On February 16th, 2019, Nigerians will go to the polls to elect a new President. For 58 years, the Nigerian nation has failed to live up to its full potential. While the Nigerian people are creative, dynamic, energetic, hard working and competent, we have been burdened with leadership that does not match the rich and immense potential of the nation or the abilities of its people. What has failed Nigeria is not its people, but its leaders. Since 1999, Nigeria has been led by the PDP and the APC, creating a de facto two-party state. The results of that 19-year rule have been dismal and the facts of everyday life in Nigeria reads like a plot from a horror movie about a dystopian reality - rampant corruption, insecurity of lives and property, economic malaise, record levels of unemployment, millions of children outside of school, epileptic power supply and poor healthcare. Never in the history of Nigeria, has crime, corruption, insecurity and economic stagnation been as rampant as it is now.
Nigerians have not folded their arms, waiting for a messiah from on high. In the five electoral cycles that have occurred since 1999, Nigerians have made pragmatic choices from the limited options they have been offered. The highly monetized nature of Nigerian politics and the previous lack of organization from those who claimed to offer an alternative, forced every election since 1999 to be a choice between the lesser of two evils. In 1999 and 2003 Nigerians elected a former general and one-time Head of State, who had just been released from prison for coup plotting. In 2007, Nigerians elected Yar’adua over Buhari. In 2011, they again overwhelmingly elected Goodluck Jonathan over Buhari.
In 2015, tired of the stagnation and the rampant corruption, Nigerians made a big political gamble. Despite the misgivings that they had about Buhari in 2003, 2007 and 2011, the Nigerian people decided to hand over power to him and the party that he led, the APC. Buhari, or rather, the myth of the man, represented the only thing that was redeemable about the current Nigerian political system. He was a three-time loser that had refused to go away. Nigerians love a fighter. He was a seemingly spartan ex-Head of State in a nation where every former leader had acquired fortunes for themselves. Nigerians loved that narrative of seeming earthen authenticity. Buhari spoke of the fierce urgency to change Nigeria’s trajectory and fix its problems. Nigerians love leaders who recognize that time waits for no man, woman or nation. And so, in 2015, we did what had never been done before. We handed power to an opposition party.
The euphoria of that momentous undertaking has now passed. The stark realities are that Nigeria is worse off today than it was in 2015. The signs came early. It took Buhari 6 months to form a cabinet, in a period of economic recession. Nigerians thought the delay and the seeming lack of urgency was likely due to a need for careful and deliberative selection of the nation’s best minds. However, that illusion cleared quickly. When Buhari announced his cabinet, it was the same old people. The same old faces that have been cycled and recycled since 1979. And unsurprisingly, their tired ideas have proven incapable of thrusting a nation that has been struck in reverse for decades, forward. The result is the dystopia that has become our reality. More Nigerians have been killed in the Farmer Herdsmen conflict, than in many nations in war. 4 million jobs were lost last year, in a nation already facing record unemployment.
Although Buhari has so far been free of personal accusations of corruption, he has surrounded himself with the sleazy and the corrupt. He is the leader of a party that has become the mortician’s table that dresses up and sanitizes with deadening fragrances, the odious stench of the corrupt who run to its banner. Buhari’s APC has wiped off the sins of Obanikoro and Akpabio. Buhari’s political team includes corrupt individuals like Abdullahi Adamu, Aliyu Wammako, Orji Uzor Kalu, Abdulaziz Yari, Ali Modu Sherrif, Babachir Lawal and Rotimi Amaechi. The active corruption cases before the EFCC and other anti-corruption agencies involving these individuals is over N232 Billion. He oversees an army headed by an Army General who has corruptly amassed homes in Dubai, while commanding an army where soldiers are sent to battle, ill equipped and poorly compensated. To argue that Buhari is not corrupt, is to claim that the mosquito does not cause malaria. Yes, the scientist would argue that it is the plasmodium parasite that the mosquito transfers, that causes the disease. But in the world of real things, get rid of the mosquito, and the malaria will never come. Buhari has become a vector, like the mosquito, that harbours the parasite of corruption.
