In an era of social media – Internet journals, blogging and twitting – the flow of information is unrestricted. Even though their enduring impact is yet to be measured accurately, there is no question that their penetration and dismantling of boundaries have empowered many formerly voiceless people. In a country like Nigeria, social media have also stripped away some of the unfair advantages hitherto enjoyed by incumbent politicians in managing and controlling information and how it is fed to the public.
Government-owned TV and radio stations seek to control and filter information going to the public – and such information always focused on the activities of government officials. However, with the advent of social media, government-managed TV and radio networks have become irrelevant in the information business.
During the recent 2011 elections in Nigeria, numerous state governors blatantly and illegally denied their opponents equal access to public radios, TVs and newspapers to air their views. In fact, many of them went further to deny their opponents the use of public places like stadiums, state hotels or event centers funded or built with public. Nigeria’s electoral body, media organizations and the courts ought to look into these violations. Public places or properties should not be enjoyed solely by Nigeria’s so-called incumbent governors.
One thing these governors could not do was to prevent citizen reporters from exposing the grave abuses of offices committed by these chief executives. No sensible Nigerian would deny that our society is in a state of decay and with significant erosion of confidence in the activities of government officials. This was a factor in the outrage that made many people to come out to vote, believing that the 2011 elections would be free and fair.
The 2011 elections also gave another opportunity for Saharareporters.com to soar. The elections further propelled Saharareporters to a new height as the website committed more assets than any media house in Nigeria to cover the country’s entire 36 states. They even reported from volatile remote riverside areas of Bayelsa and Rivers state, where INEC officials were afraid to use canoes to enter.
But my focus today is on the Imo State saga. Saharareporters played a pivotal role in toppling Governor Ikedi Ohakim from the governorship of Imo. The website’s barrage of reports on Ohakim served to awaken the people of Imo and the larger south eastern part of Nigeria to the nature of the governor’s corruption and misrule. Even though Ohakim has been humiliated, Saharareporters cannot afford to stop prying into his administration. In my view, over 90% of the information on what Ohakim perpetrated in Imo is yet to come out.
Ohakim had told many insiders that cyber attack on his person by Saharareporters was the major reason the people revolted against him.
In fact, Ohakim and his cohorts tried to brainwash Imo indigenes until Saharareporters began to deprogram the masses or – to use Nigerian verbiage – to “shine our eyes.”
Let us use Lagos State as an example. There are about eight TV stations, ten radio stations and several newspapers one can access at any given time of the day in the state. It is not easy to control information in Lagos. That is not the same in Imo state. It is believed that an informed buyer is a smart buyer. This diversity may be a factor in the good governance witnessed in Lagos state. If a state governor tries to mislead in Lagos state, I assume that there must be a few individuals who will form one association or another and go to court to confront the questionable government activities or demand some form of disclosure. In a place like Imo state, if one formed an association to fight Ohakim in court, two things would likely happen. One, the person leading the association may end up dead or he/she or one family member would be kidnapped. Ohakim ran a government of intimidation and limitation.
I had very good access to Ohakim and therefore full knowledge of his campaign strategies. I saw the anxieties caused by the massive, unstoppable avalanche of investigative reports Saharareporters published. Each expose left the governor restless and in despair. He never wanted his aides to respond to any of Saharareporters’ reports. He feared that any attempt to refute the website could provoke the emergence of new revelations. Simply put, Ohakim found it extremely difficult to counter Saharareporters’ reports on his illicit activities as well as on the growing frustration among his friends and cabinet members.
In the wake of Ohakim’s defeat, Imo State indigenes and other Nigerians should congratulate Saharareporters on its role in stopping the governor. Anyone who was close to Ohakim can testify to the terror that Saharareporters inflicted on Government House, Owerri. Saharareporters was the most feared media outfit, which Ohakim would have paid off, if the organization were a typical Nigerian newspaper. The governor was very effective in starving his people of information, but powerless before Internet publications, especially Saharareporters. His inability to bribe Saharareporters to stop their damaging reports was the most humiliating situation he suffered. He even lashed out at his aides, “How come no one knows how to reach the publisher and stop him?” He and his aides even tried to reach out to some Yoruba elites for help, but to no avail.
