Senator Shehu Sani, representing Kaduna Central District in the National Assembly, Chairman, Senate Committee on Foreign, Domestic Debts, as well as Vice Chairman, Foreign Affairs Committee; in this interview with journalists in Kaduna, talked about Nigerian politicians who looted funds and stashed them in foreign countries. He also spoke on measures to revive the economy and the crisis between him and Governor Nasir El-Rufai. National Daily Regional Editor, DOMINIC UZU, was there. Excerpts.
NOW, the issue of the missing 2016 budget has been laid to rest, what do you think the budget intends to address on the economy?
First and foremost, we need to accept and understand the reality of Nigeria’s economy today. We have less than $27 billion as foreign reserve; the value of our currency has slumped, it is now N305 to a dollar. The very source of revenue our economy is empowered, which is oil, the price has fallen to less than $27 per barrel. We must accept the fact that our economy is in crisis. The Buhari’s administration has no choice than to device ways and means to revive the economy and roll out social programs that will address the growing inequality and the impending social crisis that can befall the Nigerian state.
This is the first budget in the history of Nigeria that is not predicated on oil; it is a budget of diversification and change. The budget is aimed at redirecting the economy of Nigeria from oil dependency to a future that is sustainable. The budget we have is intended to address a number of issues, one of which is to roll out social programmes; secondly, to fund the non oil sector of the economy.
The budget is aimed at achieving four cardinal objectives, job creation, diversification of the economy, reduction of poverty and stimulating of economy growth. It also has its own priority, particularly, to intervene in some key sectors of the economy such as transportation, defence, interior, power, housing and infrastructures. Now, if we don’t diversify Nigeria’s economy, Nigeria will ground to a halt. In the last three to four years, Nigeria had over $80 billion in its foreign reserve; it now it has gone down to $27 billion. If no adequate measures are being taken, by the end of this year, we are going to be bankrupt. So, the steps taken by President Muhammadu Buhari are the only remedy that can revive the economy. There are issues with these steps. There are those who believe that we should not embark on social programmes, like money allocated to feeding in schools which is N500 billion; the social intervention scheme of N5000 stipend to unemployed people; and the N500 billion that ought to be given as loan to market women and peasants. Whatever economic formula and module being unfolded, you must be able to address and tackle the problems of poverty. By doing that, you will be saving a possibility of a social explosion that may overthrow the Nigerian state and destabilize the country. In the National Assembly, those of us from the All Progressives Congress (APC) have whole heartedly embraced the budget. In the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), there are those that are completely opposed to it. Some call it defraud; and there are some that have seen positive things contained in the budget.
President Muhammadu Buhari, in Dubai, entered a treaty as part of efforts to recover looted money stashed by Nigerian politicians in that country, do you think the President will succeed?
In the last 15 to16 or even 20 years, including that of late Abacha, both military rulers and civilians that inherited them looted the treasury of Nigeria with reckless abandon. They evacuated Nigerian resources to Switzerland, Europe and the United States but now that those countries have rolled out policies, programs and laws that make it impossible for those who are impoverishing third world nations to bring monies there. Now, they tactically changed their routes to the Middle East and Paris. Governors, ministers, top public servants, including legislators, carted away hundreds billions of money to countries like Dubai, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates and Thailand. They destroyed our economy, impoverished our people, children and grand children. In Dubai, they laundered the monies by buying shares, bonds, investing in real estates and sometimes by direct cash deposits. It is impossible to fight corruption as long as the fight is going to remain within our own borders. In times of economic hardship like this, it is the best time to recover our monies that have been looted. Nigerians have taken to Dubai and other countries over $200 billion in the last 16 years. So, it is incumbent on the Nigerian Government under President Muhammadu Buhari to go after such monies because if you don’t do that, you will not be able to tell our children and grandchildren any story of anti-corruption.
The agreement signed by President Buhari and the Government of United Arab Emirates is a saving grace for Nigeria and a testimony that Nigeria anti-corruption crusade led is getting international acceptability and credibility. But like people have always said, corruption is fighting back. When he came back to Nigeria, there were three to four things which those who stashed the monies outside of Nigeria embarked upon. the first was to plant a story in some local media that there was crisis in President Buhari’s cabinet as a result of the signing of that agreement;second step they took was to roll out a fake list of people who have properties in Dubai while the original persons who have those properties were excluded from the list. The third attempt is to manipulate the foreign media to discredit Buhari’s economic programs and policies. By doing that, it is believed that it will slow him down and make it impossible for him to move outside of Nigeria. At this time, Buhari needs our support because he is doing a job for this generation and the future generation to come. They looted the treasury of Nigeria with the aim of enriching themselves and their families while the masses in both urban and rural areas are wallowing in abject poverty and hopelessness. This is the last chance for Nigerians and also the first chance where a government is truly committed to bringing accountability, confidence and trust in governance.
