Thursday, March 8, 2018 5:20 pm
Senator Shehu Sani, a pro-democracy and human rights activist has been an outstanding lawmaker since he was elected into the National Assembly in 2015. Always ready to make his voice heard and contribute to national issues as they come up on the floor of the red chamber, Senator Sani, representing Kaduna Central Senatorial District chaired the Ad hoc Committee which, among others, investigated former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr.Babachir Lawal, for breach of the Public Procurement Act and for abuse of his official position in the administration of the Presidential Initiative on the North-east (PINE). In its report described as one of the most comprehensive, the Committee had indicted Lawal for breach of the Public Procurement Act and abuse of his official position. The indictment eventually led to the sack of Lawal from the cabinet of President Muhammadu Buhari, the first time the executive will act on the report of a committee of National Assembly in recent times. The Senator spoke to AYORINDE OLUOKUN on the politics of National Assembly, the alleged bogus allowances being earned by lawmakers, the politics of All Progressives Congress, the Muhammadu Buhari administration, his rift with Governor Nasir El-rufai of his home state and recent change in leadership in South Africa among others. Photos by FEMI IPAYE
You came to the Senate with a strong background and history in activism. But what has been your experience so far as a lawmaker?
It is true that my history has been one of struggle for human rights, freedom, justice, democracy. I was a leading figure in the struggle to liberate Nigeria from military rule and in the course of our struggle, we made sacrifices and we encountered challenges. I have spent a significant part of my life in prison. I have been jailed in Kaduna, Kirikiri, Port Harcourt and Aba prisons during military rule. The return to democracy in 1999 offered the country new opportunities to develop itself and explore the potentials of its human and natural resources. When we came out of prison in 1998 – many political prisoners were released after the death of Sani Abacha and when Abdulsalami Abubakar took over power – there was an opportunity for so many of us to get into the democratic process and vie for elective positions so that we can implement our ideas and ideals that have sustained our struggle over the years.
If you go a bit backward, you can always recall the roles played by the civil rights groups, the labour organisations, the progressive political class under NADECO, the media and the intelgensia in the struggle to restore democracy to Nigeria. We can remember heroes who have sacrificed their lives and freedom – the Chima Ubanis, Fred Eno, Frank Kokori, Femi Falana, Beko, Gani Fawehinmi, and those who went to exile like Wole Soyinka, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and even journalists who have paid dearly in the process of fighting for democracy like Bayo Onanuga, Kunle Ajibade, Dapo Olorunyomi, Babafemi Ojudu and, at the earlier times, we had Dele Giwa, Ray Ekpu, Yakubu Mohammed and further backward, we had the Tunde Thompson and the Irabors and we also cannot forget the role played by the Nosa Igiebors and so many others. You can also see the progressive media at that time – Tempo, Tell, TheNEWS, The Punch, Concord, The Guardian and so many other progressive forces like the ASUU, NANS that are in the forefront of the restoration of democracy to Nigeria.
But when it came to the point of transiting to democracy, we made a fundamental mistake when many of us thought the new democratic process would not last. So, we never joined politics and those who joined, joined very late when the democratic process had been hijacked by those who never fought for democracy. I contested in 2003 under the Alliance For Democracy and l lost. I contested in 2011 under the CPC and I lost the primary election. But I contested in 2015 and I won. But there is a fundamental difference between activism and partisan politics. In activism, you are driven by set of ideas, ideals, set of standards, your conscience and conviction and you are never distracted or you just have to live carefully to avoid landmines.
The fact is that there is civil war within the presidency with the existence of different power points. So, even if you are going to the villa today, the moment you cross the gate, you must have an identity. Which of the camps are you going to see?