As a foot soldier to Ohakim, I was privy to his strategies to win the 2011 election. After watching the collapse of the man’s game plan, I can say with confidence that truth shall always triumph evil. Even though I value friends and relationships, I cannot avoid calling evil by its proper name. Today, many of us who, frankly speaking, benefited in one way or another from Ohakim and who also made untold sacrifice, cannot show our faces openly in the streets of Owerri – just a few days after the election. The public is demanding that Ohakim move out of Government House now and not wait till May 29, 2011. That shows how people are determined to dust off the man’s shadows. Many of us feel used and betrayed by Ohakim.
Today, some of us insiders in the Ohakim administration can only do justice to the incoming state governments around Nigeria by revealing what happened in Imo State. The state ought to be a case study to forestall what happened in Imo from happening elsewhere where Ohakim wannabes may surface.
Ohakim represented everything evil in governance. If Saharareporters was the killer of Ohakim’s political dreams, Professor Attahiru Jega of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was the one who put the nail on the coffin – when he introduced measures unheard of in Nigeria to checkmate rigging. INEC’s accreditation system caused Ohakim to be depressed, as he could not find a way around it. It meant that the thousands of fake names registered and the costs expended were wasted.
Ohakim had three main rigging plans. Plan A was to register thousands of fake names. Plan B was to snatch ballot boxes and write the results with the collusion of INEC officials in Imo on whom he spent tens of millions. Plan C was to pay for every vote at the accreditation site. As tensions were mounting, Plan C was activated. He decided to pay N2000 per vote and later increased the price to N5000 per vote. To our surprise, after people collected N5000 of Ohakim’s money, they still voted against him. Another out-of- -the-box strategy was to use soldiers and the police to finish the job during the supplementary election. Over N2 billion was budgeted for the supplementary election. But the game plan failed as well. Overnight, soldiers from Enugu took over Imo State and police arrived from Abuja along with new Resident Electoral Commissioners and other INEC officials. Government House, Owerri was like a place held hostage. Whatever was meant to go wrong did go wrong.
All the aides and staff stared at each other in disbelief. It became extremely difficult for Ohakim to speak to anyone in INEC, police and army, since all those had new command structures. It was then Ohakim knew the game was up, as he had lost his apparatus for rigging. It was Saharareporters that exposed that the initial four RECs charged with the supplementary elections were highly compromised. Eight RECs were sent to Imo after Saharareporters had exposed the lack of credibility of two of the RECs as well as the role of Tony Anenih, “Mr. Fix-it.” When Ohakim heard how Saharareporters had exposed his rigging plan, he cursed out at the website.
Ohakim’s vigilantes, whom he wanted to use to unleash mayhem, witnessed the massive presence of fierce-looking soldiers, tanks and heavy ammunition in a combat mode. The vigilantes took to their heels and disappeared. Today, Imo indigenes should be concerned about how to disarm Ohakim’s armed vigilantes who double as kidnappers in the state.
Ikedi Ohakim’s intransigent attitude made him extremely vulnerable in the leakages that originated from Government House. Some of his cabinet members and friends just gave up on him. So the election came, with Ohakim still basking in the past belief that whoever got the PDP primary ticket in Imo state, endorsed by moribund politicians like Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Arthur Nzeribe and alike, was bound to win the general election. Ohakim did not know the true impact of Saharareporters readers. He was not fully aware that the infectious delivery and dissemination of information had created angry and well-informed indigenes. By the time he started taking Saharareporters seriously, the damage had been done.
The eclipse of Ohakim in Imo State would have been a lot more difficult if Saharareporters had not beamed its searchlight on Ohakim’s affairs. Only Saharareporters can tell us why they became highly focused on Imo state in the first place. In fact Ohakim would want to know why Saharareporters picked on him month after month. I do not believe that Saharareporters gave any other state the attention it gave Imo state.
There is no question that a new paradigm of reporting news about Nigeria’s governmental affairs and the private sector has emerged. In my view, Ohakim has been used to set an example. Every corrupt politician in Nigeria now has reason to worry. The power of Saharareporters certainly lies in their “citizen reporters,” better called informants. It was clear to me (and, I believe to Ohakim) that these informants can now be found inside most political and business systems and organizations. Their presence, and the existence of an outlet like Saharareporters, is a severe threat to any rogue government.
Unfortunately, some people who read this piece may think that I am betraying Ohakim – that I benefited from him and dumped him. This is not the case. Many of us who were close to Ohakim spoke to him no fewer than ten times to warn him of the disconnect between him and the masses. We tried to apprise him of what some newspapers were writing. We tried to inform him about the murmurs in the streets about his excesses. Instead he trusted the machinery of PDP to deliver him no matter what anyone said. Some of us who spoke out feel vindicated. If he reads this piece, he may understand better. He was a hundred percent sure that he would be returned. At one point or another, I was also angry at Saharareporters for committing too many assets on Ohakim, when other governors were equally looting.
