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.