A human rights activist who represented Kaduna Central Senatorial District in the 8th National Assembly, Shehu Sani, in this interview with SUNDAY ABORISADE, speaks on his relationship with the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and a number of national issues
What have you been doing since you left the Senate?
I have established a centre called African Centre for Peace and Development. I also have a sister centre called African Freedom Foundation. These centres are think tanks and advocacy platforms for good governance, rule of law, peace and development advocacy in Nigeria and the whole of the African continent. We have with us a resource-base of intellectuals from different universities across the country. We did our formal introduction about a month ago and our programmes will take off in the next few days.
Do you regret your inability to return to the Senate in the last election?
I have never seen a political office as a home. It is a phase in one’s life and also an opportunity for one to serve. The most important thing is not how long you stay in power or on the seat of power but how well you have been able to make a positive impact with the opportunity. I thank God that there is no part of this country that I will go without people recognising me as a former senator. It makes no sense if you go to the Senate and stay there for decades but on the wrong side of history or being unable to stand up for your people, and speak truth to power. It makes no sense to me to be in the Senate and represent the interest of somebody or a group of people and not the people you represent. My prayer when I went to the National Assembly was that I should come out of that place with the same vigour that took me in there because many people are not privileged to go into public office and come out with their reputation intact. For the fact that I came from the background of civil rights activism and I have still not disappointed my constituency, I feel highly fulfilled and elated.
Some of your colleagues felt that you betrayed them by revealing what senators earn as allowances and they actually moved to suspend you. How did you survive that?
If I am going to the National Assembly to serve and represent my people for four years and I am unable to disclose the amount that I am receiving as a senator, within the time I serve, then I have failed my conscience and principles. Before I was elected into the Senate, I was one of those who campaigned for good governance and principled representation. So, it would be a betrayal on my side if I go to the National Assembly and come out without saying what I said. My decision to reveal the amount was not because I wanted to be a hero. It was also not because I wanted to embarrass anybody or embarrass my colleagues; I simply wanted to put an end to the culture of secrecy and silence by the House which had put a veil on the legitimate earnings of the legislators. The National Assembly is not a cult and it is not a secret society. I see no reason why people elected into offices would not have the guts to say this is what I earn. Before my revelation, there were a lot of revelations and conjectures to the effect that members of Senate and the House of Representatives were being paid N40m, N100m, N200m monthly. However, my revelation, even though it was bitter to many of my colleagues, was able to clarify the misconception.
How did you survive the attempt to suspend you for revealing your monthly allowances?
Many of my colleagues were actually not happy with me. Some, up till the time I left, were not talking to me. Some of them thought that I was their enemy for making that revelation. Some of them even confronted me that I had caused problems within their families. A female senator even said I had caused problems between her and her husband. One person said I had succeeded in inciting his constituency against him. But, I also suffered the same fate. Because of that revelation, I also caused a lot of uproar against myself in my family and my constituency. My wife got to know what I was earning based on the revelation I made in the media; I never told her. This shows that I also paid a price for doing so. However, it was a pain that was meant to heal. Now, nobody will look at a senator and say he earns N50m monthly because the amount has been revealed. I even wonder why it should have taken two decades for Nigerians to know what their representatives earn. I think the fear among the legislators was that if people got to know how much they were earning, they would be attacked, condemned, and that there would be a lot of anger against them. It is good to let the people know so that when they are aware, it will reduce the exaggeration of what the senators earn. I know very well that I could have been penalised if not for the then Senate President, Bukola Saraki. He and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, stopped the issue from being discussed on the floor of the Senate because there were some angry lawmakers who were saying that I should be dealt with, suspended and crushed politically for making that revelation. At that time, the National Assembly was also overwhelmed by a lot of crises and they didn’t find it easy to add to them. I will appeal to lawmakers in the state Houses of Assembly and the National Assembly to also have the courage to open up. Right now, from all the interviews I have read, each time a legislator is confronted with my revelation and figure, they usually try to avoid making comments. They will not deny it and they will not admit it. This culture of secrecy and silence has united the majority and opposition lawmakers. They should have the courage to say how much they earn. What I said is enough but I believe that they should be able to open up to their constituents. I have come to realise that the members of the Nigerian political class are comfortable to discuss their achievements but won’t want to talk about their earnings and assets. As for me, I believe that if I can publicly declare my assets like I did in 2015, I should be able to reveal my earnings. I believe that transparency will begin when those who claim to be angels and saints of politics have the courage to publicly reveal their wealth and their earnings.
You were quoted to have said at different times that it would be unfair for the South-East and the South-West to be denied presidency in 2023. Then last week, you said both regions might lose out from the presidential race in 2023. There are too many inconsistencies, where do you really stand?
