In this exclusive interview with POSTERITY MEDIA, Omoyele Sowore, Sahara Reporters Publisher, speaks on his Presidential ambition, his activism and contributions to Nigeria’s democracy, his scandals and why he should be voted as Nigeria’s President in the 2019 elections.
POSTERITY MEDIA: You’ve built Sahara Reporters into a respected online media platform within and outside Nigeria. Why do you want to leave it to go into the difficult terrain of politics to contest for the Presidency in 2019?
SOWORE: When I established Sahara Reporters in 2006, I had three goals in mind. The first was to provide a platform that would help to safeguard and nurture Nigeria’s democracy. The second was to provide a platform through which the Nigerian people could hold their leaders accountable, and the third was to provide a platform that would allow every Nigerian citizen to have a voice as citizen activists and citizen journalists.
With the support of the Nigerian people and our global base of supporters, we have been able to deliver on those goals.
We helped ensure that Obasanjo’s third term was scuttled. Sahara Reporters was instrumental in ensuring that we had a constitutional transfer of power to Goodluck Jonathan when Yar’adua died. And in 2015, our pioneering efforts at the real-time reporting of electoral results helped to ensure the sanctity of the electoral process, leading to the defeat of an incumbent party.
We’ve done this not just in Nigeria – but across the African continent in nations like Zimbabwe and Gambia.
While we have seen gains in the democratic process, Nigeria has remained stagnated. Corruption is still rife. Unemployment is at the highest levels ever recorded. The economy is in shambles. Security is worsening – just a few weeks ago, Boko Haram kidnaped over 100 of our sisters and daughters in Dapchi. Herdsmen and Farmer conflicts are intensifying.
It is clear to me that the challenge Nigeria now faces, and in truth has suffered for some time – is a crisis in leadership. We lack leaders with the political will to do what is right. We have leaders that are beholden to the interests that sponsor their elections. We have leaders that bend the knee at the altar of corruption.
It is to these more significant issues that I have chosen to focus my attention. Good leadership requires training and empowering others to carry on when you are not present. Sahara Reporters will soldier on when I become President – and I can assure you that the platform will hold my feet to the fire as well.
POSTERITY MEDIA: Aside Sahara Reporters, what else do you consider as part of your life’s major achievements so far?
SOWORE: I am apparently proud of the fact that starting with nothing but a clear vision, I have been able to grow Sahara Reporters into a globally-acclaimed brand that has pioneered a unique style of citizen journalism.
However, my last 12 years as the Founder and CEO is merely the latest chapter in a journey down the challenging and difficult path of activism that began almost 30 years ago at the University of Lagos.
I have been an integral part of every major struggle for the advancement of the Nigerian people. Whether this was the fight against Babangida’s structural adjustment program or the principled fight against military dictatorship.
As a Students’ Union President at the University of Lagos from 1992-1994, I was one of the leading personalities in the national student and youth movement against military rule. Fate placed me in the role of the leader of what was then perhaps the most nationally-prominent student movement in Nigeria. This period also happened to overlap with the annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections. With the ranks of the labor and civil rights groups decimated through arrest, detention, and assassinations of prominent leaders, most of the surviving leaders retreated into exile, and the task of fighting the Babangida – Abacha junta fell to Nigeria’s students and youth.
I am proud of the leadership role that I played during this period. Our actions contributed to the fall of the Babangida, Shonekan and Abacha regimes which ultimately led to the restoration of democratic rule in 1999.
Prior to Sahara Reporters, in the 1999-2006 period, I was very active in pushing the brand of citizen and activist journalism that characterized what Sahara Reporters now does today.
The last 30 years of my life has been spent in service to my country. I’m extremely proud of that track record.
POSTERITY MEDIA: Interesting. Why do you believe you deserve to replace President Buhari and be elected into office by Nigerians in 2019?
SOWORE: There are three reasons why. Firstly, I understand Nigeria and I have worked tirelessly for our nation’s progress. For the last thirty years, I have been an activist that has worked to build alliances across Nigeria – across all religious and ethnic groups – with one aim in mind, which is to move Nigeria forward, to protect the welfare of its great people and to help to unleash the immense creativity and capabilities of the Nigerian people. I have been tried and tested. My resume in this regard bears no dispute. Many Nigerians already know my story. My body bears the scars of arrest, detention and torture over the years. My work at Sahara Reporters has helped to safeguard our democracy and amplified voices that were hitherto unheard.
