Lawmaker representing Kaduna Central Senatorial District, Senator Shehu Sani, talks about his dispute with Governor Nasir el-Rufai, Kaduna State politics and the crisis in the All Progressives Congress (APC), among other issues
You visited the national headquarters of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board in company with snake charmers. What inspired that visit?
This is the first time in the history of our country that we would see the involvement of animals literally in the affairs of the state. If you observe, at a certain time, rodents chased the President (Muhammadu Buhari) out of his office. Later, we heard the story of a snake ingesting about N36m. My presence (at the JAMB office) was symbolic. If the claims made by that woman (accused JAMB official) that snake actually ingested N36m; if it is a play or a drama, I felt that as a playwright, I should simply complete the drama by visiting JAMB office with snake charmers.
It is an unbelievable story that a public servant could find such a way to justify such a clear case of corruption and thievery. So, my presence there was symbolic. I know that in case world renowned playwrights would want to write a play on it, there would be a part where snake charmers would be involved. If such had happened in the days of Williams Shakespeare, certainly there would have been a place for snake charmers. That is why I was there.
Why are you against Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State?
I don’t know if the question should be on why I am against him or why we are against each other. First of all, I have said it repeatedly that Nasir el-Rufai and I came from different political backgrounds. He came from a political establishment and in the 16-year rule of the Peoples Democratic Party, which people like him condemn as corrupt and responsible for the underdevelopment of Nigeria, he spent 13 out of those 16 years (in the party). If we are going to say former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan are part of the problems in this country, and the logo of the PDP is a symbol of shame and disaster for Nigeria, certainly we can’t do so without including the names of people like Nasir el-Rufai. He served as the Director of the Bureau of Public Enterprises and minister (of the Federal Capital Territory). He is a full-time beneficiary of the PDP-led government. But unfortunately, people like him don’t apologise for their own roles; they prefer to advance their new image to their history.
I came from the civil rights movement; I have been a civil rights activist all my life. Our life was driven by principles and conscience, and our history is that of the struggle for freedom and democracy. While people like me were in the trenches, fighting for democratic rule and dislodgement of military dictatorship – from Ibrahim Babangida to Sani Abacha – people like Nasir el-Rufai were unknown. You will only hear of Nasir el-Rufai from 1999. So, someone like me is not a ‘convertee’ in the philosophy of change; I was born into it and it has been part of my history, ideology and struggle. People like Nasir are part of the problem. If not for the likes of Nasir, Buhari could have been President in 2003 or 2007, but they undermined him and subverted him; they worked against him. He was someone who did not see any value (in Buhari) until now.
What are the other differences between you and el-Rufai?
We differ in history and we also differ ideologically. He is from the political right; the conservative neo-liberal and agent of Western imperialism. I am from the political left. My family, my parents all has a NEPU (Northern Elements Progressives Union) and PRP (Peoples Redemption Party) history. So, it has been our ideology.
At what point did your ideologies clash in Kaduna politics, which has now led to open confrontation today?
The political difference arose in the run-up to the 2015 elections when I contested the Senate. I contested the Senate and I was not his favourite. His favourite was Senator (Gen.) Sani Saleh, who was the incumbent at that time. I defeated him and when I defeated him, Nasir now became aggrieved and started identifying with the person I defeated. As such, he did a number of things. First of all, when he assumed office, chairman of the party became the deputy chairman. The party had no chairman but a deputy chairman and the deputy chairman happened to be our candidate. He said he was not going to work with him, so he appointed a new person who virtually had legitimacy.
Having appointed a new person, he also appointed about 16 to 18 members of the executive of the party into his cabinet. And by the constitution of the party, if you are appointed into an office, you will lose your place in the party office. That is why whenever you see them parading themselves, it is either acting secretary or acting publicity secretary. He is running an acting party in the state.
