[This essay first appeared as "The President vs. Sowore" in The Nation on Sunday on December 17, 2006. It is used here under the title with which it was submitted because in October 2010, I wrote about Mrs. Jonathan's "first ladyism" (Wole Soyinka's coinage during late Stella Obasanjo's time), an essay reproduced here at http://emotanafricana.com/2012/02/23/the-first-ladies-3-mrs-patience-jonathans-troubling-first-ladyism/. In a reference to "The President vs. Sowore essay, I used the original title because I could no longer find the actual newspaper clipping of the original essay and secondly, I wanted to revert to my intended title. All the time, the newspaper clipping had been right there in my organized-chaos of clippings of various kinds where I finally found it this week.
This explanation becomes necessary for the December 17, 2006 essay used here with its original title that got "edited" by my editor because I discovered a couple of weeks ago while surfing the web in a web-friendly environment that another "Who is afraid of Sowore, published two years (December 2008) after my edited title, exists.
This does not imply the December 2008 title derived from my title which had been edited out, anyway, nor that there was hanky panky by the editor but rather, to show mine was an earlier written and published essay.
Anyway, both titles are not that original: "Who is afraid of Virginia Woolf", the Albee Broadway play, was what came to my mind in choosing the title back in December 2006. Regards, TOLA. May 9, 2012]
Omoyele Sowore, unlike many Nigerian student government officials, has cut for himself a path of conviction, commitment and courage. While some student leaders have also chosen honor rather than chicanery, most Nigerian student government officials have never risen above their environment; not even in the distant past as evident by some executive members of the Technical College (now Ibadan Polytechnic) of my set. I was Secretary General as well as Assistant Secretary General, ANUNSA in the late 60s. Anyway, our college always had an annual Easter fiesta and for Easter 1968, we had Victor Uwaifo put on a show that everybody, including many UI students and older students from Government College, Ibadan Grammar School, et al – patronized and enjoyed. The field of what is now the South Campus was filled and I, like many others, was sure we made a lot of money until a loss was declared, thanks to a couple of smart aleck officers.
After Sowore had strutted his stuff as a student leader, he has continued the same from his now self-imposed exile in the States. Events of his encounter with our Businessman-at-Large, Gbenga Obasanjo which show the world that he (Gbenga) has scant respect for Nigerian institutions because his father is the president, are too recent to recount here. It needs mere mentioning, though, that Gbenga thinks little of the Office of the Vice President, and, perhaps, even less of one of his father’s wives, the late First Lady, Chief Stella Obasanjo. Confirming what most Nigerians have always guessed, the young man dismissively referred to the President’s supposed age as being less than the real age!
I first knew about Sowore through the website that he and Elendu ran – Elendureports. He parted ways with Elendu earlier this year and he now writes for Saharareporters and Nigerian Village Square.
The young man enters the country of his birth each time through a sort of “underground railroad”, to borrow the description that enslaved Africans in America gave the route through which they escaped to freedom during slavery. The slaves traveled light, very light, often taking nothing except the clothes on their backs. Sowore travels to Nigeria from America with just a bag that would pass for the luggage of a kid going from college at Abuja to his home on a weekend to ask for more money at Ibadan! It was on the last leg of such a trip that he encountered Gbenga Obasanjo at the border in Benin and hitched that ride during which he got that memorable interview..
When the Nnamdi Uba’s story broke, Sowore’s Saharareporters’ website was buzzing, seething with the rage of millions of Nigerians. Saharareporters was promptly shut down.
President Obasanjo was reported – on the same site later – to have been not unexpectedly mad at the report but before I move further, here are some in-your-face titles of some essays that would explain why these sites cannot be popular with those in power: “Urgent Memo to Armed Robbers of Nigeria”; “The IBB Antidote”; ” Obasanjo, Beachland Estate and Unbridled Corruption”; “Babangida: The Second Coming of a Nigerian Looter”; “Oyenusi, Anini and Obasanjo: What’s the Difference”?
To say that corruption in this administration is worse than any past administrations will not be far from the truth but to compare the President to notorious killers/armed robbers of the past like Oyenusi and police-assisted Anini – is in bad taste.
President Obasanjo – or, as it is usually described here, the impersonal “Presidency” swung into action, employing a Lawyer, Kunle Fagbenle whom I tried unsuccessfully to locate and interview since I happened to be in the Washington Metro area during the Uba crisis, and his Columbia, Maryland office address on the website of Association of Nigerian Lawyers would be a mere 20 minute-drive for me. I doubt that Lawyer Fagbenle has since gone to court in the States to ask for any “prayer” on behalf of the President but it would be interesting to find out what prayer(s) is/are being asked for because even as a non-legal person, I guess there’s none since saharareporters’ website contained information that was in the public domain.