But in politics, especially when you are occupying an office, you are being guided by the interest of those who elected you. You are also being guided by the political party which gave you the platform through which you contested the election. You are forced in most cases to make compromises and even at certain times forced to sacrifice your principles and conviction in order to go along with certain political forces you shared very little in common with. Now, when you reflect on all these distractions that are attached to representative politics, you will see that you are most likely going to get into trouble if you want to be a politician of conscience because Nigerian political parties are not modelled along ideological lines. In other countries of the world, the parties are either centre left or centre right, some call themselves labour, some conservatives, some liberal, some republican, some workers, socialists parties. But in Nigeria, that is not the case. Almost all the political parties have the same manifesto and constitution. It is as if you photocopy one manifesto and constitution and then you give it to the other parties to stamp their logos on it. And, ideology does not drive Nigeria’s politics.
We may have had a change of government. But what has remained unchanged is the system. Those who were in power and those currently in power share a common interest – that is protecting private property, advancing capitalism, subservience to western interests and opposing liberal values. And you see them also exhibiting some form of neo-colonial tendencies. The Nigerian political class, in as much as they see themselves as Hausas, Yorubas, Igbos and so on, their common desire is to protect class privileges. They so much believe that refineries cannot work until they are sold, electricity companies cannot work until they were sold, even the roads cannot be free of potholes until they are concessioned. The airports cannot function well until they are concessioned. And then, those who expected to see a revolutionary change from 2015 to now couldn’t see it, but they failed to realise that what we have is a change and not a revolution and the ‘political change’ is simply a modest form of prostitution from what we have before.
There is no N35 million per quarter. That is simply a fiction, because as an activist, I have led protests demanding to know, but there has never been any N35 million. I think what we can say is that the running cost of a senator is N13.5 million.
A revolution should have been a complete departure from what we were having before to what we are having now. Why the radical revolutionary change is not possible here is because many of the elements who served in the PDP are now in the APC. And what I want us to understand is those forces who were part and parcel of PDP didn’t disagree with the PDP philosophy, were never opposed to PDP ideas and visions and whatever. The fact that they were marginalised and sidelined in the system existing then made them to revolt and join forces from other tendencies to form the APC.
So, part of the problems the party is facing is that people came from different political tendencies, brought together by the common desire to dislodge PDP from power and put in place a different government. So, what we have today is a Buhari in power. But you should ask whether those who brought Buhari to power share his ideas and ideals, because there are elements within this government that felt Buhari is not going in the right direction, but they don’t have the courage to speak out. Buhari’s ascent to power has to do with the fact that he was a symbol of who can rally mass support from the grassroots to display the government in power. But now also, he is being backed by a political elite and without them, it would have been impossible for him to dislodge the former PDP government.
Now, when you are in politics, you are not expected to be driven by your conscience and principles, but by cliques and class political interest and persons like me who are in politics to serve my people with my conscience, principles and ideas would naturally get into trouble because most of the people I will always be in the same boat with are people I shared very little with. At the party level, you can see the crisis within the APC. It also has to do with the strange bedfellows who came together to form the party. And you can also see the party in the National Assembly which is reflective of the crisis in APC. There are people who are with APC or Buhari because they don’t like PDP, there are those who are with him because it is safer to be with him. There are those who are with him because they cannot oppose him. So, when you put all these things together, you will come to realise that there is a difference between activism and politics. I can conclude by saying that in activism, when we set a target to lead a protest by 8 a.m., we will simply meet before that time, assemble ourselves for the protest. But in politics, if you have something to do by 8 a.m, in the morning, you will have about five meetings for which one meeting will cancel the other one, until you get to the last. These are some issues that I believe we should understand.
Even with that, the expectation was that people like you should help APC push its position in the Senate, but what we have seen was that sometimes you join hands with PDP members to even oppose some of the things you could have helped your party and President Buhari push through and several instances of this can be cited.
When you talked of ‘party position’, the question I would ask you is that has there been any party position on issues? We are now clocking about three years in office, and as a journalist, have you ever seen the National Assembly APC Senate Caucases invited by the party to tell us its position on issues? So, before you accuse us of not toeing the party position, you have to ask whether there have been any party position? When you don’t invite your senators for a meeting, you don’t consult them for anything, so what is the party’s position? If the APC can say they were not involved in the compilation of the list of members of the boards of the federal parastatals which include dead people, so what is the party’s position?
