Remi Sonaiya is the presidential candidate of Kowa Party and the only female candidate in the February 14 presidential election. The 60-year old professor of French and Applied linguistics, whose running mate is 46-year old man Saidu Bobboi, spoke to Abiose Adelaja Adams on her motivation in a male dominated race as well as her agenda for Nigeria, if she wins.
Let’s start with your party. What does the acronym KOWA really mean?
Kowa has been there since INEC published the list of presidential candidates and it has been on that there is a woman amongst them. Kowa is not an acronym; it is a word somebody came up with. It’s a word that can mean something in several Nigerian languages. Kowa in Hausa means everybody. In Igbo language; it means be clear,’be open’, ‘elucidate’, ‘no covering up of anything, no hanky panky. In Yoruba, it means let it come, it can also mean teach us, show us the way.
What gave you the courage to run in a male dominated terrain?
I did not see any candidate I could personally support, so I thought why not me. When I was putting in my nomination form, the issue that I was a woman was not paramount on my mind, I must be sincere. The issue was I am a Nigerian and this country needs fixing. It is my desire to see things change.
When you see so much suffering around you and the condition of the country is not what it should be, that has been my motivation. This is not how we as Nigerians ought to live given the resources that are available to us.
Let me give an instance from the education system. I have worked at the university for 30 years. In those 30 years things went down. When I see my students and compare what they are experiencing with what I experienced, I say this is not fair. One would hope that things will improve and not depreciate.
My students are not getting a better experience in the university than I had. And I just knew that I had to come out. I have always wanted to do something about our country, it got to a point I think I needed to get involved.
Staying with education. What went wrong with our education?
The quality environment dropped, we had overfilled teaching classes, the facility could not keep up with the number of student, even the quality of staff was poor, because the best people did not want to come in. Lecturers are so poorly paid. The best brains ran away from the university, went to America, Europe. Universities were not well funded at all.
There was a time we were using our money to buy chalk, when I was the HOD (Head of Department). I even used my very meager salary then to buy papers to process exam results for students. The years of mismanagement and neglect t of the universities really did a lot of damage.
So what is your agenda for the nation? What issues will your party address?
If you go to my website, www.remisonaiya.com, you will see my manifesto, because I will not be saying anything that is different. However, I plan to address issues of insecurity, Boko Haram, education and the economy.
On security, I said in my manifesto that Nigeria spent N966bn in 2014 on all agencies that make up the security sector. Boko Haram continues to take over several areas in the North east, the most recent fallout being loss of control of border areas with Chad, Niger and Cameroon.
KOWA, our government will bring a new approach to confronting this challenge. We will start with efficient use of resources in the sector. Corruption and waste will be eliminated to ensure better welfare for officers in battle front. We will provide arms, ammunition and equipment.
These steps should engender greater trust in government’s efforts among the populace, who will then be encouraged to participate more in intelligence gathering without fear of their identity being revealed for monetary gain.
Furthermore, no form of partisanship will be allowed to influence the matter of security, which is a collective responsibility. Expertise will be recognised wherever available and used for the common benefit. We will train and retrain our soldiers to confront the terrorists ravaging our country.
Security will also form a crucial part of our foreign policy, given the international nature of terrorism. We will engage our neighbouring countries more and our partners in the West to leverage on the assets and knowledge in confronting Boko Haram.
On building a robust economy, the Nigerian economy has been based almost exclusively on the exploitation of our oil and gas reserves. The plummeting of oil prices currently being witnessed makes even more urgent the need to diversity our economy.
Agriculture should support and provide raw materials for industry, export and food security. Nigeria’s rich agricultural resources must be harnessed to attain these ends, with the different regions of the country exploiting their natural endowments in coffee, tea, cocoa, cotton, groundnut, kolanut, plywood, rubber, maize, palm oil, cashew, yam, rice, beans, plantain, banana, wheat, millet, soy, plywood and many more.
This means that the farming population will be oriented away from mere subsistence farming to commercial farming. Steps are already being taken in this direction; KOWA will pursue it more aggressively.
Other steps to be taken will include the establishment of farming collectives and cooperatives to encourage food processing and healthy preservation; the provision of incentives (grants and soft loans, modern farming implements) to attract young, unemployed graduates into the farming business; the promotion of livestock production (e.g. poultry and fish farming) and the cultivation of economic plants (trees, flowers, vegetables) around homesteads by individuals and communities – to provide better nutrition, increased income, and protection for the environment.
