports before you fell out. What was the cause of the disagreement?
Sowore: Jonathan wanted to be a political consultant, I didn’t think it was right to go back to work for those we had exposed too the public as thieves, soon I left him to set up SaharaReporters.
TVR: You metamorphosed from a pro-democracy activist to an anti corruption crusader with the establishment of Sahara Reporters in 2006. How did you pull this off from faraway New York?
Sowore: I think the advent of audacious citizen reporting I had seen on Independent media platforms in the US while I was leaving Columbia University made my natural move to online publishing very attractive.
TVR: Your breakthrough came with the publishing of the death of Umaru Musa Yar’adua. How did your sources report it accurately?
Sowore: SaharaReporters broke so many stories, thousands of them, people choose which stories they thought was a big breakthrough, I think all of them were equally important.
TVR: Did Jonathan offer to reward you for fighting for him when the cabal attempted to sideline him in 2010?
TVR: You recently alleged that Goodluck Jonathan tried using his aide to induce you with money in New York, can you expatiate on that and why did you reject the financial offer?
Sowore: Yeah, first he sent late Oronto Douglas to ask me to relocate to join his government but I told Oronto I could never work with government, later he sent Ima Niboro to visit me in New York and Ima said he (Jonathan ) sent money to appreciate my “help” I told him I didn’t do it for money and we never met in person until he returned to Nigeria.
TVR: Does Sahara Reporters get adverts from the private sector? Do you still get grants from Ford Foundation and Omidiyar Network?
No, our funding from Ford Foundation and Omidyar had stopped for a while now.
We get ads from Google and product based adverts, our advert real estate is product-based space, but not for government agencies.
TVR: How do lawsuits against Sahara Reporters generally end? Have you had cause to pay out huge sums of money to plaintiffs?
We’ve been sued a lot but never had to pay damages in the 14 years of our operation, we’ve not lost a libel case so far. Lawsuits are generally directed to shut us down, they are harassment tools in the hands of the powerful and politically connected.
TVR: In 2018, you decided to run for the highest office in the land despite having no partisan political experience. Why that decision to start from the Presidency?
Sowore: What you call partisan political experience is the politics of skulduggery. I can’t even imagine being asked why I should start from the Presidency when we all now that Nigeria’s bane today is the absence of decent, and competent citizens that could provide innovative leadership at all levels. You mean A Buhari, Obasanjo or Jonathan are better suited to run Nigeria than someone like me?
TVR: You came a dismal 10th in the 2019 general elections; what really happened? Were you rigged out or Nigerians weren’t really ready for your radical message?
Sowore: There was no real election in 2019, INEC, merely allocated numbers after entering into a deal with the Buhari regime.
TVR: Why were you forced out of the party, AAC that you founded?
Sowore: I wasn’t forced out, the moment they realized we had a party that spoke to the issues and seriously gave hope to the masses, they started planning how to hijack the party, when they couldn’t get away with that on time they got me arrested and while in detention they had a kangaroo party “convention” in Owerri where no party members were present, even the INEC delegation sent to the convention came back and reported that there was no convention but they were made to change their report because, they were too scared of the fiery independence of the party. We are however in charge of the party and soon they will all be disgraced. INEC as presently composed is the biggest threat to democracy in Nigeria.
TVR: Will you continue with your membership of the AAC or will you form another party?
Sowore: We just had a National Executive Council meeting of the party here in Abuja two weeks ago.
TVR: Do you believe that Nigeria should be restructured?
Sowore: I believe in restructuring, any country that has been in existence for 60 years must continue to be serviced through constant restructuring. I just don’t happen to believe tat the same old guards who put Nigeria in dire straights can make any meaningful restructuring of Nigeria.
TVR: You called for a revolution which led to your arrest and present restriction; don’t you feel the call was rather extreme?
Sowore: No, most who initially thought my call was extreme are now embracing my position.
TVR: Why were you unfairly kept in detention even when your Counsel, Femi Falana secured your bail?