But what about the issue of confirmation of Ibrahim Magu as the EFCC Chairman, the President’s nominees whose confirmation by the Senate has been abandoned?
On the issue of Magu, what should be the position of the senators when the President sent a nominee for appointment into EFCC and then a security agency under the President sent a bad report about that person? So, which one is the position of the party? Has the party ever written to the Senate to tell them to confirm Mr. A or Mr. B? It has not. So, you should not blame us. The fact is that there is civil war within the presidency with the existence of different power points. So, even if you are going to the villa today, the moment you cross the gate, you must have an identity. Which of the camps are you going to see?
In that kind of situation, what are you going to do? Has the party been able to elect or appoint the chairman of Board of Trustees? That is also a problem. Has the party been able to settle its crises in the states? Has the party been consulting members of the National Assembly? To my knowledge, for about three years, we have only met the executive of the party once. So, where is the party’s position on anything? We were all there simply using our initiatives to resolve issues. If the party called me and say, ‘Senator Shehu Sani, the President is tomorrow sending Mr. A, please, make sure he is confirmed,’ then, I will know. But if the Governor of my state can engineer the party in my state to suspend me from the party and I wrote a letter to the national secretariat of the party and they are afraid of being in my own side or being on the side of the governor, but rather prefer that the issue will die a natural death, then you ask yourself, where is the party? One problem we have is that unity within the party ended when we took power in 2015. The party was simply operating on its own. The presidency does not consult the party in the way it runs the government and because of that, the party cannot reach out to us because they have nothing to deliver to us or request us to do. And as far as we are concerned, since they cannot reach out to us, we also act based on our initiatives.
In other countries of the world, the parties are either centre left or centre right, some call themselves labour, some conservatives, some liberal, some republican, some workers, socialists parties. But in Nigeria, that is not the case. Almost all the political parties have the same manifesto and constitution. It is as if you photocopy one manifesto and constitution and then you give it to the other parties to stamp their logos on it. And, ideology does not drive Nigeria’s politics.
That is the way things are. But the way the Senate is now also has it roots in the way the Senate President’s election came up in 2015. The existence of the Unity Camp and the Like Minds camps brought a sharp division that distracted the activities of the National Assembly for almost a year before peace was restored among members. But before then, it was simply war and war. As far as I am concerned, the disconnect that exists simply helps us to reach decisions without anybody’s interference.
But those of us looking from outside see a Senate in which the leadership is increasingly becoming dictatorial, always finding a way to deal with any member who said what it does not like. We saw how some Senators were threatened with suspension just because they held a press conference to protest order of elections and one of them was virtually forced to apologise, while another was deposed as the leader of the Northern Senators’ Forum.
We need to go to the details of the matter for us to understand the sentiments. First of all, the action taken was not because the Senator criticized or disagreed with the Senate. The issue is that he made claims that the re-ordering of the sequence of the elections was done because we were targeting Buhari and that they have 59 Senators on their side. So, all that was done was to ask him to bring the names of the 59 Senators which he did not have, and he should prove that we were targeting Buhari and how can someone who decamped from Labour Party to APC in the Senate tell APC Senators that they are anti- Buhari and he is for Buhari? How can that happen? That is one.
As for Senator Abdullahi Adamu, I am not in a good position to comment on his removal, but all what I know and the reasons that were given was the fact that he was involved in issues which the Senators feel very strong about. But to be very sincere, I do not believe that people should be punished for their ideas or for dissenting, because I am a chief dissenter myself. But you cannot be in the Senate where you have the opportunity to disagree and you walk out to go and call press conference and make false allegations against people. I am not elected into the Senate to be pro or anti Buhari. A senator has a set of rules and order to which he is duty bound to comply with. But when you tag somebody as being anti- Buhari, all you are trying to do is to whip up sentiment against that person and create a lot of issues for that person. And for the fact that you don’t agree with the re-ordering of the sequence of the elections does not make you a pro- Buhari, because you are the one that tag yourself as pro-Buhari.
