Human-rights activist and a former presidential candidate of African Action Congress, Omoyele Sowore, shares his experience on activism, politics and other issues with ABIODUN SANUSI

What has been your experience in activism so far?

It is an experience that has lasted more than 30 years. It has been constant harassment, bullying, torture and abuse because I am one of the few young persons who stood up during the military rule. I stood up fighting against environmental groups in the country against oil companies; I stood up fighting against corruption by civilian administrations in the country. I stood up against every government in the last 32 years, and I was expelled twice from the university, I was in detention eight times before I left for the United States of America. I got harassed at the airport and have been detained several times after I returned from the US after 20 years in exile. I’ve been physically assaulted, a police officer broke my nose, and I have been shot at. My younger brother was murdered under circumstances that are still unexplained till date. My bank account was frozen, social media accounts were created and attempts were made to destroy Sahara Reporters, a platform that I set up for news reporting. They’ve come after me in every way they could in the last 32 years.

How come you have not been deterred by all these?

Everybody has a purpose and that purpose is driven by a serious conviction. I knew from day one that I was entering into uncharted unchartered territory and I was going to be up against very powerful people in the society both in the private and public sectors. So, I somehow acquitted my mind for it. For instance, when I was in the university, I was up against secret cults, and the school authorities joined them and almost got me killed in 1994. I was attacked in broad daylight there. It wasn’t just enough to confront them because of their spread, their network; they went after me in every considerable way. However, my conviction has driven me this far, and I believe that life must be lived with a good purpose.

Some are of the view that you went too far by convening a protest to hash-tagged RevolutionNow. What did you want to achieve with such action?

I wanted to empower the people in our society to think radically about changing their conditions because I just couldn’t believe that after 62 years of independence, after over $1tn from the sales of hydrocarbons – crude oil, Nigeria is still in shambles and we cannot even boast of proper elections, and people have no right in their own country to aspire to greatness. When I came back in 2018, I started running for office; most people did not know that before 2018, I had fought against military rule, participated in all kinds of resistance for distant activities against misrule in Nigeria. So, the intention was to mobilise people to go to the barricades to fight off oppression to the point that it became necessary for them to put an end to the people holding them to ransom in government, that was the intention and that intention was made known to the government publicly through the media and it was also made known to those who abducted and detained me. I swore to an affidavit in court in my statement that it was my intention and it is well-known.

The mere mention of revolution gives the impression that you and your supporters were planning to remove the government from power. Did you not think of that before convening the RevolutionNow protest?

We were trying to put in place a process that would give Nigerians real governance. This cannot be called a government because there was no election in 2019; nobody could call what happened in 2019 an election. The use of soldiers, ballot snatching, fictional figures should not be regarded as an election; that was a selection.

Are you saying you do not know that the only constitutional way of changing a government is through an election? Were you calling for the illegal removal of the Muhammadu Buhari regime with your action?

If a thing is going to be legal, it has to pass through constitutional means, and election rigging is not constitutional, it is illegal. Any regime that is against the people is neither a legitimate nor a legal regime. When people say the word ‘constitutional,’ which constitution are they talking about? Is it the 1999 Constitution that was put in place by the military? That is not a legitimate constitution in itself. However, my focus here is not on the paper called a constitution, but on the legitimacy of the regime. The biggest democracy you can have anywhere in the world is the democracy of the people which can happen through an election or a revolution.

Some are of the opinion that you were calling for the sacking of the Buhari regime due to your failure to achieve that via the ballot. How would you react to that?

If that were to be true, I would be in prison by now. But this government cannot even conduct a trial against me. I have been going to court since 2019 and they brought only one witness and they have not been able to prove any of their lies against me. They took me to court, detained me for five months, and after I was released, they took me to court with the claim that they wanted the case to be proactively held, and to date, there’s nothing. The judge who started the case resigned, saying she doesn’t want to have anything to do with it anymore. She left the case and they assigned it to another judge and I am going to be re-arraigned on March 1, 2022. People should stop believing in hearsay when the regime itself can’t even prove those allegations.

But you were one of those who campaigned for Buhari prior to the 2015 elections. Was it because you and those who said he was the best in 2015 never knew he would rule this way?

