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Sonaiya: I Pledge To Rebuild Nigeria Into A Nation That Works



REMI Sonaiya is the only female presidential candidate in the 2015 elections, which has been rescheduled to take place on March 28. The professor of French Language and Applied Linguistics, who is contesting under KOWA party, is passionate about issues of justice, equity and Africa’s development. Born in 1955, Sonaiya graduated in 1977 with a Bachelor of Arts in French from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), where she obtained the best result in her faculty.

   Her interest in public affairs and development influenced her voluntary retirement from her over 30-year career at the Obafemi Awolowo University in 2010, in order to devote more of her time and resources to those pursuits. In 2014, she also authored Daybreak Nigeria – This Nation Must Rise! Her desire to improve the lives of Nigerians, if she emerges the president is a driving force for her, even as she is not bothered about her chances and her not-so-popular party.

  Remi explains that KOWA is not an acronym, but a word that means different things in different Nigerian languages. For instance, in Hausa, it means ‘everybody’ or all of us are members. In Yoruba, it means ‘let it (good life) come’. In Igbo, it means ‘explain,’ which can also mean ‘openness and transparency.’ Interestingly, she says she never intended contesting for the office of the president until she noticed there was no candidate suitable for the office. “That was when I asked myself, ‘why not me?’ 

  Taking into consideration Sarah Jubril’s experience, who despite trying severally to become a female president, always failed miserably, what has Remi got to clinch the post?

   “My party is not the same as Sarah Jibril’s. I belong to KOWA, a party that does not have the same practices as Sarah’s. If I had been in the All Progressives Congress (APC) or Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), you wouldn’t have heard of me. My party is one where every voice carries the same weight. We do not have kingmakers and godfathers, who decide what happens. I could not function in such parties and that was why I chose KOWA,” she explains.

   She says her experience in the party has been particularly good and positive, as she had won the ticket easily and launched her campaigns.

  “It has been good. I’ve been running my campaigns the way I am able to, given the circumstances. I’ve been very active on the social media and as a matter of fact, that has been the major and most effective platform for me because it doesn’t require huge sums of money,” she says.

  Wasn’t she a bit afraid initially seeing as she is the only female contesting for the post of presidency? Remi says her gender was the last thing on her mind when sending in her nomination form. 

  “I am a Nigerian and this country needs fixing. That was the only thing that reverberated in me. But of course, being the only woman in the race has sort of pushed me further into limelight. I’m quite happy and encouraged with how things have turned out, especially by the response of majority of Nigerians. Of course, there have been those that outrightly condemn the idea of having a woman contest this position, but I am not discouraged.

   “When you see so much suffering around you simply because the situation of the country is not what it should be, you get motivated to bring about a change. This is not the way Nigerians ought to live, given the resources available. My party has pledged itself to rebuild Nigeria into a nation that works. This will not be an easy task, but we remain determined nonetheless.

  “The Nigeria we envisage is one in which every Nigerian has access to food, clean water, decent education, good health care, and can live in a safe, peaceful and stimulating environment, where he or she is guaranteed opportunities for self actualisation. I was a student at the University of Ife before lecturing there for 30 years and I must tell you that in those 30 years, things went gradually but steadily down instead of improving. Students are now not getting half of the beautiful experiences we had in the university during my days,” she says.

  With more women in the Southwest rooting for Remi, she is feeling elated. She says it is a good thing, if Nigerian women are now believing in another woman and supporting her. 

  “I just hope more people will root for me as well. If we really do want change, then why do we have to settle for less? In other parts of the world, people are taking very bold steps. Why can’t we do the same in Nigeria,” she queries.

  In her view, corruption is the major problem Nigeria has to battle, but she is of the opinion that all that is required to succeed in this regard is attitudinal change. 

  “Our present government told us we have entered a period of austerity, but I would have thought they would start with themselves. They should come out and tell us the sacrifices the people in leadership are willing to make. That is the attitudinal change I’m talking about. That way, you and I will be inspired to also make sacrifices.

   “I think the military really messed us up. Those people had no business with governance, but they were bent on ruling us. They established a trend of impunity and lack of accountability. However, the solution to Nigeria’s problem is real change, drastic change. Nigerians should be bold and shake off every fear. Do not say a party is not well known. In fact, where have the well-known parties landed us?”

  Remi describes herself as hard working, disciplined and honest. “I hesitate at times of course, but the question is: how will Nigerians be able to sift the wheat from the chaff? We’ve had promises upon promises all these years, but they have not been fulfilled. I fear God and I believe that a day will come when everyone will give an account of his or her life.”

  Among Remi’s academic and professional distinctions are, Member of the Project Drafting Committee for the Establishment of the Nigeria French Language Village, Badagry, a member of the executive committees of some of her professional associations and of the editorial boards of several local and international journals. She has been a Conference interpreter since 1989, including for ECOWAS, a recipient of various international research grants and fellowships, including the French Government Grant for Advanced Researchers and the German Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship.

  Remi is the first Nigerian to be appointed the Ambassador Scientist of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, a position she occupied from 2008 to 2014. 

  She is married to Babafunso Sonaiya, a professor of Animal Science, and they have children and grandchildren. She loves to sing, cook, write and travel.

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