Prof. Remi Sonaiya is a retired Professor of French and Applied Linguistics. She voluntarily retired from the Obafemi Awolowo University in 2010 in other to go into politics. She was KOWA Party‘s Presidential candidate in the 2015 elections and an aspirant in the 2019 general elections. In this interview with our Assistant Editor, CHINWE MADUAGWU, she spoke on a wide range of issues.
TNE: You have been in politics for about eight years, what has been your experience?
I have come to realise how so important politicians are in our lives. Politicians determine the quality of living of the people at least in Nigeria. It was that realisation that made me leave academics in the first place, but now I have come to see it even more as I have been involved, participated and moved around politicians. Having seen them at close range, it has struck me more and more and what has also been laid upon my heart is how it is so sad that Nigerians have not realised that and they still allow themselves to be hoodwinked by politicians.
TNE: Narrowing it down to your participation in the 2015 elections, what was your experience like?
That would be my first experience running for any office as a politician and people were like ‘ you just went right to the top.’ It was a very interesting time for me. I enjoyed myself thoroughly. I found myself in a different kind of environment and atmosphere different from what I had known up until then. And I loved it. I found it sort of energising. In fact, some saw me and were surprised that I was not looking stressed and that was because I wasn’t stressed. I was having the time of my life, doing something I felt passionate and convinced about. I really, really enjoyed myself.
TNE: A lot of women cite late night meetings and violence as some of the reasons they do not want to participate in politics. Didn’t such things bother you?
We did not have late night meetings in KOWA Party and there was no violence in our party. Maybe that was part of the reasons I chose the party. Having seen all the violence in many of the big parties, I knew I would feel odd among them; you would be constantly up against maybe violent people, corrupt people, people who were bent on imposing candidates, people who could not bear for you to say ‘hey this idea we’re going to debate it and let the best idea win; like we have seen in the recent congresses of the All Progressives Congress (APC) party. It is still that kind of a political culture, which right from the start I did not want to be a part of. So, when I heard about KOWA party, I joined them. It was put together by technocrats, people who had their jobs, they were not political jobbers, but people who sincerely desired to see a change in the way Nigeria was being run. I knew that I would fit in there.
TNE: You are coming out again in 2019, what are you going to offer Nigerians? Why should they vote for you?
I think Nigerians should be tired of the people they have voted for so far. Even the last elections where everyone was up in arms that ‘this is the change we want,’ what has it brought them? I think it is time Nigerians gave themselves real choices, different choices. This mentality of it’s not A, it’s B and that’s all the choice we have must stop. People say to me ‘Oh, you’re not in the right party;’ what’s the right party? The same parties that have put Nigerians in this terrible state? I don’t understand Nigerians’ thinking. You are suffering and yet you are insisting that the people who are causing you to suffer are still the ones people should join. I don’t understand that logic at all. I hope that Nigerians will open their eyes and their minds, maybe, and really understand. Should you continue to vote for people who have messed up your lives? What do we have to show for the years of rule that we have had under these parties? What do we have to show for the huge amount of resources that have been at the disposal of this nation? Why are we still running away? Why are young people still fleeing by droves? Why are we all still rushing to behold the wonders of Dubai and so on when we have had so much money than they have had come into their coffers.
TNE: If you find yourself at Aso Rock, what are the major programmes you intend to pursue?
I believe in the restructuring of Nigeria. That’s a major issue for me. This centralized system that we have been running, based on a Constitution, which was military and imposed on us makes absolutely no sense to me. It is part of the reason why we continue to be under-developed when the Federal Government sits upon all the resources in the country and just distributes to states, that’s not the way to development. It should be clear to everybody by now. I’m not afraid of losing power. I believe it is better to devolve power to the states, regions and local governments so that the resources are under the control of the people who are there. Let them exploit it for their benefit and then let them pay whatever we will determine to the Federal Government and the Federal government will focus on that which is it’s duty namely; the security of this entity called Nigeria and our relationship with the world. All these Federal Government running secondary schools and all such stuff is ridiculous to me.
The second one is education; Nigerians can never be competitive enough with the kind of education we are running and with the kind of resources we are putting into education. I believe UNESCO recommends 26% of the total budget for education, we have less than 10%. We are not serious. If we want to be competitive in this world, if we want Nigeria to be among the topmost economies in the world, we have to educate our people properly. The human resources we have cannot be left to chance to harzard, and we think that somehow we would come out on the other side on top. Things do not work like that in the world.
