Thursday, March 30, 2017 12:45 pm
Comrade Shenu Sani, author, playwright, rights activist and a leading figure in the struggle for the restoration of democracuy in Nigeria currently represents Kaduna Central Senatorial District in the National Assembly. Sani who is also the President of the Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria and the Chairman of Hand-in-Hand Africa spoke to AYORINDE OLUOKUN on President’s Buhari’s war against corruption, increase criminality across the country, his relationship with his state governor and the war against Boko Haram among others.
Q: Some members of the current National Assembly tried to speak out at times without toeing party lines. You have also done so sometimes. When you spoke on the controversies over the contracts awarded through the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, you made a statement that the ruling party, your party in its fight against corruption, used insecticide if it involves the opposition, but when it concerns its own members, it uses deodorant. Some people think that was unfair of you to say as a party member?
A: I am a member of APC and my membership is founded on the believe that the party is the only viable alternative that can liberate our country from years of repression, exploitation and blunder by the political ruling from PDP. But we must also be clear to tell ourselves the truth- PDP was not destroyed from outside, it was destroyed from the inside. Some elements within the party (PDP) were marginalized, ostracized and they decided to go out and add strength to an opposition that has been on the field for so long and find it difficult to take over power. So, without the revolt of the likes of Saraki, the governors of PDP and other elements, we would have found it difficult to take over power. And without magnetic influence of Buhari’s integrity, we would have found it difficult to present somebody that Nigerians would believe in. Now, without the resources, resourcefulness and the organization spirit of the likes of Asiwaju, we would have found it difficult to win the election.
And without the cooperation of ANPP in some of the few states the party was controlling in the North, we would still have found it difficult to take over political power. Now, I am a member of a political party, but my politics is driven by my conscience. I have been so long in the street as an activist fighting for justice, freedom and democracy in my country and my participation in politics is to give practical meaning to the realization of those ideals which I hold, which I cherish in the course of our struggle. I raised the issue of insecticide and deodorant on the floor due to the fact that the anti corruption crusade as it is going on now is given some waivers to people close to the circle of power. We have seen how former minister, former governors, contractors of the PDP are arrested, paraded and tried.
And we have also seen, on the other hand, a clear case of indictment, embezzlement, mismanagement, outright blatant corruption on the part of the people who are within the party of the President and they were given waiver, cover, protection. And that is the reality of the bi-polar nature of the anti corruption crusade as it is today. You will find out that each time there is an allegation raised against anybody in the position of power today, what they usually do is to instruct the Attorney General of the Federation to investigate. At the end of the day, that person will be cleared. The Attorney General has become a clearing agent. But if other people are arrested, they are handed over to the Police, EFCC or ICPC and then charged to court. There is no doubt about the integrity, honour and resolve of Mr. President, but the weakness against the ongoing campaign against corruption has to do with the very fact that elements that are in the favoured books of the President are being shielded from properly addressed as corrupt people.
Q: As a member of the ruling party, what would then be your recommendations on how this can be addressed?
A: In most African states including Nigeria, the citizens hardly know the depth of corruption prevailing under any government until that government loses election. Most of the people on trial today were on trial because the party that sustained them, give them the cover and the lever to plunder the state has been pushed out of power. For people who are in power today, Nigerians will not know what is happening under them until when they are out of power. So, the point I am making is this- we have a duty to this country, to our conscience and to prosperity to bring people to trial at the very time in which they commit the offence to save time, save money and give less headache to the next generation of Nigerians. It has always been the case- when you are in public office, you are most likely to get Man of the Year award from the media, you also get all sorts of awards from different organizations and people will rise up to defend you and you are almost a demi- god.
But the moment you are pushed out of power and you are asked to account for your deeds, you will stand alone. Each time you see the governors and public office holders of those days who are on trial today, you see them going to court alone or with few people. Many of those who were defending them, protecting them and raising their profiles as demi gods have fizzled out. So, this government will do something different if it can put its own on trial. There are a lot of things Nigerians needed to know. Who are those who looted this country and transfer the money to Europe and Dubai? We learnt that Mr. President was in Dubai last year. But where is the list of those who have bought property there? How did they get money to buy property there?