Most of the people suspected of looting the treasury were in the PDP but have now crossed to the APC, occupying prominent positions in government, is APC heaven for corrupt people?
Anybody who thinks because he is in APC, he is safe from prosecution, if found wanton in any corrupt practices, is perhaps yet to understand who President Muhammadu Buhari is. Whoever thinks he can jump from PDP to APC to protect himself from prosecution doesn’t understand who President Buhari is. APC is not a safe haven for fugitive from law and it is also not going to be a canopy for people who are corrupt to hide. As the days unfold, the true colour of President Buhari will be clearer than it is today. He will go after his closest friends and allies as long as such persons are seen to be corrupt and have defrauded Nigeria. The choice before him is his credibility and honour not saving a friend and or loyalist.
APC leaders in Kaduna insist you stand suspended from the party despite the nullification the suspension by the national leaderships; what is your position in the whole thing?
I was never suspended. You don’t suspend a member or a sitting Senator based on your ideas without recourse to what the constitution of the party says. If what they have said was right, it would have been affirmed by the national leadership. Unfortunately, they have a governor who parades himself to have a first class degree and some of them claimed to have attended the best of schools from secondary to having diplomas and degrees. All they needed do was simply open the pages of the party’s constitution and see what it says. Unfortunately, knowing that they won’t be able to achieve what they wanted through the constitution of the party, they shamelessly and shamefully went to my ward and shared the sum of N500,000 under a government that is fighting corruption and in an atmosphere of war against corruption to the ward executives. But, many of them remained principled, including my ward chairman, who addressed a press conference where he stated the obvious.
You are not a member of the political party from the state but from your ward. If my ward chairman will come out openly and say such thing never happened, so where are we? They are just people, who don’t understand the party in power; they are afraid of criticism, they are afraid of what comes from my mouth and what I do. They sleep with Shehu Sani in their hearts and wake up with Shehu Sani in their mouths; Shehu Sani appears in their dreams and also in their plates of food and cup of water. If they are in their sitting room and bathroom, they will see the image of Shehu Sani. Some of them; perhaps, if they are sleeping with their wives, will see the image of Shehu Sani because Shehu Sani has become a virus to their lives. Their hearts bits each time they hear that Shehu Sani is going to talk to journalists even though I am going to talk about my books which I have written. Their heart bits each time they hear I am going to address a gathering of people or going for prayers, or going to play my usual football, or visit my constituency members who are in the church. so everywhere in their hearts is Shehu Sani.
The government in Kaduna State, today, is geared towards either it’s favourable to Shehu Sani or it should not be favourable to him. This is what is used to extort money from the governor of the state. The governor is an intelligent person and should not allow his aides to derail him because his aides are milking him in the name of fighting Shehu Sani.
They need money from him to fight, suspend and recall Shehu Sani and also settle journalists to write against Shehu Sani, organized a press conference to write about Shehu Sani. My name and that of journalists in Kaduna is being used to extort money from the governor. He should be intelligent enough to know that this is not sustainable. Tax payer’s monies that need to be diverted into a lot of purpose are being used and misused in fighting Shehu Sani. Comrade Shehu Sani is a seasoned fighter, in fact, I am a long distance runner, I do not give up in a fight, and I can fight El-Rifai from now till the end of the midnight of 29th May 2019. If they want peace, they will get peace; but if they are prepared for the battle to go on, we are equally prepared for it to go on.
APC National Secretariat has intervened in this crisis and has given a clear message that there should be cessation of hostilities and crossfire. Instead of them to respect the national secretariat, they started raining abuses. There are three things they did since after the national secretariat intervened. They concocted a story of my suspension, it failed. Secondly, they tried to insight people against me by saying that I am anti-Buhari which also failed; and thirdly, they are now trying to say that I am going to PDP which people have also not taken them very seriously.
Most of them came from a PDP background so they are not straight forward, honest and sincere. They still have that PDP virus still in them and they are bringing it into APC. So, I abide by what the national body said. It is not me but the stakeholders that matter in Kaduna State. The likes of Yaro Makama Rigachukwu, Dr. Hakeem Baba Ahmed and founding fathers of APC in Kaduna State are, today, not in tune with what is going on. There is need for Nasir El-Rufai to go out of the cage, which his own immediate personal, monitory and political interests have chained him. He should go out of that box and get straight to addressing the problems of the state.
How true is the allegation of anti-party activities against you, that you had a meeting with PDP officials in Kafanchan?
If you know, take a visit to Kafanchan and prove doubt that I held a meeting with PDP there. It is unfortunate if such statement was made. I am not sure since we won election, I have been to Kafanchan. if such was said about me, it is a blatant lie and whoever said so also a blatant liar.