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I can run Nigeria better than Buhari, even with my eyes closed —Omoyele Sowore, Publisher, Sahara Reporters

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Omoyele Sowore, the publisher of Sahara Reporters, an online medium, Friday, last week, was at the Gamaliel Onosode Hall, University of Ibadan for a town hall meeting with enthusiastic youths who are in support of his presidential ambition in 2019. In this interview by Saturday Tribune’s Deputy Editor, DAPO FALADE, after the meeting, Sowore explained why he is embarking on a mission to change the political status quo in Nigeria.

 

Questions are being asked about Omoyele Sowore and the race for the presidency. Why are you eyeing that post?

It is the most important office in the land and we have experimented with it for 58 years, using borrowed hands, borrowed robes, incompetent hands, mediocres and sectional candidates and we have seen the results. Some of them have come back twice. They left the country they met in good order in worse shape each time than they met it. As a young person, it would be 30 years by next year that I have been around fighting for a better Nigeria. I have seen seven presidents come and go within my 47 years of existence. When I was very young, I fought the military to get out of power. When the military left, I fought to ensure that a president who had an ambition to remain in power perpetually was eventually defeated. When that one left, I fought a cabal that didn’t want a minority to become the president of Nigeria. When that one left, we fought for an open and democratic election that was instantaneously reported and, for the first time, led to political parties losing elections as it had never happened in Nigeria before.

I am simply tired of helping to certify and report elections that bring rogues to power in the country. I am competent to rule Nigeria and I am saying with humility that I can do it better than any of these guys that have been running the country. Like I mentioned the day I arrived from the United States, I can actually run Nigeria better than Muhammadu Buhari, even if my eyes are closed. That is the truth.

 

We all know that the electoral system and elections require having a huge financial capital. Do you have the financial muscle for the task ahead of you? What is your budget?

There is no budget, but we are also coming with capital in kind and in support. First, I am not buying anybody rice and I am not buying bread. I am not going to play the politics of what they call pay to play. I am even wary to visit any traditional ruler because I don’t have the money to give them…

 

Do you have to give them money?

Well, going by what played out in 2015, traditional rulers are very expensive to please. You can ask what former President [Goodluck] Jonathan gave them. They were given dollars…

 

How did you know how much they were given?

Of course, that is what I do. Everything that we reported is accurately out there. What you should ask me is how much I spent to bring the young people that you saw today [at the venue of the town hall meeting]. I spent nothing. What brought them is their belief that they need a different country; they need a different trajectory. They are tired of politics of pay to play because that was how they mortgaged their future and changed their destinies and that of their country. They came out of their own volition. They rented buses. Some of them came walked down to the place. They brought their family members and some of them came on okada and we listened to ourselves. I don’t have money but here is what I plan to do: I have already announced that publicly that I would raise money transparently. We actually set up a ‘Go Fund Me Account’ where Nigerians in the Diaspora are contributing money to us. We have raised almost $10,000 from that and that is part of what we are spending now. We will set up a Nigerian account where people can also drop money. We want the public to fund the campaign.

The more people buy into the dream, the less money we need to spend. If the town hall meeting was organised by a governor, he would have spent N100 million easily. In fact, what somebody told me when I initially told him that I was running for the presidency was that if I could not show him N5 billion he didn’t want to listen to me. That was a month ago. Now, he is asking me, ‘how are you doing it?’

 

What is your campaign strategy to convince people in Kano, Zamfara, Maiduguri, Kano and other parts of the country that this is the time for them to cast their votes for Sowore?

You see, you make this sound complex but it is not. The person in Borno wants to be free from Boko Haram. The Shi’ites in Zaria want their leader released and for Nigeria not to be killing them anymore. The parents of the Dapchi girl that is still being held want their daughter freed. The people in the North want water. They want good roads and good education. So far, the leadership has failed them. The message that is going out to them now is that we can rescue the country from the people that put them in the condition that they are in and they are buying in into it. When I started this, people told me that I was only campaigning in the US; that I could not come home. But I came some days ago and the airport was shut down by young people who came to welcome me. We just came to Ibadan today and hopefully the media will report it, but it was reporting itself because it was live on Facebook. Didn’t you see the crowd at the venue? At a point, there were more people outside than those inside the hall.

We didn’t go and fix the rallies by ourselves; we were invited to the Ibadan town hall meeting. So, the message we are sending out is very simple: we have done the turn-by-turn thing, see where it led to. We have done zoning. It has led to poverty and Boko Haram. We have done religious politics. Look at hunger and starvation in the land. We have done ethnic politics. Look at what Fulani herdsmen are doing to you.

