“…let us deliberately put some competent women, who can demonstrate their ability in positions of authority. If what it will take is some form of affirmative action, then let it be.”
Professor Remi Sonaiya, the 2015 presidential standard bearer of the KOWA Party, aspires to contest again in 2019. She speaks on her decision to go into politics, need for people of integrity to join politics, noting that affirmative action for women may not be best for democracy.
What is your take on the political situation in Nigeria currently?
The political situation is unstable, especially because of the killings, people are concerned, I am concerned and rightly so. Too many Nigerians are being killed in a wanton manner and it shouldn’t be so.
The government should be able to protect Nigerian lives, so it calls for concern. It is not only within Nigeria that concerns are being expressed, around the world, people are talking. Just recently, we heard that the United Kingdom (UK) parliament mentioned the case of Nigeria. So I think the government has to take the issues about Nigeria seriously.
Talking about government’s concern, what do you make of the claim by some Nigerians that more persons were under the last administration compared to what is being witnessed today?
We shouldn’t be in the business of counting dead bodies and comparing how many people that were killed during the last administration and the number of people that have been killed in the present administration. The fact is that Nigerians are not supposed to be killed in any wanton and unnecessary manner. So that is improper for a government to say, we should protect every single life.
In other countries, the government does everything possible to protect their citizens. You can see for instance, the effort the government of Thailand deployed in search and rescue for the young team of footballers that were trapped in a cave. So, if you find people killed or in distress, there should be a massive reaction from the government saying that this ought not to happen. The government should place more value on the lives of Nigerians.
You were the standard bearer in 2015, what lessons have you learnt in Nigerian politics between then and now that is making you to aspire again?
I am shocked by the level of corruption within Nigeria’s political space. Of course, one has been hearing about it, but it is until you get into the field that you will have a closer look. It is very deeply entrenched. This culture of money politics that we practice, where it is the person with the most money to throw around that tends to get ahead politically.
Unfortunately, many of the electorate are not educated, many of them are impoverished by the system we run and therefore do not understand how their action of demanding and receiving money in exchange for their vote worsen their problem. That is what it does because the money that would be used for their wellbeing and building infrastructure that would help them actualise their aspirations is wasted.
The Brookings report recently said that Nigeria has overtaken India as the poverty capital of the world.
The population of Nigeria is not anywhere that of India, but, in absolute terms, Nigeria has more people living in poverty than India.
Unfortunately, these same poor people are the ones that will vote in the terrible politicians because they have been so impoverished, they cannot resist the offer of N2000 and so on. That is a very sad situation. That has weighed more on my mind now than before I went into the field.
How can Nigerians be re-orientated on the dangers of money for votes?
There has to be a major push for education. First of all, formal education will set the mind free, but we also need education not only in schools but within the society at large. Unfortunately, the corrupt people who are there will not want to do that, so it is until we manage somehow with God helping us that we will begin to re-orientate ourselves.
I don’t know why we don’t hear an agency like the National Orientation Agency (NOA) mounting campaigns on issues of what it means to be a true citizen of the country, what your rights and responsibilities are and so on. There are different agencies that are supposed to be doing that but it seems everybody is caught up in the terrible system we are running.
If you were elected president, what would you do differently from what we have today?
I will be a responsible and responsive President. I will not be partisan, I don’t mean partisan in the sense of politics. I mean that those elected or appointed should be held accountable. If an appointed official does not do his work why should you be supporting him? For instance, the president told the Inspector General of Police to relocate to Benue during the crisis there, he failed to relocate and nothing was done about it. You also see that all the people around President Muhammadu Buhari seem to get away
with anything. Is that loyalty on his part to these people? Is he not supposed to be loyal to Nigerians and to the state rather than to individuals? So you should hold people accountable for the work they are supposed to do on behalf of the nation. So I will be very different in that respect and I will look for competent people not just people who come from my area. I am a trusting person; it is not only people from my area of the country that I can trust. If there are competent people from any part of the country, you should put them to work regardless of which part of the country they come from.
In 2015, you flew the flag of the KOWA party at the election. You also aspire to do it again in 2019. What do you think about affirmative action for women?
Normally, I have been in the academics and I have never sought to be given any position because I am a woman. But more and more it has become evident that we need to also have competent women to also sit around the table in making decisions for this country. The perspectives and concerns are different from those of men, that is what research has shown. The nation stands to benefit more when you have a richer and more robust approach to making decisions and policies. If people are not willing to allow that to happen, then we may have to legislate about it. It is not the best option but I think in order to get our orientation right especially for even our president who feels that women are only good for the kitchen or the other room, let us deliberately put some competent women, who can demonstrate their ability in positions of authority. If what it will take is some form of affirmative action, then let it be.
How democratic would that be?
That is why I said I would personally not like that. But, unfortunately, our nation is suffering for women not being inclusive. For instance we have passed the Not- too -Young -to -Run Bill, but would we ever get young people to run? It is only the big politicians who have a stranglehold on the political system that keep running. So how do we ensure that young people are included in the kind of system we are running?