A KOWA government will also promote increased organic farming (thus reducing the use of fertiliser) for good stewardship of the environment.
Would your party also be interested in developing solid mineral resources as a means of diversifying the economy?
Nigeria’s wealth of mineral resources will be harnessed for local use and export. All states have mineral deposits and they will be encouraged to exploit them fully for the benefit of their people. These include: iron ore, tin, bitumen, bauxite, limestone, clay, copper, glass sand, coal, uranium, kaolin, granite, lead, zinc, salt, gold, gemstones, etc. Just, equitable and environmentally-friendly policies will be developed to regulate and control the ownership and tapping of all mineral resources.
However, the people are the greatest resource we have and KOWA will invest in developing human capacity in all its ramifications. In particular, the majority of the population cannot be kept in perpetual penury through the running of an economic system which concentrates wealth in the hands of a few (like having 25% of the budget overhead going to the National Assembly, as claimed by a former CBN governor).
Every worker must receive fair and just remuneration for their work, and this must be made available without delay.
What about dealing with corruption which is a huge problem in Nigeria?
A convincing approach to deal with corruption is to institutionalise the rule of law, promote fiscal transparency and accounting as well as realistic and frugal budgeting which will create an environment where every citizen will get their rightful due of the nation’s resources.
Those who rob other citizens of their rights must be made to face the consequences of their actions. No individual who commits impunity will enjoy immunity. In this regard, it will be important to watch the watchdog or police the policemen.
Effective and independent mechanisms will be put in place to monitor institutions and agencies like EFCC, ICPC, CBN. The resources of such organisations must be tracked so as to ensure that the monies and material resources recovered are properly remitted and their use accounted for.
What guarantees your fulfillment of these promises? We hear these promises all the time from politicians
I fear God and I believe that every person will give an account of what they do. So I want to do right, so that on the day of accounting, I will not be found wanting. When people say how are we sure you are not going to be like others, how can you be sure, when you don’t know me before. Those who know me can vouch for me.
People have not really seen your posters, billboards. How can you then convince Nigerians to vote for you?
I have been running my campaign the way I am able to, given my circumstances. We have been very, very active on social media – Facebook, Twitter. That has been the major outlet. It is effective and we don’t need huge sums of money for that. Money is not an issue at all in this campaign. I am able to do what I want with the money that I have.
I have also been meeting different groups. Yesterday my party had a press conference. I have also had several interviews on radio and TV. I am quite happy with how far things have turned out. I am encouraged by the response I have gotten from the majority of Nigerians.
Of course there have been those who feel it is a bad idea, but everybody has a right to their opinion. I hope more people will come to root for me because there is a possibility of real change
How do you plan toreach the bulk of Nigerians who are not on internet. Don’t you think posters and billboards are a good idea?
I have posters in Lagos, but I don’t have bill boards, because posters cost money. Over N21 billion was raised at a single sitting for President Jonathan’s re-election campaign – and this at a time when austerity measures have just been announced to the country and some workers are being owed several months of salaries. I don’t have such money to waste on campaigns when people are suffering.
So how do you rate your chances against such formidable opponents with money or clout?
I am not a teller of the future. It is all in the hands of Nigerians. I don’t play that game of foretelling how Nigerians will vote. But I believe there is a possibility for real change.
Given the performance of female presidential aspirants like Sarah Jubril in the past how far do you think you can go?
I cannot compare. My party is not the same as Sarah Jubril’s party. I belong to KoOWA party that does not have the same practices as Sarah Jubril’s party. If I had been in PDP or APC, I will not be a candidate.
KOWA party is a party where every single voice carries the same weight. We don’t have people who decide what happens – kingmaker, god father. I could not function in such party. I knew the kind of political party I function in and that was why I choose KOWA. I was informed about KOWA party and I found it the kind of environment I can function in.
Do you really think Nigeria is ready for a female president?
Nigerians are still used to the status quo. We are not bold enough to take steps that are fundamentally different from what we have before. We say let us just manage, what we have because we are used to it. But there is a true possibility for a change. We just need to be bold about our choices.