You know the most under-reported thing that is happening with Fulani herdsmen is how many people they kill in the North. What is x-rayed are the skirmishes in this area, but it is in Zamfara that they are actually carrying out the genocide and nobody is reporting it. They are killing their own brothers and sisters. It is pure criminality; it has nothing to do with the superiority of the Fulani man.

I am the only person who is campaigning boldly and reeling out my own agenda. I have discussed what I am going to do with the minimum wage. They can’t defeat it. They keep saying it is going to cause inflation. But what is the meaning of inflation when you redirect money that was stolen and give it to the people who deserve it. Nobody has ever defeated the argument that the salary we are paying our workers is criminal – to pay people N18,000 per month.

You cannot contest for president in Nigeria without a political platform. Which of the existing political parties are you planning to align with?

I said we are working to form a coalition of parties. Of course, we are having discussions with some of these political parties and we are profiling them. I am an investigator, too. I have no reason to think I am going to drown in the sea of political parties. That is why we are approaching this issue with movement politics. When you have a solid movement, even when you are moving into a political party, you will have more leverage to determine the DNA of that party. Many of these parties don’t even have ideology, including the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). APC has imploded. It is just waiting to explode.

 

What do you mean by that?

They have internal crises that are not resolvable…

 

But you said earlier at the town hall meeting that your door was open to all political parties, including the APC and the PDP…

Yes, I said we were not foreclosing alliances with people from all political parties as long as they are not going to pollute and dilute our vision and mission.

 

Don’t you see such a possibility here as it happened to APC when it was newly formed but ended up having members from PDP which it discredited?

You see, APC was never a political party. It was a conglomeration of desperate people and everybody knew it. Look, only one person was responsible for producing Buhari and that is Jonathan. Most people that supported Buhari were people who were against Jonathan’s continued stay in power. He was solely responsible for whatever happened in that period. You see, some people will say, ‘oh, you campaigned for Buhari’, but I never campaigned for him. You can never see any video of me campaigning for Buhari. But you can find me aggressively saying to Jonathan that ‘you are a disappointment’. Why? Because you can also hold me responsible for bringing Jonathan to power after the late President Umaru Yar’Adua.

That takes me to the complexity of Nigeria. Can you believe that a dead man ruled this country before – for five months? I am alive. I should be able to do better. For five months, this country had no president. They were manipulating us; signing budget, claiming that he signed it. They faked his voice and that was how they ran Nigeria for five months before the man was proclaimed dead. But there was one media platform that said the truth all the time: it was Sahara Reporters. That was how Jonathan, a minority man from nowhere, became the president. But we became disappointed with his policies, with his body language and his outright cluelessness and connivance in destroying Nigeria and we went against him. So, you have to look at history. But I understand there is a problem with us, even the young people. Our institutional memory is very short.

 

So, could it be that all your social activism all through these years have been tailored towards realising your presidential ambition?

No. I actually never really liked to be in politics, but I was a student-politician at the University of Lagos. I became probably one of the youngest students’ union presidents of my time at the age of 21. I ran the union when it was one of the most vibrant. Segun Okeowo probably ran a more vibrant students’ union government than we did and you have to give that to them. But I was young and I was the leader of older people.

I never even thought that I would become students’ union president at the university. When I came to school, I had only a pair of trousers and a shirt. I had only one pair of shoes. By the time I was leaving the university, I also had just a pair of trousers, a shirt and a pair of shoes. I was expelled twice. I was attacked by cult people and I was not allowed to graduate when other people graduated. I left the university a broken person. I never thought I could ever make it in life.

 

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I come from a very poor family. My dad was a teacher who had 20 children. Sixteen of us are alive. There were nights we went to bed without food. They would promise us food but sing all of us to bed. It is a story you all know, but my story is not to attract sympathy. I have moved from that village and I have seen the world. I have seen possibilities and they are possibilities that I know are realisable and I have no doubt that moving this country forward is possible.

 

Do you have an economic blueprint?

Absolutely. And that is what I said earlier today at the town hall meeting. Our blueprint is actually spelt out in security, power, infrastructure, anti-corruption, economy and restructuring and on top of that heath and education (SPIACER-HE). We are the only campaign that has done the internal polling of Nigerians, maybe not exactly scientific but a thorough survey to ask them what they really want. This is because sometimes you just don’t make up your mind because it is not democratic. It turned out that most Nigerians actually have health as their first priority and I understand why. It is because the average lifespan is 47 years. That means if you are born in 1960, you should have died by now. But the reason is that we have a very burdensome political class. They have very criminal salaries and the culture of entitlement is unbelievable.

 

If you eventually get the platform, are you willing to go through internal democracy and the primaries of such a political party and would you also support voting by delegates?