Then, he made it impossible for us to operate because it appeared that the party had become a parastatal of the government. So, we now have two factions of the party –we have the APC of the Government House and the APC Alkida. The APC Alkida is the one we are leading. We put up our own structures and a legitimate chairman of the party recognised by the Independent National Electoral Commission but which Nasir does not want to work with. Then, a number of things happened. First of all, Nasir and his aides engineered some executives to suspend me. Even when the party at the national level told them that they were wrong, they refused to heed and continued to do what they did. Secondly, my office was attacked over 11 times by thugs who were armed. My home in Kaduna was also attacked by thugs. It reached a point that all these did not give Nasir peace. He and his aides were going through my school records – from primary to secondary to tertiary institution, my youth service – trying to check if I forged any documents. They even asked the Department of State Services to investigate me. They asked a lawyer to see how they could criminalise me. That also did not give them the peace they wanted.
Another stage of what they kept doing was spending hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money, using the radio stations to rubbish my reputation of being an anti-President Muhammadu Buhari person. That also did not incite people against me. The one that was done about five weeks ago: My aide was abducted by the military, tortured and framed in a murder case into which they were trying to drag me and my political forces. That also, by Allah’s intervention, did not work.
Imagine Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi, who was the director-general of his (el-Rufai) campaign. If not for Suleiman Hunkuyi, he could not have been a governor because the senator helped him to win the primary. If not for Suleiman Hunkuyi, certainly, many things could not have happened. Many of the people he has around himself today as aides were not even in the party. There was one pot-bellied, Teddy Bear-like political goon, who has paraded himself as his political adviser; who happened to have run for so many elections in the Peoples Democratic Party and did not win. These are the kinds of hangers-on and characters he has surrounded himself with.
Moving further, having seen all these forms of persecution and attacks and violence against my person, we decided that since Nasir refused to allow us to operate, to serve our people and operate as party men in the state, we simply had our own headquarters. Suleiman Hunkuyi volunteered his house. Now, he engineered the party to suspend me and Hunkuyi and expel others from the party. But when he was suspended, he lost his senses, stability and orderliness. This is what became of him.
Do you have confidence in the Asiwaju Bola Tinubu-led committee, appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari to resolve the crises in the state chapters of the APC, including Kaduna?
I want to tell you that even before the idea of Bola Tinubu, reconciling or (APC’s National Deputy Chairman-South) Segun Oni coming to Kaduna, you could see that there was an attempt by the party to bring peace to Kaduna. One was that they sent the National Vice-Chairman (North-West), Inuwa Abdul-Kadir, but Nasir demolished his house because the man was not doing his bidding. And he was even threatening the National Vice-Chairman. The Aminu Bello Masari committee was also set up to reconcile and all of us. We availed ourselves to Governor Masari but Nasir refused to cooperate with Masari. So, you could see that there is a history of disregard for reconciliation efforts.
So, are you saying that the Tinubu-led reconciliation move will not succeed in Kaduna?
Like I have said, it is the last penalty kick. There are three types of fires for Tinubu to extinguish. There is a fire he can extinguish with a cup of water; there is a fire he can extinguish with a bucket of water; and there is a fire that he will have to drain an ocean in order to quench it. It has reached a point where he sent a bulldozer to demolish the office of our own APC.
What I have said consistently is that you can see us with the man we have insisted is the chairman of the party today, but you will never see them or get a journalist in Kaduna to tell you that he has ever interviewed or attended any press conference addressed by the person who Nasir calls the acting chairman. The man can only say opening and closing prayers, he is simply a decoy. Why is everybody acting this and acting that in Kaduna APC? Where are the people who were elected? People should ask those kinds of questions but they are not asking.
We don’t have a governor in Kaduna State; we have a military administrator with a military mentality. His own thinking is that everybody should do what he wants them to do. But he is not only fighting us, he is fighting everybody; he is fighting traditional rulers, sacking over 4,000 of them. He is fighting teachers by sacking over 20,000 of them. He is fighting local government workers by sacking 40,000 of them. He is fighting Islamic religious leaders and Christian religious leaders. He is fighting the people of southern Kaduna, northern Kaduna and central Kaduna. Virtually, as you can see now, without unity in the party, the party has no future. The political oxygen of Nasir el-Rufai is Buhari. He feels that as long as Buhari can pick his calls; go and see him; tell him what to do; he does not care because people will vote for him because of Buhari.
Is it true that you are fighting el-Rufai and his administration because you and others have lost political relevance, failed to have control over the governor and have offered nothing to your constituents?
