The controversial human rights activist, Senator Shehu Sani from Kaduna State is never tired of controversy. He has got into trouble on many occasions and he always found his way out. Sani has been having running battles with the Governor of his state, Malam Nasir El-Rufai, and in this interview he granted ‘The Interview’ Magazine recently, Sani speaks on why he is at ‘war’ with the Governor, his experience over the years, his origin and also addressed some pertinent issues affecting the country generally.
There have been questions about your state of origin; some say you are Gbagyi from Niger State, others say you are Jaba from Kaduna State. Why do you think the controversy persists?
I am from Kaduna State. I was born and bred in Tudun Wada. It is understandable why I’m associated with many states. My great grandfather, Mallam Abdullahi was from Katsina State. My grandfather, Alhaji Sani Waziri was born in Zaria. He started working with the native authority and was transferred to Minna in Niger State as a colonial tax officer. There, my father was born. My father schooled in Minna, but came back to Kaduna to start work. He worked with the United Textiles Limited. He worked with the Daily Mail Newspapers and Kano Chronicle and then he came back to Kaduna and became part of the founding team of the New Nigerian Newspapers. He met my mother in Tudun Wada, Kaduna and I was born in Kaduna, precisely at the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital. Ironically, my mother is Kanuri from Kukawa, Borno State, but she was born in Kaduna. So that is my history. Anybody associating me with any other ethnic group is also a good thing. We are all Nigerians and we all come from different parts of the country.
You contested election three times in the past and lost twice. What motivated you to throw you hat in the ring again?
I was in and out of detention during the era of military rule. L organised protests and civil disobedience campaigns in both the northern and southern parts of Nigeria and I have written a number of books propagating their days of freedom. As someone who spent over four years in prison, I felt that I had the moral ground to seek the people’s mandate. When we were in the trenches, fighting the military many of the people, who are today enjoying the dividends of democracy were either unknown or too cowardly to stand in the defence of freedom. I could not contest in 1999 because in the human rights community we thought the democracy process was not going to last. But in 2003, I joined the Alliance for Democracy (AD). Even though Olusegun Obasanjo, my former prison mate, was working towards organising the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) I opted to join the Alliance for Democracy because at that time, it was the rallying point for all who had struggled and made sacrifices for democracy. I contested for the Senate and lost. In 2011. I joined the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and contested for the Senate and I was said to have lost the primaries, but up until now, nobody has given me the sheet of paper. In 2015, I automatically joined the All Progressives Congress (APC), contested the primaries and won with 926 votes. My closest rival, who was the incumbent, got about 600 votes. It hurts me that since 1999 I have been in the opposition, I never believed in joining the ruling party. It hurts me the most to see that some of the people who have contributed to the destruction of this country in last 16 years have simply refused to show any remorse or have not been punished for what they have done. So, I won by a landslide in the primary and general elections. That is my story, I never give up. I believe that I am in office to serve and my people have not been disappointed.
There have been calls for Senate President Bukola Saraki to stand down from his position to face his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). Where do you stand on this?
Well, he is in the best position to decide whether to resign or not. What we should look at very well is that if an allegation is raised against you and the case is in court, the law does not say you should resign. lf however, you take the moral high ground, the choice is all yours. What is very clear is that the Senate is collectively resolved to stand by Bukola Saraki in his period of trial. If he is freed, he will continue with his Senate presidency and if he is found guilty, there will be no way he could continue as the Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
You were not in the Senate chamber when Saraki emerged. Tell us what happened that day?
Two people had shown interest in contesting the Senate presidency; that was Senator Ahmed Lawan and Bukola Saraki. If he did, why didn’t he attend the meeting? So I was with Lawan and he lost and the President came out openly to say he was willing to work with Saraki. The party too came out to say it was willing to work with Saraki, so who is Shehu Sani not to work with Saraki? After that, l have to continue to do my work. If the President and party have said they are going to work with Saraki, I have no objection. But some still feel that they should continue to fight Saraki and I wish them good luck.
