Africa’s third female president?

2015-03-22 15:00

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The only female candidate in Saturday’s presidential poll in Nigeria has said her goal is to become Africa’s third female president.

In an interview in Lagos, Remi Sonaiya, a university professor, said: “Nigeria is ripe for a female president because it’s the only guarantee of political stability.”

It’s the second time a woman will be running for the presidency. The first was Major Moji Obasanjo, the wife of former president Olusegun Obasanjo and candidate of the Masses Movement of Nigeria, in 2007.

Sonaiya’s Kowa Party is one of the 28 parties on the ballot sheet.

Most of the parties have adopted the leading contenders – incumbent Goodluck Jonathan or his rival, Muhammadu Buhari – as their candidates.

A few are simply not fielding any candidate for the presidency.

Sonaiya, who was the former national public relations officer of her party before she clinched the presidential ticket, said: “Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has had a stabilising effect on Liberia after the long conflict.

“Our nerves have been on edge in Nigeria.

“We need somebody who will make the country calm its nerves,” she said.

With women making up nearly 30% of Jonathan’s Cabinet and two of them – the ministers of finance and petroleum – mockingly described as co-presidents with Jonathan, this might be a chance for the country to have the real thing.

Professor Pat Utomi, founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership, said: “The problem has never been acceptance. It’s how well women have prepared themselves for leadership.

“There’s a common joke that in the presidential pecking order, Petroleum Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke is first, the First Lady is second, Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is third and Goodluck Jonathan completes the quartet. Is Sonaiya ready? What has she done? That is the question.”

But Sonaiya dismissed any suggestion that she was not prepared to live her dream. She said the growing frustration with the leading candidates could play in her favour. She said even though she had reservations about the poll being postponed by six weeks, it had given her the opportunity to cover more ground and engage with more voters.

“People who are not comfortable with the candidacy of Jonathan and Buhari have a choice in Remi Sonaiya,” she said.

She maintained that the criticism that women were often their own worst enemies was a stereotype, adding that things were changing and women were taking the lead.

A March 9 NOI/Gallup poll just released on women in governance said: “Eighty-six percent of Nigerians support the idea of women contesting for political positions in the forthcoming elections ... Eight in 10 would be willing to vote for any woman contesting for a political position.”

However, when the pollsters checked for the awareness level of women in politics, Sonaiya’s name was off the radar.

Ishiekwene is the group managing director of the Abuja-based Leadership group of newspapers and a board member of the Global Editors’ Network

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