Senator Shehu Sani is a first time lawmaker, representing Kaduna Central on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He’s also the Chairman, Senate Committee on local and foreign debts. He said 2019 election will be an acid test for every politician willing to test their popularity among the people.
He called on President Muhammadu Buhari not to endorse any APC candidate through the traditional raising of hands of such candidates, but allow everybody to be tried and judged by his or her performance in office. Senator Sani in this interview with NOAH EBIJE in Kaduna, also talked about his fight with the Kaduna State governor, Malam Nasir el-rufa’i, saying he is not just fighting the governor, but he is doing so for the good of the people and the state. He hinted that he is considering running against the governor in 2019.
Distinguished Senator, you are always on the move, attending to people in and outside your constituency. What do you intend to achieve with this?
When one is elected into office, there are moral and political obligations to deliver on the promises and pledges of one’s campaign. And central to this is the need for elected persons to keep in touch with their constituencies. Once people are elected into office, they cut off from the electorate until another election season is around, and this void, usually becomes the gap that exists between the government and the governed. The most important thing we should always put in mind is the very fact that a man elected into office is not there to serve himself, but to serve his people, and as an activist, I am one who professes a political ideology that tends to the left. Our politics is rooted in the hearts of our people. I represent the downtrodden, and I stand for them, and I am here to defend their interest. I come from a movement, movement that was founded on the ideology of liberation of the Talakawas (The downtrodden), the movement that was founded on the ideology of justice, of freedom and of progress. I am of a revolutionary stuff, one in which the advancement of the common good of the weak, the dispossessed, the downtrodden is central to my own kind of politics.
As an activist during the military era, we were in the forefront of the struggle for democracy, and in the process, we confronted military regimes, and we suffered a lot of consequences. Many of us were imprisoned, many were killed, and many were forced into exile. I was among those who served jail term in the struggle for democracy in this country. I was arrested many times, and I had been jailed many times. I had been through Kaduna prison, Kirikiri prison in Lagos, Port Harcourt prison in Rivers State and Aba prison in Abia State during the military era of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, and late General Sani Abacha. I was released in 1998 on the eve of Nigeria’s transition to democracy. My participation in politics is to practically realise those very ideals and principles which we fought for as activists.
But history has been doctored, because we were for protest, prison and parliament, triple P, so in many countries of the world, you find that many people paid prizes before they run to offices. And one of the reasons why we have lost the currency of change and currency of democracy, and it has to do with the very fact that many of those who found themselves in political position, in power after 1999 have not actually been part of the struggle for democracy in this country. And they don’t know the prize of it and they have not made any sacrifice for it. And today, 17 years of our democracy, our country ought to have been better politically, economically and socially. But the amount of money that has been pumped into the system and realised within this period of time, is not in anyway commensurate with the level of development we have seen. We have moved, before 2015, from disappointment to disgust, we have moved from a bewildered to a beleaguered nation, without a change in 2015, Nigeria would have been a worst place it had never been in the history of this country. So my politics is part of the Talakawas, and it is on that ideology that I run my office.
You were in prison with who and who?
I was in prison with the likes of General Olusegun Obasanjo, who later became President in 1999, Col Lawan Gwadabe (rtd), Chris Anyanwu and other journalists. And just as I have said, I was detained in various prisons; Kirikiri, Lagos, Kaduna, Port-Harcourt, Enugu and Aba.
Would you say that your prison experience gave you political upper hand among other politicians?
The experience of prison is good for a political career because it will prepare you for the tough challenges ahead, it will prepare you for the crisis, for the problems, for the battles that you may likely fight along the way. You can see how politicians… the roads, prisons, they passed through, the Nelson Mandelas, Walter Sisulus, Mbekis, and other politicians who have all struggled for freedom and apartheid colonialism, you can see how they were able to lay a solid foundation for their country.
I am well prepared to fight every battle, because I have gone through battles, and the battle that is being fought now cannot be compared to that under military regimes. Under the military, I organised protest, and it had to be underground, and we had to go off radar, and we also have to prepare to be shot, but in the present day, you can see most protests that are organised in Abuja, you see the protestants holding handsets and laptops, and sometimes even sipping juices while they are protesting, and even cold water being brought to them in packs and water coolers, and you see them even conversing with the police, and even begging them. Nowadays, people can post anything, criticise anybody, write any article and publish.
