It was intriguing listening to the recorded engagement between Barrister Adebayo Shittu, Nigeria’s Communications Minister, and Mr. Omoyele Sowore, the publisher of Sahara Reporters, on Fresh FM radio, Ibadan. While the energy in their banter was totally enlivening, the discussion, which was intermittently reduced to noisy exchanges of words, lacked the intellectual engagement that Nigeria’s gnashing nationhood should ordinarily provoke. It seemed that the minister and the journalist cum presidential aspirant had unsettled scores that needed amplification. While Sowore felt that the present APC-led government’s ineptitude spelled an assured failure at the 2019 polls, the facetious minister repeatedly taunted him as inexperienced and inconsequential, unfit to be elected president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Interestingly, the drama that played out in the studio of Fresh FM is not different from the way and manner in which many Nigerians will engage a fresh entrée into the murky waters of Nigeria’s politics. What experience does he have? In fact, in some Nigerians’ understanding, that Sowore has managed a successful online media in a rather novel and unconventional way, such that stands up to Nigeria’s corrupt system does not conduce to a reasonable vault of experience sufficient to navigate through the labyrinth that is Nigeria’s political climate today. And in the view of many people, the minister was very practical, go and become a councilor first. While Sowore tried to argue for his suitability for the post, given the pedigree of present and past rulers, the minister implicitly hinted at Sowore’s inability to conquer a structure of politics that is zoning-based, money-driven and controlled by an institutionalized elite system. This institutionalized elite system; skewed, volatile, manipulative and unproductive, determines who becomes president in Nigeria. When there is a rancor within the fold of those who constitute this self-serving class, like the caterpillar, it sheds its skin and metamorphoses into a formidable butterfly. It was such political amalgamation, a coalition of aggrieved and ambitious people that saw to the defeat of the incumbent in 2015.
Given the way Sowore is going about his campaigns for the office of the president, one question becomes inevitable: Can he win the 2019 presidential election? He has advertised his antecedents: past student union leader, pro-democracy and anti-corruption crusader, a passionate Nigerian who wants to do what has been done terribly differently. Sahara Reporters is perhaps the most substantive medium through which we can deduce (at least for now) the type of leadership Sowore can offer. As a journalist who takes up (video evidence abounds) many present and past leaders, one sees an energetic, vocal and radical man. While Sahara Reporters is reputable for its guerrilla journalism, his approach to news making is suggestive of a man who sacrifices convention for correction. While he has a foundation on which his personality stands, the odds of equating him with his media creation makes him less popular and his reputation suspect. It is a known fact that amidst the success stories of Sahara Reporters, it is yet to prove that Nigerian politicians have not used the platform for political gains, while camouflaging with documentary evidence. Sowore’s experiences as a man who has studied, lived and owned a business abroad are on the other hand positive correlatives of a man aspiring to a position of leadership.
No doubt, Sowore’s involvement will add steam to the race. His energy appears to have a contagious effect. His youthful hue seems to appeal to the younger generation sold to the idea that a new, well-governed Nigeria is possible within a term of four years. Sowore’s rhetoric and campaign at present rely on an ideology that anything is possible, including the demystification of Nigeria’s institutionalized elite class who in pedestrian cliché are afobajes or Kingmakers. The exhibition of power by the Nigerian elite is so total that it has within its whims the complicity of the people whom Sowore hopes to liberate. And while Sowore can boast of his might in defeating the elite class, how well is he ready and poised to arrest the mentality of the masses who will vote for the next president in Nigeria, a mentality that has for years been shaped and conditioned by the same cycle of power holders?
The battles are right there ahead of Sowore. First, he is yet to identify with a political party (an absurdity that is fast becoming commonplace in Nigeria). We are to expect that whatever platform he decides to use will be hurriedly constituted and defined by Sowore’s agenda, rather than party principles and ethics. Also, how will he deal with the money politics of Nigeria? While 1000Naira from a hundred thousand Nigerians will give Sowore 100,000,000Naira, that is still a little sum for electioneering in Nigeria. His ingenious GoFundMe support is an experiment to prove as a tangible source of funding for elections in Nigeria. The Northern votes are also a crucial factor to consider. What will Sowore tell the Northern man that places political affinity over political awareness? And of course, how does he address socially embedded norms of stomach infrastructure without compromising his professed principles as an anti-corruption crusader?
Everything Nigerian as we know it stands against an emergence that is not informed by the extant reprehensible norm.
If anyone believes that the present government emerged victorious against the establishment because it could perform excellently, the handling of Nigeria in the last three years has shown that the only change that happened was that of the caterpillar to the butterfly: the grand conspiracy of the elite to reshuffle and reenergize its fold. What matters given Nigerian’s present electoral process is not whether Sowore wins or not. The exciting thing is that Nigeria has the capacity to produce the Sowore's who believe that the institutionalized elite class can be given a run for their money and power.
Ifeoluwapo Adeniyi is the author of On the Bank of the River.