My position is that the political elite in the North cannot be talking about competence when it comes to the 2023 presidential election, but they can get away with it if a number of things are not done. There are some elements thinking that democracy should now be about competence. They are simply seeing the demographic and topographical advantage of the North as an avenue to continue to produce the leadership of the country. I see this as a betrayal and a very dangerous trend. We should respect the principles of the rotation of power. Power has been in the North from 2015. In 2023, it will be fair for that power to shift to the South. If former President Olusegun Obasanjo was able to respect the principles of the rotation of power in 2007, having served for eight years, President Muhammadu Buhari should also be able to respect that principle. However, where the power would go after the North’s period, will be dependent on not my views, and not on northerners but on what the South-East and the South-West are able to do in terms of addressing the differences that exist between them. If the age-long rivalry and hostility between the South-East and the South-West persist, it will be to the advantage of those who want the power to remain in northern Nigeria. Power will remain in northern Nigeria if the South-East and the South-West refuse to address the historical and political problems that exist between them. Secondly, the major political parties fielding candidates must also be in sync with the decision that power should shift to the South. If one major political party accepts the principles of rotation and the other ones refuse, then those who are against rotation are likely to have their way. This is very clear. As far as I am concerned, for a progressive politician like me, and one that also advocates national unity across religious and ethnic divides, I believe that rotation is about moving power from the North to the South. But where that power is going will be determined by the decision of southerners to agree within themselves and resolve the differences that exist between them for the greater interest of the principles of this rotation.
What will likely be the implication of a situation whereby the South-East and the South-West refuse to work together to produce a presidential candidate in 2023?
If you look at the numbers of registered voters in Nigeria across the geopolitical zones, you would see that the number of registered voters in the North-West is the highest. Therefore, any candidate that comes from the North-West needs the support of one of the zones for them to be the President of Nigeria. It would be easier for the candidate from the North-West to win as long as the division, crisis and disagreement between the South-East and the South-West persist. I prescribe that we respect the principles of rotation for peace, unity and the collective preservation of the Nigerian state. One section of the country should not use its demographic advantage to continue to remain in power indefinitely. If we refuse to respect the principles of rotation of power, we will be dealing with a lot of crises. Rotation of power is neither in the constitution of Nigeria nor is it a written agreement among the geopolitical zones. However, in the next one and half years, the signs will be very clear on whether there will be rotation or not. The South should begin an engagement with those who subscribe to the principles of rotation of power in northern Nigeria. If we go by ‘democracy of number’ to frustrate power shift, there will certainly be problems.
You recently denied coordinating rumoured Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu’s presidential campaign in the North, but some people believe that there is no smoke without fire. How would you react to that?
On a lighter note, the smoke in the exhaust pipe of a car has no fire in it. So, it is not true that there is no smoke without fire. Speaking frankly now, that story was planted by some persons who perhaps wanted to fight Asiwaju Bola Tinubu but they didn’t have the courage to put their names in the story. They tried to use me so that I would condemn Asiwaju. All what I did was to tell the public with respect that I didn’t even know that Asiwaju had any presidential ambition and that I had never been contacted to be the coordinator of anyone. The last time I saw Tinubu was when I was in the All Progressives Congress. That story is fake and there will be many of such these days. It is intended to get at some persons but it is not true.
But it will be hard for some people to believe you, especially as you have been seen to be Tinubu’s man since the NADECO days. In 2017, you even insinuated in a Facebook post that President Buhari should appease the Lagoon king- Tinubu. How would you respond to that?
Asiwaju Tinubu is my friend and we have been in the struggle together. Even during the struggle in the APC, we were in one accord. He was the one that convinced me to remain in the APC when I was about to leave the party in the early stage. He has been a great comrade in the struggle. I have always stood by him whenever he is in crisis. We have a lot of things in common but actually, I am not aware that he has any presidential ambition for now.
Specifically, what’s your relationship with Tinubu?
I have not seen Tinubu since I left the APC but he is a very good friend. We have never had any conflict. I appreciate how we worked together during the struggle for June 12. We were always together whenever the late Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti, Dr Frederick Fasehun, and I wanted to see the late M.K.O. Abiola. He is an ideological soul mate only that now, I am in the Peoples Redemption Party and he is in the APC.
You and Governor Nasir el-Rufai used to be close but you have since fallen out, what kind of relationship do you have with him today?
I don’t want to talk about that and anything about the state for now.
But Governor el-Rufai recently claimed that he was responsible for ensuring you lost your election, what is your own account?
I am out of the National Assembly and I am out of the APC. I would not have responded to this but I would like to draw some reflections on the governor’s claims. Can a man who said he is opposed to a godfather and ‘godfatherism’ now claim to be a godfather? That is a contradiction. Secondly, we had a governor in Kaduna State, Ahmed Makarfi, who was there for eight years as a governor and eight years as a senator. He has never for once come out to say that he made anybody retire from politics. Is it now a first-time serving governor whose victory is being challenged in court that would claim to be ensuring the retirement of people from politics? I don’t think that is in order. Another issue is that if I got my votes as the PRP candidate purely because of my integrity, and the votes which any APC candidate got in Kaduna were the votes for President Buhari, how can somebody who had to bring President Buhari, lean on his shoulders, cling to his neck, and hold him by his waist to win an election compare himself to me, who had to campaign on my own to win an election? I think you could only claim to have any political power if you could stand on your own and achieve what you want to achieve, not when you hang behind somebody like a baby being carried by their mother, looking at those running on the ground and saying she can run faster than them. So, such statements don’t make any sense to me.