But that was not the case under military rule. Many journalists were sent to prison, many workers, members of trade union were sent to prison, many leaders of democratic organisations were pushed to prison, many were killed by hired assassins, some were shot during protest, many were forced into exile, and many were incapacitated. This was the prize which we paid, and which prepared a person like me to withstand the battles we are fighting as politicians.
2019 election is around the corner, how would you predict Kaduna State election for the governorship, Senatorial seats, House of Representatives as well as the State House of Assembly?
Well, of all the states in the North, Kaduna is the most strategic for politics. In the first place, Kaduna State is the only State in the North with a PDP Senator. And from public opinion, if you go to Sokoto, Kebbi or Zamfara, it is easier for you to sail through the ruling party. But in Kaduna State, a good number of factors will certainly affect the fortunes of the party in power and affect the possibility of a smooth election that will come ahead.
First of all, there is in fighting and factions within the ruling party in the State. The chairman of APC that is recognised by the national secretariat of the party is different from the one which the State Governor monopolises, and there are factions that exist now, which without the close of ranks and finding solution to this problem, we are heading towards a serious crisis. And the fortunate thing has to do with the fact that the opposition party is factionalised at the top, but it does not appear to be factionalised at the state level. Even if APC has popular support, there are a number of things that affect it; first all, it has to do with the fact that you can see it and feel it when you listen to the common people, they are all discontented with the situation in the country. They are angry over the lack of unity in our party, and they are all angry with the quarrelling and the ceaseless confrontation that exist in the party. So, put all these things together, you will see that things need to be put into proper perspective before we go for election, if not, certainly there will be a lot of surprises by 2019 in Kaduna State politics.
Recently, there was the meeting of APC-AKIDA, the split group, as well as government faction of APC, so to say. What was the outcome of the meeting of the split group, which we believe you attended?
Well, the meeting I attended was our own APC, the one organised by the state along Tafawa Balewa Way, and I learnt that Government House APC organised their own in another hotel. I could see that in our own meeting, we were categorically clear that we own the party in the state because the chairman that is recognised by the national secretariat is the one whom we owe our allegiance to while the Government House APC is operating with a chairman that is recognised by the State governor. So, this is the situation of the party in the State. They have made their own resolution, and pretending that there was no crisis, and we have made our own resolution, affirming that, certainly, there are issues on the ground, and it is on that ground that the national secretariat set up a reconciliation committee headed by the governor of Katsina State, Aminu Bello Masari. He was mandated to reconcile all the factions, and we have made our submissions to him, but he couldn’t get serious cooperation from Government House of Kaduna State. So, as far as we are concerned, we are the party and they are the rebel group of the party.
Why do you call it Government House APC?
Yea, it is because you cannot differentiate between the party in the state and the executive arm of the state government. In our own group, there are no people holding executive positions. When you call a party meeting, and fill it up with commissioners, advisers, special assistants, then it means that it is a government house party, while our own here is made up of politicians who are founding members of the APC in Kaduna State. The other side are the ones on the record of suspending me for criticising the governor of the state. They suspended me about 13 times for criticising the governor. So, I don’t know, now that he has criticised the President, I recommend that the suspension that was given to me should also be given to him because he was the brain behind such suspension. He felt that people should not criticise others, but he has found himself doing that. He too should be much criticised and suspended the same way I was suspended from the party.
We know that the last time you came face-to-face with Governor El-rufai was when he paid you a condolence visit over the death of your mother. One thought that you should have used that occasion to bury the hatchet because we also gathered that your mother, before she died, pleaded with you to mend fences him. Why won’t you obey your mother?
I don’t think she ever said such a thing to me. She was not a politician, she only prayed for me, and she knew me very well as a man of principle. She stood by me all through my struggles. So, just keep her out of Kaduna politics. Actually, Governor El-rufai came to condole with me when my mother died, and I was very grateful for that, but just three days after he condoled with me, he was on TVC television attacking me. It was an interview on TVC in which he attacked me, unprovoked attack. Two days after he came, either him or his people sponsored certain persons to go on radio and attack me, and attacking me on radio was not free. This is what they have been doing, and in that aspect, I could not simply hold my arms because you came to condole with me, you shook my hand with one hand and with the other hand, you tried to stab me, that is not going to work. So, when he came to condole with me, that was supposed to have ebbed the crisis, but unfortunately, he started the crisis when he left my house, and I could not hold it, I have to give it back to him. So that is it.