That is not correct. If you or anyone could provide just one evidence of where I appear in a campaign for Buhari, either a video, or where I spoke on radio, wrote an article, granted an interview, or engaged in any of the processes that could be regarded as a campaign – where I campaigned for Buhari, please, publish it as a journalist.

What were your expectations of him then before the 2015 elections?

Since I was admitted into the University of Lagos as a freshman, I have taken a position to fight against oppression, and ensure democracy, and that is why a lot of people refer to me as a pro-democracy activist. So, when elections come, or even before elections when most people are sleeping, or during elections, I always take a permanent position to ensure that people who are elected into office perform their duties, and when they don’t, I turn against them. I organise and campaign against them, protest against them, because my expectation is for democracy to continue to be positively relevant in the lives of people, not for democracy to become a burden to the people. When the Buhari regime came, people had expectations of him that he would do better, and those of us who are always at the barricades started fighting against him immediately the same way I fought against the government of Goodluck Jonathan when he was engaging in corruption. The same way I fought against (Umaru) Yar’Adu when he was sick and the cabal was trying to impose him on Nigerians.

That was the same way I fought against the (Olusegun) Obasanjo regime when he was planning a third term. It was the same way I fought against the regime before him and I was arrested in 1998 at the Nigerian Universities Games when I led a protest against the military over the expulsion of students, and it was the same way that I fought against the (Sani) Abacha regime when he tried to force political parties in the country to endorse him as the only candidate, and that was the same way I fought against the Ibrahim Babangida regime when he refused to hand over power to late Chief MKO Abiola in 1993. So, is anything different in terms of my consistency and character in fighting for good governance? It is not true that I campaigned for Buhari; I have never campaigned for any presidential candidate. The only candidate that I have ever campaigned for in my life was myself when I ran for office between 2018 and 2019. Also, I have never voted for anyone else. Since I was born, I voted for the first time in 2019.

In 2021, a court ordered the Department of State Services to pay you the sum of N2m as damages for seizing your mobile phone at the point of your arrest. Has the money been paid since then?

They didn’t pay the money, and they are yet to return my phone since then. This is a lawless regime, we served them the statement of the court and they have not paid the compensation nor returned my phone since the judgement was given in 2021.

Have you made any moves to ensure that they pay for the damages?

My lawyers are doing that.

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You once claimed that you were offered amnesty while in detention and that some prominent Nigerians visited you. What was the basis for that?

They realised that they were wrong and that I wasn’t going to take their offer. Some guys led by late Issa Funtua, founder of ThisDay Newspapers, Nduka Obaigbena, the publisher of Vanguard Newspapers, Sam Amuka Pemu, and Garba Shehu, the spokesperson for the President, came to me and asked me to back down on my call for a revolution, and promised to release me and that they would allow me to go to the United States to reunite with my wife and kids. They also made a request that I should apologise publicly to the President for what they tagged the ‘panic and embarrassment’ that I brought upon the Buhari regime, but I rejected their offers and request immediately.

Some people felt you should have stayed back in the US and enjoy your life instead of embarking on this activism. Were you told that before and why did you not consider that option?

I went to the United States of America on my own volition, nobody took me to there, and I returned also on my own volition to come to fight for freedom in my country. So, what is enjoyment in the US when millions of my countrymen and women are living miserable lives? I think our convictions are different, and that’s what makes many to think that living in the U.S is enjoyable. I want to live in a Nigeria that is free, prosperous and peaceful; that would be real enjoyment for me and other citizens, not living in a foreign land perpetually.

Yoruba Nation crusader, Sunday Igboho, and the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, are being held along others involved in the agitation for self-determination. What do you think the Federal Government must do to end this agitation?

They must be released immediately; the government should apologise to them, and pay compensation to them for the humiliation and denial of their human rights. It is their right to seek self-determination, and the Nigerian State has no right to arrest, detain, or oppress them. The best they can do is to call for dialogue. The government is only running in circles, thinking that the detention of Igboho or Kanu would quench the agitation the same way that they felt that arresting and detaining me would stop the agitation for a revolution, but it came in a different manner through the #EndSARS protests a year later. The government should invite all aggrieved persons and groups to a roundtable to discuss the future of Nigeria because the use of force cannot make or keep anyone to become or remain a citizen of Nigeria, only justice can do that, and without justice, even if you kill Sunday Igboho, Nnamdi Kanu, or myself, Omoyele Sowore, more battalions would show up, and there is nothing the government can do about it because you cannot continue to beat a child and dictate to them how they would cry.