With Buhari’s failure, Nigerians have realized that their hopes that there was some redeeming feature within the establishment political system have dissipated. The plethora of candidates that have emerged to contest the Presidency in the 2019 electoral cycle, reflects the reality that the Nigerian people have become disillusioned with the options presented to them by the establishment parties. While there have been third party contenders in previous elections, the 2019 electoral cycle will be different in one major way. For the first time in Nigeria’s recent history, a crop of competent new players like Sowore, Moghalu, Durotoye, Ezekwesili have thrown their hats in the ring as contenders for the highest office in the land. As at the last count, 31 individuals have signified an interest in being President.
The diversity of candidates is refreshing. But it can also be dizzying and confusing. Of all the candidates – old and new – that are contesting for the candidacy, one stands head and shoulder above the rest. His name is Omoyele Sowore. There are six reasons why Nigerians should vote him as their next President.
1. Early Foresight and a History of Engagement with Nigeria
At an age when most young persons are spending their time partying and engaging in the frivolities of youth, Sowore was busy fighting for Nigeria. As an 18-year-old first year student at the university of Lagos, he was on the frontlines of the Anti-SAP demonstrations in 1989. The issue that first brought Sowore to the streets in defence of Nigeria’s future, were matters that most young men and women of his era were not concerned about, that bothered on macroeconomic policy, democratic governance and transparency.
No single economic policy has altered and affected Nigeria’s economic fortunes as the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP). Prescribed to the Babangida government by the IMF and World Bank in 1986, the SAP called for the widescale privatization of governmental institutions, exchange rate devaluation and the imposition of deep cuts to government spending. Nigeria’s democratic, political and economic thought leaders were concerned that the military was not an institution that had the appropriate credentials of transparency to lead a privatization of Nigeria’s crown economic jewels.
Babangida, the leader of the military government was already tainted with allegations of corruption and had already acquired a reputation for embezzlement. He was also implicated in the Dele Giwa murder and the infamous Gloria Okon cocaine affair. Such a man, with a demonstrated penchant for graft, they argued, could not be trusted to head the radical transformation of Nigeria’s economy.
Furthermore, the requirements for cuts to funding of key areas of the economy troubled people oriented economic thinkers. Without the stimulus of spending from government, Nigeria’s investment in itself and its people would come crumbling. Rather than growth, the end result would at best be stagnation, and at worst retrogression.
The opposition to the SAP program which culminated in the 1989 Anti-SAP demonstrations was not a knee jerk reaction. A national debate had begun in 1986 after Babangida essentially accepted the IMF’s proposals and their attendant conditionalities. By 1989, the horrid results of SAP were already clear to all. In 1987, Nigeria witnessed its largest single devaluation of the Naira by 130%, following the previous year’s record devaluation of the Naira by 97%.
SAP fundamentally altered Nigeria’s economic path. By the time Babangida took over in 1985, the exchange rate was N 0.894 to the dollar. By the time he was forced out of office in 1993, it had ballooned to N22.07 to the dollar, a whopping 2280% devaluation! All of the concerns about SAP came to pass. Deep cuts to all sectors of the Nigerian economy, deprived Nigeria of the needed stimulus for economic growth. The IMF and World Bank had prescribed using a hammer to fix the economy, when what was needed was a surgeon’s scalpel. And that hammer levelled Nigeria’s economy and set our nation on a path towards economic backwardness.
The damage to Nigeria’s economy has been long lasting. Random and deep cuts to sectors like education hollowed out the ranks of the Nigerian educational system. It is not accidental that the period from 1990 onwards marked the beginning of the end for Nigeria’s tradition of good public schools. By the time Babangida was swept from office, 58 parastatals had been privatized, and sold off at bargain prices to cronies of Babangida and members of his junta. This was what Sowore and other visionaries of that era had feared. In a validation of the concerns that were raised over 30 years ago about SAP, the world Bank recently apologized for the damage that their cookie cutter economic prescriptions had wrought on African nations, including Nigeria, in the last 3 decades.
