Babachir Lawal’s case, a bone in Buhari’s throat – Shehu Sani

The lawmaker representing Kaduna Central Senatorial District, Senator Shehu Sani, speaks about the cabal in the Presidency and President Muhammadu Buhari’s challenge in implementing the report on the suspended SGF

Will you describe the Minister of Women Affairs, Mrs. Aisha Al-Hassan, as one of the ‘hyenas and leopards’ in the government for declaring her support for former Vice President Atiku Abubakar for the 2019 presidential election?

I don’t think she is one of them. What brought her into national discourse was the statement she inadvertently made to declare her support for the former Vice President of Nigeria, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. The fact remains that it is her opinion, but many people do not actually agree with her. The fact that she could speak out shows that she is not a hypocrite. We must tell ourselves the truth. When the President was sick and was in London (for medical vacation), there were many things that happened behind him, one of which was that many politicians that are celebrating him today and mobilised thousands of people to the streets to welcome him were actually not interested in his recovery when he was on his sickbed. If we can vividly recall, the level of support he has is more audible when he is around than when he was not.

In the Nigerian parlance, there is what we call ‘eye service.’ When the President is absent, you will see scheming; you will see political machinations; you will see politicians and political office holders jostling around, organising nocturnal meetings and forming alliances and re-strategising for their own political future and for the 2019 election. It surprised many of them that he came back because many of them thought he would not return alive.

The difference between that woman (Al-Hassan) who made the statement as a minister and the others is that she was open and others are still having it in their minds. I believe the President knew very well that many things had happened behind him. If she is prepared to work for the former vice president in the event that President Buhari decides to contest (again), she should easily excuse herself from this government and concentrate on what she believes in for the 2019 election.

I don’t like the way people are insulting her; I don’t like the way people are calling her all sorts of names. I think the President knows very well the kind of person he appointed as minister. She has her opinion but I may not share her opinion. I believe that our democracy should get to a point where we should tolerate opinions other than our own. The measure of our democratic relevance is not about our cliques; it is about our acceptance and conformity with democratic dictates and principles.

When a serving minister openly declares her support for Buhari’s political rival, does that not mean a vote of no confidence in the President?

I think she is in the best position to answer that, but from the little knowledge I have about her, she has always been a woman of respect and integrity. People have the right to express their opinion but we should understand that a lot has been achieved by this government in the areas of fighting corruption, economy and security. We should appreciate that. There are also a number of failures within the last two years but we are having problems with people who do not see any good in this administration. We are also having a problem with people who think that the administration is 100 per cent right, angelic and saintly, hence nobody should criticise it.

This is a free and democratic society; people must be encouraged to express their opinions. If we did not have the right to speak up and challenge the (Goodluck Jonathan-led) government, it would have been impossible for us to take over political power. Democratic societies provide the platforms for individuals to use and hold the government to account. Without the right to freedom of expression and speech, we are going to have a society where only the wills, wishes and dictates of the people in power become the rule. If you have been elected into office, you have voluntarily offered yourself to be scrutinised through public criticisms, which democracy itself provides for.

You and the wife of the President, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, once said when Buhari, as the Lion King, returned from his medical vacation, he would flush out the hyenas and the leopards in the kingdom. The President has been around for some time now. When will he do it?

I am of the belief that there will be cabinet reshuffle and I believe that some people will be removed from his government; some people will be replaced and there will be some substitutions. In the life of a government, there is the need for periodic reviews to assess the performance of people appointed into various offices. Those ones who have failed woefully should be dislodged from the government; those who have performed fairly should be assessed as to whether they should be taken to different ministries or be shifted to another agency; those who have performed well should simply be encouraged and remain where they are. If you don’t do that, there is likely going to be fatigue and the atmosphere of governance will be so suffocating.