Who convened the meeting at the International Conference Centre when the Senate was supposed to be electing its new leaders?
Until now, we do not know clearly who convened that meeting. But that it had the National Chairman, the National Secretary and the principal officers of the APC. We know that it was officially called for by the APC. Why the President did not attend that meeting is something we up until now have not gotten an answer to.
Were the rules changed as has been alleged?
I am in the Senate for the first time and the rules I was given is what I work with. If you change something, it must have been changed from something. Those who said that the rules were changed are those who were in the 7th Senate. As for me, I work with the document that was given to all of us. Whether it was changed or not, an election took place in the Senate, while we were at the ICC and that election was backed by the fact that there was a letter from the President calling for the convening of the parliament. The clerk of the National Assembly confirmed that and called for the meeting and they had a full election and the Senate President emerged.
Could President Buhari have stopped Saraki’s emergence by stepping in earlier?
There are many issues around that. There were calls for Mr. President not to intervene in the affairs of the National Assembly because former presidents had been blamed, criticised and attacked for interfering with the activities of the National Assembly. And that Buhari came out with his philosophy of ‘I belong to everybody and nobody,’ his intervention could have been misunderstood. But his lack of intervention came with consequences and some of his followers feel he should’ve gotten involved. The only way you can fight corruption in a democratic system is to be on the moral high ground. And to be on the moral high ground, you must uphold the fundamental rights of citizens, you must not to be seen to be partisan and you must also not to be seen to be favouring anyone. I believe that to a large extent, a lot of things have been done in that direction and we are making much progress in the sense that a few people from the APC have been investigated too, not only from the PDP.
Do you support Femi Falana’s decision to take the matter to the International Criminal Court (ICC)?
The issue of the ICC can be looked at on two fronts. African leaders, under the African Union, have raised issues with the ICC such that it has become a tool for persecuting Africans and African leaders. But there are also those who think that without the ICC African leaders will continue to prove themselves incapable of addressing issues of corruption, violence, genocide and other atrocities perpetrated within the African continent. I think Falana’s journey to the ICC is more a message to those who feel that they can escape local justice, that they can certainly be tried outside the shores of Nigeria. The elements he has targeted are those who have continuously been given honour and respect by the international community, while on the local level they have lost relevance and moral standing.
The 2016 budget has been a comedy of errors. Does the Senate understand how it all went wrong?
I think the Senate should be commended for the first time for standing to draw the attention of the President and the nation to the fact that our budget is not as perfect, holistic and honest as it should be. We raised issues over some suspicious figures and additions within the budget, which, in the beginning we were criticised for, but later on Nigerians came to agree. The very fact that some ministers have disowned that the budget has been presented before us is clear indication that things are not perfect.
You said in November that President Buhari risked losing the anti-corruption war to politics. Why did you say that and do you still hold that view?
No, I think. But this time around, the members of the National Assembly are relatively honest and transparent and under-the-table deals are not happening.
Do you share the view that the Minister, Budget and National Planning and his counterpart in Finance should resign?
Well, I think what we need to do is to give them the benefit of doubt. Many of them came into office less than three months ago and they had the responsibility of preparing the budget. It is not the total budget that is faulty, but there are aspects of it that need a lot of work. We can forgive them for what they did, while we put things right. But they should not be forgiven for next year’s budget because they have enough time to present a better budget that will be acceptable and that will pass the scrutiny of the National Assembly.
