Nigeria’s foremost anti-corruption crusader and a presidential candidate in the country’s 2019 election, Omoyele Sowore, who is being detained by state authorities on trumped-up charges, may not regain freedom soon, because he happens to be a paragon of virtue who truly personifies the famous quotation: “I belong to nobody.” It is clear this uncommon patriotism has not been put into consideration by the principal actors in Sowore’s ongoing prosecution, particularly the presiding judge, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu.
Recall that Justice Ojukwu, while reducing one of Sowore’s bail conditions from N100 million to N50 million, had wondered why a Nigerian of his pedigree does not have many people queuing up to stand as his surety, the stringent terms notwithstanding. It can be easy to lampoon the learned judge for hinging her argument on such premise, quite alright, but she should be assumed innocent on four compelling grounds.
First, Justice Ojukwu must have based the decision on legal precedent. Such bail conditions, including a seemingly assumption that Sowore maintains a residence in Abuja, are typically reserved for famous Nigerian politicians. But it is obvious Justice Ojukwu did not know that, unlike the corrupt politicians, Sowore is neither wealthy nor can afford an opulent lifestyle of multiple mansions. More importantly, Ojukwu does not know that Sowore distances himself from the wealthy politicians, most of who attained their status through corrupt means. Though he aligned with some questionable characters within the opposition ranks during the 2015 presidential campaign, his effort was not only strictly pro bono, that moment in history called for a united front against the gross misrule under the then ruling party.
Second, Justice Ojukwu clearly mirrored the bail conditions of Nnamdi Kanu, another citizen charged for treason in violation of his right to free speech. Yet, the judge should not fail to recognize that Nigerian money bags, who could afford the millions involved in such bail conditions, owe their allegiance to the country’s two political behemoths: Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressive Congress (APC). This goes without saying that Kanu was able to meet his bail conditions due to the fact that he enjoyed an intrinsic sympathy within the PDP. On the other side, even as Sowore played a vital role in bringing APC to power, the party now sees the anticorruption activist as its primary enemy.
Third, Justice Ojukwu might have been swayed by the fact that there is no meaningful pressure from Sowore’s tribe or region, as commonly obtainable when citizens are illegally detained in Nigeria. But she must be reminded that geopolitics does not favor Omoyele Sowore. His style of war against corruption has never known boundaries, and this patriotic independence is central to his undoing.
For instance, the East appears to have no sympathy for Sowore for his role in the fall of President Goodluck Jonathan. The North, on its own, is very furious at the anti-corruption activist for opposing President Buhari. Worse still, the political leadership in Sowore’s Western region under APC is even more irate. A South-west cabal assumes that its support of the injustice against Sowore would endear it to Buhari towards 2023 presidency—a thought similar to a prevailing emotional myopia which presumes that the Igbo should foreclose any hope of producing the next president because of Nnamdi Kanu. The nature of these sectional inuendoes is regrettably understandable.
However, it only goes to show that Sowore truly belongs to nobody but has sacrificed for everybody.
This paradox has roots in the ephemeral nature of memory in Nigeria, a country where the history is a taboo, which has always made it difficult to give honor to whom honor is due. If not, both the North and West would have capitalized on the moment to demonstrate appreciation for the role Sowore played in bringing both Buhari and the APC to power; while the Easterners could embrace any support as a payback for the risks the Sahara Reporters publisher took in Jonathan’s journey to the presidency, beginning from the time the health of Jonathan’s incapacitated predecessor, Umaru Yar’Adua, was shrouded in utter secrecy.
Finally, even if Justice Ojukwu further varies the bail terms to the barest minimum, as widely expected, a powerful cabal within the APC would not want Sowore to regain freedom before 2023 presidential election. Such characters want to remain in power after Buhari and thus see Sowore’s tabloid, the Sahara Reporters, as the “African Wikileak”, capable of exposing their sins against the humanity.
This is where Nigeria’s civil society ought to come in and heighten the pressure. The posterity will not be kind to this generation if we allow evil to triumph over good. This time calls for perseverance and persistence. A noble step forward is to find a way to chip into the #freesoworenow “Go Fund Me” account, no matter how little. The wealthy good Samaritans, who are understandably scared that the Buhari regime could go after their businesses, if they stand for Sowore, can still contribute to Go Fund account, using the Anonymous option. Money is direly needed to defend this prisoner of conscience and the cause of the common man. As the eminent philosopher Edmund Burke would remind us, evil can only thrive if good people do nothing.
In sum, the continued detention of Omoyele Sowore may appear very appealing for the ruling APC, politically; but the apparent injustice evokes fatal consequences. The biggest loser is President Buhari for succumbing to the wishes of an overzealous cabal whose sole vision in the plot to succeed him is polar opposite to the common good. It is not surprising that the Sowore saga has further darkened Nigeria’s image in the comity of nations, thereby hindering the all-important foreign investment. Of course, the poor masses are the victims.
SKC Ogbonnia, Convener of Power To The Masses, writes from Ugbo, Enugu State, Nigeria.