As stated earlier, without the provocative and informative reporting from Saharareporters, Ohakim would have won his re-election. If Saharareporters did not incite the people with an avalanche of accurate information Ohakim would have been re-elected. People are smarter these days. They crossed-checked what Saharareporters reported and found out that Ohakim was an empty vessel.
There were three major persons in Ohakim’s inner circle that he listened to. The first person was Ohakim, second person Ohakim, and third person Ohakim. His wife was a punching bag and had a limited say in his government. He never took any advice from anyone. No matter what advice he agreed to, when he woke up, a counter advice surfaced. It was as if he was hearing voices, mistrusted everybody, or took some narcotics. So, for most of us as well as his commissioners, Ohakim was extremely difficult to work with. He treated everybody like a maid and made himself a living god. This should be a lesson for other governors, because if they fail to learn something from this Ohakim episode, they will suffer the same fate too. Nigeria is changing for good, and honest people should not fail to speak out, even when it is hurtful, if this country should be better. If condoning evil works, it never worked in Ohakim’s case.
Saharareporters was the major social media for Imo people. It was Saharareporters that first broke all the news of Ohakim’s loots, excessive expenditures, corrupt romance with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), his questionable projects, bribery of judges, curious travels and infamous polices – before a few Nigerian papers felt comfortable to do their own reports or quote Saharareporters.
Thanks to Saharareporters, corrupt Nigerian politicians, private sector top-shots, bureaucrats in ministries and officials of anti-corruption agencies now sleep with one eye open. I have heard many people say in Nigeria that former President Olusegun Obasanjo went after the website from inside and outside Nigeria and failed.
Saharareporters has no sacred cows – and that is one reason it continues to draw readers and citizen reporters from all over Nigeria.
It’s well known that Saharareporters has no sacred cows and that was a major reason it played a huge role in toppling Ohakim. Without Saharareporters, Imo indigenes would have never known what Ohakim was doing with their funds and lives. The saddest part of all, while Ohakim was committing the crimes, he enjoyed immunity from prosecution, and that was the main reason he was ready to mortgage the entire state to be re-elected. Now that he has lost, we await to see what EFCC does about his intention to slip out of the country after the Federal Executive Council meeting of Wednesday May 25, 2011. Ohakim has no plans to be in Nigeria to handover. He has quoted Saharareporters’ report that he will burn the files and vowed not to be in the country come May 29, 2011. Will he come back? No one knows for now.
There’s no question that the re-engineering of the way we get the news is now revolutionary. Just look at what is happing in the Middle East today – the revolution caused by information people received or heard over a social media. President Mosni Mubarak of Egypt was toppled – thanks to one Google executive who awakened Egyptian youths. Ohakim was also toppled by youths who read Saharareporters.
In Imo State, over 80% of the votes came from the youths who were anxious to remove Ohakim – while Ohakim was basking on the support he received from recycled and moribund politicians like Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Arthur Nzeribe and their like. Never did it occur to him at anytime, despite his marketing skills, that the people were aware of his deceits. I predict that this will not be the last time a source like Saharareporters will topple a government through the ballot box or revolution in Nigeria.
Anyone who recorded or watched the election accreditations in Imo State would have discovered that a vast majority of those casting their votes were youths between the ages of 18 and 35. In Imo (as well as Nigeria in general) this age bracket can be described as the Internet soldiers. As things were happening in Imo State they were reporting minute by minute to Saharareporters. Ohakim was also monitoring Saharareporters to know what was happening. It is amazing that a web journal that started just about six years ago has become so central to Nigerian politics.
I know that Ohakim commissioned a team to find cyber experts anywhere in the world who would bring down Saharareporters’ website. Some Internet “wizards” in India, China, and South Africa were given separate contracts, without each knowing that the other had been tasked to bring down Saharareporters. Ohakim was crestfallen when he heard that they were all less than successful. The effort to knock off the website shows how seriously Nigeria politicians take Saharareporters and how far they are willing to go to emasculate it. One special advisor to Ohakim said in one of our meetings that the biggest threat to Nigerian unity was Saharareporters. He said that one day, the site would set Nigeria ablaze with their provocative reporting.