Buhari has been to Kaduna for more than 12 times but I challenge you to show me any time that Buhari inaugurated a state project. The first one was when he came to Kaduna and was awarded an honorary doctorate degree by a university that had not started a Ph.D programme – the Kaduna State University. Secondly, he came to Kaduna to inaugurate OLAM Farm, which is a company 100 per cent owned by Singaporeans.
The third time he came to Kaduna was to inaugurate a dry port belonging to the Federal Government and train coaches imported from China and belonging to the Federal Government. Now, how can a governor have the privilege of having three official presidential visits without inaugurating one project but would look at senators and say that they have not done anything for their constituents?
About control, what is it about control? Who wants to control him? Nobody wants to control him. All that we are saying is that the party in the state is being muzzled by people who were never elected and he has been operating two images. The first image of Nasir you will see is that of an intelligent man, a technocrat and a professional. But behind the scene is a dictator; a man who has the tendencies of Hitler or Stalin or Nebuchadnezzar or Mobutu Sese Seko.
The demolition of the office would have convinced the general public that what they see is not what is real about his democratic credentials. I have said it continually that he does not share anything with Buhari apart from being in the APC.
But have you not seen that el-Rufai is one of the favourites of President Muhammadu Buhari?
What happened between Nasir and (former President Olusegun) Obasanjo? What happened between Nasir and Atiku (Abubakar, former Vice-President)? What happened between Nasir and (former President Goodluck) Jonathan? And what happened between Nasir and (the late former President) Umaru Musa Yar’Adua will happen between Nasir and Buhari. A lot of things will happen. Buhari will not know Nasir until when Buhari is out of power. Buhari should wait for the book which Nasir will write about him after he has left power. He should wait for the interview which Nasir will grant about him when he is out of power. He should wait to know whether Nasir is his friend or not when he is out of power.
You have also been critical of Buhari and his administration too and you have said so many things…
Of course, why should I not say it if it is my view? If things are not going right, I have to. Buhari, before he became President, had been sitting in his home reading my interviews criticising other governments. And I did visit him when he was in Kaduna; when nobody even knew Buhari would ever become a politician. So, he knows me with my principles and I believe that he should be able to respect me for that.
If I am being critical of Buhari, I was critical of those who were there before him. And I believe that Buhari will not know that I am his best friend until he is out of power; when those people who surround him today and singing his praises, he would call them on phone but they wouldn’t pick his call. He would go to their houses but they would not open their doors to him. He would want to be with them but they would not want to be with him. Nigerian politicians, many of whom are with Buhari today because they are afraid of him. Some are with Buhari because Buhari is in power. Some are with Buhari because of what they can get from Buhari, while some are with Buhari because he remains the only option for them to remain relevant in the political scheme of things.
Obasanjo recently issued a controversial ‘special press release’ in which he strongly condemned Buhari’s administration. What can you say about the ex-president considering the fact that you once said you were in the same prison for four years while in military incarceration?
Obasanjo is not an enemy of Buhari and he is not an enemy of the North. It is mischievous and an act of ingratitude for anybody in the North to consider Obasanjo as anti-North. When he handed over power (as military ruler) to Shehu Shagari in 1979 and not to Obafemi Awolowo, why didn’t they call him anti-North at that time? When he handed over power (as democratically elected president) to Umaru Musa Yar’Adua instead of bringing any other candidate from any other part of the country, was he anti-North? When he supported Buhari against Goodluck Jonathan in the run-up to 2015, was he anti-North?
When I read that Katsina elders were trying to respond to Obasanjo, I nearly shed tears. This is a man who made one of your own, (Yar’Adua), president of Nigeria in 2007. He is also a man who remained faithful to a prominent Katsina son, the late Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, until his death. He is also a man who became president and gave key sensitive positions to northerners. He is also a man who has lost support and favour, and treated with suspicion by his people because of his pro-North stand. Now, is it for criticising Buhari that he becomes anti-North? This is a man who criticised (the late military dictator, Gen. Sani) Abacha, (another former dictator, Gen. Ibrahim) Babangida, Shagari and Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who he was instrumental to his getting to power.
