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An Amazon in Nigeria's political jungle

Oluremi Sonaiya, the only woman in the race to become the next president of Nigeria.
Oluremi Sonaiya, the only woman in the race to become the next president of Nigeria. Kowa Party

Oluremi Sonaiya is the only woman in the race to become the next president of Nigeria. Undeterred by the competition, including incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and former military leader Muhammadu Buhari, Sonaiya is running for the grassroots Kowa Party in the 14 February election.


Getting elected to the presidency in Nigeria has so far depended on having a wealthy sponsor or "godfather" as they are known. A hundred million euros was pledged by businessmen for incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan's reelection bid during a fundraising evening on 24 December. By comparison US President Barack Obama's 2012 election campaign cost just under one billion euros.

Nigeria's largest opposition party, the All Progressives' Congress has several euro millionaires within its ranks, including Rivers' State governor Rotimi Amaechi, Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president and Bola Tinubu, governor of Lagos State from 1999 to 2007.

While the APC's presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari is asking for donations from ordinary Nigerians, the 72 year-old three-time presidential hopeful in democratic elections, he accepted a 2.5 million euro donation on 31 December from a consortium of businessmen called Ohanaeze Ndigbo.

Oluremi Sonaiya is a retired professor of French and Applied Linguistics and a presidential debutante.

RC: Your presidential campaign can be compared to the fight between David and Goliath. How do you plan to beat the incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan?

OS: I find it interesting that several people have been comparing my foray into this arena to the fight between David and Goliath. I am hoping that all those who have been making this comparison actually turn out to be prophets. Because we all know that David did win the victory over Goliath.

But what I am hoping to do first and foremost is to make a point that the leadership of Nigeria is not the preserve of the rich and powerful or of those who have godfathers, international interests or whatever promoting them.

I wish to make the point to everybody that ordinary people like me have as much of a stake in this nation as anybody else. And we must reclaim the political arena from those who seem to believe that it is their own turf alone and that others should be excluded. I am hoping that Nigerians will be able to indentify with that. After all, what have Nigerians experienced but suffering at the hands of those who have ruled us for the past so many years? If that message does not resonate with Nigerians and if they are unwilling to support a campaign like mine then maybe we deserve all the suffering we are going through.

RC: You are running on the Kowa Party ticket. What does Kowa mean? And what does the Kowa Party stand for?

OS: It so happens that it's a word that can mean something in several of our Nigerian languages. So for example in Hausa, Kowa means everybody. So we say everybody can be a member. You are not excluded in anyway from seeking to be a member of the party.

In the Igbo language, Kowa would mean explain, show us, elucidate or make it clear. And in that sense we would say Kowa would stand for openness, transparency.

Oluremi Sonaiya is calling for an end to "wasteful" and "extravagant" presidential campaigns.
Oluremi Sonaiya is calling for an end to "wasteful" and "extravagant" presidential campaigns. Kowa Party

In Yoruba, which is my own language, Kowa could mean let it come. So we say let the good life that Nigerians have been yearning for, let it come to them. However, I don't want this to be seen as it's always the three big languages: Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba that are constantly being made elusion to. How about the other languages? I put this question to people on the social media and somebody replied saying that in his own language Kowa would mean eat it all. And I thought eh-o that is not a very positive thing. I then thought that we would say Kowa would stand against politicians who eat everything up not leaving much for the rest of the people.

It is clear that we stand for fairness, for equal opportunities for everybody; children, women. We do not accept that politicians would spend the resources of the nation in a selfish self-seeking manner. We have been told over and over again for instance that eighty percent of our resources is probably consumed by the political class. A very bleak future if we continue along the path that we have been treading in the past two or three decades.

RC: Does a grass roots movement such as Kowa have the money seemingly needed to field a winning presidential candidate?

OS: In fact I deliberately do not want to emphasise money in my campaign because I believe to a great deal that money has been the undoing of Nigeria. People have stolen money. People have used money irresponsibly. I do not want to have the kind of campaign that Nigerians have been used to over the years: a campaign that is wasteful, that is extravagant, where it does not seem to matter just how much money you throw at people. We cannot have a country where maybe 70 percent of our people live on the poverty level or below the poverty level having as we are told less than two dollars a day to live on and have politicians be insensitive to all of that. Our president was able to raise over 21 billion naira, over two billion dollars (USD). For goodness sake, to spend all that money in a country where there is so much poverty, where electricity is such an unstable reality for most of us and where the infrastructure is terribly decayed. I feel it is irresponsible and insensitive. So I am not looking for that kind of money. I believe I will run a campaign at the level of ideas and not at the level of money.

RC: The Kowa Party has a wider following in the north of Nigeria than in the south where you are from and live today. What has Kowa done to convince voters in regions of the north during previous elections?

OS: I think that the greater following the Kowa Party has in the northern part of the country, is because among the founding members of the party are several people from the north. That should explain why there is a greater followership and membership in the northern part of Nigeria.

RC: If you become the next president of Nigeria Oluremi Sonaiya, what will you do to bring an end to the islamic insurgency that has killed thousands of people since 2009?

OS: I believe that the perception of the people of their leader is a very vital element in leadership. I believe if people do not fully trust their leaders, it is difficult for them to cooperate with them. I think that when a leader is trusted and when a leader gives the right kind of example to the people there may be more cooperation. I'm saying this in terms of the gathering of intelligence concerning the insurgency that we have been experiencing. I believe that more people would be willing to cooperate because intelligence is crucial in the fighting of the Islamic militants. Because I think that a trusted leader will be able to achieve a great deal more.

But of course we know that Islamic insurgency is a problem around the world: ISIS, Al Qaeda, Taliban, Al Shabab and so on. And there must be cooperation with other countries, with international agencies in fighting this terror that has been unleashed upon the world and upon Nigeria in the case of Boko Haram in particular.

Follow Rosie Collyer on Twitter @roamingreporter

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