Prof Remi Sonaiya, a renowned educationist and writer, was Nigeria’s only female presidential candidate in the 2015 presidential election under the platform of the KOWA Party.
She has loads of issues on the problem with Nigeria which she shared with Sunday Sun, ranging from frustrations of women in politics, ineffective political structure, and bad leadership.
The politician also put some blames on the citizens, wondering how long they would continue to tolerate the oppressive system before saying enough is enough.
Other critical issues concerning the lowering of education standards, corruption fight, and security challenges were properly dissected, among others. Excerpt:
What would you say are the greatest constraints for women in politics in Nigeria?
We have talked and talked enough of this at different fora and media on the constraints/ limitations of women, how long will we continue to talk about the issue? Anyway, one will not be tired of saying it because it is a critical issue. But all of us know the constraints and it is that the men don’t want the women there. Because politics in Nigeria is too lucrative, which should not be so, so they make it a do-or-die affair and it is the people who control the means who ensure that they are the ones who always get there, they deploy all their monies, everything at their disposal, buy up all the votes, a lot of corruption and violence, that is what is keeping the women out. The women can’t compete at that level with the men, it’s not possible.
But we are having some women senators, House of Representatives members?
(Cuts in) So, go and interview them on how they got there. Of course, one or two people will get there fair and square, but some will get there because they have the backing of the powerful men. Go and interview them and you will see what most of them, the terrible experience, they pass through.
Considering all that characterized the nation’s politics, do you think Nigeria is ripe for a woman president?
I don’t want to answer this kind of question anymore…all these ripe for a female president… I don’t think it’s a good question. Is America ripe for a female president or not? Did they go ahead and elect one? Once you say: ripe for, it means there is something about women that makes them not fit in or not qualified for the post.
Why I asked the question is because there are still those with the attitude that Nigeria is not yet ripe for a female president?
It is the chauvinistic people who would have that attitude and according to them “we will never be ripe.” In fact, for them, no nation will ever be ripe for a female president because they believe that females are not meant for leadership. So, it’s a question that I don’t want to answer anymore.
How can affirmative action for women in politics be achieved?
I did not use to like affirmative action that is legalized, but I think that we probably need legislation now because what I have seen is that people have become so desperate. I sensed it during the last election that people are becoming more desperate, they want to get into the position by all means and they are willing to do anything to get there. So, I think we should begin to push for legislation that 35 per cent must be reserved for the women. It is not that the big and rich men will now push their wives and daughters into positions; we will have qualified people to occupy those positions. We must find a way to do what is right for ourselves.
How concerned are you with the security challenge in the country?
I am as concerned and worried as everybody. No right-thinking person will not be concerned, anyone who is not concerned at this point is not a sensitive person, a person with feelings because only people who think as long as they are safe and their family all is well for them, that is what they care for then that is a selfish individual and it’s true that many of the personnel in the police, army etc; who are supposed to be keeping all of us safe, many of them are deployed to keep individuals safe. So, I am very concerned and I am also concerned that there seems not to be a willingness to deal squarely with the issue, to attack it headlong. You are in the media; you know what people have been saying, expressing their frustration and disappointments on TV, in the radio, newspapers, on the social media, etc; who is safe except for those who are able to move around with a convoy of both military and the police?
So, you think with the security challenge the creation of Amotekun, the Southwest security network is on point?
I am very much in support of Amotekun, why should anybody continue to allow others to kill them at will and not rise up and find a way to defend themselves? We have been having bandits, herdsmen and they have been killing, burning down villages etc; and all that the people in government will say is to commiserate with you and say, it’s unfortunate. It’s not unfortunate; you can’t keep telling us that all these things are unfortunate. No, so once you say it’s unfortunate, we just take it like that and say it’s an act of God; no, it’s not an act of God. The banditry, the killings going on, the entire insecurity…it’s not an act of God, it’s an unwillingness of those who are in authority to take control of things and live up to their responsibilities. I think that it’s not just the restructuring of the security apparatus that I am hoping to see, but in fact, the restructuring of the entire nation because this centralized system that we are running is not working. People have been saying it and we can see it ourselves that it is not working. And how do we keep doing something that is not working and expect a turnaround for good, I don’t understand it?
When you say restructuring what exactly do you have in mind?
I mean having a regional and a truly federal system. You discuss the details of what you want that will make your system work and beneficial to the people and remember that we used to have one before, so let’s stop pretending that we don’t know what a federal state is all about. We used to have a federal state before the army came and slammed this centralized government on us. At least, people of my generation know what a federal state is. So, we know what is restructuring, both fiscal and structural. This mammoth we are running as a centralized government is not what I grew up to know as a child and it’s not the solution we need.
So, one can rightly say that the government is not winning the war on security threat is the reason for the creation of outfits like Amotekun?
Yes, is it not self-evident? Or have they won the war in your estimation? Let me tell you about an experience I had recently. I was to go for a meeting in Lagos that was organised by an international organisation. So, I was to, therefore, travel to Lagos from Ife where I live. I said okay I will make my arrangement, get a driver to drive me to Lagos and they said: No way, they refused. Do you know what they did? They sent me a driver accompanied by two policemen in my own country? It is simply because they don’t have confidence, with all the things that they hear that I may get to Lagos alive, or without being kidnapped. They said they want to avoid a situation where I will be kidnapped along the way and that will put them in trouble. They insisted that I must not come on my own and sent a vehicle to pick me up with armed security and to bring me back to Ife after the meeting. I felt so uncomfortable and I felt so sad that this is what my country has become. It is what is happening, the reality on the ground. So, instead of the policemen to be watching over everybody, imagine two policemen guiding me alone, they will be assigned to a few individuals with power and means. What kind of a system is that and yet those in government are so reluctant to bring about a change, to agree to change this unwieldy system. We are running a dangerous system, an unwieldy and ineffective system.
