“History is the totality of events, when you fight on principle, fight to the end”.
~Late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN SAM.
Let me begin by stating unequivocally that the personage, Omoyele Sowore, like every human, is susceptible to the frailties and fallibility inherent in the human nature. He is equally not immuned from the vulgarities of life which inhibits all mortals from attaining the status of sainthood associated with angels and the supernatural being – God.
Omoyele Sowore is the founder and publisher of Sub – Saharan Africa citizen journalism website SaharaReporters which he has said was inspired at that time by IMC, what is now known as Indy Media in the United States, and how citizens were reporting on the protest in Seattle against the WTO (World Trade Organisation), which was largely ignored by the mainstream media.
Mr. Sowore is an indigene of Ondo State in South West Nigeria. He was born on February 16, 1971 in the Niger Delta region of the country where he was also raised. He studied geography and planning at the University of Lagos and holds a master’s degree in public administration from Colombia University. 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, the scion of the Nigerian establishment and nemesis of the corrupt, was birthed in 2005 but became operative from 2006. It 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.
Omoyele Sowore represents different things to different people depending on ones social, economic and political leaning. To the corrupt politicians, the ruling class and their paid and unpaid apologists, Sowore is a tool in the hands of the opposition – a wild, unsubstantiated and indefensible charge that is yet to be proven with cogent and verifiable evidence. However, to the incorruptible and liberated victims of misrule, corruption and dictatorship, he represents the audacious candle that brightens the scars inflicted on the soul of our nation.
Like other conscientious activists, Sowore has suffered myraids of mundane lacerations and mischievous recriminations. He has lived with vain, unabated and hate inspired labelling, principal of which are that he is; a rouble rouser, an attention seeking activist, blackmailer, opposition propagandist, etcetera. Despite this seeming desperation by his adversaries, he remains unperturbed. At the risk of being accused of engaging in sanctimonious glorification of Mr. Sowore, I dare say that he is a respectable part of the microscopic cast of mind that constitutes the ‘Conscience of the Nigerian Nation’.
How can we expect a man whose medium endangers the monstrous elements ravaging our collective patrimony and aspirations to be live without enemies and attacks? How can we expect those whose murderous, scandalous and criminal activities have been exposed by SaharaReporters to wish Omoyele Sowore well? Such expectation can only be induced by crass naivety. Indeed, if it were possible, our successive government would have silenced him for taking them to the cleaners.
It was SaharaReporters 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. No sooner had the Nigerian President appointed Mr. Enaboifo to the post than Sowore unmasked him as a fugitive who fled the United States, after a U.S. District Court convicted him of bank fraud. Two weeks after the publication, Mr. Enaboifo stepped down.
Earlier in January 2008, the site exposed Mrs. Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, a former senator and daughter of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, as a hunted fugitive wanted in the U.S. over a child custody case. Even former head of Nigeria’s anti-corruption organization, EFCC, Mrs. Farida Waziri, did not escape Mr. Sowore’s searchlight. In series of articles, mostly backed by documentary evidence, he accused her of pilfering her agency’s funds and receiving bribes from governors and ministers, in exchange for ignoring their own looting of public funds. In the end, she was fired with corruption offered as one of the reasons.
We cannot forget so soon the BMW car scandal of the former Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Odua, which was exposed also by SaharaReporters. At the end of the day, Stella Odua was unceremoniously sacked, though hesitantly, by the President. The list is endless.
We should not expect these persons and others whose gruesome and wanton unpatriotic acts have been exposed and truncated to salute the man behind their downfall. Take it or leave it, Omoyele Sowore is a hero. This is a fact of history that cannot be erased by sponsored lies and propaganda against his person and SaharaReporters.
With its anti – censorship policy, SaharaReporters has offered many patriotic, intelligent and courageous Nigerians a platform to ventilate their dissenting views, remonstrate against the system and speak hard truth to power which the mainstream media has denied them. Today, we know that what the mainstream media (print and electronic) cannot report and bring to the open, SaharaReporters will unhesitatingly report. We also know that audacious opinions that cannot be published by the mainstream media will readily be published by SaharaReporters.
There is no sincere Nigerian that will not commend SaharaReporters for her endless earth shaking breaking news and revelations. This is an organisation that operates far away from the United States (a land of free speech), yet, in many instances, has gotten information that the local media cannot get. So far, SaharaReporters has won all the court cases instituted against it by those who felt aggrieved by its reports and I do not see it losing if those who were recently exposed in the Ekiti rigging audio tape saga make real their threats of going to court against the medium.
I join millions of Nigerians and friends of Nigeria to wish Mr. Omoyele Sowore a glorious and happy birthday as he clocks 44. He should be confident about the fact that when heroes are remembered he will be among them. His place in history is undeniable secured and there is absolutely nothing that his traducers can do about it. I equally urge him not to be deterred by the shenanigans of the oppressors. He should remain steadfast and look only to posterity.
Inibehe Effiong is a Human Rights Activist based in Lagos, Nigeria and the Convener of the Coalition of Human Rights Defenders ( COHRD ).