Secondly, I have the leadership skills and the political will needed to move this nation forward. I have no godfathers. No godmothers. There are no sacred cows, snakes, monkeys or goats. In 30 years of service to this Nation through principled activism, I have established a track record as a straight shooter and truth teller that operates strictly based on principles.
When our constitutional order was in jeopardy – I worked to ensure that the legitimate transfer of power to Goodluck Jonathan occurred. Our work in 2015 to shine a light on the electoral process through real-time electoral results reporting helped the opposition led by Buhari to win. Between 2010 and 2011, some said I was working for Jonathan. In 2015, the same people said I was working for Buhari. What they all missed was that I work only for the Nigerian people using my conscience as a GPS- no matter whose feet are stepped upon, and regardless of whose ox is gored, I have been an equal opportunity offender.
Nigerians can trust me to do what I say. I follow through on what I start and I follow my conscience at all times.
In part, what has motivated my decision to run at this time was the complete capitulation and collapse of Buhari to corruption and corrupt influences, his lack of direction and motivation to do what is right at all times. The corruption of his cabinet, the principal officers of the party he leads and civil service that he heads stinks to the high heavens.
We cannot continue to rely on borrowed voices and borrowed hands in our fight to reclaim our country.
Thirdly, I am a proven manager of people and resources. In 12 short years, I have worked to build a globally-acclaimed media platform whose influence stretches across the African continent and the world.
I am not just an activist. I am an entrepreneur and a teacher as well; I hate to reveal this part of me, it sounds self-serving. What has Buhari ever managed? In all of the prior declarations that the President made, the only commercial enterprise he has claimed is having cows – and for the last 12 years, those cows have been constant at about 150. If that is true – then he must be one of the world’s worst cattle rearers. No gain, no loss – complete stand still! It probably explains why the president is satisfied with running a nation where no progress is being recorded in any sector.
POSTERITY MEDIA: It took six months for Buhari to announce his cabinet in 2015. He lost the support of many Nigerians because of that. What immediate actions will you take and what critical areas will your administration focus on getting to power to show that you mean business?
SOWORE: I think what was even more shocking about President Buhari’s 6-month hiatus and inaction was the fact that Nigeria was in an economic crisis during that period. We were facing the most serious recession we had ever dealt with as a nation.
I announced last week that I already have teams that are looking at different sectors within the Nigerian economy. I’m essentially building a shadow cabinet that is working on how we will actualize our policy initiatives while also keeping track of what the Buhari government is doing so that we can hit the ground running on day zero.
There are many challenges we have to address, with urgency and alacrity. Within a week of being elected, I would have named my entire cabinet.
We have identified a number of critical areas of the economy that need to be addressed urgently.
Power supply, security, and unemployment are major issues. There is no reason why Nigeria should have an almost 20% unemployment rate. We have tens of millions of willing, able and competent people who are waiting to be put to work, the best way to get them to work will be to provide at least 20,000 megawatts of electricity with the first three years of coming to power. I will turn Nigeria into a construction site, everything from roads, hospitals, schools, modern railways and highways will be built like never before. We have massive deficits in housing and infrastructure – and my government will immediately move to address those deficits, generating jobs at the same time. Beyond all that, we must have in place a motivated and properly trained security architecture to protect life and property across Nigeria.
I plan to immediately employ up to 200,000 young graduates as teachers that will be deployed in cities, towns and villages and other under-served areas. They will be trained for six months before they head out to work.
Security is another major issue that I will address urgently. It is a shame that a President who is a former General, as well as a cattle owner, has failed woefully in the two areas most people expected him to be able to address with ease – the Boko Haram crisis and the Herdsmen – Farmer conflicts. Add to that the fact that kidnapping is rife across the country. Safeguarding the security of lives and property will be a key focus of my government as I have stated earlier.
