Senator Shehu Sani, a renowned human rights activist, representing Kaduna Central Senatorial District in the National Assembly, expressed his disagreement with the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari on the probe of the past administration. He also gives his take on the nature and future of his party APC and the rift between him and Gov. El-Rufai. Interview by DOMONIC UZU
YOU are an APC stalwart in the Senate, incidentally, you have consistently criticized some decisions of your party, are you not afraid of sanctions?
I came from a political movement. Nigerian history didn’t begin from 1999. Facebook, Twitter began in 2003 but Nigeria’s political history started a long time. If we had not spoken against Babangida or Abacha, there wouldn’t have been any democracy today. This democracy which people criticize is as a result of people’s struggle. I can’t imagine myself being able to speak when I had a gun on my head. Now, in a democracy which we brought by the sweat of our struggle, I wonder why I will not speak to anybody even if he is in my political party or he is the founder of my political party. I am not afraid of anybody or whatever consequences it may be in the fight for justice. We have had so much. If we were able to mobilize against military tanks and guns, there is no reason for anybody to say I cannot speak my mind. Most of the people in positions today are beneficiaries of sacrifices made by heroic Nigerians. People who fough—-like Dele Giwa, Bagauda Kalto, Gani Fawehinmi, Fredrerick Fasehun, Beko Ransome Kuti, and others who stood firm in the realization of democracy. We liberated Nigeria from military rule. During the liberation struggle, we had no fear, so, we cannot have fear now.
Whoever is today speaking freely or posting messages on Facebook and Twitter is a beneficiary of that struggle in which many lost their lives. Part of the reasons why I am speaking has to do with genetics of my political history. I am not the stereotyped politician; I have spent all my life in political movement, spent all my life standing up against dictatorship. Even in Kaduna here, I spoke vehemently against Makarfi when he was governor of Kaduna State for eight years. We engaged in media wars with his aides and commissioner for information. I spoke viciously against NamadiSambo when he was governor of Kaduna. I spoke vehemently against Yakowa when he was governor; I spoke against RamalanYero. If we had not spoken against Makarfi, Namadi, Yakowa and Yero, there could not have been an El-Rufai.
With all due respect, El-Rufai has not lived in Kaduna since 1999; I have been in this house since 1999. We fought those who were there before him but, now, we are not fighting him, we are simply telling him the truth and the way things are. Perhaps, he has been cut off Kaduna for a long time and he doesn’t know what it takes to run a government. Running a government or running a state is not like running a Twitter or Facebook account. There are people with dignities, their wives; children and other associates need to be catered for. Presiding over human beings is not same as power struggle. The different between the governor and me is that he came from the political right and I come from the political left. The political right belongs to the old time conservative class; in that class we have people who espouse the capitalist ideologies of privatization, removal of subsidy, commercialization; whose own idea about governance is the World Bank and IMF. In the leftist, we have people who are grounded in the ideologies of the masses, human development, upliftment of humanity from poverty. You don’t find progressives among rightists of the political divide; progressives are the leftists of the political divide. But our party, APC, is not founded on ideology. People came from different political parties to form the APC. What brought us together was the urge to evict the Jonathan’s government. After the victory, the characters are now manifesting; you come from the CPC, you have CPC’s tendencies, the one from ACN has his own and likewise the one from ANPP. Now, we are sitting down with the realities of marriage after the honeymoon of victory and anti-Jonathan agitations.
What exactly is causing the seeming cold war between you and Governor El-Rufai?
I want him to succeed as a governor and give credit to our party but we disagree in two ways. The first is what he did to me personally, and that was after we won elections. He gave every elected office holder in Kaduna a slot in the positions in the state but when it came to my turn, he gave the slot to the person I defeated in the primaries. Will El-Rufai keep quiet if Buhari asks his opponent, Isah Ashiru, to present candidates for ministerial appointment and all the positions in the federal parastatals? He has recruited army close to my territory, and the next thing is for me to fold my arms and see a missile landing in my house which I am not going to accept. What he cannot tolerate, he cannot ask me to tolerate. It’s not possible. No matter how much you like him, you have to air your views. If he was giving positions and never gave slots to elected stakeholders, it would have been a different thing. When you now decide to align yourself with the person I defeated, enabling him to undermine me in my own territory, already you have raised a flag of war.
Secondly, the way he was running the affairs of the state was not fair. For a long time, he has been out of the state. He doesn’t understand the feelings of Kaduna and his relationship with Kaduna is mostly on the social media. He only knows more of Abuja than he knew Kaduna. I know better. Unfortunately, I have not been able to see him since after inauguration and no party executive at the local government or state has his telephone number to call him or can reach him; they don’t have access to him. So he is not accessible not only to me but to people who are supposed to have access to him. And many people who led the party are nowhere to be found in governance. Alhaji Akim Baba Ahmed was the first interim chairman of the party in the state. There were five people that contested the governorship of the State Isah Ashiru, Saeed, Lukeman and one other. None of these people are found in government. In my case, he is supporting my adversaries which he is not going to tolerate. So there are two issues, the personal or local political issue and the ideological divide. He has enacted some policies which failed to work. He banned beggars but he didn’t provide an alternative place for them to go. Unfortunately, those beggars are back now. In his house now in Ungwan Rimi, you will see beggars. They even have a line where they lie down very close to his house. He also banned hawking, unfortunately, many hawkers are still on the streets. Now, he embarked on a demolition exercise in Zaria zone and wanted to extend it to my zone. There are now serious litany of litigations and court injunctions making it impossible for him to succeed in that aspect.
