I didn’t lose primary election because I’m a woman – Prof Sonaiya

Professor Oluremi Comfort Sonaiya was the presidential candidate for KOWA Party in the 2015 general elections but she was unable to clinch the ticket at the party’s recent presidential primary. In this chat with ENE OSANG, she speaks on lessons learnt since she joined politics and why she is not in the 2019 presidential race, among other issues.

Why are you not contesting in 2019?
I was an aspirant, however, I did not win the presidential primary of my party. KOWA Party runs a truly democratic system not like a group of ‘godfathers’ choosing candidates.
I contested alongside two men and I didn’t win. I am not the type that would run from one party to the other because I lost.

One would say that you have the visibility and experience having been the party’s presidential candidate in the 2015 polls, yet you lost. What do you think was responsible for this?

To be honest people outside are surprised at KOWA party because it is like having a good brand and choosing to dump it. What I know from my experience is that prior to the last elections, things were not as structured in KOWA as they have become now. Between then and now, KOWA has become better structured and well known and people are now interested in the party.

Would it be right to say KOWA Party used a female presidential candidate to advertise itself in 2015?

I would not say I was used because I came out of my own free will so I will not subscribe to being used at all. Nobody pushed me forward, I was given the platform to represent the party and I am happy I did.

That I am not the party’s candidate now is not a big deal because I always have this sense that the things I am supposed to do, according to God will, will work out for me. Maybe what I’m supposed to do is what I have done.

Is it possible that you didn’t scale through because you are a woman given that many female politicians insist that they are marginalised because of their gender?

I don’t think so, I did not go into politics with gender consciousness; I went in as a concerned citizen however I have seen that it is important to advocate for greater inclusion of women, youths, people with disabilities. My being a woman did not make KOWA Party influence the primary election.

What do you think is behind the depleted number of women running for political offices following the conclusion of party primaries?

I wouldn’t say the number of women reduced; I think it has even increased compared to what it was during the 2015 general elections because I was the only female presidential candidate but there are three women this time.

Generally, there is high level of desperation on the part of men contesting this time and it’s as if they think that the stakes are a lot higher this time, and so they want to cling to all the positions and will not concede anything to anybody.

I am honestly not surprised; take a look at the current Houses of Assembly there are states with a single women.

The men don’t want any opposition and this is not good for our democracy. I hope that Nigerians will understand these things and take decisions that will change this situation.

But do you think that these women are truly ready for the race given that most of them are contesting on the platform of smaller parties?

It is difficult for me to say because I am not them. I know why I joined a relatively new party, I also do not desire to have anything to do with the big parties which to my mind are discredited. Given the kind of structures these big parties have created and all that we know of them, in the long run, they are people I don’t want to be a part of.

I wanted to be a part of an effort to build something credible, something that has integrity that was why I joined KOWA in 2010 when I found out the kind of people in the party.

I have asked women in the bigger parties and they believed they should be in a party that has an already established structure, for me I think they want a place they would just log into and I do not want such easy step.

So, is it that the selection of delegates in your party is different from that of other parties as many women have said it is a big challenge?

For Kowa party, delegates for primary election is totally different and we were the first to say no to delegates. As long as you pay your membership due you have one vote like any other person. Even since last year when we had our Congress in Lagos state, you don’t have to travel to Lagos physically, we opened an online platform for voting and gave specific time for that and everyone cast their votes. We did same for the primaries, every up to date member voted.

Do you see the women who are still in the race making any difference in the forthcoming polls. Some people say women campaigns are not issues based?

We are new, Nigerian women politicians are just coming up but the truth is; even the men’s campaign are not issue based too because theirs is to decide who rules so let’s not buy this wrong insinuation.

Let us begin to count on journalists not to repeat whatever people throw out to discourage women; it is important that we don’t buy in and promote these narratives.

Most politician don’t seem to understand issues that affect women even the women politicians too, could it be that they are only contesting to boost their CVs ?

You are right, all of that requires some training, some experience. What has driven so many women to come out so far is just a sense of something is not right, not a sense of I am clear about these issues at this point it is just something is not right and the desire to make things work.

What type of leaders do you think Nigeria needs at this point and what are your expectations from next year’s general elections?

I expect integrity. People should be able to see a good candidate and vote for them, however this don’t happen because our people are poor. If a good candidate come out the people ask of money and they have been conditioned to poverty so when you wave N2000 to somebody who does not earn N200 per day you don’t expect him to walk away.

