In Nigeria’s election, Remi Sonaiya cracks a glass ceiling

Nigeria goes to the polls tomorrow, finally, and the top three contenders for President are Goodluck Jonathan, no surprise there; Muhammadu Buhari, also no surprise; and Comfort Remi Sonaiya … What? A woman is running third in the Presidential elections of the most populous country on the African continent? Yes, she is.

While it’s easy, and accurate, to frame the story as a long list of men and only one woman, it’s equally important to acknowledge that Remi Sonaiya is the first woman to qualify to run for President, and as such deserves more than praise, although a bit of praise wouldn’t hurt.

A published scholar and longstanding critic of both leading candidates, Remi Sonaiya is representing the Kowa Party, whose ideology is described as two-pronged: social welfare and modernism. That basically means that evidence-based approaches would be used to ensure a decent life for everyone and for all communities by transforming the Nigerian economy from one based on consumption to one based on production. Not surprisingly, given Remi Sonaiya’s history as a teaching and research scholar, she insists on expanding and improving education at the same time that she insists on “engaging with the Nigerian public on seeking to bring to an end age-old cultural and traditional practices which degrade the human person.” Sonaiya’s description of the Kowa Part ideology concludes with this telling sentence: “All of the above, needless to say, leaves absolutely no room for corruption or graft.” Needless to say, and yet it very much needs to be said.

Remi Sonaiya has been a tireless critic of State and bureaucratic corruption, at the same time that she has worked to ensure women’s rights, equality and power. As she noted in Lagos in January, “We have done enough of cheerleading. Women cannot keep on being cheerleaders in this country.” Elsewhere, Sonaiya expanded on this message: “I have a stake in Nigeria. I am qualified to run for the presidency of Nigeria. Like what Barack Obama said, he thought there was a skinny little black boy who thought that America had room for him. Well, this not so skinny woman thinks that Nigeria has a place for her, at the leadership level also.”

Many agree, and in particular a number of Nigerian women have taken notice. As one Nigerian writer commented, “Prof. Comfort Remi Sonaiya is the only woman contesting for the presidency in the forthcoming Nigerian elections in February 2015. Unfortunately, not many of us have heard of her, her running mate, Saidu Bobboi or her party, Kowa. I say unfortunately, not because she’s a woman like me, but because watching this video of her I found on Youtube, I get her, and she feels so much more capable, approachable and qualified than both Goodluck and GMB. The prof is an intellectual and in 2008, she was named an International Ambassador Scientist of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Sonaiya became the National Public Relations Officer of KOWA Party soon after she resigned as Professor of Foreign Languages at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife. In the video, is a speech made at the 2013 TedexIfe where she speaks the language of the youth which included singing and rapping.”

Check out her 2013 talk, “How Could You Have Power and Not Use It?” Tomorrow, almost certainly, either “Goodluck or GMB” will be elected to the Presidency, but the future is in the race run by Comfort Remi Sonaiya. Listen. You can hear Nigerian women singing, rapping and asking hard and necessary questions through the cracks in the glass ceiling of the most populous country on the African continent.

 

(Photo Credit: YouTube / Kowa Party) (Video Credit: YouTube / Tedx Talks)

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.