- Says El-Rufai Isn’t Bigger Than Him—
A rights activist, Senator Shehu Sani, represents Kaduna Central in the upper legislative chamber. In this interview, he sues for unity among his colleagues from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), charges the party to get its acts together, among other issues. Group Politics Editor, TAIWO ADISA, presents the excerpts:
MANY expected commotion on your resumption on July 28, but besides the motion moved by Senator Kabir Marafa, things were generally quiet and then we had the vote of confidence on the Senate leadership. Can we say that the crisis is over now?
The physical crisis is over and what remains now is the mental one, that is, reaching out to those who still feel aggrieved and seeing how we can all work together. I feel saddened to see some APC Senators still feeling that they do not belong and the only way to go about this is to cultivate their support and the need to reconcile both sides. We need to understand that we can only call ourselves majority in the Senate if we are united. But if we are divided, then we cannot call ourselves majority because there is a marginal difference between the APC and the PDP in the Senate with only seven or eight people. If there is no unity, the agenda of the APC in the Senate and the government as a whole will be dependent on the cooperation, magnanimity and grace of the PDP and it’s supposed not to be so. We won the government and we are supposed to run the government. But we have got ourselves into a very tight corner now whereby without us coming together, we will be subservient to the PDP and it is a serious threat to the existence and the influence and muscles of the APC if the Senators in the party still remain daggers drawn.
Senator Bukola Saraki and Senator Lawan are all high ranking Senators and they are all respectable and capable of becoming Senate President. Despite the fact that I did not vote for Saraki to become the President the Senate, I had to keep aside my objection to his leadership of the Senate when President Muhammadu Buhari affirmed that his election is in course and he is also prepared to work with him. As a first timer in the Senate, I have no reason to object to anybody’s leadership as long as it is of the APC in the sense that, by ranking order, I am not eligible to contest for any position. I have also shared that philosophy – I’m for everybody; I’m for nobody, just like Buhari in that aspect.
I will also say that Senators from the Unity Forum have gone to court and they have also gone to the police to challenge the issues of forgery and legality of Saraki’s leadership. Now, anyone has the right to go to court or to the police. But if we are talking of reconciliation, we can also go to the court or to the police to do it. When you go to the police, you are going there to petition and when you go to the court, you are seeking redress. But redress and petition stand against the principle of reconciliation and that cannot work. All these issues of forgery have come as a result of those who feel aggrieved that Sarakiemerged as the President of the Senate. But with the endorsement of the Senators now, it is very clear where the pillars of power rest. It is also very clear that those that are opposed to the leadership of the Senate are in the minority. But the relevance of every Senator is very much needed here and that is why we should reach out to everyone and cultivate their support to be able to move the Senate forward.
You came into government through the APC and what we are hearing from the President to party leaders is that the level of rot they found on ground is more than they had expected. Nigeria’s revenue has fallen and there are so many leakages. Do you see your party delivering all of its promises because a lot of its promises are capital intensive like free feeding, allowances for jobless youths as some of those welfarist programmes . With the reality you met on ground, do you still see the party attaining these obligations that it set?
It is in period of great challenges that men of wisdom will emerge. In times of economic difficulties and times of war, these were times when great leaders are made. If the job is easy, it means anybody can do it. But we came into power because the rot in the system is simply collapsing the country and we promised people change. We now have to take the cross of what we have seen and Nigerians cannot accept lamentations from leaders. But we have to explain what we have inherited for people to know that the job is tough and we would have to work together. Telling the people that this is the state of things is carrying them along that this is what we are doing and also letting them know the reality of the situation on ground.
Recently, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, Governor was in the Senate and he said Nigeria’s foreign reserve has increased in the last few weeks of the new administration and he attributed it to the prudence of the President Buhari’s administration. So, these are some little positive steps that we are taking which have very big value in terms of what they can deliver and if the temperature is maintained, certainly, we will be able to achieve in so many areas.
I came into the Senate at a time when Nigerians are demanding that we should have downward review of our allowances and I came with a lot of ideas on what to do in my own very constituencies and my people are not going to take excuses. So, I have to take the cross of what we find and I think it’s simply challenging us to know that opposition to people in power is different from running a government because you are faced with the realities on ground. That is why even when you journalists are always writing critical issues, by the time you are made spokesperson of the government, you might end with some of your colleagues not being able to talk to you. They will say the issue is that ‘we have been calling him on phone and he doesn’t pick’, and these are your colleagues. If you look at it, most people who become spokespersons of the President or government came back home without friends.
Looking at your state, Kaduna, it seems you are picking issues with Governor Nasir el-Rufaiand people will say it’s too early. What’s the situation between the two of you?
