Rejecting power from military in 1999 was our biggest mistake — Sen Shehu Sani

Senator Shehu Sani has said that the biggest mistake made by champions of democracy in Nigeria was rejecting the military’s call to take over power in 1999.


The former lawmaker, who represented Kaduna Central in the 8th Senate, said this during a panel discussion at the This Nigeria Lecture and Award event in Abuja on Thursday, June 27.


The theme of the event was “25 Years of Unbroken Democracy – Challenges, Prospects, and Possibilities.”


Senator Sani recounted the imprisonment of many democracy fighters before the death of former military leader Sani Abacha, which subsequently led to their release.


He revealed that General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who succeeded Abacha, invited democracy activists to take over power, but they refused to cooperate with the military—a decision he now considers a critical error.


He said: “Abdulsalami Abubakar invited all of us who fought for democracy; he said he was going to hand over power to a democratic government and wanted all of us freedom fighters to come together and take over power.


“At that time, Gani opposed it. Three times he invited us, but we refused to answer his call. He invited the politicians, who didn’t even wait for an invitation; they were knocking at his door.”


He lamented that their hesitation allowed politicians to dominate the political landscape by the time they decided to engage with the military.


Drawing a comparison with the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa, Sani noted that unlike the ANC, which took over political power after their struggle, Nigerian democracy fighters missed a crucial opportunity in 1998 and 1999.


“After we decided to listen to him, we sat down to discuss what to do. The ANC in South Africa took over political power after their struggle, but we made a fundamental mistake by refusing to cooperate with the military.


“Mike Ozekhome, Gani Fawehinmi, Femi Falana, and Olisa Agbakoba all opposed joining. It was Bola Tinubu who argued that if we didn’t get involved, others would take over.


“By the time we agreed to join politics, politicians had already occupied all positions,” Sani said.


He highlighted the subsequent struggles faced by democracy fighters in securing political positions, mentioning that prominent figures like Mike Ozekhome, Olisa Agbakoba, Gani Fawehinmi, Femi Falana, and himself were unable to achieve their political aspirations because the political space had been taken over by others.


He added: “Then by the time we all agreed to join the politics, politicians had taken over all posts. Mike Ozekhome tried to be governor of Edo State, he couldn’t, Olisa tried to be president he couldn’t, Gani tried to be president he couldn’t, Falana tried to be governor of his state he couldn’t, I tried to be governor of Kaduna State I couldn’t because the space were all taken over.”


The event was attended by other dignitaries, including the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nyesom Wike; Mike Ozekhome (SAN); and Abiodun Adeniyi, among others.

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