What you know is that Omoyele Sowore is a youth, the founder of Sahara Reporters and a committed social critic. You know that he is running for President as the flag bearer of African Action Congress (AAC) in the 2019 Nigeria General Election. In this interview with Ebonyi News Network, you will discover how his thirty years fight for Nigerian Democracy has equipped him with the requisite political will to move Nigeria forward. If elected as the next Nigerian President, Sowore pledges to implement policies that will reflect directly on Ebonyians and every other Nigerian citizen.
Sowore, Why did you decide to run for the seat of the Nigerian Presidency now?
Nigeria needs an urgent intervention. For thirty years, I have been involved in the struggle to move Nigeria forward. I started in 1989 as a student activist fighting the military’s introduction of the structural adjustment program, which destroyed Nigeria’s economy. As student union president at the University of Lagos, I led the national youth and student movement against the annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections. You might recall that Babangida and Abacha clamped down heavily on the opposition and many in the political class ran off into exile. Incidentally, even Atiku who is now a candidate for President had participated in the 1993 elections, and not many people recall that he came third in the SDP presidential primaries, behind Abiola and Kingibe. He was silent throughout the June 12, 1993 struggles while I was leading the fight against the annulment. I was part of the coalition of Nigerians that fought for the restoration of democratic rule in 1999. In 2006, I established Sahara Reporters and I have used that platform to expose corruption and to fight for good governance. I want to remind the great people of Ebonyi that it was Sahara Reporters that helped to derail Obasanjo’s third term agenda in 2007. When the Yar’adua cabal was trying to prevent a constitutional transfer of power to Goodluck Jonathan in 2010, Sahara Reporters helped to expose that conspiracy. In 2015, Sahara Reporters was instrumental in helping to ensure that the elections were not rigged. I have suffered greatly for these principled fights. There is no major political event that has occurred in this nation in the last 30 years that I have not participated in, as a major advocate for the interests of Nigeria and the Nigerian people.
I have been arrested, tortured and jailed by the Abacha and Babangida dictatorships. I have been physically attacked by agents of the states and cultists. I have had political actors whose corrupt practices I have exposed use the corrupt judicial system and extra judicial actions to seize my assets and attempt to intimidate me. None of these challenges have reduced my passion for making sure this nation moves forward.
I have been content to fight in the trenches for 30 years, believing that what was needed was to create an enabling environment for democracy to thrive. Yet things have gone from bad to worse. What is now clear to me is that the problem is squarely one of leadership. There is an abject lack of leadership. The political will is not there. Too many of the political leaders we have today are compromised. They are beholden to special interests, which means that when they are in office, they work for those interests and not the Nigerian people.
I am on a mission to restore strong and courageous leadership to Nigeria. I am a dogged fighter. I have the political will to move this nation forward. In addition to my 30 years of consistent engagement as a political activist, I have an excellent education – both from the University of Lagos, where I obtained my first degree, and from Columbia University – an Ivy League school in the US, where I got a master’s degree in public administration. I have been a Professor, teaching in the US University system for almost 10 years. I am also a successful entrepreneur, and today, the company that I established with just a $600 laptop in a basement in New York, has become a global brand, that has expanded to include TV and Press, and has had its news stories syndicated by News organizations like BBC and CNN.
The seat of the Nigerian President is a very tasking one. Do you think you have what it takes to occupy it? Why?
I have had 30 years of experience in the Nigerian political system. I fully understand the challenges of the presidency and I am well equipped for all of the tasks it entails. As I indicated earlier, I am not just aware of Nigeria’s problems, I am also very knowledgeable about how to solve them. I was just over 21 years old, when I led Nigerian students and youth to fight against the annulment of June 12. A military dictator, Babangida, was forced out of office partly because of the contributions that we made to that struggle. Sahara Reporters, my publishing outfit, has been the major anti-corruption platform in Nigeria. In fact most of the cases that the EFCC is prosecuting today, were first reported on Sahara Reporters. My point in bringing up these examples, is that I have demonstrated even as an ordinary Nigerian, that I can help to bring about the type of change that governments and political organizations have failed to bring about.
On this political campaign, I have been to every geo-political zone and engaged with Nigerians all across the country and the world. No other candidate has had that level of engagement with the people. I fully understand Nigeria’s problems, because I have had a long history of engagement and participation. I have a track record spanning 3 decades of clear and concrete things that I have done to help advance Nigeria’s democracy.
Anyone that objectively assesses all the candidates in the race can only come to one objective conclusion – that I am the most prepared person for this job. I have the courage, tenacity, capacity, integrity, character and competence to lead this great nation.
The election was just rescheduled by INEC. How do you perceive that?
It is a shame that we have seen last minute postponements of elections in the last three presidential elections, yet we seem to have learned nothing. It speaks to our poor tradition of planning and preparedness. The only thing that any government knows four years in advance is that elections will be held. Yet, we have seen the same issues occur again and again.