The creation of an enabling business environment will be a major plank of our growth platform. We will introduce policies that will make access to affordable loans easier for small businesses and farmers. How can an economy grow when banks are imposing over 20 percent interest rates on loans? How can businesses thrive when small-scale farmers and small businesses are unable to post the collateral needed for loans? My government will work to make it easier for businesses to thrive in Nigeria. We will ensure business registration by small business owners can be concluded within hours of registration. Bigger businesses with large board members may take only a few days to allow for due diligence to be conducted.
Corruption is another area that I will address with urgency. There is a direct correlation between economic growth and corruption. Corruption is depriving us of good roads that will transport goods and services. It is robbing us of being able to sustain good schools and pay for quality teachers. Corruption is depriving us of good hospitals and quality health care. Corruption is depriving us of having a robust energy sector. Corruption is largely the reason Boko Haram terrorists have grown more audacious. Corruption thrives because our leaders have lacked the political will to act against corrupt officials. I will act decisively to deal with this national cancer.
Energy is another area that I will be addressing with urgency. Our power generation capacity is less than 7,000 MW while our needs are at least about 20,000 MW. We do not even have enough transmission capacity to move the paltry levels of power we currently generate. Distribution is also comatose. I will move right away to roll out an expansion of generation, transmission and distribution capacity. We will expand the energy mix to include renewables like wind, solar and biogas. I will also be driving for more decentralized power systems.
In order to fund these projects, I will be relying on a more judicious use of our existing resources as well as the judicious use of public-private partnerships (PPP).
POSTERITY MEDIA: How did your last Town Hall meeting in the US go and how well are you making progress in your fundraising drive?
SOWORE: Our last town hall was in Philadelphia and it was an incredible event. Almost 200 Nigerians were in attendance and we had about 70,000 people participating from around the world through live streaming outlets on social media.
We have been doing at least one town hall per week and our next event will be in Detroit on Saturday.
Our fundraising effort is also going well. This is a movement of the people. Our campaign is dedicated to moving Nigeria forward and when I started out I was convinced that Nigerians would provide us with the moral, political and financial support that we need. My faith in the Nigerian people has never wavered and with each passing day the level of support continues to grow.
In addition to the monetary support provided to our campaign, we have hundreds of volunteers who are giving of their time, resources and expertise.
POSTERITY MEDIA: When will your town hall meetings start in Nigeria? And how do you intend mobilizing various influential interests like traditional rulers, unions and also the youths to support your aspiration more so with the high cost of electioneering campaigns?
SOWORE: We have a series of town halls lined up in Nigeria starting in April. Several of them will be in the North, East, West, and South – we plan several of them in Buhari’s backyard. We will announce the venues in due course.
If it isn’t clear yet – I will reiterate the fact that we are not running a traditional campaign. We are not courting special interests. We are a people’s movement.
As someone who has been involved in activism for the last 30 years, I understand the importance of constituencies. We are engaging with the relevant constituencies – students and youth, organized labor, artisan groups, trade associations, professional groups, chambers of commerce, religious and ethnic associations. We will engage with anyone and everyone. We will knock on every door and speak in every marketplace – both real and virtual.
What we will not do is engage in the pay to play politics of the past. That is not what we are about and if there are any groups or persons who expect this from our movement, I can assure them right now that they will be sorely disappointed.
POSTERITY MEDIA: Failure in achieving stable electricity is one of the country’s main challenges. How does your government hope to tackle this and how soon will Nigerians begin to see results?
SOWORE: It is amazing that Nigeria has failed to achieve any significant success in a sector that nations like Rwanda and Ghana have found effective solutions for. As I indicated earlier, Nigeria needs 20,000 MW of power generation, transmission and distribution capacity in the short term and 100,000 megawatts in the long term. We are currently quite short of that goal.
My energy sector strategy is three-pronged. Firstly, we will work to expand capacity from 7,000 MW to at least 20,000 MW within the first four years of our government. I will leverage public-private partnerships to fund investments in the sector.
Secondly, I will work to rapidly expand the energy mix to include solar, wind and biogas. We will explore coal – which is abundant in Enugu, and I am also open to exploring the possibility of expanding the natural gas option, but that could only happen after we’ve thoroughly done justice to the Niger Delta region. We must clean up Ogoniland and other places currently decimated by oil exploration.