We want to know. We also want to know what became of the Paris refund that is being shared to governors; we want to know what became of the bailout funds. We want to know what is happening to governors who refused to conduct local government elections, misappropriate local government funds for themselves. We want to know all these things. We are having a president that is simply alone; alone in his ideas, office and vision. President Buhari is a lonely man in the midst of people who think, act differently from him. President Buhari publicly declared his assets, but none of the APC governors, ministers, and party men have been able to follow his footstep. But when it comes to granting interviews and making speeches, they are all followers of Muhammadu Buhari, but they cannot do what Buhari is doing. Apart from Buhari and his Vice President who publicly declared their assets, no other member of the party is willing to publicly declare his or her asset and that shows you that Buhari is a lonely man.
Q: You have also been involved in one way or the other in the struggle to end the Boko Haram insurgency. Now, the military said they have defeated Boko Haram, but we keep having intermittent attacks by the group on villages, suicide attacks, even attacks on soldiers. Given what you know, to what extent can we really say we have been able to defeat Boko Haram?
President Buhari has been able to achieve what has not been achieved before in the fight against Boko Haram since he came into office. He has been able to displace Boko Haram from their stranglehold on some local governments in the Northeastern part of Nigeria. Under President Jonathan, Boko Haram turned from a guerrilla force to an occupying army, taking over territories, hosting its flags and unleashing its own version of Islamic rule like the ISIS does. But Buhari has been able to push them away to the point that they are no longer holding any Nigeria territory today. But it will be too early to declare victory against a guerilla force that can strike at soft targets. You can dislodge a terrorist group, but what may be difficult for you to achieve is to end their guerrilla attacks because it doesn’t require them protecting or defending any territory. It is just sending one or two people into a crowded place- motor parks, library, markets or a school and then, unleashing terror, deaths and bloodshed.
I think we are quick in declaring victory because we believe that victory has to do with capturing lands. But we don’t also know that by declaring victory, we are also saying that there will be end to attacks and suicide bombing, which is not true. As a terror organization that has transformed from a local to international group; that has international links, defeating Boko Haram is not going to be a one day affair. It will require years of continuous battle and as you can see, a lot of things will lead to the end of all these terrorist groups as a whole. The militia force of ISIS and Al-Quieda in Libya, Somalia, Arabian peninsula, Somalia, Iraq and Syria are the breeding grounds and sustaining points for terror organizations, they trained these boys locally with their fighters.
So, if we can end terror in Libya and Somalia, naturally, it will end their ability to feed the ones we have here locally. So, ending terror in Nigeria will have to do with ending terror in most parts of Africa where they exist now. Secondly, the coordination between Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria has to be permanent – these are some of the most impoverished parts of the world, thereby it is easy to get recruits for terror activities. But a continuous network of intelligence sharing and joint military operations will lead to eventual victory. But most importantly, there must be an economic master plan that will improve living standards of the people in North east, give them jobs, put more money in their pockets to empower them and make it impossible for terror groups to have following. These are some of the issues that we need to look at.
Q: Apart from Boko Haram, Nigeria is faced with a lot of security challenges now- we have the kidnappers, militants, militias, armed robbers holding people to ransom in various parts of the country. The security agencies seemed overwhelmed and there have been suggestions that we should review our security architecture by looking again at the issue of state policing. The issue of state police was also in the manifesto of APC. With what is happening all over the country now, is it not time to consider the issue of the state police again?
If we are to go by the geo-political mapping of flashpoints and crises in Nigeria, you can say mildly that the country is at war. The number of people that are being killed every day is even more than the number of people that are being killed in some of the most troubled global spots we have and the danger of this is the very fact that it has created an atmosphere on insecurity and fear in the minds of so many people. Kidnapping that used to be a South East and South South affair is now in most parts of the North and in parts of the North -west in particular. Guerilla attacks that used to take place in most pasrts of Northeastern Nigeria is now in most parts of Nigeria and the violence of the herdsmen is even transcending that of the Boko Haram now. So, when you look at all these indices, you will see the need for us to reappraise the structural defects of our country.
We need to address the political, social, economic and structural symptoms of all those crises. And the best way for us to do that is to evaluate how all the issues could properly be tackled, looking at the differences and the divergence that exist within the country. Restructuring is very, very important, especially because we cannot continue with this cap in hand federalism in which every month, states move to Abuja to collect money to do their projects. Each part of Nigeria should be able to contribute to the socio-economic development of the country. We don’t need 36 states. We should not have more than 6 states in each- each of the geopolitical zones should be a state with Abuja remaining the capital. We don’t need 36 ministers, 36 State Houses of Assembly; we don’t even need two chambers of National Assembly.