All the other major candidates running in this race were also present during this time. We know what Sowore’s stance was. We know that he actively opposed this program. We know he was concerned enough about it to join in and help organize protests against the program. Where was Atiku during this time? Where was Moghalu? Where was Durotoye? Where was Ezekwesili?
2. A Thirty 30 Year History of Service to Nigeria
Consistency matters. In a nation where politics has become a theatre of promises that are almost always broken, it is not only the words that those who seek our votes utter that matters, we must also check their record of engagement with Nigeria. For the last three decades, Sowore has been a recurring feature in every major national issue. He has been involved, as a major player in issues as critical as the fight against the SAP Policy, the annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections, the restoration of democracy in 1999, the truncation of Obasanjo’s third term agenda, the transfer of power to Jonathan in 2010 and the creation of conditions in 2015 that enabled opposition parties to compete viably against incumbent parties. No major political event has occurred in Nigeria in the last 30 years, that Sowore was not involved in, as an advocate for democratic, civil and human rights.
When the June 12, 1993 elections were annulled, Sowore was the Students’ Union President at the University of Lagos. When the elections were annulled, the ranks of organized labor – the traditional leaders of socio-political protests in Nigeria – had been hollowed out. The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) had been compromised with a succession of weak and questionable leaders. Virile leaders like Frank Kokori of NUPENG, who had broken with the NLC to lead their unions in principled opposition against Babangida’s government with a crippling strike to protest the annulment had been arrested. Leaders of Civil Society groups like Campaign for Democracy, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) and Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) were hounded and harassed and were struggling to find ways to respond to the blatant use of assassinations and intimidation by the Babangida – Abacha Junta. Further complicating the issues were the manipulations, manoeuvrings and capitulations by the new political class that had emerged. Although Abiola remained resolute in his position that he would carry on fighting for his mandate, his Vice-Presidential candidate, Babagana Kingibe had capitulated. By 1994, most of Nigeria’s seasoned gladiators were either dead or in exile.
In this era of discordant and muted voices, where leaders had vacated the political space, the task of speaking truth to power fell to a new and young generation of leaders.
None of them was more vocal and more visible than Omoyele Sowore. As student’s union president at the University of Lagos, he threw himself and the students of his institution into the fray. Lagos was Abiola’s home, and it was Sowore and the Students of the University of Lagos who formed the front lines of the struggle for the restoration of the June 12 mandate.
No one else in the crowd of people running for the presidency has this history of principled engagement. Only one person can lay claim to having been on the side of democratic governance, transparency, anti corruption, pro- people policies in all of the last 30 years. Names like Moghalu, Durotoye, Ezekwesili, Duke and others, are recent additions to Nigeria’s political history. Of the 47 years that he has been on earth, Sowore has given the last 30, to the principled service of his nation. His body bears the scars of that service.
It is interesting that Atiku, who now poses as a democratic champion came third in the primaries within the Social Democratic Party (SDP) that led to the emergence of Abiola as the Presidential flagbearer. He was a sprightly 47-year-old man who had retired from the customs service in 1989. There is no record of Atiku’s participation in the struggle for the actualization of the June 12 mandate, an electoral process in which he ran for the Presidency. Newspapers, news reports, videos, and press clippings from that era testify to Sowore’s principled and courageous leadership.
3. Courageous and Daring
It was Martin Luther King, Jr who said, “if you have nothing worth dying for, then you have nothing worth living for.” For 30 years, Sowore has demonstrated that he is willing to die for Nigeria. Time and time again, he has put his career and his life on the line for the nation. Anyone who would rule Nigeria must be courageous and daring. Anyone who wants to rule Nigeria must show Nigerians that they have been willing to lay down their lives for this nation. Even Sowore’s most ardent critics agree that he is one of the most courageous persons ever to straddle the Nigerian political space.
Although Sowore had been a strident and principled voice against military rule and oppression, he was in those cases, one of many voices. Sowore first came to national prominence when he led a national revolt against the menace of campus cultism. Before Sowore began his anti-cult campaign in the University of Lagos in 1992, campus cults were the unchecked and unchallenged gods of Nigerian campuses. Sowore mobilized previously petrified students against the menace of cultism and demystified their aura of invincibility. The fight that he pioneered spread to campuses all over the nation. He paid a high price for his efforts, when he was attacked viciously by cultist groups.
