When news broke on Wednesday that Omoyele Sowore, publisher of the anti-corruption website, Sahara Reporters, had been arrested in Lagos, not a few powerful men and women in Nigeria jumped for joy. Finally, their nemesis had been “captured” and would now face the law — having been accused of blackmail and threat to life by Lekan Fatodu, a PR consultant who said he had been friends with Sowore for years.
In an interview with TheCable, Fatodu alleged, among other things, that Sowore demanded a N100 million bribe from him — which many would immediately consider strange because there are politicians and business moguls who would gladly give that to the publisher without his asking. Sahara Reporters, also known as SR, gives sleepless nights to powerful Nigerians and Sowore is never short of “suitors”. If he had yielded once, the scandal would have been all over the news.
He has survived publishing anti-corruption stories for over a decade without his name showing up in any bribery or extortion scam, which makes this running episode a bit curious. Those who tried to induce Sowore in the past have always complained about meeting a brick wall — so why would he demand money from someone who is supposed to be a friend? Several questions are being asked as the saga unfolds and several theories are emerging in the process.
The Story in a Nutshell
On Wednesday afternoon, social media was sent into a frenzy with the story that Sowore had been arrested by the police in Ikeja, Lagos, and then transferred to state CID, Panti. Fatodu accused Sowore of defaming him as well as threatening his life. According to Fatodu, SR did a story in January 2016 on the $2.1 billion arms funds scandal in the NSA office listing him as laundering money for Femi Fani-Kayode, spokesman of the PDP presidential campaign in 2015.
Fatodu said he was distressed by the story, which damaged his reputation — but he appeared before the probe panel and was not found to have done anything wrong in executing the contract awarded to him by the office of the NSA. Fatodu said SR ran the story maligning him because he refused to snitch on Fani-Kayode whom he had done business with.
Sowore’s version is different. The SR publisher said when he got the story in question and it was alleged that Fatodu received funds through a lady friend of Fani-Kayode, he got in touch with Fatodu, who promised to provide more information on Fani-Kayode if his own name would be left out of the story. Sowore said he refused to agree and went ahead with his own story.
That marked the end of the friendship.
Hand of Esau?
Recounting his experience on the reported arrest, Sowore wrote: “I was physically attacked today by a gang led by Lekan Fatodu… he assaulted me before police officers at Area “F” in Ikeja in Lagos. After the police intervened soon as I was attacked by Lekan Fatodu and his friends in Lagos, we were taken to the CP’s office in Lagos.
“Turns out he was in on this, he pulled out a supposed petition written by Lekan from his hat after that he became very hostile towards me and ordered that we be driven to State CID, at Panti in Lagos. It is very obvious that this was planned between Lekan Fatodu and the police. They offered him unbridled support as he continued attacking me.”
Sowore said if indeed he threatened the life of Fatodu, “why was he the one trailing me to track me down and assault me? Who threatened whose life in this instance? He was obviously trailing me for days before finally attacking me”.
He insisted that he was not arrested, at least going by the initial account by the police themselves.
Dolapo Badmos, spokeswoman of the Lagos police command, had said: “Today, 11/1/2017 at about 15:39hrs, a distress call was received by the Lagos State Police Command that Mr Omoyele Sowore – Publisher of Sahara Reporters was being attacked by suspected hoodlums around Isaac John street, GRA, Ikeja.
“The police swiftly responded, and upon arrival at the scene contrary to the report that a robbery attack was taking place, the police met the duo of Mr Omoyele Sowore and Mr Lekan Fatodu engaged in a brawl/altercation.
“With a view to ascertaining what led to the false alarm of a robbery, both parties were taken before the commissioner of police.”
On getting to his office of Fatai Owoseni, the CP, pulled out a petition written by Fatodu, which made Sowore believe it was all pre-planned. As far as the publisher and activist is concerned, Fatodu was just acting a script, especially the way Owoseni got involved and brought out a petition “from nowhere”.
There are various theories to what is unfolding. One is that Fatodu is only fronting for a number of powerful Nigerians who have an ax to grind with Sowore. That some senators and governors reportedly “celebrated” the arrest would tend to support this theory. SR has been churning out details of how the $2.1 billion arms fund was spent on the 2015 elections, and has been reporting extensively on key government officials allegedly involved in corruption.
Lately, SR has focused on the first lady, Aisha Buhari, and the alleged funding of her expenses by the Nigerian high commission in UK. The more the first lady denies, the more details SR publishes.
The theory, therefore, is that if any government agency directly goes after Sowore, it would be met with an outcry of persecution. It would not only paint the government as fighting against freedom of expression, it would further damage the image of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration given the popularity of SR. Indeed, it is argued in some quarters that SR played a key role in the demolition of the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Fatodu has categorically denied this theory.
“This (fight) is strictly between us. I am not fighting on anyone’s behalf. I am just out to defend my rights. This is a threat to my life here,” he told TheCable.
Sowore, on the other hand, has insisted that “this is a grand conspiracy” against him.
Malcolm X Reenactment?
The second theory is that there may indeed be a plot to kill Sowore – who, as student union leader at the University of Lagos survived poisoning by the military government of Sani Abacha in 1994. Sowore has survived a murder attempt before — in 2007, he was lured by an agent of a Nigerian politician who visited New York, where SR is based.
The plan, it was later discovered, was to take him out. The agent was lodged at a hotel close to JFK international airport from where he was to leave the country after carrying out the act.
However, Sowore, who is generally regarded as strong-headed, even arrogant, refused to meet the agent of the named politician who had just left as a governor in the south-south. His refusal to attend the meeting saved his life: the entire plot was later revealed to him.