But is the new order of elections not anti-Buhari?
As far as I am concerned, all that the sequence means is that the National Assembly election comes first so that the people can access every candidate and elect them based on their merits and performance. We simply want to put an end to bandwagon effect. The old order of sequence make room for mass trial, mass conviction and mass burial of Senators and members of House of Representatives.
With people like you in the Senate, the expectation was that the controversies over the issues of bogus allowances will be a thing of the past. The expectation was that you will not only join hands with some other lawmakers to expose how much the Senators are being paid, but also work within to put a stop to the situation in which Senators are earning millions monthly in a country where others are surviving on less than a dollar a day. But you seem not to have lived up to this expectation?
There are issues that we need to understand. First, I don’t believe that members of the National or even state assemblies should be involved in carrying out what is called constituency projects. When people are elected into the National Assembly, they should just be involved in law making, raising motions, bills and also performing oversight functions. But we live in a society where people cannot differentiate between the legislators and the executive. When the people come to you, they want you to build roads, dig boreholes, build hospitals, schools, give money, pay school fees for them. Now, if we have a society in which people will stop asking legislators to do those things, then there is no need for the allowances. But funny enough, if you are very active in the National Assembly in making laws and you don’t embark on projects in your constituency, you cannot in any way be appreciated by the people you are there to serve because the electorate in the United States are different from the electorate in Africa. We live in an underdeveloped society with a lot of poverty, misery and wants. What people want is for you to address those basic or fundamental issues that affect their lives. If we can be done with that, it would be okay.
Now, you are talking of bogus salaries and bogus allowances – there are three steps you need to consider – the first has to do with the fact that when you represent the people, expectations arose from your immediate and the larger constituencies. But I agree with you that the salaries and allowances of lawmakers should not be discreet, but what is discreet about it when you can write to Resource and Fiscal Mobilisation Commission to get everything about what a senator earns? The only money you are not expected to account for is your salary and the salary of a senator is about N750, 000.00 per month. The other one, the running cost of office must be accounted for. You must provide a receipt for every expense you make
What of over N35 million per quarter for each Senator ?
There is no N35 million per quarter. That is simply a fiction, because as an activist, I have led protests demanding to know, but there has never been any N35 million. I think what we can say is that the running cost of a senator is N13.5 million.
Is that per quarter?
No, every month
Every month, but that is even more than N35 million per quarter?
But what I am saying is that that money must be receipted for what you do with it. But what you are given to go and spend without any accountability is N750,000.00. The constituency project itself is given on a zonal basis and almost every Senator will go with a constituency fund of about N200 million, but it is not the cash that is given to you. You will be told that you have N200 million with an agency of government for which you will now submit projects equivalent to that amount. And it is that agency of government that will go and do those projects for you. Now, the corruption comes when the projects are not done and the money is taken. But right now, it is difficult to do that because NGOs and transparency groups have come into it. They track every allocation made to you and where they are being used. So, it’s becoming difficult for what used to happen in the past to happen now. But I can tell you that I would love a situation where we do away with running costs, constituency projects and leave senators and members of House of Reps with salaries. And also, the public should be informed that nobody should come to any senator’s house asking for any kobo. That also would be helpful.
In your opinion, what precipitated the worsening of the crisis in Kaduna chapter of APC which resulted into demolition of a house of a senator aligned to your faction of the party?
