The 2015 general elections had just ended, with Nigeria’s ‘achievement’ of an unprecedented transition from one civilian government to another. The losers were beginning to lick their wounds, while the gladiators in the winning party were busy strategising for the ways and means of cornering the juiciest portions of the spoils from the just-concluded electoral war. As the airways quaked with congratulations on the transition ‘miracle’, only a few people realised, or were ready to acknowledge, the heroic role played by SaharaReporters in the materialisation of that electoral feat. Yes, SaharaReporters and its relentless crusade against President Jonathan’s ‘clueless’, corrupt government. That website took full advantage of its capacity as an online, off-shore, literally unreachable, and incorruptible medium, unhampered by the daunting limitations and susceptibilities of the home media. And on election day, it streamed the results as they became available, thus frustrating possible manipulations of the figures by party hacks. It was the first time we had witnessed a virtual, foreign-based medium play this kind of role in Nigeria’s electoral process, and I remember calling the whole experience both ‘historical’ and ‘historic’ in a brief but enthusiastic chat with Rudolf Okonkwo, the tremendously calm and capable anchor of SaharaTV throughout the election period.
We may never know how appreciative the Nigerian politicians were of SaharaReporters’ impact on the 2015 elections, but there is no doubt that the generality of the Nigerian populace knew and many of them were grateful. I was delighted to hear Omoyele Sowore’s name coming up prominently in a December 2015 Person-of-the-Year poll conducted by SPLASH FM, the popular Ibadan-based radio station. When I related this incident to Omoyele, he laughed in his typical zany, un-self-conscious way. But I was too apprehensive to join in his laughter, for I told him that the beneficiaries from his single-minded, keep-the-country-clean campaign might come for him one day, as soon as he began to pillory them for their own misdeeds. Politicians, I warned, have no permanent friends but permanent treacheries! When months and months later he disclosed his plan to go head-on into politics by joining the race for president, he reminded me of the parable of the brave deer going on to dare the lion in its den. I don’t know if he was sure he could win that election and become Nigeria’s president; but I was/am certain the intrepid founder ofSaharaReportersnever doubted our ability to Take Nigeria Back, as his campaign byword goes – and exhorts.
And therein lie the essence and force of the Sowore Spirit. Fearless, determined, and utterly patriotic, Omoyele lives a life ruled by the Tenets of the Possible; walks the fine line between the daring and the dangerous, the courageous and the quixotic. No dreamer, no change agent, no genuine patriot has ever taken human progress to the NEXT LEVEL (does that phrase ring familiar in our current political parlance?) without dwelling in this liminal space and its daunting complexities. No country that takes its future seriously; no country unafraid of truth; no country genuinely sincere about the war against decay and corruption will keep the likes of Sowore in prison. Our prison cells should be yearning for those kleptocrats and political scoundrels who pillage our nation’s treasury, who squander our hopes, and keep Nigeria in that perpetual state of the Big-for-Nothing country.
Omoyele Sowore is not the enemy the Nigerian government needs or should want to fight. The real enemies are out there: hunger and grinding poverty of the masses in the country of a few dubious billionaires, widespread insecurity of life and property, a creeping loss of faith in the very unity and corporate existence of the country, a political leadership that does not know how and where to lead. This is why ‘revolution’ has suddenly become a scare word, and the current waver of that verbal red flag has been clamped down in custody. But let us remind ourselves of that common but no less significant axiom: you may imprison the man, but you can never imprison his ideas.
A wrong prisoner is currently languishing in Nigeria’s detention. His name is Omoyele Sowore. President Muhammadu Buhari, SET HIM FREE TODAY!
Niyi Osundareis one of Africa’s foremost poets and a Distinguished Professor of the University of New Orleans (UNO), where he teaches in the English Department.