An out-of-court settlement that Nnamdi Uba is selling here has the same “respectability” in the U.S. as a plea bargain: Uncle Sam or Any Other Party, take this (usually cash) , but cease and desist from continuing further legal action that can burn my hide!
Interestingly, Lawyers Kunle Fagbenle and Theo Oginni once represented some people who sued the Nigerian Government on a case involving the dead Nigerian Airways now taken over by Arik Air.
Of course, Sowore – a David, to the President’s Goliath – is back in cyberspace, a place that has no delineated international boundary. Fagbenle must know that this was going to happen, but no self-respecting attorney – here, there or anywhere is averse to chasing the ambulance, as an American saying goes about lawyers struggling to represent the widow of a rich man en route to the cemetery!
By the way, Fagbenle’s practice supposedly includes: “representing former presidents as well as other political figures. Recently, Fagbenle was appointed as the personal lawyer on international matters to the current President of Nigeria, President Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR.”
Sowore claims: ” … webhosting company decided to shut us down without any explanations or prior notice of any impropriety on our part. … that our website rendered other websites inoperable … that our site was using their CPU at 100% … We did not know that we were out until emails poured in from readers all over the world …”
Of course, even in America with its law and order, citizens-as-kings system, you can go around rules if there is money – tons of it.
Many postings on Sowore’s website, truth be told, must rankle the President as well as others concerned but it is my opinion that having websites shut down would not achieve any positive purpose because the site(s) then become even more popular. Technology has gone far beyond what most in my generation – not to talk of the President’s – can imagine.
I believe Nigerian people need answers to these questions being asked not only on the web but also by millions at gatherings and in newspapers all over Nigeria. The President will silence Sowore and others if he comes out and answers questions being asked in Nigeria as well as by a group known as Nigeria Anti-Corruption Collective. This is important in view of the importance this administration has placed on fighting corruption. And a young lawyer who is difficult to reach for interviews should not be our President’s idea of a retainer to fix things for him.
Here are a few pickings from the website:
- OBJ et al are at pains because they cannot close you down. The only sad thing is that they are dipping into our national coffers to fight the truth. …
- The homeland affidavit is very interesting … when they talk about buying tractors for Obj’s farms. … If Obasanjo Farms wants to import tractors or Andy Uba wants to buy a car, why should they carry cash of $170k on the presidential jet: Don’t they know how to use the international banking system? … Alamco had $1m cash … What about the bank account with Uba’s name? Is he not a public servant …
- Under “Obasanjo, Beachland Estate and Unbridled Corruption”, an essayist asked: “Where did he get the money to build that massive estate”?
- Who owns Ajaokuta Steel Mills, Delta Steel Complex, Jos Steel Rolling Mills, Osogbo Machine Tools and Itakpe Iron Ore? … largest shareholder in UBA? Who bought out the shares of Akeem Bello-Osagie and threatened him with arrest and imprisonment? … largest shareholder in First Interstate Bank Ltd before the merger into Unity Bank? …owns the majority shares in Virgin Nigeria? … gave the airline special facilities at the international wings of our airports at the cost of N400 million? Why does Virgin Nigeria not pay parking and landing fees, and purchase aviation fuel at a discount … If not, why did Transcorp purchase almost the entire NITEL for $750 million when GLOBACOM bidded $1.2 billion for the same property? Vmobile sold a fraction of its shares for $1.2 billion.
- … This one man operates six farms in six states … source of the funds for these massive investments? What is the deal between this one man with the owner of Mittal of India? Why the hurry in granting Block 246 [oil license] to the Indian conglomerate?
- … who is the real owner of Obajana cement factory? … Eleme Petrochemicals? … the largest shares in Arik Air? Why did the government sell the Nigeria Airway Hanger to this airline not through bidding …?
On the website, there are also contributions from other writers on different topics, including one by that straighter-than-an-arrow son of Professor Sam Aluko, Professor Bolaji Aluko of Washington, D.C. He narrated “How I got my INEC Registration Card in Nigeria”, a hilarious even if sad piece on how he had to drive from place to place in his Gbonyin Local Government of Ekiti to get registered. His story is an indictment of the INEC as well as the bribe-taking men of the Police Force he encountered while in Nigeria. Like MOST Nigerians, I do not believe that INEC can come to any good in spite of the high-sounding pronouncements of Prof. Iwu.
If nothing sinister is being planned, why can’t Nigerians use the same registration cards they had from earlier election? How can the registration of under ten million in a country of over a hundred million yield an electoral result that is fair?