It may not be his fault because he has been out of Kaduna for a long time. You can demolish any body’s house in Abuja and get away with it because most of them don’t want the public to know their houses, but not here. You want to demolish a house I inherited from my father or my grandfather? It’s not going to work. If you want to demolish in the name of recovering government land, give the people alternative places to go. Every day people queue in front of our houses begging for assistance, when you are dealing with people who are pressed to that extent, there are certain things you need to do. El-Rufai wants to remove beggars on our streets and plant flowers, and build amusement parks, ShopRite malls, and a five star hotel. Where will they go? I am not encouraging beggars but these beggars need to be around on the street and knock on our tinted BMWs and tell us that we are still here so that we will know that there is a problem. We don’t need to send them to Rigassa or out of town, they should be here. I want to see shopping malls, five star hotels and gyms but provide alternatives for the people. So, if you come to Kaduna and you are given a false impression that we have been turned into Amsterdam, or Paris, or London, come to Senator Shehu Sani. I will take you to where they are being kept, where we hide them.
Your asset declaration recently came as a surprise to many people. Why did you take that decision?
The public declaration of assets by President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi
Osinbajo was a challenge to all men of conscience. What they did by that declaration literally was to remove the tinted glass from the moral vehicle of power. By that public declaration they now put all public officials in the dock. The war against corruption should begin by leaders setting personal examples. Over the last 16 years, politicians have a ritual. After winning elections, they make claims of hundreds of houses and billions of naira.
That is simply an anticipatory looting. What we need to understand is that Nigerians deserve to know how rich are their leaders or how sentry they are. It is not enough to declare your asset to the Code of Conduct Bureau, there is need to speak to the public and present the assets to the public.
Whoever refuses to declare his asset is not fit to speak on issues of public accountability, credibility or on corruption. Assets declaration does not in any way make you a saint but avails the public the knowledge of degree of sin or knowledge on your degree of uprightness.
I took that decision to identify with the moral standard set by President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo. Secondly, to choose to be faulted than carry the burden of suspicion and categorization of my person among those who have tones of skeleton to hide in their cupboard. Now, our leaders have a habit of securing loans they called soft loans and these soft loans are meant to be paid in the next 30 to 45 years. They are loans that will be paid by our children and grandchildren in hard way. Anybody who is resisting declaring his wealth has certainly got something to hide.
In your assessment, is there anything to celebrate in President Buhari’s 100 days in office?
We live in a country where people have been so disappointed and frustrated for a very long time. Elected public officials have few months of goodwill after which the scrutiny begins.
One hundred days are actually not enough to measure the achievements of a government but we should see that in 100 days there is a clear site of foundation. We can see that within those 100 days there are principle signs of progress. In 100 days, President Buhari was able to rekindle the hope of Nigerians; he has been able to restore their confidence in governance and their leaders. he was able to restore the trust and belief between the Government and the governed; he was able to restore our pride as a nation and the perception of Nigeria by the International community; he was able to send a clear message to Nigerians and their leaders that we are in a new dawn and we move to a new order. In 100 days, he was able to show an exemplary leadership, he was able to demonstrate that he can end the jinx in our power sector with the improvement from 2000 megawatts to 6000 megawatts, he was able to end the queues in our gas stations, he was able to send a clear message to the corrupt in Nigeria that there is no hiding place. In 100 days a message has been sent clearly to the insurgents that there is in a new Sheriff in town that is committed to ending the insurgent. Before Buhari erects a tower of achievements he needs to clean the hips on the road left behind by the Jonathan administration and also the one before that one. He inherited an empty treasury that has been oil dependent and that has a low price and a frustrated people. He inherited a nation that is on a match to a standstill, a nation with a bad perception in the global scene, where corruption has become a way of life. So you can see that it is a slow and steady approach gradually producing result. Those who are inpatient are people who were part and parcel of the loot in the last 16 years.
Do you support the limiting of corruption probe to the Jonathan administration or extension to previous administrations?
Everything that happens has a link to what has happened before. If we are actually going to probe what has happened in the past, we should be holistic. If the President refuses to probe from 1999 to date, there is the likelihood that he will be accused of shielding the administration of President Obasanjo. If he does, he has to be conscious of the time because he has four years and not 40 years to spend. So, it is left for him as a leader to do the work while taking cognizance of the time before him. Nigerians will not judge you by what you intend to do but they will judge you by what you have been able to achieve.
So Buhari should move fast and those found guilty should be prosecuted. What has happened in the last 16years is that you have bundles and volumes of probe reports in the power sector, land allocation, in transport sector, the housing sector, health sector. He has an option to start from 1999 and if he doesn’t, he will continuously be accused of being selective.
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