INEC claims the postponement is due to logistics reasons. The reasons for postponement were similar in 2011 and 2015. Again, my view is simple. INEC had four years to prepare for these elections. It is a shame that they failed to deliver those elections as originally scheduled. If INEC can successfully deliver on an election with a one-week delay, it means that with a bit more foresight and preparation, they could have done this on February 16th as originally planned.
These last-minute cancellations are disruptive. Parties like ours had mobilized extensively and spent our resources in getting ready for the polls. Now, all that work must be repeated within a week. Millions of Nigerians travelled to ensure that they were in position to be able to vote, only to awake on the 16th to hear that INEC had postponed the elections at 3 AM.
The only people who benefit from all this chaos are the established parties. They thrive on chaos and crisis. In fact, the additional time is something they often work towards so that they can perfect their plans for rigging. I will remind them of a few facts. First – postponing the elections did not help the PDP in 2015 and we are convinced it will not help either the APC or PDP this time around. Secondly, Nigerians will guard their votes this time around.
Are there specific programs and projects that you intend to accomplish if elected into office come 23rd February?
I have developed a 10-point agenda built on 3 pillars of security, self sufficiency and sustainability. The ten-point agenda addresses problems in the areas of security, power, infrastructure, corruption, economy & jobs, restructuring, health care, education, agriculture and tourism and the first letter of each program spells out SPICER HEAT. The plans are bold, ambitious and achievable.
On security, we will deal decisively with the Boko Haram menace. The generals and the political class have turned the war on terror into a business. Those who have failed to successfully prosecute the war will be asked to leave. We will deploy technology – drones, satellite systems and the likes – to deal with the terrorists. The morale of the military is down; we will deal with that as well. We must not forget the Farmer – Herdsmen crisis. A major part of our solution to this menace is the creation of commercial ranching. This will ensure that the struggle over resources when cattle herders and farmers come into conflict over forage and water resources ends. We plan on creating over 250,000 jobs from commercial ranching alone.
Our power plan is bold and courageous. We will put in 17,000 MW in four years – almost 3 times what Nigeria has done in almost 100 years. For those who wonder if this is possible, Egypt just successfully put in 14,500 MW in 27 months, so those who think the failure of the APC and PDP governments to boost power by a mere 2,000 MW in almost 20 years in power is normal have a relevant example of another African nation successfully growing their power base to learn from.
With regards to infrastructure, we will be doubling road infrastructure from 200,000 km to 400,000 km and increasing rail from about 3,700 km to 7,400 km. This will include at least two new bridges over the River Niger in the South East. Drinking water and sewage treatment infrastructure will be boosted to cover at least 60% of Nigerians from the current levels of less than 30%. We expect to create over 2.5 million infrastructure related jobs. We will support the development of 17m million housing units to close the housing deficit in this country.
The anti-corruption war is being prosecuted in a very partisan way by Buhari’s APC government. It was sad to see the APC and PDP draw up their own lists of corrupt officials. These parties have demonstrated that they are both two sides of the same bad coin. I have demonstrated a great capacity to tackle corruption in an individual capacity using Sahara Reporters as a platform. Nigerians can rest assured that under my leadership, there will be no partisanship or favoritism in how the anti-corruption war will be prosecuted. I have no godfathers or godmothers. I have committed to introducing a N100, 000 minimum wage that will restore dignity to the civil service, provide a living wage to all workers and reduce the temptation for corruption. Technology will be used to enhance transparency in the awarding of contracts and monitoring of payments.
With regards to the economy, I plan to create 5 million jobs across a range of sectors. We will support small and medium business enterprises with affordable loans and training. Our infrastructure and power sector plans will focus on creating road, rail and inland waterway connections that will ease business and promote economic growth.
Restructuring will also be a priority, and I have already talked about my commitment to putting a referendum before the Nigerian people within my first year in office, so that we can decide what kind of nation we want to be.
Healthcare is in shambles. When Buhari and his military brothers were staging coups, they claimed that our hospitals were mere consulting clinics. Now they are even worse than consulting clinics. Even Aso Rock Hospital has no syringes – according to the President’s own wife. We will create 160,000 new jobs in healthcare and expand National Health Insurance to cover all Nigerians.
Education is a priority area for me. I am a product of the Nigerian public-school system. It was the quality of the education that I received in Nigeria that prepared me to get a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University, one of the most prestigious schools in the United States. We will pull 13 million children from the streets into the classroom and improve funding to schools. I have committed to hiring 200,000 teachers within my first year in office.
Agriculture is a key to diversifying the economy, and it helps us attain two of the pillars I have set for my programs – self sufficiency and security. My government will fund 1,000 agricultural entrepreneurs in each of the 774 local government areas, creating at least 774,000 jobs and assuring food security.
We will also promote tourism and culture. Nollywood movies and Nigerian music is enjoyed all over the world. People want to come here to experience our rich culture and diversity. We will create an enabling environment for promoting culture with good security, stable power and excellent infrastructure.