TNE: Electioneering is expensive in Nigeria, do you have sponsors? How do you deal with the financial issues?
Yes, elections are expensive in Nigeria, but one realises that a lot of the money spent in Nigeria on election is wasted. It is wasted in buying votes from people. We all have heard what happened during the last elections. We were told that former President Goodluck Jonathan allegedly went around distributing huge sums of money, even in dollars to people all over the country. That is wasting our money, if the money came from the coffers of the government as we realise it probably did given the discoveries that were made after the elections.
A lot of money is also wasted on mounting all these big rallies with different uniforms for every state and so on and so forth. I don’t believe in money being wasted. Think if all the money had been spent on our secondary schools, on our primary schools, it would have served a greater purpose; the children are learning in terrible conditions, dilapidated structures and so on and you are handing out huge sums of money for votes. I find it incongruous, it does not make sense to me. So I want to distance myself from that kind of spending. However, money is important just to travel around, to move among people, get close to them, tell them your programmes and interact with them. For all that, you need money, so I’m hoping that Nigerians who are seeking a change, a true change this time around, will put their money where their mouth is. Nigerians up until now have been used to this culture of politicians giving the voters money, the right way of doing things is for voters to support politicians with their money. We are quick to say yes Obama did it. It’s time to come and do it in Nigeria. Let people bring their N500, N1,000, their N5, 000 and contribute. That will help people like me who have no stolen money to get out there and be able to share with people what we have to offer.
TNE: At the last elections, Mrs. Sarah Jubril got only two votes as a Presidential aspirant when women are said to make up about 54% of the population. Why should that be so?
Actually, what happened with Mrs. Jubril was that she was an aspirant in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and actually she was the only that voted for herself. So obviously, she did not become a candidate. However, it’s the system that we have known so far. I know that things are changing now. There will be more women next time. I am certain about that. I have seen two or three women who have shown interest in running in this race. Whether they will emerge as the candidates of their parties is not clear. Even myself, it is not clear whether I will emerge the candidate of my party because there are three people who have indicated interest in running.
TNE: But generally, how do you see women’s participation in politics?
Very low. It’s very poor and it’s a shame really on Nigeria that a country with such powerful women in different areas, who have demonstrated their capabilities, are not found in politics. Why is it that the Nigerian women have been kept off politics. We have just about seven per cent of women in the National Assembly, Rwanda has over 60% of women in her Parliament. This is a direct challenge to the Nigerian women and I would like to call on us directly here; ‘Nigerian women, don’t let the men scare you out of the political realm. All the violence, all the corruption and so on, don’t let them use it to scare us away. Choose parties you know that are good, that respect women, they respect democratic principles and so on, then come out. Those of you that are tough, go into those established parties and contest with them. We owe it as a duty not only to ourselves as women; we have to prove ourselves in politics, we’ve proven ourselves in entertainment, in academia and other areas why not in politics. Let’s please take that seriously.
Secondly, we owe it to our children and our children’s children. It’s the future of the country that we are talking about and we’ve got to build it.
TNE: Do you believe in the 35% affirmative action? That positions should be reserved for women?
Normally, I’m not the affirmative action kind of person. I don’t like the sense of an exception being made for me. It’s never worked with me. If it’s academics, we will compete, just judge me fairly and squarely like you will judge the others and that’s how I have functioned so far. However, I think it might be necessary to have some degree of affirmative action for Nigerian women because I think our situation is so critical and we need to quickly put women in positions. Some degree of affirmative action might be necessary.
TNE: So for the 2019 elections, what’s your message to Nigerians especially the youths?
Let me use a common parlance in Nigeria: ‘Shine your eyes,’ don’t be duped anymore, refuse to be duped. We have the opportunity to change the narrative for ourselves, to change the quality of our lives. Get out of this mindset that, ‘this is the political class, they have the right.’ They don’t have any more right to Nigeria and its resources than any one of us does, than the little girl on the street or the lame man. Everybody is a Nigerian we must be cared for. Choose the right people, people with integrity, people with compassion, people who will not waste the resources, people who will not steal our money so that all of us can have decent, dignified lives.