Prof. (Mrs.) Remi Sonaiya is the presidential candidate of KOWA Party in next month’s election. The only female candidate in the race, the 59 year-old retired Professor of French Language and Applied Linguistics worked at the Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife for 30 years and left voluntarily in 2010 to venture into politics. She spoke to OLAOLU BILAU on the February 14 election, INEC preparedness, corruption, the economy and why she wouldn’t mind paying the ultimate price for Nigeria.
It’s a Shame Nigeria Politicians Are Talking Peace Accord
KOWA Party has absolutely no problem with the issue of electoral malpractices or violence. It has never been part of our issues. We know who the people who create problems during elections are, don’t we? KOWA Party is not among them. I willingly signed (Abuja Peace Accord document) because we were all asked to sign, but I know that it is not an issue for my party; we are not violent. I was feeling rather ashamed because we had gathered not only ourselves but also the International Community to come and witness us talking to one another about how violent we get during elections and I said this kind of gathering do not do us proud. I was feeling pretty sad that here we are again in front of the entire world, saying we cannot conduct election without being violent. It must stop and people who do it should stop giving us a bad name.
I Hope INEC Won’t Disappoint Us
I am hopeful that we will not be disappointed. I’ve often said that so many people are still complaining about not being able to get the Permanent Voters’ Cards, INEC must do everything possible. You do not have responsibility at such a time as this in the history of the nation and you fritter that opportunity away. I constantly say there are some occasions in life when you are presented with an assignment to do and its just a one-shot assignment and you have no business failing at that assignment, that’s the way I look at it. I am sure the leadership of INEC recognises the importance of this election to our whole life as a nation, our future, our international reputation and so on.
Voter Registration Should be a 24/7 Exercise
Voter registration should be a continuous thing, it’s not supposed to be a spot by spot thing or say we have two weeks for voter registration. Let’s say somebody has been away for 10 years and the person returns to the country, that person should be able to go directly and register. I’m sure every day there are probably hundreds of Nigerians turning 18, they should be able to register immediately on their 18th birthday. So all these things that we do as if they are special programmes, we’ve got to put in a system that will function. Voter registration should be a permanent continuous thing anybody should be able to get up on their 18th birthday and that individual should be able to say one of the things I want to do on this birthday is to go to INEC office and register there.
Nigerians Must Not Give Up
I am one that does not give up. Those who said they were not sure about how things will go and didn’t even bother to register, things do not change when there is apathy among the population. Who is going to bring about the change? It is you and me, determining to do certain things, to take certain steps. And in a democracy, voting is a requirement for changing government. So if you do not register, if you do not collect your PVC for some who have not even gone to check whether there PVC’s are there or not, who is going to do it if you do not join in seeking to bring about the change, we will continue to do things the way they had always been done. I am saying we can change and that’s why I am here. I am not scared, being scared paralyses, if you live in fear you would not be able to achieve anything. The worst that could happen to a person is that you die, had people not died?
The issue of our economy is a very crucial one that requires a global approach. You talk of the price of petroleum, the reality is that we have been earning from petroleum over the years. To start with, what have we done with that money? Nigeria produces petrol at about 15 dollars a barrel I was told, even with that fall in price, even if it’s now 50 dollars, we are still earning surplus now, what are we doing with it? Why does it seem to be vanishing into thin air such that our people are not benefiting? There has been the talk about diversification of our economy so that it is not dependent on oil export. Now that the price of oil is falling and we have quite a challenge on our hands, the time to turn that plan into reality and just to mention an example, it has to be agriculture. We talk of employment, if there is electricity, there will be employment, many people will be able to employ themselves because we need electricity for a lot of the jobs that we do. But it’s like there are some sink holes somewhere making all of our money disappear. There must be sincerity in government, there must be honesty there must be truth.
How to Tackle Corruption
If you do not lead by example, you cannot do anything about corruption. The people take a cue from their leaders. If your personal life inspires the people, if you don’t just reel out all these underdevelopment indices, if they see that it translates into specific things that you are doing in terms of your own personal life, your discipline and so on, I’m sure more people will be willing to follow, but there is no doubt that even those who want to do good get discouraged when they see that people who are not doing good are being promoted. Those who are earning more than the work they are doing, that cannot continue, we cannot continue to live in penury. Seventy percent of the population living on less than a dollar per day we are constantly being reminded. Those who are in positions of authority are happy carting away all the money. What is the work you are doing in the civil service of Nigeria that is up to N30m a month? In any case, they are not even confident to declare how much they are earning, we just keep hearing all these figures, but one thing we know for sure is that, Nigerian legislators are the highest paid in the world, for an underdeveloped country like ours, there are certain things that are not right and they have to be put right. I frequently refer to what Mrs. Hilary Clinton said when she came to Nigeria. She said Nigeria’s leaders are able, but unwilling to give their people a better life, that’s a terrible indictment.
The Boko Haram insurgency needs to be addressed in a non – partisan manner with all hands on deck, we are all at risk that should be clear to everybody. It’s a collective duty, a collective responsibility. Those who are at the forefront of this insurgency, soldiers who are taking care of the rest of us, we must ensure that we do not send them to sudden death by making them more poorly equipped than the people they are fighting. They must be well taken care of in terms of their allowances, they should not have to bother whether their children’s school fees will be paid, whether their wives and children would have food, that should be no concern at all. It also important to address the causes of the insurgency, if you have a good and comfortable life, you are not likely to be lured into becoming a suicide bomber.
Nigeria is Ripe for a Woman President
How can we say that Nigerians are not ready for change, are we saying they are not ready to have 24 hours electricity, they are not ready to have water running in their taps, they are not ready to have better education for the children, I am a woman and I know what I will do. Why has it been impossible so far? I am a hard worker, I care very much about people, I could not agree to myself living in incredible opulence and luxury, knowing that so many of the citizens of my country are living in poverty, I would not be able to sleep well on my bed. So, I’ve got to be able to do things differently. Each of us is going about his or her campaign the way we believe. I am carrying on with my own campaign according to my personal conviction and it’s left to Nigerians. But we’ll speak to their hearts more and they would be able to say, let’s give this woman a chance.