The Kaduna APC crisis came in different stages- the one that began with me and the one that is continuing with Senator Hunkuyi and others. There are both ideological and political differences between me and (Governor) El-Rufai. He came from a political establishment. For the 16 years of PDP rule, he spent 13 years as a PDP man, he was never known until 1999 when he was appointed the DG of Bureau of Public Enterprises and later, Minister for FCT. This was a man who used to call Obasanjo his mentor and he used to call (Late) Umar Yar’Adua his mentor and teacher and he used to call Jonathan Goodluck his very good leader, and now, it is Buhari. What I know is that the Nasir- el Rufai that betrayed Atiku, betrayed Obasanjo, Jonathan, Atiku will also betray Buhari.
But the relationship between you and the governor seemed to have kicked off on a good note as members and aspirants on the platform of APC
No, I came from a social, political movement and he came from the political establishment and then we found ourselves in APC. I was not his favorite candidate for the Senate. His favourite candidate was then the incumbent candidate
But there was this information that he supported you financially with about N109 million during the campaign…
Oh my God! We live in a world of google now. If you google Nasir, you will see where he generally said that he supported General Saleh. We are not in 1960, we are not in 1950. Check the interview he granted in 2016 to Vanguard newspaper where he said he supported General Saleh. So, which one are you going to believe – what his aides say or what he said personally? And as far as I am concerned, you can check my Facebook posts, I said it very clearly, that I would not give and delegate any kobo to win election. Vote for me based on my ideas and principles and I was voted in that manner. I didn’t say that in a room or just inside my mind. I said it publicly.
The next thing I want you to understand is that the APC raised funds for its campaign, the election centrally with the support of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Bukola Saraki and other business moguls. That money was shared to all the 36 states and put in custody of the gubernatorial candidates to pay agents of the party. Did we pay the people who voted for us? No, we didn’t. Did we give them some incentives to vote for us? No, we didn’t. We differ politically and ideologically. He has a different candidate who I defeated at the primary and from then, when it comes to sharing positions of offices in the state, he gave those positions to the person I defeated. But he removed him recently from the position he gave him when he (Senator Saleh) went against him. Senator Saleh was the Senator from 2011 to 2015 and El-Rufai wanted him to be the senator from 2015 to 2019, but I defeated him. But to compensate him, El-rufai gave him the position of Chairman of Kaduna State House of Assembly Commission. But when General Saleh attended our meeting just some days ago, he sacked him. And he also sacked all political appointees that owe allegiance to Senator Hunkuyi and Saleh. Luckily for me, I don’t have one political appointee in his government, so there is nobody to sack.
Many things happened in the past three years. First of all, he induced members of my ward to issue a fictitious suspension against me, a suspension that has no constitutional value in the party, but was only done for the purpose of just announcing it to embarrass me publicly. And I also warned Senator Hunkuyi that we are heading to tyranny, but he never agreed with me until two years after when the fangs of the tyrant in Kaduna now descended on him. After my purported suspension, first, for eleven months, then indefinite suspension and Nasir discovered that that would not give him the peace he needs because I simply kept on my activities, the next thing he did was to send his agents to start moving round the schools which I attended from primary school, secondary to the Polytechnic to even the NYSC, trying to see whether I forged my documents or not. I have all their correspondences and letters and the contacts which they have made with my schools. That also did not work. The next thing was that my constituency office was attacked eleven times by thugs, but that was not enough. And now, they moved to organizing protests, spending heavy amounts of money on radio, trying to destroy my reputation and incite people against me, but that also did not work. They went around, planting stories that I am anti-Buhari and I said I can criticize Buhari, I don’t hide my views, I am not a hypocrite nor am I a sycophant. That also did not work. The next thing that happened was that my own personal house was also attacked and the one that happened some weeks ago was the attempt to frame my own aides in a murder case. But that also has not worked.
I do not believe that people should be punished for their ideas or for dissenting, because I am a chief dissenter myself. But you cannot be in the Senate where you have the opportunity to disagree and you walk out to go and call press conference and make false allegations against people. I am not elected into the Senate to be pro or anti Buhari. A senator has a set of rules and order to which he is duty bound to comply with. But when you tag somebody as being anti- Buhari, all you are trying to do is to whip up sentiment against that person and create a lot of issues for that person.