The first medium Ohakim reads each morning is Saharareporters, then followed by local Imo State newspapers. He takes the cyber journals seriously because he knows those are the ones foreigners and all Nigerians can see and read unedited. He found himself helpless when it came to Internet publications – or cyber attackers, as he called them. He kept Imo State indigenes in the dark by hijacking all the local papers. No newspaper would dare write any derogatory information about Ohakim or his government without being shut down or without threats of kidnap being made on the publisher.
Today, there are about fifteen locally published newspapers in Imo state. They all distribute within two square miles of the capital. So no matter what street you come out from in the morning, you are bound to find one of them, and all praising Ohakim. The papers were not designed to make money; virtually all of them were operating on state funds. Most of them are owned by Ohakim’s friends and with one common purpose: to propagate Ikedi Ohakim’s name. So no matter the paper one picks in the morning, Ohakim praises would be found everywhere. It was akin to Saddam Hussein’s image on Baghdad streets during his reign. So that was what the people knew. If posting images of oneself, imaginary projects, uncompleted projects, non-existent project make one a good governor, Ohakim won the gold medal. Nollywood sure has a captivating script that Ohakim has provided to them free of charge.
After Ohakim reads Saharareporters in the morning, he then reads the online versions of all Nigerian newspapers by 6 a.m. That shows how fascinated he was by newspapers. He loves reading newspapers – it was like a religion to him. His image was extremely important to him, and when he was portrayed in poor light, he got agitated. He would look for those that may have information damaging to him, before such papers will hit Owerri stands. If any adverse information was found, his boys would purchase the entire supply of the newspaper so that no one in Imo would read the story. Imo readers could tell when newspaper vendors would say this or that paper had not come even by 3 p.m. that the truth was, the papers came but were fully purchased to keep some negative information off the street.
It was mostly Saharareporters that countered the government’s strategy of starving the people of information. So no one at Government House found Saharareporters amusing.
If anyone is in doubt, just log on to Saharareporters website and type in “Ohakim” on the search section. You will see a catalogue of publications about Ohakim. Ohakim became extremely restless and sleepless when he found out that people were quoting Saharareporters on the streets.
The website was the only media outlet that persistently published authentic and damaging information about Ohakim. Regrettably, Ohakim made too many enemies, maltreated people around him, and made himself extremely vulnerable to leaks. Those he offended found Saharareporters as a good ally to sacrifice the governor they regarded as evil. Today many people in Imo State simply want Ohakim to park out of Government House even before the May 29, 2011 handover date.
I believe the next big celebration in Owerri will not be the inauguration of Rochas Okorocha, but the arrest of Ohakim by the EFCC. Ohakim’s arrest is certain, unless Mrs. Farida of EFCC ignores all the information at her disposal. Even at this hour, the governor’s brother, Emma Ohakim, is being investigated by both EFCC and ICPC. So it may be premature for Saharareporters to suspend Imo state stories. The drama will soon begin.
Nigerians in general should be grateful to Saharareporters, not because they brought down Ohakim, but for being a source of alternative information for a country where information is controlled by governments as well as private media houses owned by politicians. Politicians or governments own all major media houses in Nigeria. This is a major reason Saharareporters’ future is promising.
Whether anyone believed it or not, Saharareporters has become as important to Nigerians as Wikileaks. I call it Nijaleaks. The level of anger in Nigeria, mass frustration, incompetent governments, flawed legal system, unabated bribery and corruption, high employment, unchecked inflation, insecurity, hostilities, and thirst for information – all these constitute a recipe for a revolution. No one knows which of these factors is going to ignite the resolve of the people and push them to take to the streets, even at the cost of personal lives.
In Ohakim’s case, the youth dared the military to shoot them. They were prepared to burn down Owerri Government House if INEC had announced Ohakim as the winner. And they were ready to die. If not for the quick intervention of the military from Enugu, who took over the Government House and explained to the crowd that no official announcement had been made by INEC, hundreds of people would have died after the election of April 26th. This occurred when the state media controlled by Ohakim announced that Ohakim was leading in about 22 Local Government Areas while Rochas Okorocha was ahead in three LGAs. It was an example of how a revolution could start from information or misinformation.
Ohakim’s rule, like most Nigerian governments, is based on misinformation. So what happens when the masses get the correct information from the web?
Nobody, including state governors and President Goodluck Jonathan, should mislead himself or underestimate the power of the social media that are new alternative information sources. Saharareporters and other genuine websites should not be seen merely as threats. They empower people to take charge of their political destiny.