By Eric Elezuo
Probably one of the credible few among the presidential aspirants that have so far expressed their interest to occupy and call the shots at the Aso Rock Villa, Omoyele Sowere, has proved to be a force to reckon with. Right from his student union days at the University of Lagos where he occupied the highest position of the president, the SaharaReporters Publisher has constantly proved that he has something to offer. In this interview, he told me why the political space is jittery with his declaration as well as his plans to turn Nigeria around if given the mandate to take charge in addition to the forces that worked for and against him when he was attacked as the Students’ Union president in 1993. Excerpts:
Since you declared your intention to run for the presidency in 2019, there has been uneasy calm in the political space, why is it so?
This is so because they’ve suddenly realized that there is someone who is here to disrupt the political space. They also understand that the most powerful constituency in the country, which is the young people have resisted the old order. I think that is the reason for the uneasy calm.
How do you want to take advantage of this…?
I am not trying to take advantage of anything; I am working based on my pedigree, my history and also in realization that it’s time to take back the country. It will sound optimistic if I say I am talking advantage of something; there is nothing to take advantage of. People are tried; and have said enough is enough, and have come together; seeking for someone who is tested, trusted and consistent; that’s where I come in.
What are you bringing to the table different from what these sets of old politicians have been giving?
We are going to make sure that Nigeria doesn’t lose a dime to thieves in this country again, and if anybody has stolen in the past, they would need to refund it, and have to pay for it.
It is interesting to note that I am bringing in energy mixed power. It is a sort of solar energy, to generate a total of 4500 Megawatt electricity. I will also create ranches so that herdsmen can no longer go about killing people, and we would use the dung of the cows for bio-gas which will give us up to a thousand megawatt of electricity, and the rest of it for fertilizer. We would be digitalizing our universities and education system, and discussing paying worker minimum wage starting from N100,000. I think those are the issues that nobody is willing to tackle and I am also thinking of abolishing the senate of the federal republic of Nigeria so that we can have a unicameral legislative arm; dealing with one representative from each local government. Instead of this burdensome bicameral legislative system, where people are chopping our vehicle, stealing mace and all of that going on in the senate; I cannot do it all by myself, not even through the senate, but by referendum.
Conducting a referendum, you need the acknowledgement of the Senate and House of Representatives; how do you intend doing without their say so?
The senate is meant for Nigerian people but the Nigerian people are not meant for the senate; that’s where I would leave it.
It is obvious politics in Nigeria is all about money, do you have the capability and capacity to compete?
Money is not everything. In 23 days, I have been campaigning non-stop. That does not cost me much money because I am not packaging garri or rice for people; and I am not doing stomach infrastructure. So, it costs less when you are selling ideas in a way you are supposed to sell it to the people. And I am also raising money transparently on the internet, through a system called ‘Go Fund Me’ and we are going to set up account in Nigeria very soon. This alone has generated about $22,000 from Nigerians who are very interested in my candidacy. I am going to raise $2 million from 10,000 Nigerians donating 200 dollar each, and we still have 10 months to go. So, with $2 million, we are going to have a very organized campaign. And it won’t take long before we defeat the money side of politics. Something you must also understand is that money is not paper anymore, it is the variety of ways people spend money, that include crypto-currency, and we come with a huge political capital as well; people are printing posters and branding cars without being asked or prompted. No politician today can boast of that.
Yes, I am a front for the young people and I am aspiring for the young people. I am a front for the poor people, who have been cheated out of the commonwealth. I am a front for the marginalized, for those who have been abused, for those looking for a better country. But I am not a front for the fraudulent politicians
Your reception in some parts of the country was overwhelming. How did managed such goodwill?
It was amazing. Especially at Owerri, Onitsham and Benin; these are available evidence that people are excited, particularly the young people. This gives me hope. It also happened in Kaduna and Kano. Buhari, who is even their strongest candidate doesn’t have any constituency that cannot be breached.