Let’s narrow it down to South East and Ebonyi State. What do you have for them?
All of our ten programs will positively impact the South East. However, there are three specific programs that are of particular importance to the South East. First, I have committed that I will address the structural and socio-political issues in Nigeria that have agitated most regions, especially the South East. Within my first year in office, I have committed to holding a referendum where Nigeria’s people will decide what type of nation they want in terms of its federating structure, state economic rights and individual property rights. We will finally address these issues, and by putting it to a referendum we will ensure that the political jobbers who now benefit from the structural problems in Nigeria and have prevented the restructuring debate from being resolved, are no longer allowed to hold almost 200 million people to ransom.
Secondly, my infrastructure plans will greatly benefit the South East. This region is the economic heartbeat of Nigeria. We must have good road, rail, airports and inland waterway networks that make business easy. The only functional bridge over the Niger in the South East was built in 1965. We should have not one or two, but at least three bridges over the Niger and Benue. Persons and goods must be able to flow in and out readily. We must also prioritize making power available in the productive centers of the nation and my power sector plans do just that.
With regards to the economy, we will be supporting small and medium enterprises with soft loans that will allow people to start new business and grow existing ones. The South East has a great trading and manufacturing sector that will benefit greatly from these specific plans. We plan on building 17 million new housing units. Many of the parts and materials that will be used for construction and furnishing will come from businesses that are situated in the South East.
Tell us about your first year in office. Which programs will you be commissioning by then?
Within my first year in office, I would have implemented policies that would create over three million jobs. I expect that 5,000 MW of the 17,000 MW planned in my first term would have been built and commissioned within the first year. We would have completed the first 50,000 km out of the planned 200,000 km of new roads planned. We would also have made progress with the construction of part of the new 3,700 km of rail planned. By the end of the first year, we would have hired 200,000 new teachers, 160,000 new public health workers and 774,000 new agricultural entrepreneurs by training and investing in 1,000 agricultural businesses in each of the 774 local government areas in Nigeria.
I also expect that at least 1 million of the planned 17 million housing units would have been completed and commissioned. The N2 million mortgage projects payable over 20 years, would have been implemented which will allow millions of Nigerians to be able to afford their own homes.
On the anti-corruption front, I assure Nigerians that those who have mismanaged our economy and stolen would have been prosecuted.
I would have also expanded the health insurance scheme from just about 30 million Nigerians that are currently covered to the entire population of about 200 million people.
Will you do more than (one) tenure if elected into office?
Nigeria has a lot of challenges and it will take many years to fully undo the damage that has been done to Nigeria by the APC, PDP and past leaders. However, the plans that I have proposed are such that they can be completed within a single term.
There is an incredible amount of work to be done in moving Nigeria forward. I have committed to taking our power infrastructure from 7,000 MW to 24,000 MW. But even that is not sufficient. For instance, South Africa has a population of 57 million and has about 50,000 MW of power. That means they have about 1,000 MW of power for every 1 million persons. We have 200 Million people in Nigeria and have just about 7,000 MW. If we had about 1,000 MW per million persons like South Africa does, we would need about 200,000 MW of power. Even though we would have made great progress within a single term, the work to be done will remain massive.
Once Nigerians see what I have been able to accomplish in a single term, then it will be clear whether they should support the AAC for another term. My focus right now is on delivering on my agenda within a 4-year term. I will not be distracted by discussions about a second term.
Beyond party lines, what is your assessment of the current administration?
By all objective measures, the current administration has failed Nigerians. Buhari came to office on three major agendas. He claimed he would end the Boko Haram menace within six months. He promised to tackle corruption decisively and finally he promised Nigerians he would address the economic recession and create jobs. He has not recorded any successes on any of those cardinal promises.
If anything, things have worsened under him. The Boko Haram menace is now worse. In fact, there is now an even worse security issue with the Farmer-Herdsmen crisis that has brought death and carnage to the doorsteps and backyards of Nigerians in the middle belt areas and the South East.
The economy is in shambles. For six months after he was sworn in, Buhari did not name a cabinet, and this was in the middle of a recession. Just last year, Buhari’s own Bureau of Statistics said we lost 3 million jobs. And that about 50% of Nigerian youths are either unemployed or underemployed – that is well over 40 million persons. Nigeria has now become the poverty capital of the world. These are all failures.
Under Buhari’s watch, the anti-corruption fight has become a game. His administration only chases after members of the opposition, and as soon as any of them joins the APC, their sins are automatically forgiven. When you play games with justice, when there is no equity in the dispensation of justice – then the institutions of justice will lose their credibility.
So much damage has been done by this current APC government and the PDP before them. What Nigeria needs is a major intervention that will bring in a leader who cares about the people and has a track record of service to Nigeria. I believe I am that leader that Nigeria needs at the current time.