In what must count as one of his most engaged and engaging interviews on any platform in recent years, Omoyele Sowore, leader of the #RevolutionNow movement and former presidential candidate of the African Action Congress, AAC, appeared before a panel of three interviewers and took numerous questions from other participants who had tuned in to the programme from around the world, speaking on a range of issues that covered the economy, security, governance and the management of the Nigerian state, among others.
It was the Toyin Falola Interviews, a new series of virtual interviews with academic, social, and political figures across Africa. It is the initiative of the celebrated professor and historian of Nigerian origin, Toyin Falola, at the University of Texas at Austin, in the United States of America.
He spoke for more than three hours. This came just over 24 hours after he lost his immediate younger brother, Olajide, who was murdered in the early hours of Saturday, September 4. He was on his way from Igbinedion University where he had been a student of Pharmacy, to Benin when he was attacked by suspected kidnappers or so-called herdsmen that are in fact now seen as an ethnic militia of the Nigerian ruling oligarchy.
The entire programme that started at 4.00 pm went on for nearly six hours and would only end in order to allow the guest interviewee who had most graciously sat and taken questions for more than three hours, go attend to the urgent task of making arrangements for his murdered brother’s funeral.
The Toyin Falola Interviews has featured Nigerian newsmakers like the Catholic Bishop of the Sokoto Diocese, Rev. Fr. Matthew Hassan Kukah; a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Obadiah Mailafia and the immediate past president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, among others, is shaping up into and proving to be a major media event.
The panel of three interviewers that included Toyin Falola himself, Prof. Moses Ochonu, a historian at Vanderbilt University in the United States and Motunrayo Alaka, Director of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism, one of the two women slated to anchor the event (the other could not make it due to technical issues of connection), could not have been more penetrative and unsparing in their questioning.
This is not saying anything yet of other participants who also had questions or comments to make on the interviewee’s answers. Clearly, this was not a choreographed, kid-glove affair. It was a platform on which anyone could easily trip.
But Sowore, despite his bereavement and his personal travail as a political player who has suffered physical and mental torture occasioned by his restriction to Abuja since 2019, sat through it all. He calmly provided answers to questions in a manner that underlined the steep price he has had to pay for his conviction and his maturity as a political activist, media professional, politician and theorist of the Nigerian state.
Totally unruffled and at home in his own skin and space, he responded to his questioners wisely, confidently and without the vituperative language and gestures of a labour activist or their politician counterparts. Sowore appears tempered not only by the immediate experience of the loss of his brother but also by the enervation of the serial rape of the Nigerian state by a navel-gazing leadership that is its own raison d’etre.
Responding to a question by Falola, he locates the contradictory behaviour of Nigerians for wild celebrations amid the debilitation of national insecurity and violence as an expression of a desire to fulfil a psychological need for occasional relief; a form of escapism from the dross of quotidian angst by a people whose reality has been darkened by the unrelieved pain that is constantly inflicted by a rapacious leadership.
Why and how is revolution the appropriate path towards national reconstruction at this moment in Nigeria’s history, asks Moses Ochonu. Nigeria, Sowore answers, has moved beyond the panacea of gradual reformism. What the country needs, he affirms, is the total overhaul of the systemic rot that has hobbled national progress. Nigeria needs to do away with anything that links it to the present system or any political leader that is connected to it.
To Motunrayo Alaka’s question that Sahara Reporters could, perhaps, be more accurate in its reportage, he responds that an occasional slip in fact and figures cannot justify the reductive dismissal, as fake news, of any news item that is critical of the present government where officials of the government and the media organisations that represent it are the real purveyor of fake news. Even if you do not agree with him, Sowore’s answers were well-thought-through. They were informed by careful consideration, introspection and practical experience in the rough and tumble of Nigerian politics.
This is no longer the student unionist and leader. It is a long way from his tutelage days at the University of Lagos, where he spouted venom at the Nigerian ruling class, in a show more of youthful spriteliness than wisdom. Sowore has grown by his experience in activism, through his student and working days in Nigeria and the US, his anti-corruption activities as a media professional and Nigerian pioneer of a type of online journalism that is largely driven by a citizens-focused and people-generated content.
The one sour moment during the interview came when one caller, probably scouting for a foothold on the slippery slope of the Aliko Dangote-dominated realm that is Nigeria’s business world, attempted but failed to turn an opportunity to ask questions into a raucous debate session.
While some may be stuck in the past and may, therefore, see Sowore as a mere rabble rouser, given to media theatrics; while they may be blinded by and unable to see beyond the foolish impression of an overtly ambitious former student leader unnecessarily exercised by aspirations of power, the truth is that he is a man of strong personal conviction who could have easily settled for collaboration with the political establishment had his motivations been self-aggrandising. He has had far more opportunities and would have been better circumstanced than is possible in his present situation had he preferred opportunism to service.
There is more to Sowore’s activist politics and anti-establishment stance than mere showboating. His media establishment is alone sufficient to ensure that he can now lead a less precarious existence. Sceptical Nigerians ought, therefore, to be respectful and appreciative of his contribution in their assessment of his action.
He has stayed the course where others have turned coat. He has put himself and his immediate and extended family members in harm’s way and at great personal risk than a mere political journeyman of weaker stuff could have done.