The case has already been made that Sowore has been involved in every momentous event that has occurred in Nigeria’s political environment since 1989. Each and every single one of those engagements and interventions were potentially life threatening. There were people who were killed for their opposition to the annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections. That did not stop Sowore from continuing to champion the cause for the restoration of that historic mandate. There were people who were arrested, detained, tortured, and even killed for calling for the military to vacate the political space in the 1990s – but that did not deter Sowore from being one of the leading voices for the restoration of democratic rule. When the authentic annals of history are written about Nigeria’s democratic heroes, a portion, albeit small, must be dedicated to Sowore’s role in helping to achieve the restoration of democracy in 1999.
Since 1999, his work through activism and Sahara Reporters, has helped to shine a light on the corrupt inner recesses of Nigeria’s political process. Ministers have been forced to resign because of his work in exposing corruption. Obasanjo’s third term agenda was revealed and fought against using his platform. The Yar’adua cabal’s machinations to prevent a constitutional transfer of power to Goodluck Jonathan were forcefully and courageously exposed on Sowore’s Sahara Reporters. From Tinubu, to Atiku, to Obasanjo, to Goodluck Jonathan, to Yar’adua, to Stella Oduah, to Femi Fani-Kayode and countless others, Nigeria’s thieving political class have feared nothing but the sanitizing glare that Sowore’s Sahara Reporters has shone on their corrupt affairs. All of these exposures have come at great personal cost. Yet, despite the court cases, despite the attacks, despite the arrests, despite the frozen accounts – this patriot has somehow managed to still continue to soldier on.
4. Entrepreneurial, Trendsetting & Hardworking
How many Nigerians have created businesses that are truly disruptive? How many Nigerians have established institutions that have created jobs while at the same time transforming nations and countries? Sowore has been there and done that. Sowore is the publisher of Sahara Reporters, an organization that he started with nothing more than a $600 laptop and a dream to sanitize the Nigerian political space and to keep our nation’s leaders accountable. There is absolutely no doubt that in the 12 years since Sahara Reporters was established it has become a global brand and one of Nigeria’s most visible and iconic organizations. Sahara Reporters has grown from a citizen journalism platform to include Radio, TV and Training arms. His stories have been syndicated on CNN and the BBC. His work has helped bring democratic governance to countries like Gambia and Zimbabwe by providing a platform for democratic voices.
Sowore has established Africa’s most prominent journalistic platform, yet he has no degree in journalism. Hundreds of Nigerians have found expression through the platform. Tens of thousands rely on it for authentic and fearless news coverage. Sahara Reporters is a thriving organization and is the only journalistic platform in Nigeria that refuses adverts from governmental agencies. Many Nigerian media houses rely on government patronage for survival. Sowore fundamentally believes that accepting funds from governmental agencies could make Sahara Reporters dependent on institutions and organizations that might themselves become subjects of investigations. That ethical position has helped ensure Sahara’s longevity. In twelve years of hard-hitting investigative reporting Sowore’s integrity has never been called to question. In a political and media environment that is mired in mud, sleaze and slime, Sowore has somehow managed to remain as a bastion of moral courage and personal integrity.
Sowore has combined his operations at Sahara with service as a Professor at the New York City Colleges for years. He is also a very well sought-after speaker globally. His campaign schedule has been punishing. Since announcing his candidacy in March, he has established a global movement, formed a national party (African Action Congress) and engaged in over 100 campaign events and interactive town hall sessions in all of Nigeria’s states and around the world. He is now in the middle of a nationwide closing tour for his campaign. No one else in the race for President comes close to the work ethic and the discipline that Sowore has introduced into the electioneering process.
Experience is defined as the knowledge or mastery of an event or subject gained through involvement in or exposure to it. Sowore and other new candidates have been accused of having no experience. So, what constitutes experience to be President? If it is having held a position before, only one person in the 2019 race has been President and that is Muhammadu Buhari. In fact, in his case, he has been President twice before – his current term, and his stint from 1983 to 1985 as a Military Head of State. However, Buhari is a poor example for why experience matters. His record so far in office has been abysmal. Despite the experience that he presents on paper, Buhari’s presidency has been characterized by economic suffering, job losses, increasing insecurity and festering corruption.
