I Have No Interest In Working For Obasanjo – Omoyele Sowore

by Uche Nworah

He has steadily built up a reputation for himself as the scourge of Nigerian politicians, a one-man crusader and an enemy of corruption. Call him a rebel with a cause and you won’t be far wrong. He treads where angels dare not with his exposé brand of writing. He and his former partner (Jonathan Elendu) of elendureports.com took Nigeria by storm in 2005 and gave the phrase investigative reporting a whole new meaning, they got tongues wagging, and many politicians diving for cover. The duo has also been compared to the Americans – Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Watergate fame, but just when Nigerians were beginning to get used to their weekly fire-brand stories and investigative reports, Omoyele Sowore announced that he was disengaging from elendureports.com, thus fuelling speculations of a bust-up with Jonathan Elendu. In this rare e-interview, Omoyele Sowore opens up to Uche Nworah on his life, his mission and what really went wrong at elendureports.com

Q. Tell us a little about yourself

A. I was born in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria in a small village called “Kiribo” in Ese-Odo local government area of Ondo State. I come from a small Yoruba –speaking tribe known as “Ijaw-Apoi” (Ijaw-Apoi- because the Ijaws claim their territory or nation starts from there!). My father was a local teacher and my mum a full-time, never- retiring housewife. I come from a polygamous family, I have lots of brothers and sisters, 16 of us, – don’t ask me if I remember all their names!

Q.What was it like growing up?

A. I grew up in Nigeria, in the village in Kiribo. There was no electricity, or running water, no television heroes. No postal office. Just three missionary primary schools and policemen who constantly came to extort women on Market Days-every nine days!

Q. Did you enjoy any special privileges as a child?

A. No privileges at all, my dad told us that part of growing up disciplined, was to live in certain state of deprivation. He talked about chastity, purity and treating one’s self last. Even when I was grown enough to be on my own in the village, as the first son, he never let me have a room to myself. He loaded me up with a bunch of “snitches” that reported to him every turn I made on the bed at night. When I was 12 he taught me how to ride a motorcycle (Suzuki 100 cc.) so that I could fish at the lake for the entire family before going to school every morning!

Q. What about your educational background

A. I studied Geography and Planning at the University of Lagos from 1989 to 1995 (for six years), after being expelled twice for political reasons and because of my student activism. I did my youth service in Yola, Adamawa State from 1995-1996; I was never given a discharge certificate till date for whatever reasons. I also have a Masters degree in Public Administration from Columbia University in New York, I graduated in May 2003.

Q. Briefly tell us about your professional background (working life) both in Nigeria and abroad

A. Until I left Nigeria in 1999, I worked as a pro-democracy activist. I didn’t have a job really; I only had a career as a civil rights activist of a sort, a very dangerous career especially in our part of the world… And with that career you can’t get a day job, there were no paid jobs anyway! I currently work with the Catholic Charities in the New York tri-state area, that’s my job at the moment, my career remains the same.

Q. People have been wondering what drives and motivates you, being that journalism and writing in the Nigerian context does not fully pay the bills, who funds your various story researches which usually transcend many continents?

A. Like I said earlier, i have a day job and my internet reports are funded from my private funds, but some of the reports are also made possible by the research efforts of some patriotic Nigerians who reach out to us because of the seriousness with which we took the reports. I have a network of these great guys all over the world who I tap into from time to time. So many of the tools we use for our investigations are basically somehow available and when we need to go to the higher levels we contact these “Good Samaritans” who in turn deplore their resources to help make things happen, but let me be clear on this, I have never received any funding from any source for my work. For so long, I have been consumed with the passion to see a different nation, which I believe to be very possible. I have thrown my life into it. In terms of my balance sheet, I am operating at a deficit financially, but no one sent me to do this, so I am not complaining. I can’t forget the example set by a good friend, (Kayode Ogundamisi) who had to disguise as a “delivery man” in order to take pictures of Ibori’s Bentley in his garage in London. These are the type of commitments I have been able to tap into to make these reports possible for all Nigerians, to see what their governors and other officials do with their money.