You said you warned Buhari and Tinubu that they would soon taste el-Rufai’s venom, how do you foresee that happening?
I have said enough on that and I am not going to repeat it again.
President Buhari has come under criticism for his performance and style of leadership, how would you rate him?
President Buhari has succeeded on a number of things and failed in many areas. He has succeeded in completing some of the projects that the past governments had abandoned. He has also been able to make anti-corruption war a major agenda of his administration. He has also been able to instil fears in the hearts of people about bribery and corruption. That should be commended. However, the number of people killed in this country by insurgents, bandits, and herdsmen from 2015 to date is unprecedented in the history of this country. Nigeria has become blood-soaked under President Muhammadu Buhari. People are buried every day. Funeral services are becoming daily events and affairs. We have become a nation of mourners. We have become a nation of bereaved men and women. We have become a nation of permanent and perpetual funerals. That is a tragedy for us. The government has failed to protect the people of this country. The expectations that we would be out of the woods have not been met with President Buhari’s failure on security. In Kaduna, people are killed every day. One of our young men was kidnapped and the person who went to deliver the ransom demanded by his abductors, was also kidnapped. Few days ago, armed men went to Millennium City in Kaduna and kidnapped five people. Many people, including students of the Ahmadu Bello University, were kidnapped along the Abuja-Kaduna Road on Monday; many were killed in the process. Now, this is happening under a government that has promised to restore law and order in Nigeria. As a continental power, we are supposed to fare better. Why can’t the government buy vehicles, deploy drones, buy helicopters, and equip the police with enough communications and other gadgets to track down the hoodlums? What we can see based on the revelation made by the suspected Taraba kidnap kingpin, Hamisu Wadume, indicated that security agencies, defence officials and the political establishment are in bed with criminals, which is the reason why insecurity has refused to recede. When a criminal is backed by a political leader or unscrupulous police officers and soldiers, then it will be difficult to address the problem. The government must wake up because people are being killed daily and we cannot continue like this. The government of Zamfara State has laid a good example by initiating a process that has brought down the spate of killings there but killings are going on in Kaduna State, Katsina State, and parts of Niger State. It is unfortunate that northerners are keeping quiet because one of our own is in the position of power. When former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan were in power, you could hear the voices of northerners. You could hear how the northern region was able to hold leaders to account and ensure that they did what they needed to do right. This idea of ‘the President comes from our place, therefore, whatever he does is right’, will not help the North. That was why many leaders from the North have got away with many things because they used ethnic, religious and sectional sentiments to build a wall, a shield for themselves to hide while in office. They also forced poverty on the people so that they (people) would not be able to challenge those in power and hold them to account and the rots, killings and bloodshed would continue. The North is today suffering more than any other part of Nigeria and the killings have also become cancerous, moving to the South-West. If nothing is done, there would be no safe place in Nigeria.
What is your reaction to the prosecution of Omoyele Sowore, who was accused of instigating a revolution in Nigeria?
We are practising constitutional democracy in Nigeria. It is therefore shameful and disgraceful that the very government that benefitted from a culture of protests and criticisms has today turned against those instruments that led them to power. The APC led a number of protests against the Jonathan government, even with Muhammadu Buhari at the forefront. Sometimes, you wonder whether these are not the same people who were condemning human rights violation, abuse of power, and dictatorship. They have today turned against those principles and ideals they claimed to believe in. As far as I am concerned, Sowore has only exercised his fundamental rights to organise peaceful protest. It is the duty of the state to provide protection to the citizenry. I must warn the President that most of the people that are encouraging him to violate fundamental rights and misuse power will deny him when he is out of power. Some people are calling themselves Buharists now, but why were they not calling themselves Buharists when the man did not win in 2003, 2007 and 2011? Buharists gave themselves the title because the man is in power. Once Buhari is out of power, they will drop him and find a new master. Today, where are those who said they could die for Obasanjo? Where are those who said they could die for Umaru Yar’Adua? Where are those who said they could die for Jonathan? All of them have withdrawn to their shells. It is sad when I read interviews of people like Buba Galadima, who stood by Buhari when he was treated as a leper by those who are today parading themselves as his supporters. Most of those who are parading themselves as Buhari’s supporters were those who worked against him in the past. They are with him now because he is in power and also has the magic to help them to be in power. My position is that President Buhari should leave a legacy of respect for fundamental rights. By the time he retires to his home in Daura, or in Kaduna, he would come to regret in his life that most of those singing his praises while he was in office, were actually his real enemies. Sowore is not an enemy of Buhari. He campaigned against the Peoples Democratic Party and Jonathan and for the ascension of Buhari to office; hence he doesn’t deserve his current treatment.