Sahara Reporters Founder and Human Rights Activist

Omoyele “Yele” Sowore

Omoyele “Yele” Sowore is a Nigerian human rights activist, pro-democracy campaigner, and founder of an online news agency Sahara Reporters.

He was arrested again and beaten during a protest in Abuja on January 1, 2021. Sowore was injured by a police officer during a protest in Abuja on May 31, 2021.

BACKGROUND

Omoyele “Yele” Sowore (born 16 February 1971) is a Nigerian human rights activist, pro-democracy campaigner, former presidential candidate under African Action Congress, and founder of an online news agency Sahara Reporters.

Yele Sowore is from Ese-Odo, Ondo State in South West Nigeria. Sowore was born in the Niger Delta region of the country (comprising six states in South-South region, Ondo, Abia and Imo States) where he was also raised in a polygamous home with sixteen children. At 12, he learned to ride a motorcycle so that he could go to the lake to go fishing for food for his entire family every morning before going to school. Sowore’s passion and desire in media was propelled during the military rule in Nigeria.

Sowore studied Geography and Planning at the University of Lagos from 1989 to 1995 with his academic program extended by two extra years after being expelled twice for political reasons and student activism. He was the President of the University of Lagos Student Union Government between 1992 and 1994 where he was involved in anti-cultism and anti-corruption advocacy. Sowore holds a master’s degree in Public Administration from Columbia University.

In 1989, he took part in student demonstrations protesting the conditions of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan of $120 million to be used for a Nigerian oil pipeline. Included among the conditions of the IMF loan, was a reduction in the number of universities in Nigeria from 28 to 5.

Sowore led 5,100 students in protest against the Nigerian government in 1992. The protest resulted in police opening fire and killing seven protesters. Sowore was arrested and tortured. Omoyele was also involved in the demand for democratic government taking over military rule on June 12, 1993. This resulted in several arrests, detentions and life-threatening treatment by government officials.

A journalist, Niyi Babade, in his yet to be published memoir, also acknowledges Sowore’s stride in the 12 June struggle – “Unannounced they came out of an unmarked grey vehicle and saw the ugly scenes then opened fire on all of us. I spent some quality time in my resting place the gutter till I heard the singing voices of the students of University of Lagos led by Yele Sowore (now a Sahara reporter) heading to Abiola’s house, I crawled out of my hiding and tried to get an exclusive shot when the hoodlums among the students attacked me and wanted to confiscate my camera but with the heroic effort of Sowore I was spared and allowed to join them as one of the hoodlums and a journalist which then gave me unlimited access to exclusive footage of the day till we got to Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (MKO) Abiola’s house.”

Sowore was arrested by the DSS on 3 August 2019 ahead of a planned nationwide #RevolutionNow protest.[19] The Federal Government,[20] which later admitted to the arrest, was condemned by Wole Soyinka, Oby Ezekwesili and many other activists.[21] He was later charged with “conspiracy to commit treason and insulting President Muhammadu Buhari“.[22]

On 24 September 2019, Sowore was granted bail by the Federal High Court Abuja, on the condition that he surrender his international passport within forty-eight hours. The DSS has refused to release Sowore claiming ignorance of the court order. The DSS’ refusal to release Sowore led to protests at the UN Plaza in New York led by Sowore’s wife and has sparked a global decry on Nigeria’s failed democracy.

On 29 September 2019, Sowore made his first appearance in the media since his detention. He described his poor treatment, being locked up in a dark room without the sunlight. He also mentioned that “Boko Haram commanders who are engaged in high-level terrorism have access to telephone, TV and even cable in their cells” while he is being denied such access. The court again set Sowore free on 5 December 2019, confirming that he had settled his bail terms. However, there was a wind of change the next change in court when DSS operatives evaded the premises to re-arrest him. He was finally released on 24 December 2019.

On December 8 2021, The Federal High Court, Abuja, ordered the Department of State Services (DSS) to pay Omoyele Sowore, 2 million Naira over the unlawful seizure of his mobile phone in 2019 at the point of his arrest

On March 2022 it was reported that Omoyele Sowore, has sued the Nigeria Police Force and three others at the Federal High Court, Abuja, over violation of his fundamental human right

Sowore started Sahara Reporters in New York City in 2006 to fight against corrupt and wrong government practices. Sahara Reporters is supported by grants from the Ford Foundation and Omidyar Foundation. As part of its policy, Sahara does not accept adverts and financial support from the Nigerian government.

On 25 February 2018, Sowore announced his intention to run for president in the 2019 Nigerian general election. In August 2018, he founded a political party, the African Action Congress (AAC), for which he will run in 2019. On 6 October 2018, following successful primary elections at the AAC’s national convention, Omoyele Sowore emerged unchallenged as the Presidential Candidate for the party. After touring many states in Nigeria, visiting dignitaries such as the Emir of Kano and Wole Soyinka, Sowore embarked on a fundraising tour around the world including Australia, the United States of America and the UK. He was in Luton, England, on 10 November 2018.

On 1 March 2022, Sowore announced his intention to run for president in the 2023 Nigerian general election and adopts “We can’t continue like this” as the official slogan.


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