Q. What inspired you to go into this type of ‘death-wish’ journalism, if you like?

A. If you have ever travelled throug

h any West African country you will be really pissed at Nigerian leaders, there is no basis for the current poverty and the wreckage of Nigeria, that in itself is more than enough to motivate anyone to “shoot up” Nigerian leaders. Writing exposés, as you call them is my basic method of “anger management” since I don’t have the means or motivation to nuke up our leaders. Writing became an option because I hate stories in the local media that carries clichés such as “names withheld”. I think our style of writing demystified those journalistic jargons and clichés. It was also an avenue to deliver unadulterated news report to average readers with access to the internet, though still a negligible minority.

Q. The news of the moment is your disengagement from elendureports.com, as their star writer, what do you think will be the fate of the outfit now that you have left?

A. I don’t subscribe to titles, what do you mean by a “star writer”? Most people, including you, can write better than I do. I don’t think that my departure would affect the writing skills of the people running the website. I wasn’t writing for stardom, I was writing for change, I went into writing to support my aspirations for a better Nigeria. I did not leave elendureports.com with the aim that it would collapse. I hope that it gets better; this decision had been in the pipeline for sometime. I even took a break sometime in November 2005. Principally, Jonathan (Elendu) indicated to me that he would go into political consulting in 2007 which means that the outfit will take a partisan position somehow. With due respect, I don’t believe in the current political process in Nigeria. I didn’t want to be hemmed into any political alliance which will damage my legitimate aspiration to seek freedom outside of the confines of the democratic contraption labelled as ‘democracy’ in Nigeria today, the only purpose Nigerian democracy serve is its usefulness as a tool for blackmailing Nigerians into silence. I thought it will amount to suicide to consult for or with any of the political entities in the present Nigeria without thoroughly compromising my principles. This is the principal reason for leaving, of course amongst other private concerns that I have expressed over time.

Q. Can you share with us how you met Jonathan Elendu and how both of you successfully forged an investigative writing force in so short a time?

A. The most shocking part of this is that we have never met before in person, I mean till the time I left. It was an association that emerged purely on faith (even though I am not a religious person). I met him shortly after I returned from Nigeria last year (2005). I had just conducted that “famous” interview with Governor Orji Kalu of Abia State, the one that he flatly denied that he spoke with me. Amongst the various Nigerians that e-mailed me –taking different stance, for or against- was Jonathan Elendu, he told me that he had practiced journalism for sometime and wondered if I actually interviewed Kalu. I told him yes, and that I need not lie about that. He asked if I could give him Kalu’s telephone numbers, I gave him everything. He interviewed Kalu after interviewing me. He came back later and said that he was having difficulties publishing his interviews with the outfit that he had worked with for 5 years! He was upset. I told him not worry, as we discussed he told me that he had an idea to start a website and wondered if we could partner together. I was hesitant because I didn’t know him, and hadn’t heard about him before then. But as time went on we had useful discussions and I decided to give it a try. He wanted me to have a title with his website. I declined, as I thought it was unnecessary. I decided to remain a writer, which means that I also kept my regular e-mail. I told him that I always want to have a choice to publish anywhere I wanted. That was how we started. In all fairness to him, he had maintained that he would do political consulting. But I thought we had gotten to a point where he could not be involved with working for any political candidate without compromising the work we were doing. Gradually my enthusiasm began to wane in terms of continuing to work with him. I respect his skills as a writer but I think we came to the project or enterprise together for different reasons. He sees our engagements differently, for me, I see it as a war to change Nigeria, I believe he views it as a means to further his consultancy work; we began to part ways in different directions from that point. I enjoyed every bit of our work. It has revolutionized internet publishing in Nigeria. And also it has created a sense of alternative media, it was something very fantastic!

Q. It is quite obvious that whatever model you guys used, that it worked; do you think that such a model can work again if tried by other writers/journalists and what is its longevity?

