The former presidential candidate of KOWA, Professor Remi Sonaiya, speaks about her experience as her party’s frontrunner in 2015 and efforts by other women to break the glass ceiling:
At the last election, you were basically the only woman making a presidential run. What was that experience like for you?
It was a great experience, one that I found deeply fulfilling. You set out to do something, and you do it to the best of your ability. I didn’t look at the other candidates, trying to compare myself to them; I ran my own race and gave it my all. I enjoyed going around, meeting people and giving interviews. I could feel the pulse of the nation. I have written an account of the whole experience in a book which I entitled, “One Woman’s Race.”
This time around, you couldn't get your party's ticket. Was the process leading to the primary fair to you or did you experience any kind of bias?
I would say that the process was largely fair. Of course, there were some things I didn’t fully agree with. For example, our NEC made a lot of noise that the presidential candidates would be required to do a written examination, which we did.
But then, for some reason I didn’t understand, they decided not to publish the results of the exam. There were three of us – two men and myself; and I know that I did very well in the exam. Anyway, on the whole I think the people voted for the person they wanted. That is democracy.
Some people thought that I could have gone to another party and gained their presidential ticket. No, I don’t do things like that. I believe we should really commit ourselves to building strong political institutions that adhere to global standards.
Are you going to stand by the presidential candidate of KOWA party in the upcoming elections?
A lot of things are still up in the air. As you know, KOWA Party is a member of CUPP, and talks are ongoing regarding the selection of a common “opposition” candidate. There are other similar initiatives as well. I’m waiting to see how things will develop.
Former Education Minister, Oby Ezekwesili, is getting a lot of notice in the presidential run. What do you think her chances of winning are?
To be honest with you, I don’t like to answer questions that require me to predict the future. How would I be able to tell what her chances are, given the number of people who will be voting and all the variables that will come into play?
Nigerians have facts to judge her by – her professional qualification and experience, her performance as a two-time minister, and her social activism; but will Nigerians decide that those would be more important than the fact that she’s a woman, which region of the country she comes from, and what her religion is? I don’t know what will happen. It is after the elections that we will be able to tell.
You contested under a platform that is not known for election victories at the state or federal level. Ezekwesili is doing the same today. Are the major parties less accommodating to women?
First, let me make a correction; KOWA Party won a seat in the Bayelsa State House of Assembly in 2011, and then our candidate won in the election conducted in Imo State a few months ago. However, on the matter of how the major parties treat women, there is no doubt that it is very much a men’s affair in those parties, sadly.
The voice of the godfathers (who obviously double as the moneybags) is very strong. They pay the piper, so they dictate the tune. Their word is law. It’s a pity, though, that they haven’t understood that a more inclusive system would be of immense benefit to the nation. But then, maybe the benefit to the nation is not their primary objective.
Our NEC made a lot of noise that the presidential candidates would be required to do a written examination, which we did. But then, for some reason I didn’t understand, they decided not to publish the results of the exam. There were three of us – two men and myself; and I know that I did very well in the exam. Anyway, on the whole I think the people voted for the person they wanted.
We just saw records being shattered in Ethiopia with an equal number of ministers appointed, a female president and even a female Chief Justice. Is it time for affirmative action in Nigeria?
I think so. I have now arrived at a situation where I believe that we can no longer leave our fate to the goodwill of the parties or the political power-brokers. Some countries have decided to pass legislation on how different segments of the society would be represented in government – the percentage of women, youth, the military, people with disabilities.
In fact, it is said that almost half of the countries in the world today have introduced some form of quota for gender representation in their parliament. Maybe it’s time for Nigeria to go that way too. Otherwise, we would just be wasting our time talking while the situation remains the same. It’s a real shame on Nigeria – just about six per cent female representation in government.
The voice of the godfathers (who obviously double as the moneybags) is very strong. They pay the piper, so they dictate the tune. Their word is law. It’s a pity, though, that they haven’t understood that a more inclusive system would be of immense benefit to the nation.
Do you think the high cost of nomination forms in the APC discouraged a lot of women and young people from participating in the electoral process?
I guess so. But the question is: Why are they insisting on running on the APC platform? Aren’t there other parties? They don’t want to do the work of building the needed party structures; they want a party that has all the structures in place already. Well, those who put those structures in place are using them to protect and further their own interests.
You are known to be passionate about the less privileged in society. What do you think is missing in the blueprints of the major parties?
I’m not sure it’s so much a question of what is missing in their blueprints as of their individual and collective greed which blinds their eyes from considering the needs of others. Of course, there should be policies and even legislation to ensure that the vulnerable in society, and those with special needs, are taken care of.
I don’t think the bill on people living with disabilities has yet been passed into law. How long do we have to wait? But beyond that, there needs to be a conscientisation of the entire society to the needs of our vulnerable sub-populations.
I am particularly pleased that there are more women and young people getting interested. This gives me hope that sooner than later, our terrible political culture will begin to be transformed – that is, with the newcomers adopting global best practices.
What is next for you in politics?
I continue to be quite active, attending workshops and conferences and helping to mentor some of the younger people coming up in politics. I am particularly pleased that there are more women and young people getting interested. This gives me hope that sooner than later, our terrible political culture will begin to be transformed – that is, with the newcomers adopting global best practices. I also continue to be involved in building KOWA Party, which is a real challenge, because most Nigerians do not expect high moral standards in politics