Playing with the Boys- Nigeria’s Female Presidential Aspirant- Professor Oluremi Sonaiya.
In 5 days, Nigeria will be picking its fourth democratically elected president since 1999. Though there are fourteen candidates running for the highest civilian office in the country, there is only one woman who has been brave enough to venture into the murky waters of Nigeria’s Presidential selection process this election period.
Getting this out of the way, Prof. Oluremi Sonaiya does not think running for the ‘higher office’ in Nigeria is exclusively a man’s sport. With Mrs. Sarah Nnadzwa Jibril being a former presidential aspirant and with one female gubernatorial candidate for Taraba State-Senator Jummai Al-Hassan in this electoral cycle, she just might be right. She scoffed at the prospect of Nigeria not being ready for a Female President, a concept which was explored last year by Modupe Macaulay of the Hobbing Post here.
As Prof. Sonaiya says with a jolly laugh, ‘It has happened all over the world and all human beings are the same’. Nigerian women are proving their mettle in all areas of endeavour’. This is true, as in countries like Germany, Croatia, Bangladesh, Argentina, Liberia, Lithuana, Trinidad and Tobego, Brazil, Kosovo, Denmark, Jamaica, South Korea, Slovenia, North Cyprus, Senegal, Norway, Latvia, Central African Republic, Chile, Malta, Poland and Switzerland, women are occupying the posts of President or Prime Minister. According to Prof. Sonaiya,
If it happens in other places why can’t it happen in Nigeria? And it is not an African thing, it is happening in Liberia. If Liberia, has a female president why should the situation be different in Nigeria where women are more than half of the population?’
But the bigger picture in these elections is way more than the issue of being a woman playing a ‘man’s game’. Broaching the topic of funding for her campaign had her admitting that campaigns are expensive to run.
‘I am not swimming in money; donations have come from friends, family and my personal funds. Money is not a huge deal and even if I had a lot of it, I would not be using it the way the other candidates are. My campaign has been largely on social media and I am happy with what is being done.’
Having to wait 6 weeks to know her ‘fate’ she admitted disappointed her, given the fact that Nigeria had four years to prepare for her elections. ‘Things in Nigeria are never sacrosanct. Other countries have held elections in the midst of even worse’, she said. Using the postponement to her advantage, she forges on, talking to even more people about her plans for the country with the fastest growing economy in Africa and participating in a national debate, yesterday.
During this interview, when asked who her cabinet would consist of when elected, she suggested an interesting process of throwing it open to Nigerians to nominate the best people for the job.
There are a lot of incredible people out there, the only way an old person who has done the job before will occupy a ministerial seat is if Nigerians nominate you and you have shown competence, an exceptional ability for the task, no misbehaviour or signs of corruption’.
Nigeria has generally been termed an insecure nation since the emergence of terrorists- Group of the People of Sunnah for Preaching and Jihad, Jamāʿat Ahl al-Sunna lil-Daʿawah wa al-Jihād otherwise referred to as Boko Haram, and Prof. Oluremi Sonaiya says tackling security issues is her primary responsibility. ‘Keeping the nation protected from aggression while identifying the people- equipping the military, the armed forces and providing what is needed to win the war is key. We need to use all the fire power we can, we need to use all the help we can. What is keeping us from bringing the missing Chibok girls home? Those girls need to be brought back home.’
Fighting corruption is also an important part of her plans to rule the nation. Prof. Sonaiya says
We need to tackle the misappropriation of funds and everybody must render an account. A road in Nigeria costs 5 times as much as it costs in other parts of the world. We need to check the costs around the world and find a transparent way of creating a cost estimate for some of this work given out. There should also be a strong sense of accountability. Roads and other projects must be done in the estimated time’.
Education is a very strong part of her manifesto and she says her overall goal is to make Nigeria a learning society. ‘We seem to be fixed in time, the world is evolving. Most of the research in malaria and other problems that we suffer in Nigeria is done by the rest of the world. We cannot continue with the rest of the world proffering solutions to our problems, we should be interested in solar energy; we are the ones without power.
Why is it that our education is not responding to the problems in our society? We also plan to teach civic education rights, what is to be expected from your government? What to give to your government, use of public places, it is in this country people put their wares on a portion of the tarred road, the road does not belong to you, it belongs to the government. So these basic things are important’.
Prof. Oluremi Sonaiya seems adequately prepared to battle Nigeria’s complexities even though she admitted that she did not know much about the contents of the PIB bill. ‘I have not studied it, but that bill is necessary, it has to be transparent and accessible. Otherwise, it will continue to fuel suspicion and violence. It has to be regulated in a manner that Nigerians would be pleased’.
But if elected, one of the pressing problems the Professor will have to tackle would be Nigeria’s free falling naira. ‘We need to stabilize the naira, get rid of the policies of the government that are not helping it, for example, the country earns money in dollars and yet the state governments get their money in naira, they in turn have to buy forex…we need to simplify things for ourselves in the interest of our population. Monetary policies need to be revised and revisited’.
Naming her mentors as anybody who does the job well, ranging from her mother to her headmistress in primary school to her secondary school principal to colleagues at the university to the ‘big names’, she says she respects people who go beyond the call of duty to do their jobs.
‘And this is something Nigerians will get if they vote KOWA, someone who goes beyond the call of duty’.
Even though the future is uncertain, the woman with a truly warm personality, Prof Sonaiya; is not thinking about losing the elections or what she will do afterwards if she loses. ‘I am determined to take it one day at a time, focus on the now, ensure that what we are doing now is right. We will take on the challenge of tomorrow as sufficient for today is the evil thereof’.