A. Definitely the model will work again, what I would like to see is a duplication or multiplication of this type of effort, when the Wright Brothers invented the airplane (please ignore my high floating comparisons here!) they never thought about huge airplanes that can take half of a city across the world. I really hope this can motivate more partnerships amongst our citizens to democratize freedom of information more quickly. We were able to help provide Nigeria’s local media with alternatives such that Reuters and BBC were no longer the only sources of credible news. The longevity of any partnership is always dependent on variables such as the ideology and philosophy of such partnerships. Part of the problem with ours was that we had so much work to do; we didn’t even think that we needed to work out a real partnership that would be guided by certain principles. The demand for our work was overwhelming!

Q. Of course people respect your personal decisions to leave elendureports.com, but at the same time they are eager to know what really went wrong between you and Jonathan Elendu? Would you say that elendureports.com compromised the original concept in any way?

A. Just like I mentioned earlier, there were no original concepts or rules of existence or engagement, we were just two ‘nice guys” who met somehow and hit it off quickly. Part of the lessons for others who may take up this type of engagement is to be clear about the concept from inception. Draw out a structure and article of engagement based upon certain principles.

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John Lot August 15, 2010 - 9:04 pm

Thanks Uche Nworah for this great interview you made with Omoyele Sowore. Nothing is wrong with the Identity NIGERIA, but with people living within the geographical region called Nigeria. It all has to do with the mindset of the people when it comes to acquisition of wealth and governance. I am also an angry man when it comes to issue of Nigeria and Africa at large. Our poverty sydrome mentality when it comes to riches/wealth. Definitely, we still have honest people within Nigeria society. I use to say Nigerians need what i used to call PROGRESSIVE DICTATORS like Flt Lt JJ Rawlings and Thomas Sankara, Tunde Idiagbon. People that know what Discipline, Dignity, principles and moral Ethics means. My father use to tell me “IF YOU CAN’T JOIN THEIR THOUGHTLESS ACT THEN RETREAT AND TAKE YOUR UPRIGHT POSITION, BUT THERE IS A PRICE TO PAY.

Nigeria is a very complex issue, but i prayed that someday, we shall surely find someone that will bring corruption to minimum level. No Nation of the world can make zero level corruption eradication, because corruption is contagious like a ravaging cancer, but it must be put in check. And that one day Nigerian will take that political will NOT TO LOVE THEIR POCKET, BUT TO LOVE THEIR COUNTRY AT HEART.

Emeka (UK) May 30, 2009 - 2:49 pm

Rubbish! How can anyone write good things where it doesn’t exist? What a barmy suggestion! Mr Sowore has demonstrated by this, albeit a rather soft-touch interview, that he doesn’t live in a cloud cuckooland. How ever anyone could suggest that another should find positivity where it doesn’t really exist encapsulates the problem with Nigeria, (or should be Nigerians).

Joseph Kabikala April 7, 2009 - 10:35 am

Rich and revealing interview

Sincere Brillow January 11, 2008 - 9:50 am

Nothing can be greater in service than that being rendered by sowore to our nation.It is well with you,We are with you.

Thanks Uche.

mike January 13, 2006 - 3:00 pm

Mr. Chris abegi! I believe in sayoing the truth…Sowore claimed in this interview he does no wine and dine with corrupt politicians and their people, I am sure OBJ and his son fall in that category. I believed his claim until I read the Guardian, now I know he gets a ride from OBJ son…na waha! I have very low threshold for liars, I can officially brand this chap as one..apart from the lies that they used to tell on their elendu stuff!

Chris Aliche January 10, 2006 - 8:46 pm

The Gbenga Obasanjo story/interview is the best I have ever read in my entire life. Anyone can accuse Sowore of making it juicy or embellished or overcooked. There is genius in this fella that must be applauded. We wre yet to hear how the ride came about from Seme border, but the product from that ride is absolutely indepth and profound. It is bound to reverberate for a long time to come.

