Omoyele Sowore, the publisher of SaharaReporters, has never been the darling of the Nigerian political elite because of the hard-hitting stories on his popular website. He talks to TheCable on his political battles and some things you won’t find on his CV.
You are one of the pioneers of online journalism in Nigeria, although you maintain that you are not a journalist. Why did you choose this path?
My interest in mass communication was sparked while at the University of Lagos. I was a student union activist who used mass communication to motivate and mobilise others to act, and so naturally new media driven by disruptive technology was a natural attraction for me to achieve the same goal in a different way.
Which big stories have you broken that made you proud?
It would be difficult to categorise them – whether they received global, national or individual acclaim, our stories are designed to make an impact and they did in their own rights. Perhaps it will be respectful to allow our readers, fans and /or end users to judge this part our work.
Have there been moments when your life was threatened?
I have been threatened often, but generally my objective is to work harder and try to make more impact. You may be surprised that I have not spent any time trying to document these threats. Rather I choose to invest my energies documenting atrocities committed by those entrusted with governance especially as they relate to public and private corruption.
Is your family not worried about your safety? Has this ever been an issue? Do you take extra security measures on them?
Since my days as a student activist at the University of Lagos, I have tried to keep my family life at a distance from my activism. I have a perspective about my life and work that keeps the two parts of my life at a safe distance. My family members are very aware of my commitments and I guess they tolerate me as well.
Have you done some stories that you regretted, something like “I wish I had not done that”? Maybe because of some backlash or sensitivity of the issue?
On the contrary, there are some stories that I wish I did more of or those I wish I did more follow up more on.
People often wonder how you get your stories. Is there a special aspect to it beyond the usual journalist’s “sources”? Do you think you enjoy some privilege because you are ready to publish stories uncensored?
I think there is some appreciable level of trust that we’ve earned because of our uncompromising stance and as you rightly said, a desire and willingness to publish stories uncensored. Our readers believe in our integrity and increasingly, stories come to us as a result.
You are often accused of being very negative about Nigeria. They say positive stories about Nigeria are downplayed while the negative ones get the best treatment. What explains this?
The accusations are not new; anyone who is not willing to collaborate in the massive deceit by government is often blackmailed with a cocktail of such. A media that declares its intention to speak truth to society, to expunge the current culture of destructive and annihilating corruption cannot be expected to get accolades from those at the receiving end of such profound inquiry and exposure. There is nothing negative about a media outlet helping to bring a thieving governor to justice and a prolonged prison term or helping to get a minister who diverted resources meant for aviation safety fired from her plum job, or to get an airline that had been cutting corners off the airports. We disagree with the notion that media should act as the photo album for corrupt African elites or to celebrate the failures touted as “success” by for instance, the economic team in Nigeria. We came to this space to shine light on the dark corners and to make governance transparent to all. That’s a positive, not a negative.
The Jonathan government sees you as No. 1 enemy on the internet. You are seen as working in partnership with opposition figures to discredit the government. What’s your reaction to that?
It is utter rubbish, in my opinion. SaharaReporters is older than the main opposition party in Nigeria, we existed before the Jonathan regime. In fact, we are known to have used our investigative prowess to help Jonathan become the acting President when SaharaReporters helped demolish the so-called Umaru Yar’Adua cabal. These are facts you can verify by Googling our groundbreaking work during the political intrigues during which Mr Jonathan was almost killed as the cabal ‘tortured’ him politically.
The All Progressives Party (APC), which is less than a year old, has several of its current members scrutinised by our reports and we continue to do so. We have seen three presidents – Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’adua and Goodluck Jonathan – come to power and exited, so, we have come a long way carrying out our mission of informing the mistreated citizens of Nigeria.
Do you see a future for Nigeria with all the ethnic, religious and political conflicts?
I would not like to make predictions. Nigeria is dangerous territory for fortune tellers and seers. I have a sense that things cannot continue to run as they are forever but Nigeria defies gravitational logic. Its trajectory, as a badly run nation state, doesn’t look long lasting.
Tell us something about Omoyele Sowore that we do not know.
I hate flying. I love music and dancing. I am a swimmer. I recently picked up long distance running and I have run two marathons in six months.