This will include building virtual pipe network using liquefied natural gas (LNG) transported via trucks and rail to ensure that terrorism and sabotage of gas pipelines don’t bring our energy sector crashing down.
Finally, I will drive for more decentralization. Localizing power generation, transmission and distribution will enhance our ability to rapidly deploy and scale modular power systems around the country. The government will incentive those interested in providing localized power systems using renewable energy. We must encourage everyone to generate power and sell in an open market as long as they are clean and renewable systems.
POSTERITY MEDIA: Endemic corruption remains another critical challenge in Nigeria and your platform, SaharaReporters, has been particularly strong in exposing it. For example, some bank accounts of your organization were frozen in connection to your investigative reporting on alleged corrupt activities of Senate President Bukola Saraki. How easy do you think it would be for you to confront the entrenched influential corrupt elements in the system if elected President?
SOWORE: Corruption is easy to fight – provided there is the political will to fight it. As a private citizen, I have fought an effective campaign against corruption – and for the last 12 years, SaharaReporters has exposed corruption wherever it exists.
Imagine how much more effective that fight can be if I could deploy the full powers and resources of the Nigerian nation to tackle corruption?
Nigeria’s leaders have failed to tackle corruption because they are beneficiaries of the system.
Corruption funds their electoral campaigns, and it is therefore not surprising that from Obasanjo through to Jonathan and now, Buhari, corruption continues to thrive.
I am not beholden to these interests and Nigerians can trust me to clean up the process and tackle corruption with ruthless efficiency. There must be consequences for corruption – and whether they are politicians or civil servants, I am putting corrupt officials on notice that their time will soon be up.
Saraki was able to get a judge to do his biddings because of corruption. Much of his illegally acquired assets have been exposed in Panama Papers and recently by Transparency International and the UK government is looking into his assets to determine how got them without any legitimate source of income. He won’t dare go to a UK court to freeze the assets of the newspapers and the organizations that are leading the campaign to bring him to justice. Over here, Kwara state is his real estate. But those will not delay his day of judgment.
POSTERITY MEDIA: You have not been without controversy. A London-based Nigerian journalist, Lekan Fatodu, once accused you of blackmail and even got the Police involved. What really was the issue between you both?
SOWORE: Over the years, a number of people have fallen out with me over my uncompromising attitude towards corruption. I have no apologies for that.
I do not want to join issues with Mr. Fatodu but he will not be the first person to make spurious allegations and I guarantee they will get more people to do these dirty jobs as our campaign gain more traction and impact.
When I was engaged in fighting cultism at the University of Lagos, I was accused of being a cult gang member, the university authorities even formed and named a cult group they claimed was “Authority Confraternity” and put me as its head. I was attacked and almost killed by gangs sponsored by the government.
When I helped to expose the schemes of the late President Umaru Yar’adua’s cabal – leading to Goodluck Jonathan’s constitutional assumption of power, I was accused of working for Jonathan. That accusation lasted until SaharaReporters led the way in real-time reporting of the results of the 2015, which ultimately contributed to Buhari’s win. At which point, the accusations shifted and I was now accused of working for Buhari and former Lagos Governor Bola Tinubu. Each time, these peddlers seem to have forgotten that SaharaReporters has frequently exposed the corruption of both the Buhari government and Bola Tinubu, these are available on the internet.
I have challenged all those who bandy accusations around about me; they have no shred of evidence that I, Omoyele Sowore, has been involved in any malfeasance. I have been sued four different times in US courts, and one of the cases went as far as discovery, one day I sat in a deposition proceeding for 8 hours grilled by a lawyer who connived with Nigerian Embassy officials in Washington DC to sell off Nigerian properties and then bolted with $1.5million from tax refunds meant for the Nigerian government. As he was concluding his deposition, he asked if I still think he is a thief, I answered “Yes!” I had to say it into the records of the court. A few months later, he was asked to return every dime he stole plus interest to the Nigeria government. I am not new to blackmail, harassment, threats; they come with the territory of my calling.
POSTERITY MEDIA: In your trips around the world, which three countries most impress you and why?
SOWORE: I am most impressed by Ghana, Rwanda and South Africa. I don’t want to name any European or American, Middle Eastern nations because we need inspiration within the continent of Africa.
