There was heated exchange between Nigeria’s communication minister, Adebayo Shittu, and a presidential aspirant, Omoyele Sowore, on a public affairs radio programme in Ibadan on Saturday.
Mr Sowore, publisher of SaharaReporters, was in Ibadan in continuation of his campaign efforts. He arrived Lagos from the UK earlier in the week.
The programme was held on Fresh FM, Ibadan, owned by foremost broadcaster and musician, Yinka Ayefele.
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The interview had barely kicked off when the debate became heated.
“Minister, it is great to see you. This is the minister of an outgoing regime; the Buhari regime will be kicked off power by 2019,” Mr Sowore said shortly after the programme began.
He had barely concluded his introductory statement when Mr Shittu fired back, saying the Sahara Reporters’ publisher is a dreamer.
“By your wish or by God’s wish? You are just dreaming. You are a day dreamer” he said in response to Mr Sowore’s claim to which the presidential hopeful replied saying, “By the wish of the people of Nigeria, Sir. It is not a dream. It is the realisation you’d wake up to on February 15.”
Mr Shittu retorted: “Sowore, what’s your electoral worth? Whether in your Ife (sic), home or any part of this country.” Mr Sowore replied: “My electoral worth brought you to power in 2015. Nobody even heard about many of you in 2014.”
The minister thereafter said the Sahara Reporters publisher didn’t know about him because he was inconsequential in politics. “You are inconsequential…” he said.
In defence, Mr Sowore said he was consequential because Mr Shittu and others came to power by the efforts of young Nigerians like him.
He said, “I am consequential because you came to power on my back, on our back… on the back of young people who invested a lot of hope.”
In response, the minister described the publisher as a mere noise-maker. “What did you invest? Did you invest more than me, No? I will not sit here and allow someone make noise…You are just a noisemaker. You are just a noisemaker.”
The Sahara Reporters publisher thereafter warned that the minster’s conduct was typical of the same way handlers of former President Goodluck Jonathan treated Nigerians before they were defeated at the polls in 2015.
“This was the same way Jonathan people were sounding in 2014… you are gonna be shocked in 2019,” Mr Sowore said. On accusations by the minister that he was a dreamer and that his statements were politically motivated, he said: “The Nigeria of the future is for dreamers like me.”
Apparently angered by Mr. Sowore’s statements, Mr. Shittu said: “You think the presidency is for people like you? Go and start from being a councillor. I have been a member of the House of Assembly, I was a commissioner twice, I was already a lawyer… you wouldn’t know, you were too small. How old are you? How old are you? This is not a platform for minions like you to come… you think the presidency is something you can just buy in a market place? You are a giant in university politics (and) by the grace of God you will be put to shame.”
The anchor of the programme, Isaac Brown, momentarily brought the situation under control but the coordinated conversation didn’t last long before it turned into a shouting match yet again.
When asked to explain the rationale for vying for the presidency, the 47-year-old publisher said he had been around for thirty years fighting for the betterment of the country. He also said he had built a media platform whose reportage help bring the present government into power.
“That’s rubbish!” Mr Shittu fired back. “I have been in politics since you were born. For forty years, I have been in politics and I was already a lawyer before I joined politics forty years ago. You can’t be here and talk rubbish.
“This is rubbish! You want to become president? You are a day dreamer. Who will make you president? You will be president of your Ife… not Nigeria. Go and be president in Ife. You think it is cheap as that? We will see…”
On the #NotTooYoungToRun initiative, Mr Sowore said it was not enough for the youth to simply contest on the basis of their being young.
“You have to take power because we are responsible and should be responsible for it. That’s why we are having a heated argument here. I have been doing this for thirty years; by next year, it will be thirty years. We are the ones that fought for the democracy they are enjoying today,” he said.
Few weeks back, an ex-aide to Mr Shittu had in an open letter accused the minister of gross abuse of power, accumulation of ill-gotten wealth and refusal to pay his aides’ allowances. The long letter, which was circulated widely online, was also published by SaharaReporters. The minister would later refute the allegations and challenge the aide to publish evidences of his alleged ill-gotten wealth.
In the course of the programme on Saturday, Mr Shittu accused the publisher of publishing falsehood against him without contacting him to verify the fact, an accusation to which Mr. Sowore replied by saying the minister barely picked his calls and reply messages.
“We do (contact affected parties in a story for reaction) but they don’t react until they get into trouble,” he said. “I have your (Mr. Shittu) telephone number… I called you. I had sent you text messages even before now but because you think I am inconsequential, you ignored me.”
Mr Shittu, who said Mr Sowore needs ‘mentoring’, thereafter threatened to sue the SaharaReporters publisher over the said publication.
“Minister, you know what Fela said: take me to court and I will open book for you,” Mr Sowore said amidst laughter.