At demos, Omoyele Sowore makes sure to bring an extra pair of pants, toothpaste and a bar of soap -- and he never forgets his toothbrush. Now at age 34, Sowore has been detained enough times during Nigeria's long struggle for democracy to know that these provisions can come in handy.
His activism began in 1989, when he took part in student demonstrations protesting the conditions of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan of $120 million to be used for a Nigerian oil pipeline -- the IMF loan conditions were to reduce the number of universities in the country from 28 to just 5.
In 1992 at University of Lagos, Sowore led 2,000 students in protest against Nigeria's notorious kleptocracy. Police opened fire, killing seven. Sowore was arrested, interrogated and beaten, and later found out his family too had been put under pressure. But he refused to back down in the struggle for decent education in his country, and was soon elected executive president of the university students union.
Since then, it hasn't exactly been plain sailing. He's been imprisoned eight times and tortured, but he remains committed. "We've had supposed democracy for 6 and a half years and people still can't eat," he says. "Who has benefited? There's no basic health care. We don't have running water. We don't have electricity, no basic education. Right now, Nigeria is a leaking basket. Shell and Chevron are among the biggest corporations in the world and they have benefited only a few people, the clique that runs the country. The Niger Delta area is polluted, occupied and heavily militarized. People get killed on behalf of the major oil companies everyday, that cannot be right."
Human rights groups estimate that in the last 10 years military factions acting on behalf of multinational oil companies have killed more than 2,000 people in the Niger Delta.
Currently abroad being treated for the effects of torture, Sowore is adamant he'll return to Nigeria. "Change will not come to Nigeria on a platter of gold," he insists. "If you want justice, you have to fight for it."
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