Going to Sowore's reason for leaving Elendureports.com, I think we should give to him that he worked very hard to bring information to our table on the shady deals of our leaders. He has a right to depart from Elendu if he doesn't want to continue.

To be honest, I can fathom the belligerence in Mike's voice on Sowore. It is rare for a Nigerian to meet someone of the caliber of Gbenga Obasanjo and not want to make money from that meeting quietly.

He has justified his principles publishing his encounter with Gbenga.

Kudos to Sowore!

mike January 10, 2006 - 10:12 am

This is an excerpt from the Guardian:

But the solicitors for Dr. Gbenga Obasanjo, in the letter to the news magazine, said that the story, "caused and continues to shock our client who states unequivocally that he did not grant the reporter, Mr. Omoyele Sowore, any interview as claimed or at all."

The lawyers added: "At no time did Mr. Sowore put questions to our client, which elicited the responses reported in the papers and The News Magazine.''

The solicitors said that Gbenga had ''politely but clearly declined to grant'' a request for an interview by Sowore, whom he gave a ride from Seme border to Lagos, sometime in December last year.

They added: "The unsolicited and unauthorised story is deeply regretted by our client and he regrets the embarrassment that this might have caused members of his family.''

They, therefore, requested the magazine to publish their letter as a rejoinder to the alleged interview and carry a retraction of the report ''with apology both to him (Gbenga) and his respectable father''.


This sounds very juicy Mr. Sowore : now can you cahut and say you don't dine and wine with the mighty OBJ son does not give me a ride..na wah oh! Plenty nonsense!

Yemi January 9, 2006 - 8:31 pm

Good readin. More of this

Posi Olatubosun January 9, 2006 - 8:24 pm

Mr. Omoyele Sowore has given meaning to real investigative journalism with his recent works. I only hope and pray that he continue this way. Meanwhile, there is so much rot in the Nigerian system that one wonders whether Nigeria is not an example of a failed state. But, let us not abandon leprosy, while attempting to find cure for ringworm. Though corruption seems to be deeply entrenched in governance in Nigeria, I believe that we would have taken a very significant step in curbing corruption the day we are able to conquer the art of rigging elections. It is corrupt elections sire bad leaders. As it is said in latin: 'ex turpi causa oritur non actio':any legal action arising from illegal action is also illegal.

'The moment we solve problems of the electoral system, the moment we are able to conduct elections, whereby a party in power can be defeated in a free and fair manner, whereby a man who has done something wrong can be thrown out by the people, then all this problems will simmer down. Look at what has happened in Kenya. The President wanted a particular constitution, but the people said no. they went for a referendum and they voted against the President. It was reflected in the votes. If we were to be able to do that kind of thing in Nigeria, then people who do not have money but have ideas can stand and win elections. Then, we can begin to find solutions to our problems. But in a situation where results of elections are known even before elections are held, it is a serious matter. It was the late Bala Usman who first said that electoral fraud is more fundamental than the question of stealing and looting. If we can vote leaders out without suffering any dire consequences, then we can say, we have begun. If we can solve the question of electoral problems, I think that will be a fundamental change in this country. What we have now is that everybody wants to be in the ruling party, there is a stampede to be there because if you are in the opposition, you have no chance.'

Sanya Adekunle January 9, 2006 - 5:48 pm

Eniola or whatever you called yourself in comment number 3, you were very well entitled to your opinion or beef or all of the above.

But your reference to me and some other Nigerians as brain dead was not only uncalled for but it also reflected the type of insanity ravaging the heads of intolerant bigots such as yourself!

How else can one drum it into the thick heads of ignorant, incorrigible guys like you that our nation is now a democracy with freedom of expression And this principle indeed applies to those of us in the U.S. which is the bastion of democracy and liberty. Must I kowtow your thoughts or the thinking of other individuals

We Nigerians should be able to disgree with each other without taking issues so personal and emotionally.

I don't know your age but your reckless use of words (new words to you, I guess) were nothing but an infantile exercise in childish tantrums…..haba!


