By Abiodun Israel
Publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore must be truly desperate in his anti-Nigerian Army/anti-Buratai agenda going by his latest outing in which he interviewed one Mike Omorege, a purported retired sergeant of the Nigerian Army. The crux of the rehearsed interview on SaharaTV is that “Buhari Must Sack Buratai For Nigeria To Defeat Boko Haram,” which was later cast as the headline published on Sahara Reporters and aggressively marketed in the social media. Much as Sahara Reporters presented the interview as being a question and answer session between interviewer and interviewee, what came out of the interaction is Sowore getting someone else to parrot points he wants to make. He therefore owns responsibility for everything said in the interview, not just because he is the publisher but also because he created a persona to deliver messages that are his.
The interview is rich in conjectures, sparse on facts and completely lacking in logic. It is also ridiculous that the interview settled for a “retired sergeant” when it could have reached higher up for someone who at least has the basic knowledge of military strategy and maneuvering. Conscious of the lacking stature of his interview subject, he was quick to include in the script for Omorege to say “If you want to get the truth, as long as you are interviewing the senior officers, you won’t get the truth, it’s the soldiers on the ground that will tell you what is happening there.” Sowore could have resorted to his old trick of having such a “relevant soldier” mask up to give the interview or the other trick of using actors to impersonate actual soldiers but instead he reached for an inconsequential sacked sergeant as prop. So why did Sowore pull such stunt?
Anyone new to the nuisance called Sowore must learn that he is obsessed with the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. General Tukur Buratai and by extension the Nigerian Army as an institution. Known for his penchant to blackmail high ranking public officers, Buratai is Sowore’s unconquered territory – the one person who called his bluff without consequences. Buratai’s refusal to succumb to blackmail gave Sowore a blackeye as it opened the eyes of other public office holders to the possibility of calling Sahara Reporters’ bluff, which is bad for business and has led to the erosion of the cult following that the publication once enjoyed.
Since placing series of failed hits on the COAS, the shock and awe that come from being misrepresented on Sahara Reporters has become stuff that will only be reference in media studies book, like “How Not to Be a Journalist”. The failed attempt to tarnish the reputation of the Army and its leadership include the dubious comparative satellite images of mass graves for members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) somewhere in Kaduna state; a Commission of Inquiry which expert members couldn’t find the supposed mass grave afterwards. There was the staged video of soldiers protesting the quality of their food, but none of them stepped forward when authorities wanted to verify the claim. Sowore has published several videos targeted at projecting Boko Haram as a superior force without thoughts for how this constitute to promotion of terrorists’ propaganda. Added to the mix are salacious reports bordering on corruption in the army, but none has been proven beyond the playing to public opinion.
Sowore’s anger and frustration at Buratai’s growing relevance in the nation’s security architecture has seen him acted as the coordinator of several character assassination campaigns against him. Notable among such engagements are the attacks commissioned by Amnesty International, IMN, the opposition and in a few instances people that see themselves as heirs apparent in the Nigerian Army if Buratai is nudged out of the way. His misadventure as a presidential candidate with 38,000 votes was to earn him a badge that bestows the questionable immunity that the international interests procure for subversive agents that are executing their interests in Nigeria.
With the little insight into some of the things that are frustrating Sowore, it is then pertinent to touch on the failed issues raised in the interview in which he persistently asked his retired Sergeant Omorege guided questions to produce responses that they had apparently adequately rehearsed before the actual show. The greatest distortion in the interview is the universal use of the word “corrupt” to describe “most of the Nigerian Army senior officers,” which presupposes that it would not be possible to find suitable replacements for the current leadership when their tenure is done. It means Sowore would have appointed a sergeant as his Chief of Army Staff if he had the chance since all those of higher ranks are irredeemably corrupt. The flip side would be for the country to replace the entire army with the Civil Defence Corps or Sowore’s IMN clients.
Another fraudulent claim in the staged play is Omorege’s assertion that “The Nigerian Army officers don’t want the war to end because they know what they are doing and the business they are doing.” But in the next breadth he claimed that removing General Buratai as COAS will end the war. First, does this imply that whoever will succeed Buratai is not currently of the officer cadre and higher? Two, if removing Buratai will by default end the war, does it mean the ex-Sergeant and Sowore have a pact with Boko Haram that the exit of the COAS is the condition for ending their terrorism? Three, if Omorege was really ever in the army, would he have really described the act of laying one’s life down to secure the country as a business regardless of what shortcomings may exist? This nauseating assertion and the one that provided the platform for it to be made are irresponsible in the worst way conceivable.
Even more irresponsible is the claim that there is no big deal to Boko Haram. There is a big deal and it is a really big deal. The first big deal is that the likes of Sowore and his associates like Ahmad Salkida, the BringBackOurGirls crowd, Amnesty International and others are offering all manners of support to the terrorist group in addition to the third-party nations, whose geo-strategic interests and engagements directly or indirectly empowers the terrorists. Because Sowore is more vested in the bread and butter he gets from this blood-tainted engagement he either ignores this connection or is incapable of understanding the dynamics at play in this regard. The other big deal is that the Boko Haram criminality evolved into a franchise of ISIS (Islamic State), which internationalized their activities with the resulting drawbacks in efforts to flush them out.
Thirdly, the Nigerian military’s fight against Boko Haram’s terrorism is a big deal where weapons and other hardware are concerned. The activities of people like Sowore with his Sahara Reporters, Amnesty International and others that make it impossible for Nigeria to get the End User Certificates needed for such military procurements because they lie about human rights record. Boko Haram terrorists have no need for such certificates as Sowore’s clients readily supply them weapons under the cover of the night and even in broad daylight in recent times.
If the foregoing revealed a man desperate to the point of becoming unreasonable then what took the cake was the laughable assertion by the interviewee to “Let the troops on ground decide who they want, they’ll be motivated and happy to fight instead of bringing the lazy ones to lead the soldiers.” Like seriously? Even the United States where Sowore likely picked up his so-called democratic outlook from does not practice such insanity of allowing troops vote to choose who the military leader should be. The leadership of an Army is not a popularity contest; it is about experience, succession chain, competence and the discretion of the commander-in-chief.
Knowing Sowore and his past modus operandi, the interview with retired Sergeant Omorege is a false flag operation to test the waters and see the response of the state, especially at a time like this when attention is focused on containing the spread of the corona virus and managing the impact of the necessitated lockdown on the populace. When he used actors to stage troops’ dissatisfaction with food rations in the past and when he used masked persons as interview subjects previously the impact was incitement within the military.
It would seem whatever Sowore is planning right now is big, with the consequence that the federal government and the military services must not be caught napping. It will be a grave miscalculation to assume that Buratai is the target of this interview, the COAS has repeatedly proven to be a target greater than Sowore can handle. Sahara Reporters’ target seems to be a concerted effort to sow disaffection within the military in a manner that will lead to the overthrow of the government, something Sowore has always been in on since the opposition was trounced at the 2019 General Elections. Those who call the shots should watch him closely and take measures to derail his latest plot.
Abiodun is a public affairs analyst and wrote from Lagos.