Oluremi Sonaiya is the only female presidential candidate for next month’s presidential elections. The Kowa Party candidate spoke to PREMIUM TIMES on her manifesto, her campaigns, and electoral chances.
PT: As the only female presidential candidate, what has been your experience so far and how are people receiving you?
Cand: Well, I believe that I’ve been well received. In general my experience has been a lot more positive than negative. I must be honest about that and state it clearly. I’ve done radio interviews, television interviews, and I’d say that the response has been mostly positive. I’ve been encouraged by that, I must tell you.
PT: Do you think Nigerians are ready for a female president?
Cand: We must be ready. We must be ready. I don’t believe that that is even a very good question to ask, sincerely. If it happens in other places why not in Nigeria. We’re human beings just like others. If Liberia has a female president why should the situation be different in Nigeria? Women are human beings just like men and we have as much of a stake in the affairs of our nation just like men. It is probably our cultural and traditional ideas and practices and customs that are keeping us down, really. We have seen that women are making important contributions to our lives as a nation and in private sector and in government. So I do not see why the leadership of the country should be barred from women.
PT: I was reading the result of a survey by a pan-African research network. The survey stated that the PDP and APC would each get about 42 per cent of the votes and only six per cent of all of those interviewed said they would vote for other opposition parties. Your party is one of the opposition parties and you merely have six per cent to share with other smaller parties. Realistically what are your chances in this election?
Cand: Well, you’ve just talked about the poll. Those are the figures from the poll. I’m not in this election for polling purposes. I’m in this election because I believe in what I’m doing. I believe that we need real change in our society. I do not believe that the front-runners can bring about the kind of change that we need, which encompasses several dimensions. That is why I’m doing what I’m doing. If Nigerians recognise it and buy into my vision them we would make that journey together. However, something has started now. There’s no doubt about that. It may be the beginning of the ultimate realisation of our dreams and aspirations as a nation.
PT: Let me quote one of your Facebook posts: “Those that have invested billions in seeking office are promising prudence for the austere times ahead is there not a disconnect?” Now some of the arguments for why the smaller parties like Kowa are not visible is because they don’t have the kind of money that the PDP and APC can muster and you’re criticising them for spending money for campaigning and making their candidate visible.
Cand: (Cuts in.)There’s something called moderation. I do not see why thousands of people have to be clothed in the same kind of clothing as part of the campaign. Going around to meet the voters. Yes, that is important and it needs money and that is also part of the reason that I have not been seen in as many places. There’s a lot that is also going on that is not germane to the ideas that people are to sell during the campaign. I’m convinced that we’re wasting a lot of money and that we do not have that kind of money to waste because we are a country that still has much to accomplish in terms of infrastructure, it terms of our health services and so on. Does it seem normal that we would be spending twenty something billion on campaigns when we do not have the same amount of money to give for research in our tertiary institution. What’s the priority? That’s what I’m talking about.
PT: You’re not doing rallies and large public campaigns. How strong is your grassroots network? Can you give us figures of the number of volunteers you have?
Cand: No I cannot give you figures. I cannot give you figures. I’m not about figures. I’m reaching out as best as I can to people. I’m reaching out in social media, I’m reaching out in small groups and maybe not so small groups. I’m not trying to play up to some expectations. If people are saying they do not see me. I can also say that if you think what I’m doing is worth supporting, are you supporting it?
PT: Let’s talk about key national issues. The prognosis about the economy is completely bleak. Most Nigerians may not know this right now but it is actually frightening. If you’re elected into office what measures are you going to take to turn things around in no distant time?
Cand: I don’t know whether things can be turned around in no distant time. We must be clear of what our expectations are. We know the depletion of our resources that have taken place, the excess crude account almost completely gone. We’ve had a government that has consistently spent beyond its earnings and we know that this cannot be kept for a long time. Therefore cutting government spending will be important. Seeking to increase our sources of revenue will be important and looking beyond oil as a source of revenue. Even for oil, could we, for instance, seek to increase our production so that we can capture more of the market? That might be a possibility. It is important to convince ourselves or to remember that we were a country that produced several other products before oil was discovered. Can we seek to return to where we are coming from? Where are the cocoa, the groundnuts and so on that we used to produce that got us quite some amount of wealth? We have a lot of mineral deposit that we’re not sufficiently exploiting in various states. There is also the need to revamp our infrastructure so that they can lead to greater economic benefit for us. For instance if they really tackle this problem of electricity you know that that would increase our productivity. If we have a good rail system, it would stimulate our economy. Many issues are really quite related with respect to the economy. People are talking about diversification and so on, yes we must diversify and we must be serious about it.
PT: I’ve read your manifesto and I’ve read that of the APC and the PDP, maybe not that of all of the smaller parties. To be honest there isn’t any significant difference from what you have in your manifesto from what the APC, for instance, has in its manifesto. What do you think makes you outstanding from these other parties if your manifestoes are almost identical?
Cand: I believe what you’re saying; for Nigerians the challenge in terms of what is before us is not about the manifestoes because there’s absolutely nobody who’s going to put it in their manifesto that they’re coming to steal your money; that they are coming to use all the country’s resources for their private interest. Nobody would tell you that. But the challenge for Nigerians is who would you trust with your affairs? And you have to look at the record of the people that you have. Those that have public records that you know or somebody like me that has not be in public political service. I have been in public service. I’ve worked for 30 years in a university and those who knew me can testify and attest to my character and so on. These are the challenges before us. So don’t bother about manifestoes. All the promises that people have made in the past even from their manifestoes, have they fulfilled them? We were supposed to have electricity by the year 2000, where is it today? So that is what people have to make their decision on.
PT: Someone said that the part of Nigeria that is controlled by Boko Haram is as big as Holland. What are your plans for security?
Cand: When we had challenges in West Africa, what did we do? We raised ECOMOG forces, we banded together and we fought. This is also an issue that probably deserves such an approach as well, because in any case our neighbours are under threat too. Cameroon already is being attacked. Niger, our immediate neighbour, has reason to be jittery and the whole of West African region. If Nigeria sneezes, the region would catch a cold. So it is important for us to make effort to establish a regional cooperation to fight the insurgents. I’m not sure they are doing enough in that approach. Another dimension is that terrorism is a global phenomenon so we must equally join hands with international agencies in seeking an end to it.
PT: In your manifesto the word corruption only appears twice. I was expecting to read a broad plan of combating corruption. If you talk to five Nigerians probably three would tell you that corruption is the country’s biggest problem. I was a little surprised that there is no broad plan in your manifesto to curb corruption.
Cand: It’s because you define corruption in a very narrow way. When I talked about my vision for Nigerian as a country where nobody suffers exclusion. What do you think I mean by that? What makes people suffer exclusion if not corruption? So I do not need to splash corruption all over the place. The issue that I’m addressing, of course, are dealing with corruption. What is it that makes our hospital not to function, as they should? It is not that we do not know how hospitals are supposed to be managed. It is because of corruption.
Thank you for your time.