Wednesday’s tiff with Fatodu, his friend, evoked memories of the assassination of Malcolm X, an African-American Muslim minister and human rights activist, on February 19, 1965 in Harlem. The game plan started with a scuffle. A distraction followed, then shots were fired and Malcolm X was taken down.
While the assassination was attributed to the Nation of Islam, of which he was a member before pulling out in protest at integrity issues with the leadership, not a few African-Americans blamed the American government. Malcolm X was a fierce critic of the American state and was often accused of whipping up racist sentiments against white Americans.
The theory is that even if Fatodu is acting alone, he might have played into the hands of those who want Sowore dead for his brand of activism. The rowdiness that followed the physical attack on Sowore in Ikeja could have provided a perfect situation for him to be killed, going by the Malcolm X theory. Sowore does not believe in a coincidence though, but Fatodu insists he is on his own.
Dele Giwa Again?
One of Nigeria’s most celebrated journalists, Dele Giwa, a co-founder of Newswatch magazine, was killed via a parcel bomb in October 1986 when Ibrahim Babangida was the military head of state. He was having breakfast with his colleague, Kayode Soyinka, when the parcel was delivered. It blew him into pieces. Up till today, his killers have not been identified, even though everybody suspected, and still suspects, that it was state-sponsored.
After Giwa’s death, several insinuations and theories came into play. One was that he was investigating a story on a cocaine pusher linked to powerful people in government. The best way to stop the story and scare Nigerian journalists into silence was to take him out, according to this theory.
But there was another theory which began to gain ground, even if unproved: that Giwa was blackmailing people in power over the story. To stop the threat, it was alleged, he was assassinated. This theory was believed to have been pushed out by the security agencies.
Sowore is seeing a parallel. No Nigerian journalist has revealed as much information on corruption in government as Sowore (who insists he is not a journalist but an activist) in the last dozen years. There has been no evidence linking him to blackmail and extortion. Taking him out would, nonetheless, solve a major headache for the people he has offended.
The activist (or hack-tivist, as he also styles himself) is strongly convinced some people might be hatching a plot to eliminate him and then bring up the Dele Giwa theory by saying he was trying to extort money from Fatodu.
“Fatodu is claiming that I demanded a bribe from him, that he has evidence of blackmail. We published our story on him since January 2016. Why has he not said anything like that since then? Why has he not published his evidence? Why is he just talking about that now? This thing is a grand conspiracy but his backers are fighting the wrong person,” he said.
While many of Sowore’s “victims” may not want to kill him or get him killed, they would apparently be relieved if he is eliminated by anybody. At least, that would be one major obstacle removed.
An Eyewitness Account
Below is a Facebook post by Okey Nwanguma on the Thursday events.
Contrary to the conflicting and lisleading accounts and information being peddled on social media about what actually transpired between Sowore and Lekan Fatodu, my finding is that Sowore was never arrested by the Police, contrary to the claim by Lekan which he caused to be widely spread on social media. The police (SCID Panti) has no charge against Sowore which was why he refused to sign a bail bond on day one, and eventually, the DCP left him to go to return the next day. Lekan signed a bail bond before being let go.
I was at Panti on day 2 and I interacted with both Sowore and Lekan separately. I was also at the Conference presided over by the DCP at his office, with the ACP present. Also present were a retinue of lawyers and activists who came in solidarity with Sowore. Lekan also had a few acquantaces who accompanied him. Dr. Tunji Abayomi was appointed to lead the over 15 lawyers who came for Sowore. Lekan had no lawyer.
At the instance of the police, it turned out to be a reconciliatory meeting. It took great efforts to convince Sowore to settle for mediation. He had insisted on the police going through the whole legal process. Since the police didn’t have any charges against Sowore based on Lekan’s purported petition against him for blackmail, Sowore insisted on his own complaint of attack and threat to his life by Lekan – which actually led to police intervention – being exhaustively investigated.
I understand that it was actually at the office of the CP Lagos, on the first day, when the parties were brought before the CP that he (the CP) suddenly and curiously informed Sowore that he has a petition from Lekan against him alleging blackmail and threat to life. As at yesterday, Sowore was yet to be given a copy of the purported petition despite his demanding for it. Before the CP, Sowore insisted that in spite of Lekan’s purported petition for which he was just being informed about by the CP, Lekan had no right to take the law into his hands by waylaying and attacking him on the street. The CP got infuriated and charged at Sowore. He transferred the case to Panti.
I have known Sowore for years. I never knew Lekan until this incident. At the station, he twisted his stories. From Sowore blackmailing him, he changed to Sowore accusing him of collecting millions of naira from politicians for whom he claimed to be working for as a ‘PR Consultant’. Sowore had written a story alleging that Lekan was a conduit used by Femi Fani Kayode to launder money.
Lekan also claims he is a journalist, had worked with THISDAY and is currently publishing an online Medium in London. I’m yet to ascertain all these because I only just heard of and am yet to see the medium he mentioned as his platform.
He acknowledged that he had been friends with Sowore and had passed through Sowore’s tutelage (his own words). He described the incident that happened between him and Sowore as ‘unfortunate’ and said while he respects Sowore for his accomplishments, he also deserves to pursue his own dream of being another Dangote.
This is to clarify issues and the conflicting and misleading accounts on social media which have elicited misguided, if malicious commentaries from people who seem to have scores to settle with Sowore.
Clearly, there is more to Lekan’s motive for his attack on Sowore than what he has stated. He is definitely not acting alone. Such lunatic confidence and temerity to launch an unprovoked attack on Sowore on the streets of Lagos could only have come from a high-powered political inducement, support and assurance of a reward.
Like Sowore, hate him. But these are the facts.