Are you interested in Governor Nasir el-Rufai’s position? You never seem to agree with him on anything…
I am an elected senator, serving a four-year term, and nobody knows whether he is going to reach the next moment. For the fact that one is a senator, it would be counter-productive to start thinking about being governor in less than one year. lt would also be counter-productive for the governor to start thinking of evicting Buhari in 2019 to be the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So, it would be wrong for Shehu Sani to start thinking of becoming a governor and to remove el-Rufai , and it would also be wrong for El-Rufai to start thinking of removing President Muhammadu Buhari for him to be president of Nigeria. EI-Rufai should do his job as governor and stop putting his eyes on the Presidency and Buhari and Shehu Sani should be in the Senate and not put his eyes on the seat of El-Rufai. And if that is done, things will be in order. I was never his candidate in the Senate primaries. He was in support of the candidate I defeated and right now, he has given political positions to the candidate I defeated and he deals only with the candidate that I defeated at the primaries. And unfortunately for me, I contested alone and won the seat despite all attempts to build up support against me. But that is now history. What will judge us now is how we are able to deliver on our mandate in the hearts of our people. We were elected by the people, 9S per cent of whom are poor and downtrodden in urban and rural areas. Whatever policies and programmes we are unfolding should be what will positively affect their lives. As far as I am concerned, if El-Rufai wants peace he is going to get peace, and if he wants war, I am always prepared for war and I’m also known for many wars, which I have fought in the past. I am also ready to fight them in the future.
Why did you describe El-Rufai as an “emperor” and what are your conditions for peace with him?
For now, the state government, through its agents, engineered my suspension from a government that prides itself on being anti-corruption by giving bribes to the executives of my ward to suspend me and by giving them juicy promises of so many things; contracts etc. This is not something I have seen, but which has been said by many at the ward level. I expected him, as an intelligent man, to open the constitution of the party and follow due process, even if he wants to evict Shehu Sani from the APC. Unfortunately he has his agents, who parade themselves as his friends. Many of the people identifying with El-Rufai are doing so because he is a Governor and not for anything else. How many of them came out to speak when El-Rufai was facing trials with former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua? When he was in his own trenches, how many of them identified with him? So, they are friends to the throne not friends to the king. If today there is no El-Rufai they will identify with whoever takes his place. You can never know your real supporters until you leave office. How many people have been governors in Kaduna? Go to their houses; how many people visit them now? I have become the number one agenda for the administration of Kaduna State. Shehu Sani is agenda number one, Shehu Sani is agenda number two, Shehu Sani is agenda number three. If they construct a road, they will want public opinion on whether you are in support of a governor who constructs a road or whether you are in support of Shehu Sani. If they are going to renovate a hospital, they will want public opinion to know who is with Shehu Sani or with Governor El-Rufai. If they are feeding children in school, they would ask the people if they are with Shehu Sani or the governor. They take Shehu Sani to their beds, they take Shehu Sani when going to the toilet and when they are sleeping with their wives, it is Shehu Sani on their minds. They dream of Shehu Sani, they think of Shehu Sani and they live with Shehu Sani in their hearts. All the activities of the government is about Shehu Sani, the ghost of Shehu Sani hangs in the air over government and governance in Kaduna State.
We understand that Governor El-Rufai recently paid a secret visit to Asiwaju Bola Tinubu to apologise over what happened in Kogi. Is that true?
I am not aware of that. All I know is that the party has spoken and I still do not believe that Asiwaju is supporting the candidate who went to court because Asiwaju does not hide his wars. He would have come out openly to support Yahaya Bello if he were in support of him. What we should look at is that if our party is always being disrespected, we will soon lose the very platform that catapulted us into power
You advised Emir Sanusi to tread carefully with his criticism of Buhari on the Naira. Why?
Emir Sanusi is an intelligent man, but he is a capitalist. His ideas are elitist and are not in conformity with a lot of what is going on in this administration, and he is not alone. There are governors who are silently critical of Buhari’s policies because he refuses to take the capitalist road and there are many party elements who are also not happy. But I am 100 per cent satisfied with Buhari’s economic policies. They want him to implement liberal reforms that will worsen the situation of the poor and further enrich the wealthy. They want him to devalue the currency because many of them had stored away dollars when they were in the PDP and when they were in government before the jumped ship. Now they want him to devalue the Naira so that they can make use of their dollars. They want him to remove subsidy, they want him to privatise everything, they even want him to collect loans from different countries at exorbitant interest rates. And all these things they want him to do, but he is not doing them. There are three categories of Buhari’s friends; there are those that openly criticise him, there are those that secretly criticise and undermine him, and there are others who are neutral. This is the situation the president is facing. Buhari needs our prayers. He needs our support and the solidarity of Nigerians to deliver.