Absolutely, I am ready to go through internal democracy and party primaries. But it will be up to the party to determine how they want to vote. I cannot dictate to them, how they vote. All party members will have a say on whom their candidate is. We are building a movement so that we can have the ability to negotiate some of those rules.

 

What if you don’t get the presidential slot?

I am not looking for the presidential slot. I am looking to be a candidate that will win the election…

 

And what happens if you don’t get it?

I am not even thinking about that possibility because it is for us to take. Why can’t we get it when everybody is yearning for it?

 

So, you see it as self-entitlement…

It is not self-entitlement and that is why I said ‘we’ because it is a collective. It is not about me; everybody wants this country to go in a different direction, but some people feel we should take a detour, which is the mistake we make all the time. So, I am not anticipating a loss. I am anticipating that this will be a win-win for everybody because we have seen it in the eyes of the young people. Some of them came from as far as Plateau State, Akure and Abeokuta on their volition. They have seen the aspirant. They have heard me. They have engaged and interacted with me and you can see the electricity and the energy in the hall. It is rare. I felt like I was possessed with the energy and this is boosting my confidence.

 

There are insinuations that you collect money to get stories published. What is your reaction to this?

This is a general blackmail. The reason people say that is simple: if they have one per cent of the coverage and power they think I have, they would have become billionaires as media operators…

 

Are you not a billionaire or a comfortable millionaire?

No, I am not. I am not even a millionaire. I am comfortable with my poverty. I do this based on my convictions. Of course, I have been supported by foundations outside the country.

 

How do you pay your staff? How many people are on your payroll?

We have a lot of people on our payroll and we pay them through the support we get from foundations. We also get adverts from Google. We get direct adverts from banks, even in Nigeria. But our position is that your advertisement with us does not affect our editorial policy. So, you can see an advert from a person today on Sahara Reporters and we write against that same person tomorrow. That is the way it is done ethically. There is no blurring of our role as public watchdog. We do not accept adverts from government agencies. They approach us all the time but I don’t believe that a governor needs to advertise a road on a media platform. If you construct a road, let the people drive on it and love it. That is the best advertisement that you should do.

 

Do you have role models in this country?

Yes, I do. Wole Soyinka, the late Gani Fawehinmi and the late Chinua Achebe are my role models. I mean, will you disagree with me that Gani was a good person or that Soyinka is a good person or Achebe? These guys never soiled their hands.

 

Do you have any role models in Nigerian politics?

In Nigerian politics, I haven’t found anybody that I can call my role model. It is just difficult, almost impossible…

 

You condemn everybody…

I am not condemning them, but if you know any, show them to me. Maybe I can start…

 

What of President Buhari?

Buhari? I mean are we talking about the same Buhari or another person? Is it the same Buhari under whom herdsmen are killing people? Or the same Buhari that has a cabal running his government? Or the provincial Buhari who cannot see beyond his village, Daura? Is it the same Buhari that spends more time in hospitals and works at home and cannot tell the truth about that? Is it the same Buhari that said he wanted to declare his assets and never did? Is it the same Buhari that said he would reduce the number of presidential fleet to two and actually never did? Where is integrity? How would you want somebody like that to be a role model to his children? He is not. Buhari is the person they call monafiki bansa in the North and what the Yoruba call alagabagebe. That is who he is. You can put it on record and let him challenge me by doing something different. If Buhari is a role model, we will not be having this conversation about me wanting to dethrone him democratically.

 

You are, by all means, a handsome man. How are you coping with the women in your life?

I don’t have women in my life. I am married. We have to be careful these days. It is not only women that are attracted to men. Men also get attracted to men. The world has changed. I have never lived a life that can attract a woman. In fact, I am hearing it from you for the first time that I am handsome. Only my mummy used to say that. But I like the compliment. Thank you for that.

I went to the university with the most beautiful women in the world. You must have heard about Moremi Hall. People were coming from outside to look for girls. I was the students’ union president and there was never any woman scandal. That is not to say that I didn’t have a girlfriend, but my life has never been about the trappings of women. It was the reason I declared my assets before the election.

 

Student unionism goes hand-in-hand with cultism and most of the leaders are often involved. Did you, at any point in time, engage in cultism?

No, I was totally opposed to cultism and as a result, I was almost killed in 1994. You can do your research. I was injected with an unknown chemical substance. They stabbed me. They left a knife in my head in March 1994 at the University of Lagos. I was almost killed. The reason was just that I couldn’t stand those guys in cult groups who happened at that time to be children of the rich who were raping, stabbing and shooting people. We caught the son of a major transporter at that time with a grenade. So, I was never interested in secrecy of any type. I actually saw cultism as an act of cowardice.

 

The post I can run Nigeria better than Buhari, even with my eyes closed —Omoyele Sowore, Publisher, Sahara Reporters appeared first on Tribune.

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