I Don’t Feel I Lost In The Presidential Poll, Says Sonaiya
Prof. Remi Sonaiya took a shot at the presidency at the 2015 elections, which held in the country recently. She spoke on the conduct of the election and her participation in the race.
The 2015 elections have come and gone, how will you assess the outcome, generally?
I believe most Nigerians are pleased– or at least relieved–at the outcome of the elections. Everything was so tense, even the whole world seemed to have been on edge on account of us. We are grateful the country did not explode, as was being feared. God has been good to our nation.
What is your assessment of the performance of the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)?
Let me first and foremost join others in congratulating and thanking Prof. Attahiru Jega and his team for the very important work they did on behalf of the nation. In particular, it is believed that the insistence on the use of the permanent voters’ cards and card readers went a long way in ensuring relatively fair and violence-free elections. However, I would like to add that going forward we probably should begin to give serious thought to the incredible logistical work involved in organizing elections of that magnitude. This might mean choosing people with experience in that area to head INEC. I was told, for example, that when GTBank opened its doors on their first day, they had the capacity on ground to handle a million customers. We have experienced people in this nation. I also believe we should begin to use more of our younger, highly savvy tech people to deliver innovative solutions for us. In that regard, I hope we can go fully electronic in 2019 – so that there will be no ballot boxes to snatch. Preparations for that should begin immediately.
On a personal level, how do you describe your experiences as a presidential candidate regarding the contest?
I had an absolutely wonderful time, and I have come to know more of this great country. I really love Nigerians; we are an energetic and passionate people – and we definitely deserve far better than we’re getting from our leaders. That’s why I joined politics, anyway. The only regret I have is not having had a bit more money to allow me to visit more places around the country. For example, it was great visiting the internally displaced persons in Abuja and talking to them, touching the children and teaching them a song. I also loved our trip to Yola and going around the town. You had opportunity to feel the pulse of the people.
After the presidential debate in which you participated, some people alleged that you were just in the race to work for President Goodluck Jonathan because you made references to the work he was doing, instead of pushing forward your own goal; what is your reaction to this?
I am not the type of person who would run down an individual or refuse to acknowledge something good that they are doing, just because we’re competing against each other. For me, as a Christian, truthfulness and honesty are principles by which I live. Such insinuations are the unpalatable aspects of the experience, but they don’t really matter, do they? If you seek public office, you must be ready to accept all forms of criticism, both true and untrue.
Another instance was when I presented my three books to President Jonathan in the room where we stayed before coming on stage for the debate. Dr. Reuben Abati took a picture and posted it on the social media, and it went viral. It showed me bending, handing him the books, since he was sitting down. People took that posture to mean I was basically begging for a job.
However, there was a context to that picture. At the signing of the non-violence pact in Abuja, where most people noticed me for the first time, I had offered a set of my books to Mr. Kofi Annan who was there. As I gave them to him, President Jonathan, who was sitting right beside him, asked: “So where are my own copies?” I promised I would ensure he got a set as well, and I seized the opportunity of the debate to fulfill that promise, since I knew we would be on the platform together.
What do you think accounted for your loss in the presidential election?
I don’t see myself as having lost in the presidential election. I know what you mean, but people tell me I did extremely well. The moment the campaign was over and I returned home to Ife where I was to vote, I had a deep sense of fulfillment. I had done what I had to do and had given it my best. The rest lay in the hands of Nigerians; but I choose not to see the outcome as a loss on my part.
Will you try again?
Well, General Buhari might have set a good example, don’t you think? You know that rhyme we learnt as children – ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again!’ But really, four years are still a long way away, so I’ll be seeking God’s direction as to what to do. But what is certain is that I continue to be interested in Nigeria’s public life. As long as we have still not seen in our land the kind of clean, orderly, just, fair and developed society that we all long for, then there is no going anywhere for me.
Is there anything in your experiences you think is a lesson for women in participating in elective positions in the country?
Oh yes! First, dare to dream, and dream big. Don’t let people discourage you from pursuing a path you have passion and competence for. Also, recognize that the prevailing culture of doing politics is not necessarily right, so you don’t have to feel constrained by it. I do not subscribe to the money politics being practiced, so I did not accept it as a hindrance or barrier to my getting involved.
Importantly, there’s nothing like having the support of your family, especially your husband, for those who are married. I was greatly blessed in that respect, because my husband was not only my greatest supporter; he was actually my motivator. Women should recognize that they have a duty to take part in the political life of their nation; their not being there is a disservice to the whole nation, because it has been shown that women’s involvement in politics has a positive influence in the society. They pay more attention to ensuring a more equitable use of resources, and that leads to greater stability in the land.
What do you intend to do from now on?
I continue to be active in my party, KOWA Party. Our desire is to make it an example in Nigeria of what a political party ought to be – in the best traditions of political parties around the world. We are hoping that people will begin to see and accept that politics is not a dirty game for dirty people, but actually supposed to be a platform available to honourable people who seek to serve their people, doing the utmost good to the largest number of people possible – and that means everybody. And I should say that has actually begun to happen. People are already joining KOWA because of what they saw of us.
I also continue to give talks and seminars, especially to youth groups, on political participation and life skills. I equally would like to continue with my workshops on communication skills. The standard of English being spoken and written is getting worse by the day, and I am concerned about that.
I will also continue to be involved professionally in activities relating to the teaching of French and linguistics (I also speak German, by the way). So, you see that I don’t plan to be idle. Of course, I continue to be active in church activities as well, as a bible study teacher and member of the board of some organizations.