You were alleged to have told President Buhari to “keep his promise to Boko Haram,” which includes Islamising Nigeria and abolishing western education. Were you really serious?
I never granted that interview. Nowadays in this country, if you check online, you don’t need to grant an interview, someone will do it on your behalf. There are many funny bloggers, some believe that by doing that they would attract traffic to their website. But I never said that and I would never say that.
You opposed the decision of the governors of the Northern states to seek a development loan from the Islamic Development Bank in Saudi Arabia. What’s wrong with that?
Okay, if you are going for a loan outside of Nigeria, there are laid-down conditions. The debt management Act of 2003 gave the condition that no state government shall negotiate to collect external loans, except through the Federal Government of Nigeria. Number two, you must submit your proposals for vetting by the Federal Ministry of Finance, the Attorney General’s office and the National Assembly. Number three, before any external loan is allowed, you must prove that you have not over-borrowed. Number four, you must present your proposal 90 days before the budget so that your proposal for debt can be included within the budget of the preceding year. And number five; it is the Federal Government that collects external loans on behalf of the states because it is the Federal Government that will pay that. So, you cannot just jet out to Saudi Arabia to go take an external loan without going through the process. You are not the Federal Government. Right now, our external debt stands at $1O.6bn and our local debt stands at over $40bn.1 think that if we can’t leave an industrialised Nigeria for the next generation, we must not leave a debt-ridden country. The debt that has been piled up by successive administrations has been justified, in terms of the level of the under-development and the rot we inherited in the last 16 years.
You alleged that that over $200bn is stashed away in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) by corrupt Nigerians. Where did you get this figure?
Well, names will come out and I believe that the President is doing a good work on it. But, l can tell you that Nigerians have looted such amount of money in the last 16 years and they invested it in real estate in Dubai. Some invested in shares, some laundered the money through other business investments and some also have large cash deposits. They see Dubai and East Asia as safe havens where looted money can be stashed. They buy houses in the names of their wives and children, they buy shopping malls in the names of their wives and children and they buy hotels in the names of their wives and children. They laundered the money by buying shares and bonds and some of them have large cash deposits. This is money that was supposed to be used for healthcare, for education, for roads infrastructure for the future of our children. They bled our foreign reserves, paralysed our economy, and carted our money to build a fortune for themselves and their families in Dubai and East Asia. The visit by President Muhammadu Buhari will certainly reveal to Nigerians how much cash has been looted out of Nigeria.
Are governors on the list?
Of course. Those who have investments and have taken money to Dubai are from all categories; there are governors, there are people who were ministers, there are people who were senators, there are people who were top public servants and there are people who parade themselves as businessmen but who are acting as fronts for people who were once in public office. I believe very strongly that very soon the lists will be rolled out for Nigerians to see.
You publicly declared your assets and said you have N22million in three banks, two residential houses in Kaduna, two houses under lease in Kaduna, one residential house in Abuja. How did you acquire these assets when you have never worked?
If you have never worked you will not have acquired any assets. My assets are very clear and how I acquired my assets is very clear. I didn’t acquire them by being in public office. The mistake people make is that they think work means being in public office and there you corruptly enrich yourself and acquire assets. My assets are minimal and I think these are issues I can defend anywhere. Those who parade themselves as Buhari’s disciples are unable to publicly come out to declare their assets because they have more than enough. I went to the Code of Conduct Bureau to fill a form and I saw someone calling for more and more pages to fill his form. When you see such things happening, you will realise that many things are actually going wrong. The best way to go about this is to bring out a law that will empower the Code of Conduct Bureau to force all public office holders to publicly declare their assets.
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