Sonaiya is the first woman running for president in Nigeria's history [AFP]
I knew Oluremi Sonaiya could not become Nigeria's president from the day I heard her say she was contesting as an "ordinary" Nigerian, a "true representative of the people". In Nigeria, "ordinary" candidates do not win; and winners are more representative of the will of the elite ruling class rather than the people.
Yet it took only a few seconds of watching Sonaiya speak at the tenuous Abuja Peace Accord for me to conclude there was something presidential about the candidate of KOWA Party. Two subsequent telephone conversations reinforced that conviction. Sonaiya wears an assuring aura of self-belief you would not find in either a Goodluck Jonathan - or a Muhammadu Buhari before the widely-applauded Chatham House presentation.
Of all the 14 presidential candidates, it is Sonaiya who can reproduce for Nigerians, the pride of the average American after Barack Obama's Selma speech, or the fulfilment of the Israeli (even if it had little influence on his estimated voting patterns) with the fervour of Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to the US congress.
While leadership is not in any way defined by oratory, Nigeria, with its huge population of disenchanted citizens, needs a leader who can reignite public belief in the possibility of a more prosperous country.
Humility and modesty
Were the choice of Nigeria's next president to be influenced by what exactly the candidates have made of their lives, we would never discuss a March 28 election where Sonaiya is no frontrunner. Throughout her educational and professional life in Nigerian and foreign schools, the professor of linguistics has excelled, receiving numerous international research grants and fellowships, including the French Government Grant for Advanced Researchers and the German Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship. Yet personal experience and narrations of her colleagues and students point at a woman whose ways are shorn of the trappings of professorial power, whose humility and modesty belie her numerous career highs.
Understandably, no one should take the flak for the inability of Sonaiya's KOWA Party to fund a nationwide campaign, but nothing could be more self-defeating than the what-political-office-has-she-held question. Too many Nigerians are fascinated by official titles rather than track records.
If it were by offices held, then an election should not be holding in the first place, so that Goodluck Jonathan - having been deputy governor, governor, vice president, acting president and president - is simply nominated for a second term. Yet, aside the hordes of PDP loyalists, ethnic jingoists and those whose livelihoods utterly or implicitly depend on the PDP government, there are very few people who truly believe Jonathan deserves re-election.
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