But I can tell you that there were some interventions by leaders from Tudun Wada. They pleaded that we should end the crisis, we agreed. But I told them very clearly that if he attacks me, I will certainly respond, but I will not be the first to attack, and that has been my continuous position. I said this, since he engineered my suspension by doing a lot of things, I had no option when he wrote a memo which he leaked by himself, but he is claiming that he was not the one that leaked it. If you wrote a memo to Buhari, one person out of the two could have leaked it, either it was Buhari that leaked it, or it was El-rufai that leaked the memo. So I stand with the school of thought that he was the one that leaked it. So, for the fact that he launched such attacks, then I have to respond. That was what I told the leaders.
In that case, when will your political fight with El-rufai come to an end?
I think the fight is not about me and him, but the future of the party in the state. If you ask me about him, what I may say about him may not be fair, and if you ask him about me, what he may say about me, may not be fair, but I think the common people in Kaduna here, if you want to get a popular opinion about me and him, I believe you should go to the market, go to the parks, meet traders, go to the streets and hear public opinion, and I agree, whatever position we come up with, is the true opinion of the people as far as this issue is concerned. The war going on here is not simply between me and him, but about the party. The chunk of the people who contributed to the success of the party in the state are marginalised. They are completely ostracized, and he is bringing in people who virtually did not contribute to the success of the party in the state. This is what he is doing, and he wants everybody to tow the line, it is not possible. Kaduna is not Abuja where he served as a Minister. This is a state with a people whose life and livelihood depend here, people who have no home, but here, people who have nowhere to go, but this place. So if you are bringing in policies and programmes, which these people are against, then we have to know that the end result would probably not be you alone, but you should carry other persons along who share the same party with you.
Governor El-rufai was quoted to have said that you are not happy with him because he did not give appointments to candidates you nominated for commissionership. What is your reaction to this?
I think you need to go through the memo which he has written, where he complained that governors were not consulted when political appointments were given. Did he consult me in the state or is it ok for President Buhari to give El-rufai appointment at the federal level and it is not ok for El-rufai to give Shehu Sani appointment in his own government? I think he is just a hypocrite, he stands against all that he is saying, and all that he has written in the memo, he is also guilty of it. If he said Buhari has a cabal, he has a cabal in Kaduna, if he said Buhari is incompetent, he is more incompetent than Buhari, if he said Buhari doesn’t listen to advice, he also doesn’t listen to advice, if he said Buhari is not giving appointment to the people who contributed to the success of the party, he too is not giving appointment to the people who contributed to the party in the state. So, what are we talking about? He should practise what he preaches.
On many occasions during your programme, street parliament, where you meet with the people of your constituency to ascertain their needs, many of them actually said you should run for the governorship. What is your thinking now that 2019 election is fast approaching?
Well, as for 2019, it is still far away. What is on the ground now is for us to deliver on the promises and pledges we have made as elected officials. So I have heard such a call, and I will answer that call at the right time. I may decide to seek to return to the Senate, I may decide to vie for the governorship of Kaduna State, and I may decide not to vie for any of the positions again, it all depends on the feeling from my people of what they think I should be able to overcome. The 2019 election is not going to be like 2015 election; under 2015 election, many people won election by virtue of their allegiance to Buhari, but by 2019, everyone will answer his own father’s name. We are advocating for people to go and vote for their conscience, and not to vote for anybody because of Buhari. Even if Buhari is going to contest election, vote for Buhari alone, and each and every one of us who wants to contest, we have to put him on the scale whether that person is capable, whether that person has performed, whether that person will truly serve after voting him into power. So 2019 is going to be a year in which everyone is going to stand in the dock to be tried by the voters. So 2019 is not an election time, it is a trial time, and truly it is a judgment time for our conduct while in office.
Perhaps, prior to 2019 electioneering campaigns, many candidates will be looking forward to Buhari to endorse them by raising up their hands as it was the case during 2015 campaigns. What is your advice to Buhari?
I call on Buhari not to raise up anybody’s hand, not to campaign for anybody, not to advocate for anybody, not to ask anybody to vote for anybody. I think he should continue with his own philosophy; he belongs to nobody, and he should belong to nobody. His idea, the strategy of raising people’s hands has turned out to be acidic to many people. And sometimes he would think that he has raised up the hands of a Saint, but he never knew that it is the hand of a devil that he raised. Sometimes he would think that he has raised the hands of a lamb, but he doesn’t know that it is the hands of a lion that he has raised. Sometimes he raised the hands, but he doesn’t know that it is claws that he has raised. In that kind of situation I am calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to desist from raising any body’s hand for 2019 election. He should allow every person to stand trial and be judged by his own people.