I’m not picking any issues with him, but fundamentally, we differ. We are from the same party and he is the governor and I am a Senator. He is a technocrat, while I’m an activist and a revolutionary. So, my power base is the common people – the masses who constitute my strength. They are the people I have lived with and fought for over the years. The way the governor is running the affairs of government in Kaduna State is the one which, if care is not taken, we will all sink. He has to take consideration of the fact that he met people that were impoverished, that were muscled, harassed and demoralised by the government of the PDP. So, first of all, they don’t need harsh policies that will further impoverish and alienate them. We need to carry them along, taking cognisance of the situation which we find them in. I fundamentally differ with him on that issue. For that reason, he has decided on his own not to even appoint people who identify with me in anyway and who are also seen to be from my camp. He is running the state in such a way that he will end up ruining all of us, which I will not be part of. He has taken some steps which have only attracted anger from the general public against him. But I can say it very well that Kaduna is a place I have I lived all my life and since I came out of prison in 1998, I have never been out of Kaduna for more than two weeks and I’ve never been appointed to any public office which I will live in Abuja and not know what is happening in Kaduna. So, I can tell you that within Kaduna North, Kaduna South and metropolis of Kaduna, there is hardly any street that I don’t know anybody. When I speak against the governor, I have also spoken against the President and military dictators. I have also been speaking against injustices in the last 30 years and I went to prison in the struggle and for my views. I have seen terror in my life. So, I don’t find it any difficult for me to bring the governor back when he is going out of order.
You don’t see this as ruffling feathers within the APC in the state?
If he has an idea which differs from mine, certainly we all have different views and because he’s a governor, I’m also a Senator. He is not bigger than me, neither am I bigger than him. That is why when people are done with being governors, they want to be Senators and and when Senators are done, they want to be governors. You don’t hear of governors wanting to be members of House of Representatives. So, you can see what it is. He is the one who has initiated a step that simply moves against me by disenfranchising my people from even participating in the affairs of governance in Kaduna. So, as far as I’m concerned, whether el-Rufai is a governor or whatever he is, anything which he does that does not tally with what is supposed to be done, I will certainly tell him.
This issue about party supremacy, do you think there is a line beyond which party should cross on issue affecting their members?
The problem of party supremacy is the contradiction that exists between what the party wants and what is existent in the National Assembly. If you are coming to the National Assembly and you are within the premises of the National Assembly, you are completely in a different territory whereby it is not the law of the party that operates. It is the law of the National Assembly that operates. So, anybody who is within than premises and wants to operate has to operate within the laws of the National Assembly and not laws of the party. Now, if the party makes a recommendation, it simply takes the loyalty, obedience and magnanimity of the person who has the message to deliver it. But if he doesn’t deliver it, he doesn’t break the law of the National Assembly because what the National Assembly says is what matters most. But we know very well that we won elections from the tickets of our party and the party needs to be respected and if it is not, then there will be chaos and disorder. The limitation of party supremacy has to do with the fact that it does not apply in the National Assembly, unless if you choose to apply it. But if you don’t, you have not violated any law. If Senators from one party were given a letter to the National Assembly, if they come to the National Assembly, they can choose to deliver that letter or not deliver that letter. The issue is whether the law of the National Assembly has been broken or not. If it has not been broken, then that’s a different thing.
I think where the mistakes were made is the fact that since we won elections, nobody called us to sit down with us to give us an idea about what the party wants until when it was almost too late to do that. People have shown interest in vying for elections and they insisted that this is what they want, only for the party to come in and say this is what it wants to do. At that time, people have already dogged in and it was impossible for anybody to do anything.
The election of ninth of June, I was not among those who were in the National Assembly. I was at the International Conference Centre because of a text that was sent to us. But we now have to start asking ourselves whether a text sent to us for a meeting in the International Conference Centre is legally stronger than the proclamation of the President that we should be in the National Assembly. I simply chose to be at the International Conference Centre because I thought the President was going to be there because his name was used. I was there and he was never there and nobody told us up till today whether the President actually called for that meeting. So, you can see the situation which we find ourselves.
So what would be your legislative vision for your constituency in the next four years?
I have two missions here. First is the one which I will do in this place and the one which I will do back home and it all relates to the one that will reflect the interest and dreams of my people. I was elected to represent them and do things differently from what was done before and that is perform oversight functions and ensure that the change philosophy of the Buhari administration comes to fruition and change in the areas of security in the economy, the politics of the nation and the war against corruption. These are issues that I have to pursue here and back home, with what I’m able to mobilise, I have a duty to impact on the lives of the people back home on areas of education, of health, of empowerment, youth skill acquisition, sports and community development as a whole. Very soon, I am going to launch my own very programme which is going to be very unique from what has always been done in the past.