In the final of SaharaReporters' presidential election review series, we examine Omoyele Sowore, candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC).
Omoyele Sowore was born on February 16, 1971 in Kiribo, Ese-Odo Local Government Area of Ondo State. He was born and raised in a polygamous family of 16 siblings. He attended Community High School, Kiribo, Ondo State. He finished secondary school in 1985 at the age of 14.
Sowore was admitted into the University Of Lagos (UNILAG) in 1989 to study Geography and Planning. He graduated from the University in 1995. However, no sooner had he gotten admitted into the University than his name became a household name for his fiery activism. His involvement in anti-military demonstrations and student unionism culminated in his emergence as President of the Student Union Government. He served between 1992 and 1994. It was during his tenure as President that cultism, which had become a menace on the UNILAG campus, was fought and crushed. He was also in the vanguard of the series of protests for the restoration of the June 12 mandate to the winner of the June 12 1993 presidential election.
After his graduation, which took him longer than most of his mates, because of the suspension which is often the lot of genuine student activists who always go against and mobilize students to rise against the unjust and repressive laws of the school management and all manner of injustice, he was posted to Adamawa State for his one-year compulsory National Youth Service in Adamawa State Broadcasting Corporation. On the day of his passing out parade, when other corps members were raring to go to their various homes and chart a new course their lives would follow, Sowore was arrested by the Abacha-led military junta. The arrest was in connection with his vociferous anti-government campaigns, which he took beyond the confines of the UNILAG campus to his place of national service.
He was put in solitary confinement, chained down for months at the Nigeria Air Force detention centre guardroom. It took the intervention of a journalist — Stanley Yakubu of the Punch Newspaper, who wrote about Sowore’s detention in the northern edition of the paper — to get him released. Sowore left Nigeria for the United States of America in 1999. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University — one of the Ivy League universities in the US.
CAREER BEFORE POLITICS
Being a human rights and pro-democracy campaigner coupled with his love of justice and passion for investigative reporting made him found a media outfit christened SaharaReporters. The name of the organization has nothing to do with Nigeria being in the Sub-Saharan region of Africa; the organisation derived its name from its raison d’etre, which is to kick up dust by disrupting the seemingly placid but corrupt Nigerian polity. So Sowore became the publisher of SaharaReporters in 2006 and the organisation has ever since lived up to its billing. As part of its policy, SaharaReporters doesn’t not accept adverts and financial support from the Nigerian government to prevent its principles from being compromised.
Sowore is also a lecturer; he teaches Modern African History at the City University of New York and Post-Colonial African History at the School of Visual Arts, New York.
Like other contestants dubbed “alternative candidates”, he has not held any political post. However, it will be uncharitable to tar him with the same brush of neophytism with these other candidates; his fruitful interventions in almost every critical struggle in chequered history of Nigeria stand him out
Though Sowore is not a conventional politician, he is a tested political activist. He is as constant — perhaps twice as blazing — as the northern star on the political firmament of Nigeria, with an impressive three decades of engagement and agitation for good governance as proof of his unflinching commitment to the arduous cause of bringing sanity to the polity. He knows the lay of the political territory and understands the intricacies of politics. From being a one-man reform movement and radical crusader, he has turned himself into a mobilizer and reliable rallying point — with the common touch — for cause of the downtrodden.
He’s daring. Sowore has the courage of his conviction. He pursues whatever cause he believes with gumption. His antecedent as a dogged crusader and intrepid fighter and ‘revolutionary’ might serve him in good stead in the forthcoming elections. He might garner a huge number of votes from the teeming youth who are disillusioned with the current system and earnestly demand a fresh breath of air on our stultifying political space. Radical activists can also find an ally in him; Sowore is that candidate that can have an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with the powerful and stare them down. Ask Adebayo Shittu, among others, and he would tell you of his ordeal. He has that dose of gut required to challenge orthodoxy and some may think this is what is needed for sanity to reign in Nigeria and give him their votes.
Charmed personality. Having spent a substantial part of his life in a developed country — the US — he is not parochial. He has the poise and panache befitting a leader in the 21st century and this may earn him the votes of “the diaspora” back at home to exercise their franchise and the been-tos.
Digital leadership. He is an advocate of digital leadership. The electorate, who want a generational and paradigm shift from the “Sai Baba” kind of leadership that is analogue, slow and exasperating to that of “Sai Bobo”, which is fast and effortlessly digital, may vote him.
Populist platform. Sowore is the founder and publisher of SaharaReporters, a popular media organization that practises citizen journalism. This platform blends activism with journalism and has over the years served as a bulwark for the masses against the excesses of power and the powerful. These masses, whose stories have been told and offered succour through SaharaReporters, will give him their votes.
Vast constituency. His proven track record of achievements as President of the Student Union at UNILAG and his uncompromised stance on good governance may earn him the votes of students of his alma mater and by extension the larger population of Nigerian students, who must have benefited at one time or the other from his intervention in education. Also, his fellow comrades and their dependants may find in him a trustworthy leader forged in the crucible of activism.
A nascent party. Sowore’s party, the African Action Congress (AAC), is not a year old yet. This may affect his range of influence when compared to that of the mainstream political parties. This may be a big minus for Sowore’s ambition of becoming the President.
Wounded politicians fighting back. Sowore is no doubt a gadfly. Through SaharaReporters, he has done mind-boggling and stomach-turning exposé that humbled and wounded many of our politicians. Most of these corrupt politicians have suffered multiple lacerations from Sowore’s investigative lashes. He made reference to this in his interview with the Sun newspaper on July 17, 2017, when he said: “I have offended a lot of people to last a lifetime.”
Also, his insistence on suiting the crime to the punishment should he become President might not go down well with most career politicians. They will stop at nothing to prevent him from ‘taking it back’ — as the slogan of his vibrant party goes.