Every presidential aspirant is giving special consideration to the youths. What do you intend for them?
We are going to employ immediately five million youths to start construction. We are giving huge attention to the education system, agriculture, and technology. These would mostly be for young people and we have a focus to fund education massively, create more opportunities for those that would go to college and universities; with particular attention to community colleges where you can do two years and get an associate degree; work in a local government as opposed to waiting to get into college through JAMB, and we plan to do that in all the 774 local government, and it will benefit the young people a lot. We want to invest at least N50, 000 on every university student. Education in primary and secondary schools will be free. These are targeted towards the young people and the young adult.
Some people have been complaining about marginalization of South-East and South-South, do you have any special package for these regions?
I want to set up an economic commission for the South-East. I have said it before; Nigerians should apologise to the Ibos in particular because after the war, we kept fighting a lot of imaginary wars against the Ibos. So, it is time to complete the second and create the third Niger Bridge because based on my exposure, the Ibo man has conquered the world, therefore, we must create an opportunity for them to be able to do what they love most – trading. My experience in Onitsha and Owerri is that people are not actually interested in living in Nigeria but as long as Nigeria doesn’t work for anyone, people will definitely have to secede. When people leave the country without being afraid of dying in the Mediterranean Sea; the person has seceded from Nigeria. And the only way we can bring them back is to institute justice.
Sir, do you actually believe in restructuring which everyone is clamouring for?
Yes, I do! But my position which must be clear is that I don’t want old people to restructure Nigeria for young people. All discussion about restructuring doesn’t have young people on the table. So, if people are saying Buhari is too old to rule Nigeria, and old people are calling for restructuring, they should allow the younger Nigerians to restructure Nigeria. So, we want the old people to hands up governance and restructuring. Whatever we need to move forward can be done by people who are sound; not those who have been restructuring Nigeria into their pockets in the past. That’s my position. Restructuring the country doesn’t mean breakup. We are saying if you have a car that has lasted for 10 years and has suffered breakdown; we should take them for comprehensive repairs like changing the tires and the likes. That’s what restructuring is about; if we don’t restructure Nigeria, the country would break down. But it cannot be done by these old people; we need to change them to move to progress and prosperity.
The constitution of Nigeria says ‘anyone who must contest for electoral position must belong to a political party…’ which party are you going to contest from?
I will belong to a political party, that’s very certain. But to make it very sweet, we are working with the coalition of parties. Six parties have indicated interest in having me in their parties.
So, it is time to complete the second and create the third Niger Bridge because based on my exposure, the Ibo man has conquered the world, therefore, we must create an opportunity for them to be able to do what they love most – trading
Is it the coalition of Obasanjo?
No! I can’t work with the coalition of Baba Obasanjo. It negates my belief in transparency, honesty, and it is against my conscience. I cannot work with that man.
What kind of youths do you intend to work with?
Already, the people driving my campaign are young people, and if I start mentioning names here, we won’t leave here tonight, but I don’t think it’s necessary. I won’t mention their names until I have taken permission from them to do so; because a lot of people want to work on their terms. Some of them have jobs in the security service, and any disclosure may endanger them physically. I am the one on the frontline, and that should be enough.
Is there anything anybody would say to you that would make you jettison this ambition?
Everybody would agree with me that I am the most difficult person to talk to. When I came with SaharaReporters 12 years ago, people mocked me because I wasn’t a journalist. They said internet won’t make any impact. But I just say ‘father forgive them.’
People say you’re a front; are you a front to anyone?
Yes, I am a front for the young people and I am aspiring for the young people. I am a front for the poor people, who have been cheated out of the commonwealth. I am a front for the marginalized, for those who have been abused, for those looking for a better country. But I am not a front for the fraudulent politicians.
The altercation you had with Minister of Communication. What message does it portend?