We need to address these realities. Nigeria is becoming a very unwieldy gargantuan structure in the sense that we are scared from taking steps and actions. But our progress and development will be from overcoming such fears and taking steps in the best interest of prosperity. But with most governments we have had, the emphasis has been on appeasing the present, living in the present and which is the cause of the problem we are facing now. Life has become so cheap in Nigeria today, deaths and destruction has become a daily occurrence, violence has become a way of like; kidnapping for ransom is becoming popular among the young and old and is also becoming a means of livelihood for many. So, when you put all these together, you can see the rise in criminality, the failure of the state and the defeat of logic, reason and wisdom on the parts of the political class to address this issue. And we are simply living on borrowed time- at the end of the day; we have to accept do what is right.
Q: You have not spoken much on the crises in Southern Kaduna. But why do you think the crises in that part of your state have persisted over the years in spite of various attempts by government and other stakeholders?
I do speak on Southern Kaduna; but as a senator, I represent the central part of the state. There is a senator- Danjuma Laah who represents Southern Kaduna. But as a Nigerian citizen and as an indigene of Kaduna State, Southern Kaduna gives me a lot of worries. I lose my sleep, I lose my appetite each time there was crisis there and people are being murdered. In 2004, 1 wrote a book called The Killing Field: Religious Violence In Northern Nigeria. In that book, I was able to do a lot of studies on the tragedy in Southern Kaduna. The tragedy in Southern Kaduna- the violence – can be seen from four angles. There is the inter-religious violence between Muslims and Christians which has been on from 1980 to date; there is inter-communal violence, there is the violence between settlers and indigenes – the settlers being the Muslims who had settled in Southern Kaduna. There is also the insurgency where Boko Haram elements continue to go there and kill people. There is also the farmers and herdsmen clashes- farmers who are indigenous and herdsmen who move around usually clash. But now, you have a new dimension – the herdsmen violence.
People confuse all these for one or another, but the fact is that what is going on in Southern Kaduna now is simply armed bandits, that are referred to as ‘herdsmen’ lurking around in the night, raiding villages, burning people and simply fizzle out into the vast territory. And a number of factors are responsible for this, but it is clear that what is going in is a clear case of terrorism and outright violence against the people. There have been a lot of studies which shows that from the western part of Zamfara State to Western part of Kaduna- the Bini Gwari area, to Southern Kaduna, you have what you called the Kamuku game reserve. The game reserve has been there for 50 years. People don’t live there; only wild animals, but it has become a breeding ground and a sanctuary for most of these violent herdsmen. In southern Kaduna, the systematic killing, burning and violence unleashed on the people have been going on for sometimes now, but it didn’t start from 1980.
It starts recently – about four years ago. That of 1980 was religious violence and people are confusing the violence perpetrated by armed bandits, criminal herdsmen who are killing the natives in the night to what happened as far back as 1980. But that is different from what is happening now. Now, what are the economic, political and social implications of the Southern Kaduna crisis? Southern Kaduna is basically the Christian part of the State. And it is one part of the State that has been neglected – socially, economically and politically. Most of the people living there are poor and have been marginalized over the years by successive administrations in the State. And there has not been any serious effort to address the imbalance that exists in that territory.
The people of Southern Kaduna watch NTA Jos; they don’t even have any serious radio station that goes round, even the one that they have in Kafanchan there doesn’t go beyond a certain perimeter. So, years of neglect, years of abandonment has created some sort of consciousness on the people in that part of the state who now feel that they are unwanted, not needed due to the fact that they are different from the other part of the state. And any leader of Kaduna who is desirous of peace, harmony and security should give the people from that state a sense of belonging, inclusiveness and a reassurance that things would be different from what they used to be. But I hear that the idea of the State government is to suppress the conflict by arresting and prosecuting people who are believed to have been inciting others in Southern Kaduna. But that would not solve the problem. What the people need is sense of belonging, inclusiveness and unfolding of an economic master plan that would address the socio-economic injustice that has been perpetrated in that part of the state for decades.
They need also to be treated as a full member of the State and the nation; they didn’t choose to be what they are and to be in that part of the country; God has made them to be there and they must be treated with justice, equity and fair play. Now, the problem in that area is now attracting international attention. The immediate solution to the crises is for the state governor, Nasir-El Rufai to talk to the people of Southern Kaduna, to unfold an economic agenda that that will pertain to the people of that area. Threatening their community leaders, youth leaders, religious leaders- putting them on trial would not address the problem. It would further inflame the situation.
