“A Woman Has Never Been President, Young People Have Been Head of State” – Presidential Aspirant, Remi Sonaiya

After having retired from the academia in 2010 to pursue politics, she became Nigerian’s only female presidential candidate under KOWA party in the 2015 presidential election.

Our guest is Remi Sonaiya, retired professor of over 30 years teaching French language and applied linguistics at the Obafemi Awolowo University.

NewsWireNGR’s Ohakpougwu Chinwendu caught up with her to discuss her perceptions about elections in Nigeria, and expectations for the forthcoming 2019 election.


Read Excerpts of the interview…


Q: What informed your decision to contest in 2015’s presidential elections?

A: I was sick and tired of being in a country where things were not working. I do quite a bit of traveling as an academic, attending conferences and constantly confronted with that issue of why do other societies run better. I finally got fed up with just writing articles about how bad our system is. I felt that we must have left our affairs in the hands of the wrong people in Nigeria, so I thought: do what you have to do – get into the fray.

Q: What was the reaction like when you told family and friends that you wanted to be president?

A: I did not have any negative experience at all. Members of my family were very supportive. I guess people knew that I cared about social issues and things like that. I was very happy to have good support, of course, it did not mean plenty of money but at least I had a lot of goodwill.

Q: How did you feel when eventually you didn’t emerge winner of the 2015 presidential elections?


A: I did not consider myself as having lost anything. I was very happy that I did what I felt I had to do. Our sense of what failure and success means might sometimes be rather skewed. Maybe also it depends on what goals you set for yourself. I believed that I achieved far beyond what I could ever have imagined getting into politics.


Q: Since after 2015, what have you been actively engaged in?


A: In building a party and I tell you it is a huge, huge job. Why? Because our thinking about politics in Nigeria is so wrong. We think of politics as this dirty game they moneybags play, they get plenty of money- however, they get it only God knows but they use it to put into power the people that they want and the people play along with that. So when you go out trying to campaign and engage with people, they’re thinking “Where’s the money?” That’s what we are used to: “Where’s the money. What? You think this is just about talking? No, it’s about bringing out the cash and then we will support you”. So it is a humongous task that we have to turn things around in the country.


Q: In what ways have you been constructively criticising the current APC led administration?


A: I don’t know if you realize that I am a very strong Twitter person. (Laughs). I make comments on the handling of issues, like the handling of the Chibok and Dapchi girls. We have just heard that some of the Dapchi girls have been released. I’m sure we are not going to get any details of what actually happened. We are running a very opaque system of government. So I do a lot of criticism especially about issues that those who are in government now, had themselves criticised. Mohammadu Buhari before he came into government, was quoted from various speeches as saying its a shame that Nigerian leaders will go abroad for medical treatment. What has he been doing since he came into power?


Q: Are there events that happened in 2015’s presidential elections that if you had the power to change will not occur in next year’s election?


A: Yes. For instance, President Buhari’s refusal to take part in the presidential debate. Why should he refuse to take part? Is he not a candidate like any other person? Maybe people could say there is nothing in our constitution that requires that kind of thing. But, how would people get to know their candidates? During the Yar’Adua campaigns, hardly did we hear the man speak – it was Obasanjo that was speaking on behalf of the man. So, you’re electing people that you don’t know; you haven’t had them speak, they have not engaged with you and you haven’t had opportunities to ask them questions. What kind of a democracy is this?


Q: Over the years we have watched INEC conduct elections in Nigeria but it seems as though the same errors are made again and again. Are there improvements INEC should take into consideration ahead of 2019 elections?


A: I want a really electronic system. You know for instance I’m wondering what our ballot papers are going to look like for the next elections. If you have sixty-something candidates, I mean, what are we going to do for goodness sake, with printing a ballot paper. I was at a meeting in Abuja and we were being told that ours is nothing compared to (was it) Pakistan or something. Their ballot paper was like a mat. You would have to spread it on the floor and crawl to look for the candidates that you wanted to vote for. I mean, these are times that call for innovative ways of doing things. I think that this centralized system that we are running, for one thing, is a crazy system. It is extremely wasteful and indeed it is not even true to our name. We are called the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In what way are we federal? Everything is central. Whereas; if we really ran a federal system, there would be an opportunity for the different constituencies to find out the best structure that works for them. It makes no sense that elections will be carried out the same way in Victoria Island as in some remote part of the country. If Victoria Island wants to use the electronic system, that’s alright. It makes no sense overstretching an area that doesn’t even have electricity.


Q: Despite the activism, some in the polity still do not think the political outcome of 2019 presidential election will be any different from 2015. Do you think it will be any different?


A: I am not a soothsayer. (Laughs). I am not a reader of the future. I am not sure how well one can read the future. Look at what happened – who really thought that Donald Trump was going to win? It was almost like a foregone conclusion that Clinton would emerge president. So until something happens I’m not very sure. I think we should just wait and see if Nigerians understand that this is an important course of action. And then in different parts of the country, the feelings are different. That’s very important to take into consideration. Are we all feeling the same way? So are we all going to vote in the same way?


Q: Most of the online polls conducted to show presidential candidate preference result in over 50% points for Muhammadu Buhari. Is this a reflection of the people’s choice?


A: The people who are polled are those who have phones. We know that when it comes to voting, some of the voters are not on social media. Those are the things that skew up data for Nigeria because you’re not sure what representation you’re getting. A lot of people complain and yet you wonder whether the complaints are even enough to make them change their pattern of living. I don’t understand why we voted Buhari. It’s not as if we didn’t know him. He’s been there before. So somebody comes and says a few things and you vote the person? Nigerians know Buhari.  I always said somebody who will promulgate a decree proactively which will end up killing people will not have a very good sense of justice. It does not matter under which rule it was – military or civilian, if you love justice, it will show through.


Q: Would you say you have seen any serious-minded persons among the crop of young people who have indicated interest in contesting 2019 presidential election?


A: I don’t know all of these people. However, I have seen one or two who seem serious-minded. What I hesitate about is this feeling of entitlement. I’m not sure that’s the attitude to have. Something I never hesitate to mention is ‘look a woman has never been President before. Young people have been head of state before. How old was Gowon when he took over power and how did he do it?’ So I hope that young people recognize that this is serious business. I hope they understand that there’s a lot of preparedness and study to do.  This is not just about “It’s our turn now.” In the same token, we women too are waiting to see if we can be the next President of Nigeria. That will be the real lapse breaking event and not so much the young. The young have been there before.


Q: Who would you rather have become Nigeria’s next President?


A: Well, I am contesting, so I would rather it be me. I don’t know whether I will be the candidate of the party but I am one of the aspirants. We are currently four. So let’s see what happens.



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