What led to the opening of the new APC Secretariat located in the building which has now been demolished?
Now, I and Senator Hunkuyi agreed that, this party is not working because he too becomes a victim of the man he has been working with. And then, we said we should open our own APC office because what Nasir did after he won the 2015 election was to appoint 18 of the 26 members of the Kaduna APC into his cabinet, leaving the party empty. And by the constitution of the party, those persons appointed into political offices have virtually lost their seats in the party. And now, having seen that the party is empty, he started appointing people to various positions within it which is against what the constitution of the party says. There must be a mini convention or a consensus before that can be done. But he also handed over the party office to his political adviser, so that it got to a point that you don’t even have a party.
As a journalist, if I asked you, please, show me any clip, on radio, tv, audio or newspaper of the acting chairman of Kaduna APC, you would not have any. The person that is supposed to be the chairman of the party now is Danladi Wada who is on our own side. But he bought somebody called Shuaibu Laoje. The only thing he does at APC meeting is opening prayer and closing prayer. Apart from that, he doesn’t know anything. So, when it comes to the point of going to the media, the governor will hide Shuaibu Laoje and will bring an acting Secretary or the acting publicity secretary to speak on behalf of the party. That is what they have been doing.The chairman of the party became the deputy governor of the state, so the party now is only having a deputy chairman who happens to be Danladi who is on our side. But Nasir said he cannot be the chairman because he is our candidate. He brought Laoje and for the past two and a half years, you journalists have never seen him because the man cannot express himself. He is simply a decoy. If we say this is our deputy chairman and you say this is your own deputy chairman, that’s okay, but please, let’s bring them together and let’s see who is better.
But the argument was that the move by your faction to set up the new APC Secretariat and even the purported suspension of Governor El-Rufai done before then was because the President set up a committee headed by Asiwaju Tinubu to reconcile party chapters where there are crises across the states. The claim was that your group hurriedly set up the secretariat to gain an advantage in the reconciliation process…?
If Nasir thinks we are irrelevant, why did he move bulldozer there? If you think and believe that the masses of Kaduna State are with you and this people are simply rabble rousers, why move the bulldozer there? So, what he did was to simply engineer his own faction to suspend me for two and a half years. He used his own party to suspend Senator Hunkuyi and the two groups that were set up – the Akida and the Restoration Group. He even expelled them from the party. But when his own suspension came for six months, he lost his senses, rationality, sense of reasoning and moved a bulldozer against our office. But what we are telling him is that the message has been sent. Nasir in Kaduna is fighting a lot of people – he is fighting traditional rulers, Muslim religious leaders, Christian religious leaders, labour market women, the political class- almost everybody. So, with that kind of person, how do we win the 2019 election?
That is the question, will all these infightings not affect the chances of APC in the 2019 g
Yes, Kaduna State is the only state with a PDP Senator in North West. Ten local governments out of 23 are effectively under the control of PDP. So, what becomes of the other local governments that are under APC, but are not united? So, if this disunity continues, it is going to affect us. If he (El-Rufai) believes in Tinubu, why is he moving a bulldozer? We are saying that nobody could have addressed the problems of APC except the President himself because the governors are party to the crisis, the Senators, Reps are party to the crisis, the party itself is also a part of the crisis.
How far can Tinubu or the three-man committee led by former Governor Segun Oni go in solving the crisis afflicting Kaduna APC?
I can tell you when you are talking of reconciliation and peace in APC, there are some fires that Tinubu can extinguish with a cup of water and there are some fires he has to use a bucket of water and there are some fires, he has to pipe an ocean in order to extinguish. There are areas Tinubu can have some achievements. But he can only make that achievements if the parties are prepared to make peace. If one party is prepared for peace and the other party is not, there cannot be peace. But it is better late than never- this reconciliation ought to have been done since last year, but it appears that even Tinubu himself is aggrieved and has been sidelined in the affairs of the government. But now, inviting him to tackle this problem, I believe that if he succeeds, he will bring the APC family together and they will be stronger.
