Humboldtians in private

Me at the Elections

By Remi Sonaiya, recorded by Teresa Havlicek

This is a photo of me during the Nigerian elections in the spring. I was campaigning for the presidency. We ran a road show in the town of Ile-Ife, where I live, from the General Hospital to the university gate.

Ayodeji Fawole
Photo: Ayodeji Fawole

In Nigeria, the major parties spend enormous sums on the elections. They sometimes rent an entire stadium with a huge stage and space for thousands of people. My party, the KOWA Party, is small. We do not have the funds for that kind of thing. And even if we did, I would not spend it on that.

Nigeria is a developing country – we need money for much more urgent things. Huge election events are a complete waste of resources. All we needed for our road show was a truck. We played my election jingle, which was composed by my daughter, over the loudspeakers and then I took the microphone and told people about our party’s programmes. I wanted people to see me in their own environment: in public spaces, at the shops where they work and shop, and on their own doorsteps. Until then, people only knew me from election posters.

The policeman in the picture was there to protect us: elections can turn violent in Nigeria, so any public campaign is always covered by policemen, but there was no violence at all during our own campaigns. I am not bothered about not having won in the end. To be honest, the journey was more important for me than the destination. Altogether, I got 13,706 votes. The important thing is that the votes came from all over the country, from all 36 states. I am still contacted by people thanking me for standing for greater democracy in our country, especially for women’s participation.

But I am not about to disappear from the political scene. As long as there is still work to do to bring about change in Nigeria, greater modernity and social justice, you will find me out there. And who knows? Look at our new President Muhammadu Buhari: it was his fourth campaign this spring. Maybe that sets a good example.

published in Humboldt Kosmos 104/2015

Remi Sonaiya is a retired professor of French language and linguistics. A Humboldt Research Fellow, she often spent time in Germany, amongst others, at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. From 2008 to 2014, she was the Humboldt Foundation's Ambassador Scientist in Nigeria where she stood for the presidential elections in 2015, the only woman against 13 men.