Before addressing this experience issue in detail, we must learn from our own history. When our founding fathers – Awolowo, Azikiwe and Ahmadu Bello – were leading the nation to independence and birthing vibrant and virile regional governments, they had no template, they never led Local Government Areas before they were saddled with leading a nation. In short, they had no experience for governance, in the traditional sense. Yet, the period from 1957 to 1963, is adjudged to be one of the best we ever had as a nation in terms of development and growth.
What they did have was a track record of accomplishments in various spheres of life – political, journalistic and economic. Gowon was only 32 years old and a Lieutenant Colonel who had just returned from a training course when he was called upon to lead a nation through a brutal civil war and to stabilize it for five more years after the conflict. Most of Nigeria’s most enduring infrastructural developments and global political statements were made during Gowon’s era. What experience did he have to be President? Obasanjo, who has now endorsed a 72-year-old Atiku for the Presidency, using amongst other things, experience as an argument for his endorsement, was 38 years old when he became Head of State.
Mandela went from prison to the Presidency in South Africa. His experience for the 27 years prior to that epochal election was as a prisoner on Robben Island, breaking rocks. Barack Obama just completed two terms as President of the USA. He did not come with the traditional credentials for the Presidency that was common to American Politics – Executive experience as a governor, or extensive legislative experience in the national Senate. He had been a community organizer, a lowly State Senator, and served for just six months in the US Senate before starting his campaign for the Presidency. Yet, his tenure was characterised by economic growth and enhanced global respect for the USA.
In fact, Buhari’s horrible performance in office, demonstrates that when speaking of experience, we must qualify what type of experience is required. Beyond the Presidency, Buhari was also an army General. Nigerians can be forgiven for assuming that Buhari’s “experience” in the army and his prior position as Governor of the North Eastern State from 1975 to 1976 (over 40 years ago) would have made him eminently qualified to deal with the Boko Haram issue, which has mostly decimated North Eastern Nigeria, within six months – as he promised. Buhari might have been an army general, but he has mishandled every security crisis Nigeria has. Boko Haram and the farmer – herdsmen crisis have worsened under his leadership
Buhari was Nigeria’s Petroleum Minister from 1976 to 1978, that was over 40 years ago. He is currently also Nigeria’s Petroleum Minister. Anyone would have been forgiven for thinking that leveraging his knowledge of the sector and “experience” from 40 years ago, Buhari would have transformed Nigeria’s oil industry from its backward state into one that is modern and in line with the work being done in the Oil sector in nations like Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Brazil. The sad reality is that our petroleum sector is worse today than it was 40 years ago, riddled with comatose refineries, burdened by wrong headed policies and crippled by stifling corruption. How has Buhari’s experience helped Nigeria?
Even Buhari’s once vaunted reputation for integrity, acquired largely because of the pursuit of a policy called the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) in his first stint in power from 1983-1985, has been tarnished. Buhari’s government, which Nigerians expected to cleanse the Augean stables of corruption has become mired in the miasma swamps of corruption. His party, the APC is now the gathering place for anyone who seeks to escape the scrutiny of the EFCC. A true den of thieves. Buhari continues to be surrounded by aides that are linked to mind boggling cases of corruption. Buhari, whom Nigerians once expected to place the final nail in the coffin of corruption in Nigeria, has now become the caretaker of the sheltering and watering hole for the corrupt.
As for Atiku, he has been around the Nigerian political system for about 26 years, starting with his first contest for the Presidency in 1992 under the banner of the SDP. At the time Sowore was engaging in his first battle against military dictatorship in 1989, Atiku was retiring from the customs service as a Deputy Director that had already built up considerable wealth from a “side hustle” he was engaged in. In fact, Atiku placed third, after Abiola and Kingibe in the primaries that preceded the June 12, 1993 Presidential elections. He was VP to Obasanjo in the 1999 to 2007 timeframe. Since he has never been President, if Atiku were to lay claim to experience, it would be to say that by being an active participant in the Nigerian political process since 1992, he has been close enough to the highest levels of Nigeria’s political process, that he has an understanding of how things work. The only problem is that Jonathan and Yar’adua told us the same story. And we all remember how that turned out.