In the event that the reconciliation fails in Kaduna APC, are you thinking of jumping ship to another party, because there are even speculations that you are preparing to contest the governorship on the platform of another party?
I can tell you that if Tinubu fails, there is going to be mass defection from APC.
Is it true that you have your eyes on the governorship of Kaduna State?
I have the constitutional rights to contest if I want to. But as things are now, we need to put our ambitions in our pockets and allow the process of reconciliation to continue because reconciliation cannot go on with ambitions and bulldozers. Even, before you have peace in war situations, you must have a ceasefire. For now, we are giving a grace of time for Tinubu to succeed. If he succeeds, the outcome of the deliberations will form the roadmap for the future of the party and if he fails, we will simply apply our senses.
It is always good to look at the messenger and the message. Governor El-Rufai is the chief architect of that committee because he wants political relevance. How can an APC that promised restructuring only think of restructuring when it is a year to an election? Documents of that committee is more or less a campaign document for 2018. There will be no restructuring, you can quote me
What is your opinion on the report of the APC restructuring committee and some of the recommendations?
It is always good to look at the messenger and the message. Governor El-Rufai is the chief architect of that committee because he wants political relevance. How can an APC that promised restructuring only think of restructuring when it is a year to an election? Documents of that committee is more or less a campaign document for 2018. There will be no restructuring, you can quote me.
There will be no restructuring before 2019 or after 2019. I am telling you this. If people in Lagos, Oyo, Ondo and so on are comfortable with their governors controlling the police, a person like me who comes from the North is very uncomfortable with it. If you have state police and the governors have instruments to give uniform to political thugs, cultists, ethnic militias, even religious fanatics- give them uniforms and import weapons and give it to them- where would we be? What happened in Kaduna some days ago, if the Governor has state police, what do you think could have happened? And to be sincere to yourself, look at the way State Electoral Commissions are run, in all the local government elections conducted by the State Electoral Commissions, the ruling party wins one hundred percent. The very day you have state police would be the beginning of crisis in many states. The governors will just employ their thugs, give them uniforms and give them weapons. As a journalist, you will not know what state police can do until you are posted to a certain state and you write anything critical of that governor. Then, you will know the meaning of state police.
I know that you have also spoken out against the issue of herdsmen/farmers clashes. But as somebody who has been involved in conflict resolutions at different times in the country, what would you recommend as the way out?
First of all, we need to adopt modern methods of taking care of our livestock. The Nigeria of 2018 is not the Nigeria of 1918. At independence, we were about, maybe 60 million, now, we are about almost 180 million- the same landmass with large number of people. If it was easier for Fulani herdsmen to move from Adamawa State to Lagos, it is simply more difficult now. More people are becoming more conscious of their land rights and getting attached to their native lands. That is an issue we have to understand.
Secondly, it is unacceptable for people to hold very deadly weapons and to be moving about in the name of rearing cattle. Nobody is going to accept that. And the violence unleashed in the South is the same kind of violence they unleashed in the North, killing innocent people, burning their villages and killing people. But also, we need to differentiate between cattle rearears and armed, deadly herdsmen. Fulani cattle rearers are simply about grazing their cattle and moving away from farms and settlements along their paths. But if people are armed with AK47 and are saying they will not turn to any other way, they must move, then that is where the problems are. Number two, there must be mechanisms in which the federal government would support states to assist the livestock industry for maximum production of beef and milk which is a big industry in Switzerland, Netherland and Belgium. I think we should look at it from that point of view.
So, you don’t agree with somebody like Professor Ango Abdullahi who said nobody owns the grasses and cows should be allowed to graze freely in any part of the country?