Mike January 8, 2006 - 8:15 pm

You do not believe in the political process And then you think we should hail you WHich can of man is this I am ashamed to call you a Nigerian, but you should just stick to being in America, you traitor! When Thomas Jefferson and co ruled America, america was not perfect: women could not vote, black were routinely sold and lynched. Yet they particpated in the political process..even those of them that were anti-slavery. You are not a democrat!

Olubusayo M Oluwagbemi January 8, 2006 - 8:11 pm

I said it then, and I will say it again. I wrote the article on Elendu reports madness and the possible shennanigan of the writers and this interview proved I was right. Political consultancy For who MRD or PDP May be it is NCP! Give me a break, the bandwagon effect is over, and I personally will be too happy to bury the ghost of an insiodus past. And to the gnomes that talked about whopping, my article elcicited a balanced response from a very informed readership, and i am happy to do it then, and I will do it again. The project called Nigeria cannot be built by critics living inNew York, it can be built by people ready to position their country in a positive light and are ready to fight for what they believe in. Most Nigerians are just good critics, they act very badly. Refer to my articles on Personal Responsibility as well as the elenedu reports. Thank you.

Anonymous January 8, 2006 - 9:17 am

My respect to Sowore and the guys at Elendureports. They are able to source the stories that conventional journalists are unable to. It is a shame that Elendureports will be veering towards political opportunism.

I personally look forward to reading more of Sowore's work. He has matured a lot since our early days in Unilag. I am certain that the best is yet to come and will stay tuned.

Godwin Kwushue January 8, 2006 - 3:01 am

Thanks Uche Nworah for your interview with Omoyele Sowore, though Joe Elendu has not independently confirmed that he will be employing his web site for political consulting his continued silence in the face of such allegations from his former colleague may lead many and my humble self to comfortable concluded that Omoyele has said the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

The genesis and history of Elendu reports remind me of these vices; dishonesty and treachery as veritable tool for achieving political goals and objectives. History is laden with examples where dishonesty and treachery has been positively employed for the benefit of a people and mankind. Federick De klerk of South Africa rose to prominence in his party because he was thought to be an ardent supporter of apartheid policy of south Africa of that era. He deceived evil men of his race, he played the hardliner in public, but in his heart he was very eager to consign apartheid to the dustbin of history. The culmination of his effort was the first democratically elected government in south Africa . The world recognized this selfless effort by awarding him the Nobel peace prize. De Klerk disappointed many of his party men to achieve his aim for his nation.

Closer home, the case of Ngige and Uba in Anambra state came to mind. Ngige visited every shrine dedicated to small gods he was invited to, to swear an oath that he will make the states till available to Chris Uba. Ngige was later to announce to the whole world that he recognized not Uba nor his shrine of small gods. There is no other word to describe Ngiges action than treacheries but Anambra state and her citizens are the ultimate beneficiaries

Much as one cannot confirm the veracity of the allegation of political consulting portfolio Joe Elendu has purportedly acquired one may still proceed to voice ones opinion on the matter without running the risk of being unfair to him since he has not taken any step to refute or debunk the allegation as the case may be.

Is it the case, that Joe Elendu used Mr Sowore to expose corrupt politicians in order to make himself relevant to their political survival Is it the case that he has used his activities on the world wide web to deceive Nigerians and readers the world over by misrepresenting his commitment to eradicating corruption in Nigeria as his political consulting effort may suggest Is this a case of a good boy gone bad or was this the game plan from day one Is Joe Elendu singing his own nunc dimitis Is this the beginning of the end for an effort that has created a window of opportunity for some of us to take a peep into the unedifying activities of our politicians

If the allegation made by Omoyele Sowore in his interview with Uche Nworah still remains unchallenged one may reasonably conclude that we are examining a case of treachery being employed for political goals in a selfish and most parochial manner. Can one man possibly serve God and Marmon at the same time As it is said, if you are for us you cannot be against us. Presumably our good friend has decided to pitch his tent with corrupt politicians through some policy of constructive engagement; it goes without saying that he will be speaking tongue in cheek henceforth in matters that germain to corrupt politicians.