You will see the technical failures of some appointees and it is also an opportunity to bring in people with fresh ideas. When a new government comes into office, what usually happens is that there is always the burden of responsibility and compensation on the president (or governor). That means that those who worked hard for his victory need to be compensated. That is why names of ministers (nominees) are collected from governors. Those who worked hard during the campaign are being compensated with ministerial positions. But if one has done that for a year or two, then one has been able to appease and please those forces that helped one to get into office.

Now, one has to settle for governance, which means bringing in people that will deliver results purely. There are three stages in the life of a government: the first cabinet is about compensating people who worked for you. The second is to bring in people who will deliver on your mission, irrespective of their political and social allegiances. Most times, the cabinet that comes last is usually an election cabinet; those who will work towards your re-election.

Some Nigerians have alleged that although Buhari is the President of Nigeria, some people around him have formed a cabal and hijacked his government. Do you share this view?

In every possible way, any dispassionate and even passionate watcher of events will attest to the fact that there are elements within the administration that constitute themselves as a government within the government; people who believe that they are superior to others. This is not peculiar to Buhari’s administration. If you check throughout the history of Nigeria, every government has its own men of influence who are considered a cabal, even at the state level. During the time of Shehu Shagari, everyone knew the influential role of Umaru Dikko; it was very clear. It was the same thing with Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration; there was what they called a ‘Reform Team,’ which gave advice on Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (to be next president) and also adopted Goodluck Jonathan. The only time the issue of cabal became so popular was during the time of (the late former President) Umaru Yar’Adua. It was also popular during the time of Jonathan.

Who are those that make up the cabal?

They are close confidants of the President; the president’s men who exploit that confidence and truth they have with Mr. President to manipulate the government and conduct the affairs of the government not in the interest of the person who they are serving but their personal interests. Those are the people who constitute a cabal and these are the ones I tagged wolves and hyenas and jackals.

Has the delay in the implementation of the report of your committee justified your claim that the Presidency was using deodorant on the rodents within the government and insecticide on those outside it?

I made the reference when a letter was sent from the Presidency to the National Assembly, clearing the former SGF and even blaming us for investigating him. I said if the letter truly came from the President, then it was very clear to us that there were double standards in the way corruption was being fought. I think one issue that has become a dilemma for this administration is how to resolve the report on the former SGF. That report has become like a bone in the throat of the President and people in the Presidency. And when you have a bone in your throat, you have to decide whether to vomit it or flush it in. Meanwhile, leaving it there will lead to injury and whether you vomit, swallow or leave it there, there are consequences. We did our report; the vice president – then as acting president – also did his report. It is like, now, the whole country is watching to see what the President will do about it. This is one report that has held the Presidency by the neck. I believe that the President knows it well that if there is one asset he has, it is his integrity.

Do you see Lawal as one of the sacred cows and the ‘untouchables’ in Buhari’s government?

I believe it is about his contribution to the success of this government, his place in this government and the fact that nobody saw it coming. Put all these together: if someone was involved in corruption and our report was enough to remove the person’s head, they didn’t need to do another one led by the Acting President; and to submit the report, it took months. It is like having a knife: it is easier to slaughter an enemy who did wrong than to slaughter a friend who committed the same offence. What is happening is like the President has a sword, which he uses to behead people he does not know who committed offences. Now, he has the same sword with him to behead the person he knows, and the whole world is watching.

What is your reaction to former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s statement that the National Assembly is made up of unarmed robbers?

Sometimes, it is easier for people to criticise the National Assembly than to criticise the Presidency because if you want to criticise the government, you are targeting Buhari, but if you are attacking the National Assembly, you are giving relief to some people. I know very well that Obasanjo cannot call me as an individual that name. We have been in the same prison with him; we wore the same handcuffs; we were jailed together with him. Certainly, if Shehu Sani is an unarmed robber in the National Assembly, then he is my father because we were in Kirikiri (Maximum Prison, Lagos) together. So, he is the father of an unarmed robber. As far as I am concerned, I believe that his problem with the National Assembly started during his own time (as president) but there is a different generation of members of the National Assembly now. These are not the members that he had issues with. – Culled from Punch.

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