3 February 2015

Humboldtian running for president in Nigeria

She is the only woman standing for the presidential election in Nigeria on 28 March: the Humboldtian Remi Sonaiya is running for president, alongside ten male candidates.

Nigeria is often described as a patriarchal society, says the retired professor for French literature and linguistics, who has conducted research in Germany a number of times as a Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Women currently account for only seven members in the country’s Senate, while the governors of all 36 states are male. Remi Sonaiya wants to break open these structures.

nigerianische Präsidentschaftskandidatin Remi Sonaiya
Remi Sonaiya is interviewed by Agence France-Presse
in front of a refugee camp in Abuja
Photo: Ayodeji Fawole

In the years since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999, large, well-financed political parties have dominated the country’s politics. Current president Goodluck Jonathan’s PDP party has been in power without interruption since that time. Goodluck’s most promising challenger in the upcoming election is Muhammadu Buhari, the candidate for the APC, the largest opposition party. Muhammadu Buhari previously governed the country during the military dictatorship. Politics is a “family business” in large parts of Nigeria, says Remi Sonaiya, and is marked by “a culture of thuggery and midnight meetings”. She wants to break open these structures as well. Sonaiya is campaigning for the smaller Kowa party, which was founded not long ago in 2009 and is committed to a “New Nigeria”, social welfare and modernism. It is time that “somebody ordinary, a true representative of the people” runs for president, she says.

The experience she gained as a guest researcher in Germany is an important source for her “political inspiration”, says the 59-year-old. Since the 1990s, she has conducted research a number of times in Germany, including at the University of Mainz. As a long-standing Ambassador Scientist of the Humboldt Foundation in Nigeria and a founding member of the African-German Network of Excellences in Science (AGNES), Sonaiya promotes scientific exchange between the continents. For her political work, Germany serves her as “a point of comparison in seeking solutions to our problems in Nigeria”, Sonaiya explains.

The country has abundant oil and gas reserves and recently reported economic growth in the high single-digit range. Nonetheless, over half of Nigeria’s more than 150 million residents live in extreme poverty. Illiteracy is widespread. Approximately one out of every two women and one out of every three men cannot read or write. The Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram has ravaged the predominantly Muslim north-eastern part of the country for years now. Since 2009, attacks in the region have claimed an estimated 15,000 lives. Due to ongoing violent attacks by Boko Haram the presidential elections scheduled for mid-February have been postponed to the end of March.

The issues internal security, education policy and economic policy are accordingly high on the list in Remi Sonaiya’s electoral programme. She wants to make Nigeria’s science and academia internationally competitive. In the fight against Boko Haram, she wants to improve living conditions in the country in order to deter people from joining the terrorist group. In addition, she will strive for cooperation with Nigeria’s neighbours and with the international community. “As we all know, terrorism has become a global phenomenon.”

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

Every year, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation enables more than 2,000 researchers from all over the world to spend time researching in Germany. The Foundation maintains a network of well over 26,000 Humboldtians from all disciplines in more than 140 countries worldwide – including 51 Nobel Prize winners.


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