While I am not holding any brief for Obasanjo, I believe that there are times we should be rational. How can a man who risked his life and fought the Civil War for this country to remain one and had the opportunity to support the Biafran forces or the division of Nigeria be called anti-North? I think it is unfair. Those people who are attacking Obasanjo are not better than Obasanjo. His love for Buhari is stronger than their love for Buhari. I believe that Buhari understands that. I must be frank: I like President Muhammadu Buhari and I believe that he is one upright leader with a vision for Nigeria. But what I will not do is to keep quiet when things are going wrong. If their interpretation of love is for me to say everything he is doing is right and he can never be wrong, then my own definition and meaning of love and support is quite different from theirs.
Being a one-time negotiator between the Federal Government and Boko Haram, would you agree with Senator Joshua Lidani and other Nigerians who believe that the terrorist group is being empowered through payments of ransom to secure release of people in its captivity?
My position on this is very clear – that all over the world, where there is a hostage situation, you have to negotiate. It is for the country to ensure that abductors don’t have access to more people to be abducted for ransom. And we must not encourage the principle of paying ransom. But there are times, when it happens, you don’t have any option than to negotiate. When you have a hostage situation, you have two options – either to retrieve the hostages by force or to pay ransom to get them back. America paid ransom to get their citizens back. Israel also paid ransom to get theirs back. European countries do that too.
The problem we are having there is that Nigerian security forces and the government have an attitude of proclaiming victory against the insurgents. And each time they say they have defeated Boko Haram, instead of the people living in the towns and villages where this violence is taking place to be happy, they get apprehensive because the insurgents will want to prove that they have not been defeated. It is not proven by video clips and social media messages but by launching attacks, abducting people and unleashing a reign of terror. This is simply what happens.
If you look at it, a few weeks ago, the Federal Government and security forces made claims that the insurgents were defeated. After that, we have an upsurge of attacks and now daring abductions. I think it is time we stopped proclaiming that the insurgents have been defeated. Let us simply see that they have been actually defeated.
Senator Lidani also criticised Buhari for not coming out to say more about major attacks recorded recently as well as visiting the affected communities to show affection to the victims. Do you agree with him on this?
We have reached a certain point in the political history of this country whereby men of conviction, who had the courage to speak yesterday, are cowards today and simply measuring their steps and words, or they are simply being blackmailed to keep quiet. He was able to say that because he came from an opposition party (the Peoples Democratic Party) and what he has said is the reality. It is a candid advice, that the President should be seen speaking out and physically present. That is cheap and reassuring.
We live in a world of impressions, where compassion plays a role in dousing tension and raising hope. So, he is very much right on the presence of the President. I believe that the President has listened to him and the President needs to understand that. Yes, he cannot be everywhere but as much as he can, he should be physically present wherever violence has occurred. It helps in cooling tempers.
For being outspoken, have you ever been threatened, warned or cautioned over your criticisms of government?
Anybody who is trying to warn me not to speak out is simply wasting their time. If a man like me, who had struggled to bring democracy to Nigeria; had fought to give people their freedom and right to expression; who had been in chains and handcuffs and been to different prisons; at this stage of my political life, I will simply remain quiet, then my sacrifices were not worthy.
One thing is very clear: I am a man who comes from a political history of struggle for justice, driven by my conscience and conviction. I have paid dearly for my opinions and beliefs, and I am ready to pay more. I am a man who fears only God and nothing else. I don’t think there is anybody or anything or any situation that will make me in any way to keep quiet. People say that if you speak the truth, you are more likely to go into oblivion. But I don’t think people, who have been to prison, have the fear of oblivion.
But are you not scared that political forces might gang up against you to prevent you from getting another electoral ticket and even kill your political career?
What you should understand is that were there no force that tried to stop Buhari from becoming president and he eventually became president? Were there no forces that tried to stop my party (APC) before it eventually became the ruling party? No force is stronger than the truth. Though the truth may suffer a temporal defeat and consequences, eventually it will emerge. It is possible that I return to the Senate or I can become the governor of my state or I can become none of them. What is certain is that as long as we refuse to address the fundamental issues that confront our nation, we will be moving from one problem to another, from one pipe to another, and there will never be light at the end of the tunnel. – Culled from Punch.