Well, you should know that once you are moving from point A to point B within the landscape of Africa, you are most likely to pass through native lands, through people with different ethnic and religious backgrounds and there are bound to be problems. So, the problem is economic, it is ecological, it is also political. But as far as I am concerned, I think we have not handled the crises, especially in the middle belt very well. The President should have visited Benue State, commiserate with them, listen to them and that could have solved all these problems that we found ourselves in.
Do you think the President has done enough to contest for a second term?
Well, I believe that whatever you say about the President contesting or not is simply an opinion and he has a right to reject or accept it. But as far as I am concerned, I believe that the President has recorded some achievements in certain areas like in the war against insurgency and also, on the economic side. But Nigerians have never been more divided – now people don’t see themselves as Nigerians, but as Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Muslims, Christians or Northerners and Southerners. And this had deepened more under Buhari administration. And of concern is the fact that this violence going on in Nigeria, the Northern political elite are not speaking out. And while they are quiet, people are being kidnapped and killed in Zamfara, Kaduna, Plateau, Niger State, but their silence was because they don’t want to be tagged as or labelled anti Buhari or anti Federal Government. And this gives the impressions as if the killings are only going on in the Middle Belt or Southern part of Nigeria.
But the danger of what we are doing now is that there is a divide between the Hausa-Fulani ethnic group and the Northern minorities. The issue of armed herdsmen and the killings going on have seriously created a divide. Now, you can see the emotions on the traditional and the social media and on opinion pages. It is not only the Tivs and the Fulanis fighting, but you also have CAN and the JNI exchanging words. You also have the religious and community leaders exchanging words. Ango Abdullahi is here, Paul Unongo is on the other side. You can see the North has found itself in a new political climate that if nothing is done, it simply cannot go on.
What about the assessment of the President’s war against corruption – are you still holding on to your famous comparison of using insecticide to fight corruption on one side and employing deodorant on the other side even with the sack of Babachir Lawal?
It still remains because what I said was that people around the president and the presidency are being given a different treatment from the people who are not near that presidency in the war against corruption and that is the problem. And you can see the Transparency International that came out some days ago has shown that Nigeria is worse on the corruption ladder and this was at a time when we are clapping and giving ourselves high marks. It is either we are wrong or they are wrong. But the fact is that the choice is ours- we can condemn Transparency International as being anti-Buhari, anti-government or we reset our anti-corruption machine and simply move towards achieving more.
What is your view on the way Jacob Zuma was removed and Cyril Ramaphosa was installed as his successor in South Africa ?
My position was that Zuma’s years depleted the fortunes and the goodwill of the ANC and almost dragged the party into irrelevance. The coming of Ramaphosa is another opportunity for the ANC to win back its fading glory and return itself to the hands of the people. And I believe that Ramaphosa has the goodwill and the opportunity to rebuild and rebrand the ANC to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. ANC was a liberation movement which became a political party, but you can see that since the exit of Mandela, it has continually been losing seats, lose credibility in the hearts of the South Africans. And no African who is conscious of the history of the anti-apartheid struggle would love to see ANC disappear. So, as far as I am concerned, I believed this is a new opportunity for South Africa.
What is your reaction to President Donald Trump’s ‘shithole comment”?
I believe that the statement of Donald Trump should be condemned and his attitudes to black people in America and Africans is racist. I believe it is time for him to begin to act as world leader or a super power. What is happening in the United States is disgraceful. And as far as Africans are concerned, nobody should dictate to us or try to bring us down. So, I condemned that statement.
You visited JAMB office with snake charmers and snake repellants. That is hilarious. How did you come about the way of mocking them?
My visit to JAMB office was simply to complete the drama. If a snake can swallow about N36 million, I think that is good narrative for a drama and a play.
I brought in some snake charmers from my constituency and said this is an opportunity for them to help the office to recover the money. But by the time we went there, and I met the Professor, we had a good reception, but they were not given the opportunity to do their work.
But I am very happy with the Professor because he has been able to expose a lot of rot and what people need to understand is that it didn’t happen when he was in charge, it happened before he came.