Thursday, last week, a friend called me from Hawaii and drew my attention to something published against me in Sahara Reporters by Sahara Reporters (SR). The friend did not call me necessarily because she believed the publication. In fact, she knew SR to be a junk lying outfit from hell. She merely drew my attention to it anyway. Other than this, only about two more people bothered to mention SR’s latest publication about me, and that was because I asked them. Apparently, most people now laugh knowingly when they read or hear about me in SR’s publications. They now dismiss SR outright as a joke, and rightly so. (Permit me to write in third-person henceforth).SR’s fixation on Emeka Ugwuonye, more than on any other single Nigerian, has been SR’s greatest undoing. Nigerians may have problem recognizing propaganda, but Nigerians are not fools as such. They ultimately figure it out. They understood that there must be some reason SR is so fixated on this lawyer, Emeka Ugwuonye.
Also, people generally understand that if every year SR report stories about Emeka Ugwuonye, at some point people would expect to see the truth in what they report. SR reported that Emeka Ugwuonye was a finished man, that he was “convicted of crimes” and was going to jail, that he was jailed for some crime, etc. These stories have gone on for 4 years now. People would have expected to see the end of Emeka Ugwuonye by now.
But guess what! SR just reported last week that Emeka Ugwuonye lost his appeal, that Emeka Ugwuonye set up a fake human right group, that Emeka Ugwuonye did this and did that. That is when everybody started laughing at SR. How come that the man you reported to be convicted is there setting up human right groups, whether false or real group? If he was finished last year, what appeal are you reporting now? Or oh, if there was an appeal last year, how come you never mentioned that? How come that the “criminal” is free, setting up anything, defending people in courts and fighting those who once detained him? When will the stories of SR start being true? How come they continue to believe that people are fools and would believe everything they write?
Of course, Emeka Ugwuonye founded a human right group. That group is real. That group is hitting hard right now. That group has cases pending in courts challenging the Attorney-General of Nigeria to do his job and to protect the rights of Nigerians. That group is challenging Ministers and top Government officials to stop abusing the rights of the people. That group is calling the attention of Nigerian Government to several inequities in this country. That group is fighting against corruption, particularly corruption perpetrated by law enforcement officials in Nigeria. That group is now fighting the police authorities for the rape of an inmate in detention by an officer and for the brutalization of a food vendor by a police officer. So, that group is real, and not fake, as SR has told their readers. Indeed, tomorrow, Monday, April 28, 2014, that group is in the Lagos State High Court, before Justice D. O. Oluwayemi, fighting for the release of a man abusively prosecuted by the EFCC. Anybody who doubts can come to court tomorrow to see. How more real does SR want Ugwuonye’s rights group to be?
WHAT IS SAHARA REPORTERS’ PROBLEM THEN?
Very simple to explain! Omoyele Sowore, a former geography student of University of Lagos (Unilag), from a rather miserable home, which was worse than being poor, needed power and influence so badly. (Don’t get it wrong – there is nothing bad in being poor and there is nothing bad in wanting to acquire power, provided that you act honorably). He lacked the ability to get admission to study law. He didn’t even bother trying. Yet, he was enamored of the works of great lawyers like Gani Fawehinmi and Olisa Agbakoba. However, the closest he got to those men was to match in some of the rallies and protests organized by them. (Sowore disclosed this under oath during the time Emeka Ugwuonye cross-examined him). Sowore came to some notoriety when he became a student union activist in Unilag and ran around causing various mischiefs in the name of students’ union activism. What Sowore called activism was nothing other than unruly conducts and cult activities within Unilag and its environs.
Sowore never achieved anything of importance, not even passing his geography exams well. He managed to get into trouble a lot, including an incident where he was accused of raping a woman (a female student in Unilag). The rape case was under investigation by the then Police Commissioner, Mike Okiro, when Sowore managed to get a visa for the US and fled from the rape investigation. Never mind that he lied to the US authorities and his friends about why he was leaving Nigeria.
Unable to get a real job in America, Sowore had to really scramble for something. Consistent with his trouble-making potential, he saw an opportunity with the Erendu Reports. This was one of the earliest cases where a Nigerian used blogging as an opportunity to disseminate news and report on events on Nigeria. Nigeria is a country of secrecy. Secrecy gives way to rumors and superstition. Where a government conducts its business in utter secrecy and lies, as is the case with Nigerian government over the years, a culture of superstition, rumors and conspiracy-prone mindset exists in the people. With that as a background, a Nigerian blogger seven years ago could suddenly become influential and gain attention quickly by harnessing and peddling rumors and gossips in place of journalism. Sowore saw that opportunity while working for Erendu Reports, owned by another Nigerian, Mr. Erendu.
Sowore also saw the opportunity for scamming, blackmailing and extorting money from people. But Erendu Report was not doing that well or fast enough for the dark, criminal minded Sowore. He needed an outfit of his own. That was how Sahara Reporters was born.
We are in an age of information control. Even before the truly smart people could fully appreciate it, Sowore understood how to package propaganda messages into an easily consumable format. And he has benefited immensely from it, simply by being able to tell fantastic and damaging lies about powerful people and feed these lies to a population so terribly starved of truth that it believes nearly everything.
SAHARA REPORTERS ALMOST SUCCEEDED IN FOOLING EVERYBODY.
Sowore and Sahara Reporters almost succeeded. But they encountered a lawyer called Emeka Ugwuonye and discovered that the lawyer would not retreat like most other people that they had encountered.
