March 8, 2016
Nigeria’s first female presidential candidate on the platform of KOWA party, Prof. Remi Sonaiya, has described Nigeria’s current Presidential system, which tolerates wasteful spending by National Assembly members, as unsustainable.
Although, she stopped short of recommending a replacement since, according to her, she was not “an expert” in that regard, she however declared that with the way members of both the House of Representatives and Senate were conducting their affairs, the (Presidential) system could run Nigeria aground. “If we are not careful, she said, “it (the current system) will run us aground.” She suggested that rather than have full time legislators, a part time arrangement could be a better option.
Sonaiya, a Professor of French Language and Applied Linguistics spoke today on the theme: “Women in Leadership and Good Governance,” at a programme organized by the United States Consulate in Lagos, to commemorate this year’s International Women’s Day.
The National Assembly members have since 1999 been famous for doing little work and allocating outrageous allowances for themselves. The latest was the Senate’s decision to procure N4.7 billion luxury cars for its members, to the chagrin of the public and even President Muhammadu Buhari. The Senate President, Bukola Saraki has reportedly just taken delivery of luxury cars worth N330 million naira, despite public outcry.
Sonaiya, who taught at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile Ife for several years before retiring, also deplored the “godfather” type of politics dominating the country’s political space. She advocated for “strong institutions” instead of “strong men,” which she noted, would create a level playing ground for both men and women.
She recalled that when she decided to run for president, the issue of her gender was raised wherever she went. Some people even queried her for daring to run for a political office. “And my response has always been, why not?”
The former university teacher admitted that money usually played a big role in the country’s electoral system, with some people asking her for money in many places where she had campaigned.
“But I won’t give anybody money to vote for me, and that is the new consciousness that we must begin to create,” she asserted. “I spent less than six million naira for all my campaign activities and the funds came from donations by my husband, friends, family members and those who believed in our ideas. Those who gave us money knew I might not win, but they found our ideas good enough.”
She also noted that since the electoral process “is dominated by strong men,” the candidates thrown up were usually hand-picked by such strong men. “But they are not always the best for important political offices,” she said.
Sonaiya, who was inspired to get into politics by her desire to “do something” about the fundamental problems of poverty, injustice and intolerance inherent in the country said: “The type of leader Nigeria needs now, is a leader that would soothe, comfort and nurture” the citizens in the current difficult times.
She averred: “women are known to be strongly committed to good governance and education. Women have continued to demonstrate competence in other spheres. They promote transparency in government and they are strongly committed to peace- building, which are what Nigeria needs at this time. Nigeria is short-changing itself by keeping women out of politics.”
Sonaiya also implored young women to step out and contest for political offices. She said it was not enough to just talk about what needs to be done, it was also important to take appropriate steps to acquire political offices to bring about the necessary change.
The United States Consul General, Mr. John Bray observed that women’s leadership and meaningful participation in government, the economy and civil society “accelerates economic development, improves health and education indicators, advances democratic development and fosters peace and security.”
He said the United States “has invested millions of dollars to directly advance gender equality across Sub-Saharan and North African countries, which includes activities that promote political and economic opportunities for women, access to health and education services and efforts to prevent and respond to gender-based violence.”
He implored Nigerian women to seize the opportunity of the 2019 general elections to play a more active role in politics “by lobbying to have laws passed, or changed, that will eliminate barriers to women’s full inclusion and empowerment in all aspects of Nigerian society.”
He reminded the audience that just last year, a legislation that removed the requirement for a person running for public office to have the endorsement of a political party was enacted in Nigeria. “Candidates can now run as ‘independents,’ ” he said. “Therefore, more women could consider running for public office.”
Bray said the U.S launched the Equal Futures Partnership in 2012, “to help galvanise efforts by governments around the world to address barriers to women’s economic and political participation.”
He observed that in Africa, Benin, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Tanzania were already members. “Unfortunately, Nigeria is not part of Equal Futures Partnership, but you (women) have an opportunity to lobby for inclusion,” he said.