By Philip Agbese
The cobwebs should have cleared from the eyes of anyone previously in doubt about the shady dealings of online hitman and publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoleye Sowore, who was this week arrested over an alleged threat to life and blackmail of a London-based journalist, Lekan Fatodun. For those unfamiliar with Sowore’s activities, he is that chap that has been severally accused of desecrating the sanctity of the journalistic profession with his practice of cash for publication and blackmail.
He had remained beyond the reach of the law, criminal or civil, by strategically registering his operations in the United States where the victim of his blackmail and extortion racket find it difficult, if not impossible to bring lawsuits against him. The second layer of protection Sowore enjoys in peddling his tainted merchandise is the exploitation of the reader’s innocence that made him and his site, Sahara Reporters, appear like entities that are committed to exposing corruption. At such whenever the issue of his criminality is raised there is a horde on the ready to pour further abuses on his victims who are often accused of attempting to stifle freedom of expression by gagging the news site that exposes corruption.
However, this cannot be further from the truth. If Sowore’s Sahara Reporters is a whistleblowing anti-corruption platform then ISIS and Al-Qaeda are working for world peace. There have been several instances, discussed only in hushed tones since the victims are often themselves without blames, when stories are published after public office holders tried calling Sowore’s bluff.
There have also been allegations of damaging materials hitting the cyberspace even after the target of the smear campaign had previously “settled” but subsequently fails to outbid his political adversaries who paid more to have the material published. All these toxic stuff are lapped up by undiscerning readers, whose bitterness against the system does not allow them the reasoning capacity to ask probing questions about the veracity of what they read.
State institutions are not insulated in this high level blackmail network.
The much needed journalistic role of beaming the searchlight on public entities is perverted and converted into an extortion racket such that the Chief Executives that refuse to “cooperate” are demonized while the credibility of their institutions are destroyed. It was a matter of time before the “boys” wised up and running online news sites became a money spinning machine – like Sahara Reporters, foreign saboteurs are either financing the sites to undermine Nigeria or the publishers threaten people with the publication of documents if specific ransoms are not paid. That is definitely not a legacy to bequeath a nation’s new media space.
This party would have gone on without interruption had Sowore known to leave well alone. Dogs should not eat dogs but someone emboldened by successively blackmailing politically exposed persons can scarcely resist the temptation of trying to shake down a fellow ‘publisher’ in the hope of making further windfall from the famed armsgate money. He consequently made a false call on Lekan Fatodu who is the publisher of Checkout International Magazine.
Fatodu wrote on his Facebook wall, ”I just got Sowore Omoyele of Saharareporters arrested for criminal defamation and blackmail and threat to my life and career. Sowore lied against me that I was used as a front to receive N1.7 billion of the National Security Adviser’s funds. My refusal to agree to Sowore’s demands and cut from the fictitious money made him to viciously attack my personality on his website. And imagine this is someone I’ve known and I’ve been assisting for almost 20 years. We are still at the police station, and hopefully we be going to the court tomorrow.”
For the sake of fairness, which Sowore’s many victims never enjoyed, one must acknowledge that the Sahara Reporters’ publisher claimed that “After the police “intervened” soon as I was attacked by Lekan Fatodu and his friends in Lagos, we were taken to the (Commissioner of Police) CP’s office. It turned out that the CP 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. It is obvious that this was planned between Lekan Fatodu and the police. ’’
A few things have been confirmed from the two accounts. One, Fatodu’s revelation has proven what has always been said about that scum publication. It exists only to arm twist politicians into parting with money. If Fatodu truly laundered the armsgate money for politicians and Sowore has the facts one would expect that he should hit the headlines with it or turn in the information to the EFCC.
Secondly, as some writers had claimed before, the New York address for both Sowore and Sahara Reporters is a scam. He allegedly sneaks into Nigeria, on a fortnightly basis sometimes, on a collection round since the blackmail money received in dollars has to be physically retrieved so that there would be no trail to trigger the interest of US law enforcement agencies.
Thirdly, it has now emerged that anyone that calls Sowore’s bluff faces more than the risk of having damaging contents published about them. They could also become targets of assassination as the complaint of threat to life that was lodged with the police has proven.
Additionally, familiarity or close relations with Sowore offers no protection when it is time for him to unleash blackmail. Not even 20 years of being kindred spirits can insulate one from his greed and if breaking the law would make his victim pay up so be it.
Furthermore, Sowore’s account of event has proven that whatever content the unfortunate readers of his site have consumed in the past years consist more of lies than truth. Whatever facts are included are intended to serve the kind of functions that colouring, sweetener and flavourings serve in junk food – to disguise the poor quality ingredients that make up the bulk of the sweet poison.
He simply went on to continue the aggression he has pursued against the Nigerian Police as an institution and even told a lie as ridiculous as “he (Commissioner of Police) pulled out a supposed petition written by Lekan from his hat”. Except Sowore wants to claim this was intended figuratively, what law enforcement officer will keep a petition on threat to life in his hat?
He accused the police of colluding with Fatodu. This was to be expected. Fortunately, there are positives. Fatodu is not a public official or the headline would have been that the government has clamped down on freedom of the press. His accuser is of the same ethnic extraction and possibly of the same faith so the other parochial excuses will not fly.
This hangman and professional character assassin has personally walked himself to judgment and the police must escort him to the dock. Some of his followers have sought to make light of the situation by bandying the phrase “civil case” around. Blackmail and threat to life are criminal matters not civil cases that should me subjected to mediation. The police will thus do well to resist the temptation of succumbing to pressure to order a mutual settlement between Fatodu and Sowore, whose countless victims should by this development gain the boldness to come forward and confidentially furnish information about how they were blackmailed in the past.
The time to act is now and giving this character a chance to explore his second strike capabilities would be disastrous not just for the media but for those he has threatened with any form of violence. It is time to retire this hangman. Owners of other sites that operate on his model should take this as notice of their retirement. He is a demon.
For Sowore, the noose he is in the habit of putting around his victims’ necks now tightens around him. That aura of invisibility has been dissipated and the true identity of the human behind the masquerade unveiled. Even if Sowore talks himself out of this Syrian bind of a mess the point has been proven that Sahara Reporters is not a ghost site and like every media outfit the organisation and the goons behind it are accountable for their deeds before law enforcement, in court and here on earth.
Agbese writes from the United Kingdom.