You have lost control of the party on which platform you contested. Why were you unable to manage the party?

I have no problem managing the party at all. We registered the party in 2018; we went underground and registered a party. But the moment they discovered that the ideology of the party was too strong for the existing ruling party, they do what they know how to do best: sponsor somebody within the party to try to hijack it. My arrest and detention were all linked to the desire to suppress our political party. Of course, they brought out several allegations that we didn’t account for our election funding, whereas we were the only one that accounted publicly. It was money that we raised through crowd funding. The DSS even brought the account statement to me in detention. They were asking me questions about it. When I told them how we did it, they were shocked. They never knew we could account for it. I am the only presidential candidate who has ever in the history of this country accounted for every penny I raised during the campaign and how I spent it. You can confirm that. Nobody else has ever done that.

It was also alleged that your party was handsomely compensated before giving the ticket to someone in Rivers State to be your governorship candidate. How did the negotiation go and who was behind it?

The person who got our party’s candidature was a member of the party from the beginning. If they say they compensated us, they should be able to locate where the compensation was made. When he went to join the APC, we pulled out; we condemned it and said we were not part of it and that we will never accept an APC, AAC coalition or APC involvement in our party. So, that allegation is completely false.

People say you should have tried to even go to the Ondo State House of Assembly and graduate to be a member of the National Assembly before attempting to rule this country. Have you thought about this?

People who say that are people who are limited in knowledge about leadership. When people are visionaries, you don’t need to limit their visions to tunnels. People with tunnel vision always believe that people cannot aspire to the greatest platforms in the world. I’m a big picture person. When I arrived at the University of Lagos, I didn’t have a car. Nobody knew me, but I kept working towards the political leadership on campus and I became the Students’ Union president of the University of Lagos which has a high percentage of the rich and mighty. People have their complexes.

We have people who feel like their visions are not more than local government, state House of Assembly. Such people are at liberty to limit themselves. Mine is a big vision, not only to save Nigeria but to actually bring about a united and prosperous African continent. I am a pan-Africanist. You can see what the people who have experience did to Nigeria. Olusegun Obasanjo was a military ruler in the 70s. He came back in 1999. Did experience count? But it is a narrative being promoted by the same failed politicians because they don’t want young, vibrant, intelligent persons to lead Nigeria. They prefer the old, analogue-brain politicians to keep running things that put Nigeria down in the toilet.

But the former President (Obasanjo) is currently of the view that people of his generation should leave power.

He is now seeing it and he has said it openly. Anybody on the walking stick should not participate in the next electoral process. But I don’t trust Obasanjo. All of them are playing games. He is not the one to define how I feel, how I see things.

How many states did you reach for your campaign when you contested the presidential election?

I reached 34 states and the Federal Capital Territory.

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Were you able to raise agents to man all the polling booths in the country?

We had volunteers in a lot of polling units across the country and they were there. That was why I told you that there was no election in 2019. The results from the polling units were different from the ones that were announced by INEC.

To contest the presidency of Nigeria, how much do you think a candidate needs?

A candidate needs goodwill and we cannot calculate that in naira or dollar or kobo or cent.

What was your budget when you contested?

I didn’t have a budget; I just went out, and I raised money. I travelled and talked to people who should be voting; people who I thought needed my attention and needed to hear from me. I didn’t have a jet. I travelled in public transportation. In some places, we took the boat, in some places, we took motorbikes. We went everywhere and the reception and goodwill were there but these guys made sure no election was held.

To be honest, how much did you spend?

I spent close to N200m.

Do you think you have the experience to rule Nigeria?

I don’t want to use the word ‘rule’, but I can lead Nigeria better than all the leaders that have ruled this country combined. That experience I have made in the last 30 years.

Editorial Discretion: This article was written by Abiodun Sanusi, Reporter of The Punch. The views expressed therein are entirely of the writer and not Eaglesforesight’s Echo.

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