How would you react to the nation’s rising debt profile?
Should I say I am not concerned? It’s worrisome. Shouldn’t everybody be raising an alarm when we are just mounting up debt for the future generation? And when we borrow these monies we don’t see what we do with it, at least to the level that we should see. How much money have we borrowed to revive the steel rolling mills or the textile industry and over the years we keep borrowing and nothing seems to be working, who does that? What nation mortgages its future like we are doing? What kind of leaders do we really have for God’s sake? And in all of this, they came out recently, again to say that the National Assembly members might be getting a raise in their salary, in spite of all that is happening in the country now. I am just wondering how much Nigerians are willing to take before things erupt. It is as if we are deliberately being pushed to the level of eruption, but obviously, we are a very gentle people that are willing to just keep accepting, keep accepting and I am just wondering where our breaking point is.
You talked about corruption in the system and this is one of the key issues that this government vowed to tackle…?
(Cuts in) I have not seen the successes, major successes recorded in terms of the effects that they have had. Even some of their own practices are suspect. For instance, before the elections, we had this tradermoni thing, you go around distributing money, what is that supposed to mean? Is that how people are lifted out of poverty in other countries by distributing money to them? Why do we run a system that is different from what happens in other places and we think that we will get the same results of progress and advancement, who are we deceiving? It’s very sad that some people will get away with huge corruption activities, few people will be made to face ICPC, EFCC, etc; and the cases will drag on and on forever. Why does it take us five, 10 and more years to sort things out? I think in Zimbabwe or so, they cleared all the issues concerning their election within two weeks, that everything must be settled before the people elected are sworn-in to take over their offices. But in our case, somebody will be there for three years only for a court to now come and reverse the result. Why do we belittle and make a mockery of ourselves in the eyes of the world? Why don’t we seem to have any pride and people will say, Nigeria is a place where things are done right. That does not seem to bother our leaders. They will all troop gladly to hospitals abroad to go and get themselves treated while the hospitals in their own country remain mere consulting clinics. There is none of them that will say: I rather die than go abroad, none. They will all gladly run abroad; is that not corruption? What is our definition of corruption?
Do you think that the judiciary should share in this blame because most critics say the institution has compromised lately?
It’s true. The judiciary seems to be compromising looking at some of their cases in recent times, particularly election judgments. Judiciary should be the last hope of the common man so they have to watch it, especially most of their pronouncements.
The North is still angling to retain the presidency after 2023, just as other political zones are strategizing for power shift. Where do you belong, which zone do you recommend for the presidential slot?
Actually what I am praying for is that we will not have another election based on the current system, that’s my desire, that something will break and change before then because all these planning for 2023 and beyond is to say that we will continue running this system which I don’t think is leading us anywhere. My desire is that another election will not happen based on this current system, that is my personal prayer and hope and desire. I am not considering all the noise about 2023 if it is based on the current system. I don’t know how my hope and desire could come about, I don’t know, so don’t ask me about it. I am just saying what I desire deeply within me. It is that we become a true federation, a truly federal state. When I studied in the US, we had campus police, not to talk of community and state police. See how long we have been talking about having state police and some people are resisting it. It is the leaders that want the status quo, their hand is firmly in control of our resources centrally and they are afraid to give it up. It is how so many of them have become billionaires and trillionaires because the money is concentrated centrally, they want it centrally, they don’t want anything that will dislodge the system, hence they will continue to resist it.
Do you share in the view that the standard of education is gradually going down or perhaps has fallen?
Is there anybody that can demonstrate to us that the standard has been going up? All these things go together, increased poverty. You cannot have a country where there is increased poverty and there will be a higher standard of education. We have become the number one poverty capital of the world and that will be seen in every area, in the economy, in the dilapidated industries, lack of power/energy, it will be seen in our health sector, the bad roads, as well as in the educational sector, everything will be touched by it. Increase in children, not in school, dropouts, malpractices in education etc, all these things go hand in hand even in the quality of teachers. That is why we must see corruption in a more holistic manner when merit is not promoted in anything and it’s just a matter of who you know or even in this so-called federal character. Why do we have federal character when you do not compel every state to make sure that they educate their people well to make sure that all the people who will be put in a position are qualified? So, you have a federal character for a secondary school and somebody gets 20 per cent and is qualified to enter because that is the highest from their state another one gets 90 per cent to qualify. So, you have 90 and 20 per cent in the same classroom, others that got 70 and 80 per cent could not qualify. Who does that kind of nonsense? So, there is no way to compel every state that for this school, the federal character will mean that: no child from any state will have, maybe, less than 70 per cent to qualify for admission. So, a state that does not make sure that their children can get up to 70 per cent in their examination they lose their position, they don’t come in, so you lose your space to those who work hard to ensure that their children perform well. We just take senseless positions on issues; we don’t push ourselves towards excellence, towards high performance etc, so that is why we are just contented to outsource all our problems. If there is a small problem here on erosion they say, go to China, the problem of an industry that is not working, go to China, go to Europe and things like that. Why, because we are not making sure we are developing our own human resources and this is sad, it’s tragic.
What has been the secret of your success?
I think it’s God first, second and third (laughs) because I am a believer in God through Jesus, a born-again Christian, when I was still in secondary school. So, I have had time to work with God and to come to understand how he wants me to live and to now see His power demonstrated in my life. I lost my father when I was 10 years old, but I have been to the best schools in the world. I went to an IVY-led school in America. That is God’s favour. I have also come under the influence of many people who showed me how to live, how to work. Above all, my husband, I am married to a man who is almost a perfectionist, he will stretch you, push you to excel, he hates average, he won’t allow you to be mediocre, and you have to be your best with him.