It is a message for everybody that the time is up. I needed to send that message through him to whoever is out there that is thinking Nigerian youths are inconsequential. And after that message, Buhari re-echoed their stand in a more devastating way for Nigerians. The push back was total because when people hear from Buhari; it becomes official that young people are irrelevant.
After that conversation what happened?
That was a little bit ugly after. He was trying to leave, and young people have already staged a protest against him; so he had to go upstairs and call for back up to get out of the station without molestation.
The young people have their ugly side; what is your message for this ugly side and how do you intend to handle it?
You can’t help with the ugly side of young people. I have had encounter with them when I was at the University of Lagos. We had young people who were fighting for democracy, who were human rights activists, and on the other side, there were cult gangs also on campus, and the only way to manage them is to resist the ones outside. Some are not resistance to change while some are. But we would encourage those who are focused, committed and resolute.
Did you have a blueprint of how to fight back, should those who are resistant to amendment come after you?
I don’t have the physical wherewithal nor the financial capacity to fight back but the majority of the people would fight back if the need be. And that explains why I am still alive today. There was a time during my Students Union leadership when attempt was made on my life; the resistance was total such that people were facing each other with guns.
How did you survive that night?
I can’t tell, because I was hijacked and stripped naked by the cult gang. Suddenly, we saw a crowd of students coming from different direction of the school and the gang had to run away; leaving me upstairs, so I jumped down. That jump affected my legs and back because the building was high but the people coming from the left thought the people who had come to rescue me were my enemy, and there were exchange of ‘missiles’.
Though I was injected and stabbed in the head, I was still conscious. By the time I was taken to the University Health Center, all the doctors had disappeared, leaving only the ambulance person behind. It was obvious that the plan was that I would die and need to be carried to the mortuary. The students accompanied me to LUTH and I soon as I walked into the theatre, I collapsed and I didn’t know anything else until the next day.
When I woke the next day, I found myself in the middle of women; I have been smuggled by the LUTH official and UNILAG students to the female ward so that I would not be identified and killed in the hospital. Later, police came to hijacked me, so, I was smuggled out of the hospital, and subsequently my colleagues who were coming to see me were arrested and charged for armed robbery. Immediately I was freed, I was expelled from the University, and when they took us back, they back all the cult guys with us. This further revealed to me how unjust Nigerian society is; and funny enough, nothing has changed.
That’s what restructuring is about; if we don’t restructure Nigeria, the country would break down. But it cannot be done by these old people; we need to change them to move to progress and prosperity
Would the country be liberated in 2019?
Yes! This country would be liberated completely from these characteristics and characters.
Do you have any kind of international backing, like government or individuals supporting your quest?
Nigerians in the Diaspora loved what we are doing, but I have not been contacted by any government. My agenda is to make Nigerians the first priority of our government, and even on international level, we must take our pride of place. And the whole world is waiting for this; the entire continent is waiting for this; the black race is waiting for this.
The National Assembly once called for Buhari’s impeachment; do you think he is due for impeachment?
I won’t be running against him if I want him impeached, but I want a democratic impeachment. He will be impeached next year through the ballot box. I don’t trust the Senate, and I don’t believe in them. As I mentioned to you earlier, I would like to abolish the senate. So, I cannot comment or commend what they are about to do to Buhari.
You spoke against Jonathan, and supported Buhari…
Yes, but I never spoke in favour of Buhari. And I was also in the forefront of fighting for Jonathan when the Yar’dua cabal was holding him to ransom; I have always been on the side of justice. When something is bad, it’s bad. You can’t say something is better because it is less bad. The conclusion is they are both bad and not good for Nigerians and the focus should be how to get rid of them, and possibly and appropriately punish people for it.
How many times has Sahara Reporter been shut down?
It has never been shut down, we’ve several lawsuits filed against us but we have never been shut down in 12 years of existence.
Are you married?
Yes, I am married and with 2 kids that I know of, and they are based in the United States, but I have relocated to Nigeria before now. I spent more time in Nigeria last year than Buhari did. (Laughs).