Q: The issue of development will take some time, but don’t you think that there is need to stop people from spreading rumours of attacks which did not happen, unnecessary incitement of people against one another so as to limit outbreak of violence, stop or minimize the killings?
Inciting others is very bad, it is against the law and anybody doing that should be prosecuted. But we must be very careful in giving life to someone who would use that as a reason arrest, prosecute and persecute political enemies who are pointing to his incompetency and his inadequacy. If you give a political office holder license to start arresting people, he will use that as a reason to equate opposition and criticism of his style of governance to hate. People who promote hatred should be dealt with, but if you provide a license to a political office holder to interpret what is ‘hate speech,’ he may categorise it to include even people who want to speak in the defence and protection of their people. There is a difference between “go out and kill” and “let my people protect themselves.” But when you say that somebody cannot complain that his people are being killed, he cannot blame those who kill his people, he cannot point fingers at those who have failed to protect them, otherwise he will be considered as promoting hate, then, you have crossed the line.
So, our state don’t need people who promotes hate; but it also doesn’t need someone with a license to start arresting and persecuting people because they simply don’t agree with your style of governance or they think you are complicit in the problem. We must do everything possible as a country to maintain our peace, unity and progress. Religion has become such a sensitive issue in Nigeria today. We have never been so divided as we are now. The danger of not addressing problems like this is that we may end up like Sudan. Sudan today is divided because people couldn’t live in peace with each other.
Q: Do you agree with the postulations by some Northerners, including governors that the so called herdsmen carrying out attacks on communities across the North usually came from outside the country?
When Boko Haram was killing people, the response of some people was that they are not Nigerians. Now, herdsmen are killing people and the response of some Northern governors was that they are not Nigerians. So, who are they? If they are not Nigerians, why are they not doing the same thing in the countries where they come from? If you say they are from Mali, why are the herdsmen in Mali not killing people? If you say Boko Haram people are not Nigerians, where did they come from? And why are they not doing those same things in those places until it started here? I think such claims are attempts to find escape route for our failures.
Q: Why is it that you and your state governor don’t see eye to eye? Even, your aides are always at each other throats…
Recently he (Governor El-Refai) granted an interview that I have been fighting him because he turned down my list of appointments and that was because I brought people who were not well educated. And the second allegation was that I have been fighting him because I want to be the governor of the State. Now, let’s start with the first one. Senators and governors are entitled to submit names for appointments and I don’t see why I should be crucified if I say people from my local governments should also be appointed into his cabinet. But he has denied me and any of my people appointment. But that has not stopped me from doing what I need to do for them. I am at peace with my people and I am serving my people. El-Rufai has a a history of dictatorial and arrogant tendencies; he is a bad representation of APC.
He comes from a background of people who are part and parcel of destruction of this country. He converted to being a ‘Buhari man’ when he was rejected by Jonathan and Yar’Adua. But as for me, I came from an activist background; becoming a senator after being in two opposition party- from AD, to CPC and now in APC. So, you can see that his (El-Rufai) political thinking and pedigree are in contradiction to what Buhari stands for and that’s why you can see a Buhari that can publicly declare his assets, but you can’t see a disciple in the name of El-Rufai also publicly declaring his assets. They don’t believe in Buhari; they are Buhari in the mouth, but in the heart, they are different. But when I say ‘Sai Buhari’ what I say in my mouth is what is in my heart. I don’t come from that background where I will have to go into the room and check my audience and then accuse Buhari of incompetence.
But in the inner world of El-Rufai, Buhari is an archaic political leader, economically ignorant and one whose government has no direction and that he, Harvard trained, are those who know what to do with the economy. But if you see me as a critic of power, that has been my style right from the trade union days and even in the Senate. He has done a number of things to me; including inducing the party at his own local level to suspend me and in the process, simply ridiculing himself. He came from PDP and when he is talking, he will say PDP has destroyed this country for 16 years while out of that 16 years, he is part of the 14 years. His heart, lungs are all in the PDP. So, if we are now in the same political party, ideally we are supposed to work together for the progress of the party and the progress of the people. But he has to see me as equal partner. In as much as I respect him as a state governor, he should respect me as somebody who has not eaten the forbidden fruit like him before I became converted.