Shehu Sani, a human rights activist and politician, represents Kaduna Central Senatorial Districts in the Senate and is the chairman, Senate Committee on Foreign and Local Debts.
He speaks on the situation in Kaduna State, his rift with Governor Nasir el-Rufai, the nation’s economic crisis, among others.
There has been a frosty relationship between you and your friend, the governor of your state, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai. What caused the crisis?
The crisis didn’t start today or yesterday. It began right after we were elected into office on May 29. The governor, Mr Nasir el-Rufai, never supported my candidature for the senatorial seatduring the primary. I was not his favourite candidate. He declared a war on me by engaging in actions, which include sponsoring people to criticise or attack me and destroy my own reputation. I didn’t want to respond based on the fact that we come from the same party and he’s the governor of my state. But I later saw that not responding to him has not been able to address the problems. I’ve never been his favourite candidate, even when it comes to the conduct of the affairs of the state he has never involved or consulted me.
So, I think this was the foundation of this conflict, and the very fact that he now uses the approach of financially inducing some members of the state council of the All Progressive Congress (APC) to suspend me, the action that has no legal backing in the constitution of the party or supported by the national secretariat of the party. However he has suspended me about four to five times. In the last one-and half years that we took over office APC Kaduna has held over eight press conferences and all the eight press conferences are about Shehu Sani.
It’s either they are suspending Shehu Sanitoday, tomorrow they are reaffirming my suspension. This is what the matter has become. He has forgotten that some people were once governors and that power is temporary. There would be a time when people would not remember you ever held this type of position. However, when you are blessed with power, it is an opportunity for you to serve with human face, to help and advance the cause of humanity. He has not lived in Kaduna for a long time and by the time he comes now as the governor he unleashed a lot of programmes and policies that are simply punishing people that make them hate our party. It has reached a point where many people have looked back and said yesterday was better than today.
I challenge you to tell me if you had heard in the last one and half years any member of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Kaduna that has defected to APC. As you need to ask yourself before you defect that where am I defecting to? It is now the other way round defecting from APC to PDP because there is no attractive thing for people to move to APC.
He is fighting everybody. He is fighting religious leaders with religious bill; he’s fighting Nigeria Labour Congress by removing their union dues; he’s fighting workers by so-called rationalization, downsizing and so many things which led to retrenchment of so many of them. He’s fighting our politicians, traditional rulers and all segments of the society. So, when you look at all those things, you will see that this is someone who has been known to have a voice against leaders. He has been so critical of leaders immediately when he was done with power in 2007. But since he assumed leadership baton, he is afraid of criticism. I don’t think that is right.
Your office was attacked recently, which people would you say are behind the attack?
The police are investigating that case for now. Armed men entered my Constituency Office and met my social media team. They injured them, vandalised the office and left a lot of threats and warnings. And for anybody to do that, it simply means that he’s asking for a life. That happened on Saturday, on Sunday again, some armed men came to my own house heavily armed and disarmed some persons they met. They equally tried to enter the house, but it wasn’t possible for them because it was fortified. So, they attacked and injured people outside my house. Now this is the state of things. And if anybody thinks that this is happening in a movie, they need to have a rethink.
Sometimes you don’t know a person until he holds political power. And if a person is not in power, you may think he’s different, unique, intelligent, but by the time he takes over office, you will come to know his true nature. Unfortunately, for him, he has forgotten my own history as a freedom fighter, revolutionary and activist who has spent so many years fighting for justice, democracy and human progress. I have suffered a lot of persecution in my life. We, however, ushered the democracy which the like of El-Rufai are enjoying now and I don’t think people like me can be intimidated. He needs not to do all those things here. And if he is afraid of me, there is a better way you can combat your enemy other than such kind of things. And I have made it very clear that whatever happens to me in terms of application of violence, he should know that he is clearly responsible. I don›t believe in violence. Our ideas are our weapons.
Some analysts have attributed this to the 2019 governorship race in Kaduna State. Do you have a gubernatorial ambition in 2019?
If at all we are fighting for 2019 gubernatorial race, I think it’s too early to fight for 2019. But simply, it is about him just not comfortable with my profile. He wants to be at the head, the most intelligent person in Kaduna whose voice must be heard and whose words must become law and nobody can say anything. He came to Kaduna and met me here; I’m not a convert of change. I was born and bred and my own parents were all born and bred in change. I didn’t live and dine or become part of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He was a PDP man and he’s still PDP in mentality, tendencies and thinking. I have always been on the side of the progressives. And that is the inner contradiction within the APC. The APC is supposed to be a progressive party, one that will lean towards the left. But you see the vendors of privatisation, the vendors of conservative right political thinking also calling themselves progressives. Now these are the irony, contradiction and confusion that exist. And this is also the problem, of what should be the direction of governance as far as this present government is concerned. Buhari is not a rightist; he is a centre of the left man, who thinks towards the left. But he has people who are said to be chieftains and they want him to sell refineries; they want him to privatise; they want him to retrench; they want him to collect loan.