Let me take this opportunity to thank Omoyele Sowore for being true to his conscience and the course, in the history of any battle there will always be a place for Villains and men of valor, you have shown uncommon strenght of character from your days at the university of Lagos. What you are witnessing is a case study on men with dual character, keep them at arms length in future

May I take this opportunity to advise anybody who may want to take to political consulting at this time when the issue of third term agenda is on the front burner, that this is the most dangerous time to do so because Nigerians will not hesitate to rubbish any opportunist as we did to their predecessors Nigerians made sure such characters had their political sun dimmed at noon day, but they now exist quietly in their respective home eating their humble bread having been stripped of their political relevance; they may now best be described as yesterdays men.

Godwin Kwushue.

Anonymous January 7, 2006 - 3:57 pm

we need more people like these in nigeria. Like he said inorder for there to be a change in Nigeria there has to be a revolution. I know one is coming, i just don't when.

Eniola January 7, 2006 - 3:08 pm

Sanya: Here comes the problem with the average braindead Nigerian. Nothing in this interview has anything to do with your deductions, except if you are the person who wrote that stupid article about Elendureports.com a little while ago. You may be looking for justifications because of the whupping you received.

However, it is important that you get this interview clearly. It speaks more to the rot in Nigeria than what elendureports did or did not do. Elendureports has done well, I believe they will continue to do well. Sowore's departure should be a wake up call. It wasn't flattering to see an informercial on "Donald Duke for President" on such a highly respected website a week ago. This stupid assumption in which people are castigated for speaking about the ills in Nigeria because there are ills in other places makes you look childish and of a vegetative mindset. So, because New York City Armed Robbers are worse than Nigerian armed robbers, no one should ever have to speak if they were mugged in Nigeria. Great sense of patrotism, I would say…

Learn, listen and look very well. In the meantime you can keep your broken record.

Uche Nworah, great interview and kudos for this!

Anonymous January 7, 2006 - 6:43 am

It isn't right to place Prof. Tam David-West in the same cloke as Lamidi Adesina as West has always worked in the interest of the nation , ousting wrong actions and diplomaticaly viing for better governance . He has appealed to Obasanjo's sanity , and the "human-rights greats like Soyinka and Gani" are yet to led the protest they led against a tamed dictator like Abacha . Look who is decieving who .

Sanya Adekunle January 6, 2006 - 6:11 pm

So, elendureports.com is a precursor to a future political consultancy afterall! Well—–well, the gentleman (can't remember his name now) who wrote a long time ago something about "The Orwellian Acitivist" is also right afterall.

In that article, the writer reminded us all about the antics of past activists, columnists, gadflies etc such as Lam Adesina, Ebenezer Babatope, Tam David West etc who were famous for their "aluta continua", slogans, self-righteous posturings and "wars" against every government.

But we all knew what those so-called activists and "holy angels" did when they finally got what they wanted in terms of public offices. They ended up being worse than the past leaders they were criticising.

It's therefore no surprise that elendureports.com has been used all this while to feather some selfish nests—–what a shame! Indeed, as someone once said, the gold fish has no hiding place!

As for Sowore, it's alright for him to project himself as some righteous soul. But he does not have to do it at the expense of our nation. He should, at least once in while, endeavor to see and write about the good things about Nigeria. Everything and everyone are NOT bad, for God's sake! If we are all bad, then, he too is bad!

For instance, he made a big deal about being attacked by armed robbers in Lagos when he visited last December—–please! He can stay on permanently in America if he like. But he should remember that America is not a state of utopia. And besides, there are more cases of mugging, armed robbery and murder in his adopted New York home than in Lagos. In fact, the stick-up artists, con artists, muggers and home invaders in New York are more daring, more vicious and more barbaric than all the armed robbers in Nigeria put together.


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