By Chukwudi Nweje
Senator Shehu Sani represented Kaduna Central in the 8th National Assembly and was Chairman of the Committee on Local and Foreign Debts and Vice Chairman, Committee on Foreign Relations. In this interview, he said North East Nigeria would be a safe haven if the government spent a fraction of the time expended on fighting self determination agitations on bandits. He also discussed other national issues.
The High Court in Kaduna State has quashed the charges brought against Sheikh Ibrahim El Zakzaky, leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) by the state government and ordered his immediate release alongside his wife. How do you see that after six years incarceration?
I must commend the Kaduna State judiciary, particularly Justice Gideon Kurada for dispensing justice after the unjust persecution, arrest and about six years detention of Sheikh El Zakzaky and his wife after the killing of his children and demolition of his home. It is a welcome development and a triumph for the rule of law.
What is your take on the security situation in the country and Kaduna State in particular where kidnappings have become the order of the day?
Kaduna is a state under siege; armed bandits have taken over most parts of the state, they are impoverishing our people by forcing them to sell their homes, land and other property in order to pay ransom to get their loved ones freed. They have destroyed our agricultural system in the sense that farmers can no longer go to their farms. Our educational system has been disrupted because of the activities of these bandits. They have become more daring and audacious that in some places, they go about collecting taxes. They have become a state within a state; that is the sad situation we found ourselves in.
Sometime ago you named some people as the kingpins of most of the kidnappings in Kaduna State and environs; has any action been initiated against those individuals you accused to be sponsors of banditry and kidnappings?
Kidnapping has become a lucrative business in the North West part of Nigeria whereby they have become an authority onto themselves. In our own state Kaduna, hardly a day goes by without reported cases of kidnapping. In fact, the ones that are reported are when the numbers are much not when they are three or four. The sad thing is that the kingpins of those involved in these kidnapping businesses are known; if the security agencies don’t go after them, we won’t get an end to kidnappings in the North East. These kidnappers don’t have a central command and control, they control various territories and they sometimes trade their hostages between themselves. When they kidnap a victim and the ransom is not paid on time, they trade the victim to another kidnapper who will increase the ransom to be paid. The government should be serious in terms of apprehending these gang leaders because until they are apprehended, we will not get to the bottom of these matters and the kidnapping business is not going to stop.
Gov Nasir el Rufai has ruled out negotiations, a departure from his 2014 posture when he said that President Goodluck Jonathan should do everything and anything to get the Chibok girls released, what do you say?
He initiated the process of negotiation but that did not produce any result. I must tell you that negotiation is going to be difficult because there is no centralised command of people you can talk to. The kidnappers are not like Boko Haram or Islamic State of west African Province, (ISWAP) that has a leader you can talk to. The kidnappers and bandits exist in clusters and the tendency of them violating whatever agreement you reach with them is very high. So, Gov El Rufai has negotiated before and it has become a serious stigma in the sense that even the states that are negotiating have themselves not been able to end banditry and terrorism in their place. It is not just negotiation that we should be talking about, I think there should also be the political will to make sure bandits and terrorists activities are curtailed and contained.
As much as N100 million was reportedly raised by the parents of the Bethel Baptist College students in addition to food stuff and motorbikes. These items were delivered to a location and given to the kidnappers as ransom, how come that the security agencies were not able to track the items?
Well, this is a clear testimony of the paralysis of the security apparatuses of the country, especially as it relates to the North West. Kidnapping of students has become a lucrative business and payment of ransom has made the business to boom. Until there is an effective strategy to combat these terrorists, payment of ransom will continue to fuel the business of ransom in Nigeria. If we want to end kidnappings, the government must go after the ring leaders. As it is now, the kidnappers are having a field day, they kidnap who they want to at their convenience and also release them at their convenience; that is the situation we found ourselves.
Shiekh Abubakar Gumi has visited and interacted with some of these bandits in their bases in the forests of Adamawa State, pictures we see on the social media shows he is escorted by security personnel on such visits, yet the government gives us the impression that the bandits are unknown. How do we reconcile that?
Shiekh Gumi is a private citizen and from my interactions with him, it is clear that all the suggestions and ideas he offered to the government on how to end the insurgency has actually not been used; it seems he has been frustrated out of it.
IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu is on trial over his Biafra agitation, the Federal Government also wants to extradite Sunday Adeniyi Adeyemo, aka Sunday Igboho to Nigeria to face trial over his Yoruba nation agitation but, it has remained silent on the herdsmen who through Miyetti Allah have made threats of violence and carried them out; is there some kind of connivance somewhere?
The herdsmen and bandits are carrying arms, unleashing terror on innocent citizens, but the agitations of Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Igboho are working towards breaking Nigeria. It is a reality that the government has laid more emphasis on going after separatists than going after terrorists. If the government invested a fraction of the energy it spent going after self-determination separatists to fight terrorists, those of us in North East Nigeria would have been saved. Fighting banditry and terrorism are of higher priority to us than going after Nnamdi Kanu or Sunday Igboho.
What is your take on the separatists agitators?
The constitution does not forbid you from agitations but where you cross the law is if you incite violence or aid violence and bloodshed. For me that has been in and out of prison, I believe that the agitators have raised issues and as a nation we should address those issues raised in order to stop further spread of the agitations. But I don’t believe that the agitations will have meaningful result in the sense that all the Igbo and Yoruba in the North are still there and are not contemplating going back. Although some of the Northerners in the South have been targeted and attacked, they are not contemplating going back to the North. I will be more concerned if I wake up one morning and discover that all my Igbo and Yoruba neighbours where I live in Kaduna have all gone back to the South.
What are your concerns on the rejection of electronic transmission of election results by the National Assembly?
Those who voted against electronic transmission of election results are against free, fair, credible and transparent elections in Nigeria. The NCC and the National Assembly should not be involved in election matters. Apart from being lawmakers, members of the National Assembly are also politicians, so why would you allow politicians to determine how elections will be conducted? The NCC is headed by an appointee of Mr President; after the election, if the president feels that he is losing, he can tell them not to release such result.
How well do you think the 9th National Assembly has played its oversight role?
It will not be fair for me to assess the 9th National Assembly, I was in the 8th National Assembly and naturally I will say that the 8th National Assembly played an excellent role; it is best left for Nigerians to judge whether the calibre of people we have in the assembly today has performed. But lawmakers must always defend the integrity, independence and sanctity of the National Assembly; they must not be subservient, placid or compliant to the wishes and will of the executive. The parliament is not an agency of the presidency but an institution of government recognised by the Constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria; it cannot turn itself to stooges.
Do you think we should scrap one chamber of the National Assembly to reduce cost of governance?
There is a lot we can do to reduce the cost of governance; one is to reduce the number of states. Nigeria should not have more than six states; we don’t have the resources to maintain all these states assemblies. Nigeria should have one parliament not two. It is the same thing they do in the House of Representatives that they do in the Senate; the only difference is that the Senate confirms appointees of Mr President. Reducing the cost of governance is not just about the National Assembly; it is about the structure of the Nigerian State that has turned everything into an expenditure.