Sowore: Of course, I was kept in detention months after I was granted bail, when I was released they invaded the court and abducted me in front of the judge and put me right back in detention.
TVR: Do you regret working against Jonathan in 2015?
Sowore: I have worked tireless for democratic progress since my admission into UNILAG 1989, worked against every tyrant, worked against every corrupt regime in Nigeria. Jonathan happened to be a beneficiary of one of such struggles when a cabal around his former principal, Umaru Yar’adua, practically prevented him from assuming power once Yar’adua was incapacitated by illness. When Jonathan assumed power began monumental corruption, I did what I know how to do best by exposing his regime. I have no regrets doing what is right. Nigeria is probably one of the few nations on earth where citizens are asked if they regret doing what is right.
TVR: Is there an attempt by the judiciary to unduly prolong your restriction period?
Sowore: Unfortunately , we don’t have a judiciary that is independent of the executive. One day we were supposed to be at the Court of Appeal to upturn the unjust bail conditions imposed upon me, someone reached out that the court would rule on technicality to deny me justice and that was exactly what the Court of Appeal did. That tells you something.
TVR: What is your relationship with Nnamdi Kanu?
I met him in New York city in 2019 before my arrest to convince him to lets all partner together to wage a REVOLUTION instead of waging different struggles against the decadent elite. It was my first and only meeting with him.
TVR: What is your relationship with Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu?
Sowore: I have no relationship with Bola Tinubu, only met him once in the company on late Dr. Fredrick Fasheun before in I left Nigeria in 1999. I have not seen him since them, I doubt if he will recognize me in real life say for my images on the internet, TV and newspapers.
TVR: If Yemi Osinbajo decides to contest in 2023, will you support him?
Sowore: No, I won’t, he is not very different from President Buhari. He is a good pretender.
TVR: Reno Omokri and yourself do not see eye to eye , why so much animosity between you both?
Sowore: I’ve never met Reno Omokri before, I don’t know him personally. However, I think he wasn’t happy about the hard hitting reporting by SaharaReporters on his activities when he worked for Goodluck Jonathan. Nothing more!
TVR: What is your view on the agitation by the likes of Professor Banji Akintoye for the creation of the Oduduwa Republic?
Sowore: They’re all entitled to seek a different homeland, Nigeria has become a burden to a lot of its citizens. I just don’t happen to think breaking up Nigeria will solve our problems, the things we need to break are the evil political elites and they come from all ethnic groups and religious backgrounds.
TVR: Do you support the view that a referendum for Nigeria should have a secessionist clause like what obtains in many Confederations like the UK where Scotland nearly left in a referendum in 2014?
Sowore: I support that, it is a fair clause to have in our constitution. But we must first enact a Constitution put together by the people.
TVR: Do you have any hope of being let off the hook and living a normal life; perhaps rejoining your family in the States any time soon?
Sowore: I am an activist, the moment you choose to fight power, you should not nurse the hope of living a “normal life”
TVR: Having fought for democracy and now for good governance for over three decades, do you feel betrayed that Nigeria was recently declared as the poverty capital of the world?
Sowore: Everything Nigeria represents is a disgrace and of course I do feel betrayed.
TVR: Do you support the death penalty for corrupt public officials like is popular in China?
Sowore: No, I do not support capital punishment in any form.
TVR: How can Nigeria move away from crude oil dependence which will become irrelevant very soon to a knowledge based economy like Singapore with no natural resources?
Sowore: Innovative leadership will do the magic, that was what presumably made the difference in Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.
TVR: Do you have plans to re contest for the Presidency in 2023; do you feel you can be lucky this time around especially with the clamour for power shift to the South where you come from?
Sowore: I don’t believe that anyone should be dashed the Presidency of country on the basis of geolocation or ethnicity, I want to be president because I know I could fix Nigeria’s problems within a reasonable time.
TVR: Thank you for your time; we wish you well in your future endeavours.
Sowore: Thank you!
THE VENT REPUBLIC MEDIA