By Daniel Kanu
Prof Remi Sonaiya, prominent educationist and writer, was Nigeria’s only female presidential candidate in the 2015 presidential election, under the platform of the KOWA party.
She is known to be a courageous politician who does not compromise standards.
She has many issues on the problem with the country which she opened up during an encounter with Sunday Sun, ranging from bad leadership, ineffective political structure, corruption fight, security challenges and neglect of the potential of women in leadership, among others. Excerpt:
What is your greatest worry about the country today?
The apparently uncaring leadership that we have today is my greatest worry. We are having a leadership that apparently does not care sufficiently for the people to exact themselves in a way that everybody can see that they are working hard to solve our problem. And our problems are many. Of course, the first one is insecurity, but many things contribute to that insecurity. For instance, I just travelled from Badagry to Lagos as I speak with you, that road is a disgrace to this country when you compare it with that of others along the coastline. How long does it take us to do a project, complete it, unless people are made to be uncomfortable? Why are our leaders behaving the way they do? We know all the monies that are being generated, they will always get their own monies, get their remunerations, and so on, but when it comes to public work then money will dry up, and projects will not be completed for years and years. So, that is why I say that my greatest worry is about the leadership that does not care sufficiently for the people, for the common good. That is my greatest worry and if we continue to drive the country this way, I fear because we can’t continue this way.
You just raised the issue of insecurity and the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed in his New Year briefing in Lagos accused the International Criminal Court (ICC) and some rights groups of constituting themselves into another fighting against the Federal Government and hyping the state of insecurity in the country?
It’s a pity that a Minister of Information will say such a thing. I watched the news item where he was saying that Nigeria is a sovereign country and that they should not meddle in the internal affairs of the nation. He should just remember what he was saying when he was in the opposition and people have been trying to remind him. You cannot be a sovereign country in the sense that our leaders have the right to treat us anyhow they like.That is not what sovereignty means and if a people feel that they are being misgoverned they should be able to cry out to the international community and ask them to help us put pressure on our leaders, that they are not governing us rightly. So sovereignty does not mean “if we like we can kill all our people and it is no business of the international community”. No, that is not sovereignty and the people have a right to speak out when their life is under serious threat. You should not expect that the international community will look the other way when they are witnessing the great scale at which you are misgoverning the people. There is always a standard for good governance and when you are not getting it, you expect people not to speak out, you expect the international community to keep a blind eye? That is not the right definition of sovereignty. The people have a right to call out for help and shout to the international community when they feel that they are not properly governed.
Some critics say that Nigeria is gradually becoming a failed state while some are of the view it has failed already, but the Federal Government’s argument is that if the country could not become a failed state during President Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure when so many communities in Borno State were taken over by Boko Haram unlike now…?
(Cut’s in) These are not arguments that are worth even discussing, but you just ask yourself: what is the quality of life of Nigerians today? What are the things happening? So, what they are trying to say is that Nigeria was a failed state then or that Nigeria is not a failed state now because they are on top of the security challenge. All those arguments they are putting across are very ridiculous. The simple question to ask is, what is the quality of life? We are living in a country where people are being kidnapped along busy highways in the broad daylight, children in schools in their hundreds are being abducted and you have the shameless boldness, the nerves to say, oh, it was happening before. It is pathetic. True leaders do not talk like that, true leaders do not take such stands that afterall there were times when things were worse. If things are bad now, what are you going to do about it, what positive measures are you putting in place to tackle the issues? That should be the concern of any good leadership. Nigerians are deliberately being pushed to the level of eruption with the way leadership seems to be behaving.
Most Nigerians are of the view that given the way the country is structured that even a great statesman will not be able to provide the right type of leadership. Do you share this view?
I am one of those who are calling for a new constitution because the instrument of governance in itself is flawed, then what type of governance are you going to have? So, there is no doubt that we are not feeling properly the government because of the kind of instrument that we are given, like our constitution, like the electoral laws and things like that. So, I am one of those calling for, not a review of the constitution, but a totally brand new constitution. Which people wrote the constitution that we are using now? Who are the people? Was it not the military? You can’t just foist something on a nation and you begin by saying: “We the people” when it is not the people that wrote the constitution. And you have the right to demand that we negotiate the terms of our common existence together. As I have always said we are running an unwieldy, dangerous system while our leadership is failing the people.
We have had different national conferences but…?
(Cuts in) But they refused to implement the suggestions, why are they refusing to even look at the recommendations that were made by the representation of the people of Nigeria? Those are the issues and we should cry out until these things are done.
So, you are not in support of the present review of the constitution by the Senate?
I don’t support a review and I think that the best thing the National Assembly can do for us is to put in place the mechanisms for the right thing to be done; the drafting of a new constitution for Nigeria and if they want to leave a good legacy for themselves, that is one of the things that they can do for us. National Assembly cannot give Nigerians a constitution.
Do you subscribe to the position of some critics that Nigeria is at a tipping point?
People have been saying this for a long time. We have been at a tipping point for long. It’s just by God’s grace and, only God knows why Nigeria has not tipped, honestly. People have been talking of this tipping point for a long time and it is true that the things that are happening should really have tipped us over, but somehow, you know, we manage to survive, somehow and I think that is what our political leaders are counting on, that Nigeria, no matter how far you push them, nothing will happen, that they are a resilient people, they will cry a little, but that they will continue, so because of this mentality the leaders continue to misrule and misgovern because they don’t see the consequences of their antics. People steal billions and billions of money, just a handful of them are caught and even when they are taken to court the case stays forever to be completed. This is very ridiculous; this is not how a country should be governed.
So, you don’t think that the anti-corruption crusade is doing enough?
Don’t put words in my mouth, you can do your independent investigation, you are a journalist. Are you satisfied with the anti-corruption crusade? You should even know this better than I do.
What is your take on the debate concerning the rotation of presidency?
I don’t believe in such things? I want competent leadership, let the good people take the stage, and there must be good people, people with the capacity to lead all over the country, let’s get our bests. When a company is looking for the C.E.O of their organisation to lead them to where they want to be, to achieve their vision and mission, do they talk about rotation? Why is it that we always bring in such a spurious argument when it comes to the leadership of the country? if a country is like Dubai or China and things are moving well, will people be talking about rotation if everybody is having a good life, you can fulfill your dreams and ambition. It is because our mentality is that: it is our turn to chop, so one person or one side of the country cannot be the one chopping all the time, that is the kind of mentality that brings about all this talk about rotation. We are not thinking in terms of competence, in terms of excellence, in terms of merit, we are always talking about federal character, rotation, etc, all those ideas that don’t make for progress, that don’t make for advancement. So, I find it totally ridiculous.
You have been one of the few bold women that have come out to run for top elective position. Do you think that the womenfolk in the country have been sufficiently mobilised?
Please I am tired of this issue of women being sufficiently mobilised and all that. Nigeria has both men and women who are good, let there be no discrimination against anybody, let there be a level playing ground for everybody, male or female. A country in terms of its leadership, should not be about gender, unfortunately, it is. When you have only six to 10 or so, in female representation in the National Assembly, so are we saying that you cannot find good Nigerian women? But somehow the men are just so voracious and they just grab everything and the country is paying for it. Look at companies where there are women at the head, are they not doing well? So, we are killing ourselves by shutting out of governance individuals who can help to advance the country, so let’s just be smart and let us truly desire the good of our nation.