Is Shittu’s ‘attack’ on Sowore part of the gimmicks old politicians like to play?

There should be more unstructured interviews between serving public officials and Nigerian citizens.

For many good reasons, the exchange between Minister of ICT, Adebayo Shittu, and Omoyele Sowore, the SaharaReporters publisher, on Fresh FM Ibadan gained traction on social media over the weekend. Sowore, a presidential aspirant for the 2019 elections, was in the ancient city for a town hall (essentially the first steps of his campaign) and was at the studios of the radio station at same time with the Minister.

What transpired, from what we see in the video, is a free and fiery conversation between both men, where Mr Sowore puts the Buhari government’s failures to Mr Shittu, promising the Minister that he will not be in his position by this time next year after he, Sowore, would have become president.

Perhaps predictably, the Minister’s response is hinged on the usual defense: that the SaharaReporters’ man is too young, a dreamer of a presidential aspirant who should rather contest for the Chairmanship of his local government. This is the standard procedure employed by established politicians to intimidate newcomers into the political sphere in order to make them feel insufficient for high office.

However, in addition to frequent recourse to “you’re not God” to Sowore’s unflinching and assured insistence that Buhari will be kicked out in 2019, the Minister’s dismissal of the 47-year old former union president as “inconsequential” was not just directed to him. It was Mr Shittu’s unconscious resentment and dismissal of the dreams of many young politicians.

There was more than a fair bit of vanity in Sowore’s claim to have dressed the horse on which the Buhari administration rode to power in 2015. It is arguable that he and his platform had more influence on the campaigns in shaping public opinion than anyone else. He may be a “disruptor” in media but not everyone got their news and relied on views from SaharaReporters in 2014 to make their electoral choices.

But Sowore, like many other Nigerians then, made contributions meaningful and significant in their own right to be regarded as anything but inconsequential. “Inconsequential” is definitely not the way to describe his interruption of a 2012 Occupy Nigeria event in New York where then Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Prof Viola Onwuliri, was scheduled to make an explanation on fuel hike but arrived late (and would not stand for the national anthem). And as images of his teenage days showing him beside MKO Abiola at a pro-democracy rally express, the man of many enemies has been long enough in the game for his youth to not be equated to irrelevance and noise-making.

In the Fresh FM conversation, Sowore mentioned the name of a staff of the Minister who had called him because the Minister would not call to prevent Sowore getting his phone number. That perhaps informed the Minister’s soft-pedal at the end, putting an arm around the publisher while wishing him to get a Ministerial position and advising him to use his money to take care of his wife.

It was a performance from the ‘dissuade and discourage’ playbook that has worked against many young politicians in the country but which Sowore, it does not appear, will heed and rightly so.

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