Atiku’s brand of politics has been incredibly self centered, and the relevance of the experience he has garnered from such self-serving engagements is suspect. Here was a man who placed third in the primaries of the SDP in 1992, yet, when June 12 was annulled, Atiku was silent. When democracy faced its greatest threat, Atiku was nowhere to be found. Instead, it was a young man, barely 22 years old at the time, who became one of the most vocal voices and prominent fighters for the restoration of a political process, in which people like Atiku were the principal beneficiaries. Atiku’s experience is the kind that benefits the individual and not the nation.
For those whop rant and rave about his “economic experience”, it is instructive that Atiku’s foray into business began when he was a custom’s officer in the early 1980s and entered into partnership with Gabriele Volpi to form NICOTES Container Terminal Service, Ltd, which had interest in the oil servicing business. Atiku’s participation in this company was a violation of his civil service oath. He holds the dubious ‘honor” of being the first sitting Vice President to be indicted by the EFCC for diverting Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PDTF) to investments that favored himself and his cronies. In February 2007, an ad-hoc Committee of the Nigerian Senate called for Mr. Abubakar to be “sanctioned,” because he had “abused his office by aiding and abetting the diversion of public funds in the sum of $145 million” as loans to his friends. On February 2010, the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security released a damning report that listed Atiku Abubakar as one of four global case studies on corruption. Sixty eight (68) pages in that report were devoted to chronicling and detailing the extensive corrupt practices and money laundering activities of Atiku Abubakar.
6. Most Prepared Candidate
Effective leadership is about preparation. Nigeria’s next President must not only bring positive experience to the table. They must also have a history of positive engagement in helping to move Nigeria forward. They must have demonstrated personal courage and strength in standing for truth and justice. They must have shown through their public and private actions, a capacity for speaking truth to power. They must have a clear understanding of the issues that assail Nigeria - from corruption in the civil service and the political class, to the maneuverings amongst Nigeria’s political elites that have led to the continued impoverishment of Nigeria’s people. Beyond understanding the problems, they must also have a clear-eyed view of what it takes to move Nigerian out of poverty and backwardness and onto the path of prosperity and growth. Nigeria’s next president must have demonstrated an ability to thrive within Nigeria and a capacity for creating alliances. Above all, Nigeria’s next president must have demonstrated the capacity to birth an idea and to rally people and institutions around it. Only one person in the race for President can say they have met every single one of these requirements. That person is Omoyele Sowore.
Sowore has built alliances across the political spectrum. This is something that comes naturally to him given his background as a pro-democracy and civil rights activist. As someone who has participated in, and fought to enhance the Nigerian political system for 30 years, few people, if any, have the insights that he has garnered about the inner workings of Nigeria’s political system. His manifesto is unique – not only does he outline plans for moving Nigerian forward, he also lays out clearly where the 5 million jobs he has promised will come form, and how every single one of the ten (10) programs that he promises to implement will be paid for.
The Next Step
Whatever happens on February 16th, 1999, one thing is clear - the Nigerian political system has been changed forever. For the first time in our nation’s history, the “other” Presidential candidates are not a pack of has-beens or unaccomplished attention seekers. Men and women like Sowore, Durotoye, Moghalu, Duke, Ezekwesili and Fashua, are men and women of seriousness and substance.
The world is changing. Economic and geopolitical alliances are shifting. The next 5-10 years will be an epochal period in world history that will determine what Nigeria’s fate and its place in the world will be for a long time to come.
If Nigeria is to enter into this new age poised for growth and progress, it must shed its baggage from the past, unshackle itself from the burden of old and tired ideas that have held us in bondage for 58 years, and embrace new and bold visions for the future. Sowore has demonstrated with his life’s work, that he is the person that is the most able to lead Nigeria to that glorious future.