This is going to be a long call, we need to engage more with our people to change their minds and orientation to know that what they need is hood social infrastructure and services not bag or rice or salt.

At the same time, I believe a crucial thing to do is to make politics less attractive, less remunerative because having politicians earn the most ridiculous salaries is killing us.

I was in the United States sponsored by the US State Department to observe their 2016 elections; politicians are like volunteers, they pay them $100 per year and they will still pay tax from that money so service was more out of passion than gains. Even students take time off to go serve. So, its really a bunch of volunteers. We don’t have to be exactly that way but let’s pay reasonable renumeration to everybody. Some people are earning N20-25 million while some can’t get N18,000 minimum wage. This doesn’t make sense and for me, those are the the key issues about restructuring, we must be willing to take serious measures to address issues affecting us.

What is your take on the on-going minimum wage debate?
forthcoming polls. Some people say women campaigns are not issues based?
We are new, Nigerian women politicians are just coming up but the truth is; even the men’s campaign are not issue based too because theirs is to decide who rules so let’s not buy this wrong insinuation.
Let us begin to count on journalists not to repeat whatever people throw out to discourage women; it is important that we don’t buy in and promote these narratives.

Most politician don’t seem to understand issues that affect women even the women politicians too, could it be that they are only contesting to boost their CVs ?
You are right, all of that requires some training, some experience. What has driven so many women to come out so far is just a sense of something is not right, not a sense of I am clear about these issues at this point it is just something is not right and the desire to make things work.

What type of leaders do you think Nigeria needs at this point and what are your expectations from next year’s general elections?

I expect integrity. People should be able to see a good candidate and vote for them, however this don’t happen because our people are poor. If a good candidate come out the people ask of money and they have been conditioned to poverty so when you wave N2000 to somebody who does not earn N200 per day you don’t expect him to walk away.

This is going to be a long call, we need to engage more with our people to change their minds and orientation to know that what they need is hood social infrastructure and services not bag or rice or salt.

At the same time, I believe a crucial thing to do is to make politics less attractive, less remunerative because having politicians earn the most ridiculous salaries is killing us.

I was in the United States sponsored by the US State Department to observe their 2016 elections; politicians are like volunteers, they pay them $100 per year and they will still pay tax from that money so service was more out of passion than gains. Even students take time off to go serve. So, its really a bunch of volunteers. We don’t have to be exactly that way but let’s pay reasonable renumeration to everybody. Some people are earning N20-25 million while some can’t get N18,000 minimum wage. This doesn’t make sense and for me, those are the the key issues about restructuring, we must be willing to take serious measures to address issues affecting us.

What is your take on the on-going minimum wage debate?

It is scandalous that is why I am for a total restructuring; politicians have many Personal Assistants who do nothing yet are paid. When they don’t pay workers their PAs get paid so they are the ones pilling up people on the pay roll and when there are problems they begin to say they will retrench. Let them first retrench their unnecessary retinue of aides because it is injustice not to pay workers.

I also do not believe that N30,000 is too much as minimum wage. Citizens must begin to recognise the office of citizens and not allow leaders lead us just anyway they want.

What are the lessons of being an active female politician?

I have learnt that when you have a vision pursue it and don’t allow yourself to be derailed by anything or anyone.

Indeed it was a vision that was unusual given my background but its from the outcome that I’m saying this now because when I was joining the party I really did not have an idea of what my going into politics will be, I just knew that I was fed up with the way Nigeria was being run and I desired the better for my people.

I felt that the countries that were better run were populated with normal human beings like us so why is it that we could not give ourselves a good standard of living?

I went and have learnt that my going in served as inspiration to several people and for some reasons I still can’t figure out why many people saw in my candidature some hope and knew that we don’t have to be stuck forever with corrupt political class so they started contacting me and several of them joined the KOWA Party and started getting exited about politics.

I felt happy also that many women saw and received inspiration; several of them are contesting now and told me I chatted way for them and that’s why I said if you have a vision pursue it because you won’t know what impact that may have.

Going forward, what are your plans?

I still want to be a voice for women and the people. I am participating in political meetings, conferences, and so on. People invite me to give talks and share my experience.

So, mentoring and generally helping to establish a better political culture and seeing more capable women participating in national politics is what I’m in for.

What is your advice to Nigerians ahead of the 2019 elections?

Nigerians you know you have suffered under both the PDP and the APC. I cannot understand why you would vote for any of them again.

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