Ghana and Nigeria share many similarities. However, at some point, our paths differed in one major way – the quality and character of the leadership. Today, Ghana is far ahead of Nigeria in the provision of solid infrastructure, good schools, and a vibrant and reliable energy sector.
Rwanda’s transformation has truly been impressive their minus being the lack of respect for human rights and the African leadership messianic syndrome afflicting their President. A little over two decades ago, this was a war-torn nation, where almost 1 million people were murdered in a vicious genocide. Yet today – this tiny country under a capable leader has seen a remarkable turnaround.
Their economy has grown at almost 8% for the past decade. They have managed to pull off a reconciliation program. And they have the highest participation of women in politics – with about 60% of their parliamentarians being female. These are the highest levels in the world!
Finally, South Africa has always fascinated me. I am reminded of how far they’ve come from their apartheid past. It’s amazing that it was just 24 years ago that Nelson Mandela led his nation into the post-apartheid era. Mandela’s transition from political activist to a successful president inspires me greatly. I was amazed at the local train ride from the airport in Johannesburg to the city center where I was attending a conference, the trains built and commissioned before the 2010 FIFA World Cup were cleaner than those of the rat-infested New York City subway system.
POSTERITY MEDIA: Many young Nigerians, if given the opportunity want to travel out of the country in search of greener pastures. How do you hope to mitigate this if you become President?
SOWORE: You put it correctly when you said the youth want to go in search of greener pastures. Our task, my mission – is to plant those greener pastures in Nigeria, water them sufficiently where they currently exist.
When they have good and safe schools, great jobs, functioning hospitals, pliable roads and a future they can look forward to, and a nation that helps them realize their fullest potential – we will see more Nigerians choose to stay in Nigeria and those who have left returning in droves.
POSTERITY MEDIA: Most Nigerians hardly know much about your private life or family and marriage even though a lot of them want to know. We’d like you to speak on this.
SOWORE: I am happily married and we have wonderful kids.
POSTERITY MEDIA: That’s great to hear. How inclusive will your government be for women?
SOWORE: I intend to run an inclusive government. As an activist with 30 years of experience in giving voice to the voiceless and in building coalitions, I fully understand the importance of inclusion.
My government will be reflective of the gender, ethnic and religious diversity of Nigeria. I do not wish to assign any specific percentage just yet, but women will get higher visibility and responsibility in our government as Nigeria has never seen before. I can only tell them to get ready, there is lots of work to do and women are superbly qualified to be on the driver seat in all aspects of our governmental life.
POSTERITY MEDIA: What’s your assessment of other Nigerians like Donald Duke, Kingsley Moghalu and Fela Durotoye who have also indicated their interest to vie for the Presidency in 2019?
SOWORE: I applaud the fact that more quality young people are offering themselves for service.
The Nigerian people will be the ones to make their own assessments of who they believe is best qualified to lead them.
I am presenting myself to the Nigerian people as well and my credentials which include 30 years of principled activism as well as twelve years as the founder and CEO of a globally-acclaimed media platform that has pioneered a unique brand of citizen journalism. These gentlemen are probably doing the same. I am sure they have lofty aspirations and a desire to see Nigeria take off to its rightful position in the world. We will all have to defend our records before the Nigerian people.
POSTERITY MEDIA: Looking back on your life and career so far, what regrets do you have? Are there things you think you could have done better?
SOWORE: I am 47 years old. Most of my adult life has been spent in the service of Nigeria – as a student and youth activist, pro-democracy fighter and citizen journalist.
I have been harassed, detained, tortured, maligned and harassed for my views. I have been victimized and expelled for fighting against injustice. I have had my bank accounts closed, and my fundraising platforms shut down.
I have chosen to walk down a career path that is dedicated to advancing the Nigerian nation. It has been a hard and sometimes lonely path. But I have had fulfillment in being a part of the movement that has pushed our nation forward towards democratic and accountable governance.
Given the option to start all over again – I will make the same choice. Service to this nation is a cause that I have dedicated my life to. I am now offering myself to Nigerians to elect me to serve them as the leader of this great nation. I’ll regret if the opportunity to do right by our people is missed once again.