Now this is all the kind of problems that we are having. APC is a convergence of people from different political leanings. Those of them who came from PDP still find it very difficult to remove that toga. Up till now they have not been de-wormed. And they need to be de-wormed for them to properly fit into progressive’s tendencies.
Are you satisfied with the way the Kaduna State government handled the matter of Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) Shiite?
I have said it right from the beginning of the crisis that there are lots of ways you can address a problem without creating so much. We have been through this kind of problem in the north-eastern part of Nigeria, which began with a group that started without being violent and later became violent. But I think what is most needed here is the very fact that we have committed a very serious mistake in handling this problem and we are living in a world where authority doesn’t begin and end with the government of the country. But it also has to do with the obligations which we find globally and which we must comply with. And it is painful when I travel out of the country and each time the issue of what happened in Zaria in 2015 comes up, Nigeria is painted in a very bad light. I feel this is an issue we can easily address with maturity. How was Obasanjo, how were Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Abacha and Babangida able to handled those Shiite without getting to this point? How were they able to do it? But I think the mistake has seriously being made and it is better in the best interest of our country not to escalate the situation as we can properly manage it without things getting out of hand. I think if we had insurgence in the North-East that we are still battling with, I don’t think it is very right to be in another one. This is not in the best interest of the country. The best way to handle issue during democracy is through the rule of law, instruments and principle of democratic society. But if we failed to do this, there are consequences we have to bear.
There are complaints of suffering by the citizenry under the present administration. What do you think the government has not done right?
There are a good things the present administration has done since Buhari came in he has restored peace, confidence and security. However before Buhari there were bombs flying around the country in Abuja, Sokoto, Kano and Jos, among others. Today, he has been able to stabilise and for that we need to commend the gallantry of Nigerian Army which has done a fantastically good job in securing this country. And secondly, he has also been able to fight corruption not just fighting corruption but sending a clear message to all Nigerians that time of corruption is over and we will not tolerate, endorse, embrace any act of corruption in this country. But there are a lot of things that could have been done right, which is the economy. When we took over, even before the hand-over, there could have been a very strong economic team that would forecast the economic weather and make necessary amendments that would cushion the hazards and prevent it from falling flat on our heads. That was the mistake that was made. That is on the economic side and the hardship.
People are actually suffering so much. There is so much poverty, so much hunger. There is so much disappointment in the hearts and minds of our people. But I think we need to understand that as a government we can’t hold this for so long. This government has enjoyed the longest degree of patience from the people in the history of Nigeria: in the sense that Nigerians are still not in the streets protesting, not going on strike. There is no disobedience campaign against the President or the Federal Government. As you can see, even critics of this government are carefully measuring their words when it comes to criticising the government. But we have up to May 29 next year, which is just a few months ahead, for Nigerians to pass a final verdict of whether we have been able to deliver our campaign promises.
In your own opinion, have these promises been delivered?
There are areas that we have achieved and there are areas that we have not achieved. We have achieved in the area of corruption, security and the image of Nigeria globally. However on the economy, we have not achieved much by the very fact that people are suffering.
On the intention of the federal government to borrow $30 billion external loan…
As the chairman, Senate Committee on Foreign and Local Debts, it will be very unfair of me to give my views with regards to whether we should borrow or not. If I say we should borrow, it means that I have pre-empted the decision of the committee. And if I say we shouldn’t borrow, it means that I have also pre-empted the decision of the committee. So, by virtue of the position which I hold, I will reserve my judgment this until I’m able to. How I wish as an individual, I can give my own views, but If I were not the chairman of the committee that is going to work on this, I could have easily given you where I stand and my belief is in the best interest of Nigeria.
The much talked about local government autonomy has generated a lot of reactions. Where do you stand on this?
For now there are no local governments in Nigeria; they only exist in the constitution and in name but not in practical terms. Local governments have been so impoverished and destroyed by state governments and state governors. Presently they are simply parastatals of state governments as they have nothing to do for themselves. I think that has largely been responsible for the underdevelopment in that tier of government. Elections into local government offices are simply political appointments from the state governors. Therefore, the money that is supposed to be allocated to local governments is taken over by state governors. Governors uses local government money to build their profile and impoverish local governments. Some years ago, I saw an attempt to give local governments autonomy, but it was sabotaged by state governors. That is what l have been saying that that our governors are not as civilised for them to be able to have absolute control of issues. You see people in the National Assembly criticising the president or the government. You can never see members of state house of assembly speaking up against a governor. It has simply become an extension of the government house.