Emeka Ugwuonye was a perfect target for SR because he had an untarnished name when SR first attacked him. Emeka was more like a gold pot. He had moved from his struggling years as a fresh graduate of the Nigerian Law School in Lagos to Harvard Law School and World Bank, where he was counsel; and had established a dynamic international law practice in Washington DC. Emeka’s only mistake was that he accepted to work for Nigerian Government and its Washington Embassy without appreciating the dangers inherent in that or being prepared well to deal with that. That exposure ultimately led to conflict. And that created opportunity that SR tried to exploit.
Without his quarrel with the Nigerian Government, Emeka Ugwuonye was destined to clash with SR. In fact, as far back as early 2008, Emeka’s law office was flooded with complaints from many people who had been falsely damaged by SR. The stories were consistent – how SR lied against them because their opponent paid SR money and how SR had tried to extort money from them to avoid publishing something damaging about them. Despite his reluctance, Emeka was forced to confront SR with a warning to cease and desist from blackmailing their victims. SR understood that Emeka’s bold intentions were going to kill their business that was based on blackmail and extortion. The quarrel between Emeka and the Government of Nigeria was a watershed for SR. Indeed, the first time Emeka sued SR, SR reported the story as the Nigerian Government using its lawyer, Emeka Ugwuonye, to kill SR. That characterization was based on the fact that Emeka was already on his way to deal with SR.
Despite the appearances, SR has been so badly bruised by its fight with Emeka Ugwuonye. Both BBC and Al Jazeera considered at some point using SR as part of their Nigerian news coverage given what looked then as SR’s impressive following. But when they read about SR’s fight with Emeka Ugwuonye, each of these media groups contacted Emeka Ugwuonye to hear his side. At the end, it was clear that SR was not the type of website they could associate with.
Also, through their fights with Emeka, even the average Nigerian reader has come to realize that SR are not what they thought. The are just another jungle manipulator of lies. Nobody today is taken seriously if he sites SR as the source of news he has. Thanks to SR’s fight with Emeka Ugwuonye.
WHAT HAPPENED OVER TIME
A few things have changed over time. When the Nigerian Government attacked Emeka unjustly, Emeka counter attacked. Emeka had to confront the Government, particularly the Attorney General and the EFCC, for their involvement in corruption and abuse of rights. That forced EFCC and SR into an alliance to fight Emeka jointly.
That alliance was first perfected by Femi Babafemi, the then media assistant to the Chairman of the EFCC. The deal was simple: the EFCC would help frustrated the case Emeka filed against SR in Maryland by detaining Emeka in Nigeria under a phony charge. In return SR would stop publishing against the EFCC and its Chairman. The deal worked. But it has gone beyond that. Even after Femi Babafemi was booted out of the EFCC by internal wrangling, the new media adviser of the EFCC continued with the deal in place. SR even grew to a point of becoming EFCC’s bulletin today.
At present, Emeka Ugwuonye has more than 25 cases against the EFCC for abuse of rights. These cases, as they develop, would expose finally the criminality that is called the EFCC. The EFCC leadership is very worried. You only look at the cases pending in court to understand why they would be worried. They cannot continue to sponsor lies against Emeka Ugwuonye in the local newspapers as they once used to do, partly because Nigerians are no longer believing those lies and partly because they don’t really have the budget to attack Emeka in that old fashioned manner. Yet, in his own ways, Emeka continued to inform Nigerians that the EFCC and its management are steeped deep in corruption and inefficiency. The more Emeka tells Nigerians the truth about the EFCC, the more desperate EFCC becomes. And their only remaining option, short of outright attempt at Emeka’s life again, is to use SR to peddle more rumors against Emeka. What is really baffling is the EFCC’s failure to see that it already failed.
Indeed, the failure of the EFCC and SR to discredit Emeka was so dramatically apparent last July. Their concern then was that Emeka was becoming “too popular” and almost like a “rock star”. They were so desperate they enlisted the support of other outfits – Premium Times and TELL Magazine – to attack Emeka Ugwuonye. But these media outfits failed woefully because they had nothing else to add to the narrative except to repeat the same lines that SR had peddled for four years to no avail.
THE FUTURE OF THIS FIGHT
Emeka has repeatedly predicted that he would win and his opponents would lose in the end. That is evident in the fact that after four years of falsely publishing that Emeka was convicted of crime, all they could now accuse him of is that he set up a “fake” human right organization. He is not perishing as these people had predicted. Indeed, his enemies’ new worry is not that he is not perishing fast enough, but that he is bouncing back with a strong civil right movement against oppression and injustice in Nigeria.
They have resorted to some silly stories about Emeka’s sister. The fact has always been stated that the Ugwuonye family, like many other families, has a problem centered on the mental health of the only daughter in the family, that is Emeka’s younger sister, Ifesinachi Ugwuonye. Emotional but totally outlandish claims of Ifesinachi at her moment of relapse have been exploited to insult Emeka Ugwuonye. Of course, Ifesinachi Ugwuonye had absolutely no hand in Emeka Ugwuonye’s bail during his detention. Indeed, at that time Emeka was worried that he could not help save his sister’s third marriage from collapse, as he has done over the years. She was never in a position to play any meaningful role in his bail application. That fact is obvious because the lawyers that represented Ugwuonye during the time are well known. And each lawyer knows who instructed him and who was to pay his fees. Yet, the Ugwuonyes know that their sister was capable of exaggerated and unfounded stories due to her condition. That does not bother Emeka in the least, except his concern for the wellbeing of his sister.
The story ends with the fact that after four years of propaganda and lies, Emeka Ugwuonye is not down as falsely claimed by SR. Rather, he is fighting hard to protect the rights of many Nigerians who have been so brutalized and abused by their own Government. At this point, Sahara Reporters are just distractions that do not deserve much attention