Another thing we also observe is that the governor decides who becomes the local government chairman and also the councilor. Elections into local government offices by the State Independent Electoral Commission (SIÈC) are simply shams and that is why they are asking for state police. When you give them state police, certainly they will do nothing, other than use that as an instrument to oppress the people.
As chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Humanitarian Crisis in the North-East, what were your findings?
The Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps deserve to be closed down at the end of the day, because they have simply become a cash cow for people, both people in government and out of government. Those in government use it as an excuse to give out exaggerated contracts and the corruption there comes in an industrial scale. So, we have seen neglect, stories of sexual abuse, exploitation, mismanagement, plunder of public resources. This is what has become of the camps and they are not a good sight. My recommendation to the government is that such places need to be closed down after we have been able to address the security challenges and the fact that there should be some form of coordination in the way are being run.
Do you share in the idea of restructuring of the country?
I think what this fake federalism has been able to do is the fact people simply sit down, do nothing and get money at the end of the month and either steal it or engage in funny projects. This is what I call “cap-in-hand federalism” or sharing formula federalism. This is all that has become of Nigeria today. Nigeria doesn’t need more than six states. The geopolitical zones should be turned into states. And they should cut down all the 36 state assemblies to six. Then we should have one chamber of the National Assembly, not two. And all sections of the country should be able to generate resources which will be able to take care of their own people. However, there is nothing wrong with those that are better off to also remit to the centre. And we will see who wants to be governor and who wants to be a senator. Because what is happening is that everybody is directing himself toward the centre. In fact, we are just living in a unitary state because everybody is coming to collect money from Abuja and go back to their towns to share. So when you have this, you don’t have any serious federalism.
What this kind of structure encourages is laziness. It encourages people to be dependants and not innovative and creative. It has encouraged a culture of patronage, of dependency and bankruptcy of ideas. And that is why people depend more on federal allocation. People become big men of federal allocation, because at the end of the month they know that money is coming to them, even without working for it. This is the situation of Nigeria now and it ought not to be so. I equally believe that legislators should be paid part-time for their sitting. They should go as there is no need for salary. The general public should also be made to understand that the legislature is there simply to make laws and not there to provide any services to anybody. This is the best way in the best interest of the country.
Governors should have no pension as everybody should have a job to do. Equally, we should be very vigilant and prudent in terms of the way we handle resources. However, every geopolitical zone should be able to produce and export and [on a quarterly basis], we would now put into consideration what you have actually brought to the table. We should have a nation where you think not of what you collect from the table but think of what you can bring to the table.
Is the shadowy Kaduna Mafia still in existence and still functioning well in the North?
The mafia… in the sense of Kaduna Mafia, you are talking of a group of people whose interest is about the North and how they can control political power. I think the mafia has grown more than a group now. There are political elite who now don’t see the need to see themselves as a small group called mafia. However they see there is need to protect the interest of a regime and to also protect the political interest of the North. The Kaduna Mafia as of today has grown into political agenda of northern political elite and this is not limited to the elite itself but also the youth wing which they have indoctrinated with that line of thinking.
You can see that the mafia has evolved into an internal interest of the conservative that now are always ever present in every government in power. The mafia has transformed into some group of special interest of the northern political elite.
The civil society groups have not been playing their roles as it should be; what do you think is responsible?
I think with the death of Chief Gani Fawehinmi, the death of Dr BekoRansomeKuti, the death of Chima Ubani, there has been progressive decline in the protest of the civil society to engage the government in terms of pressurising it to achieve the aims of nationhood. But the role was different under the military. Our role was combative, but with the return to democracy, most of the civil society activists have dissolved into the system. They are now engaging the ministries of Transport, Health, Works, among others, and through this kind of engagement they have been subsumed into the system and would find it very difficult to raise their voice against injustice, against anti-democratic activities, because they have been taken as part of the system. That is the major problem and a very serious one.
However, we still need a vibrant proactive civil society that would put the government in check. I was reading a press statement recently by a shadowy group and they threatened that they were going to recall me because I have been critical of government policies and programmes and I refused to be a politician and still see myself as an activist criticising policies and programmes and for that I should be recalled. I was so happy with that because it is a compliment in the very sense that it would have been very wrong for anybody to tell me that since I took over office, I have lost the comradeship and the spirit and the fire in me have died. That would have been very painful thing to me. But I think with the claim of that group, it is quite good for me. – Culled from Tribune.