SENATOR Shehu Sani is many things rolled into one. Aside from being a comrade, he is a civil rights activist and politician. He spoke on some national and state issues, including the nation’s economic downturn, the need for a bi-cameral legislature and a return to six regions . He also gave reasons he and his governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai are singing discordant tunes.He stated that the present decline in economic activity provides an opportunity to restructure Nigeria and return her to the former six regions.
Asked which way Nigeria should go in view of the economic problems besetting the nation, Shehu said: “The webs and the bumps in the National Assembly is not the only problem in the Nigerian constitution. Nigerian constitution is full of problems and attempts to amend or rewrite it in the last 15 years, has proven impossible because successive governments have their personal interests and agenda and things they want to insert”.
According to him, most of the insertions have completely destroyed the intention, motive and the whole message of the constitutional amendment, adding that the constitution needs to be amended or rewritten. “The bi-cameral parliament we are operating in the country today constitutes a great financial burden on the nation. It also makes for multiplicity and duplication of functions. Motions are raised in the Senate and are also raised in the House of Representatives, bills are raised in the Senate and are also raised in the House of Representatives, constituency projects are carried out by Senators, they are also carried out by the House of Representatives.
“Again, Senators are paid salaries and allowances, members of the House of Representatives are also paid salaries and allowances, Senators have aides that are being paid salaries and allowances, members of the House of Representatives also have aides who are also paid salaries and allowances, Senators have offices that are being maintained, members of the House of Representatives also have offices that are being maintained. And when Senators summon ministers and heads of government parastatals, House of Representatives members also summon them. Sometimes you see the same issues being duplicated in the two chambers. It has become a behemoth and cumbersome”, he told KENNY ASHAKA this and more, in this interview. Excerpts:
From your experience, is there any complimentary relationship between being a Senator, a comrade and an activist?
If you have conscience and integrity and you find yourself in the seat of power, what would be of paramount importance and add value to your life is how much you can deliver and perform, taking cognisance of the weight of integrity and honour that you bring to office. We came from a very long journey; a journey of struggle against dictatorship, injustice, violations against fundamental rights, democracy, civil rights and freedom. Those of us from this line of the journey are in the Senate not as politicians, but as change agents and activists with a revolutionary background and with a stewardship for the de-establishment of military rule and restoration of democracy in Nigeria. Therefore, much is expected and needed from us to deliver and not to disappoint. In view of these realities and factors, one who finds himself on the seat would be much concerned about the legacy and the impact he is going to make in the lives of the people. So, I find this position much challenging because once you are in the seat of power, your integrity, name, honour and image is on the line and I am very conscious of that. As an activist, you are not burdened by any mandate other than your views, opinions and the standard of the issues you are fighting. But as an elected representative of your people, there comes a lot of responsibility and demands and your views, submissions and activities should be reflective of their interests. This is the fundamental difference between activism and politics. But the good side of activism is that you are not weighed down by any political consideration, sentiments and intriques. As a politician, sometimes you weigh your views by taking the temperature of the people you are representing, the line of your party, the line of the institution which you represent. So, all these factors bear burden to the role and nature of the views you will present.
How has it been for you balancing these roles?
What would matter most at the end would be the integrity and the righteousness of the positions you have taken. It is not possible to appease and please everyone, but the standard is for you to stand on justice, truth and reality. There are times when your conscience would come into conflict with certain realities and parameters that form the whole of you. So, I can say that in some cases, the experience is challenging; it is also in some cases interesting and in most cases uncomfortable.
How would you compare the National Assembly of that time that you used to criticize and the one that you are in today?
The National Assembly of the past differs from the one of today. The National Assembly of the past reflects the spirit, order and the thinking of the government of that very time. If you were a Senator under Obasanjo, Yar’Adua or Jonathan, your conception and impression of what the Senate would be would be different from what we have today. Each and every member of the National Assembly is conscious of the fact that this government is serious about fighting corruption. It is also serious about pursuing goals and programmes that would restore the integrity and economic prosperity of Nigeria. We are also conscious of the fact that we are now in a different era where oil price in the international market is less than $30. The Senators of the past had it when it was $140 per barrel. So, you can see that our psychology, tendencies and vision for Nigeria are fundamentally different from those of the Senators before us. And there are a number of examples for me to show. Today, the Senate is raising issues with the Police, putting the Ministers in the dock and letting Nigerians know what is happening. In the past, it wasn’t so because deals were struck between Ministers and Senators. Today, no deal is struck. No Senator is expecting any kobo or dollar from any Minister. As a result of that, you will do your job perfectly. Secondly, in the past, the Ministerial screening comes with a lot of bargaining between those being screened and some members of the Senate.
Do you have evidences?
We have seen issues raised in the past where Ministers came out publicly, decrying what Senators were doing, how they were demanding money from them. But nobody has said that about this Senate. This is to show you how much this Senate is concerned about its integrity. The present Senate has adapted itself to the realities of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
From what we hear about the case against the Senate President, EFCC’s case against a number of Senators and other members on corruption charges, would you say the Senate has the moral right to fight corruption? I asked this because you still have the EFCC as an agency being supervised by a committee in the Senate.
Let me tell you, allegations can be raised against anybody and you can be taken to court. What matters most is whether you are convicted or not. The case of Saraki was one that was raised over 10 years ago. If the Senate has resolved to go along with him throughout the period of his trial, if he is found to be innocent, he continues with the business of the Senate and if he is found guilty, there is no way he can continue to be the Senate President. Again, moral right is not legal right or constitutional right. So, he can voluntarily resign if he wants, but no law says he should do so. But the resolution of the Senate is that Senators should stand by Saraki throughout the period of his trial. Whatever comes up after the trial, decision would be taken in the best interest of Nigerians.
It will appear that the strong resentment of Senator Marafa for his fellow party man and President of the Senate will cause a lot of ripples in the red chamber. What exactly do those of you supporting the Senate President think is the problem?
The whole problem arose as a result of the circumstances surrounding the election of Dr. Bukola Saraki as the Senate President. When Bukola Saraki made himself available for the contest of the Senate Presidency, he also had an opponent in the person of Ahmed Lawan. But on the day of the election in the Senate, some of us who went to the International Conference Centre, based on the text message sent to us by the party that the president wanted to meet with us. The president didn’t come and no explanation was given to us why the president was not there and whether the president actually called us to be there. At the Senate, the president had already sent a letter of proclamation for the eighth National Assembly. Election took place and Bukola Saraki emerged while those of us at the International Conference Centre missed the opportunity to vote. A day after, the president pledged to work with Bukola Saraki and declared his election constitutional. At the same time, the party said they have accepted his election as the Senate President. In that case, I have no reason to counter the president and the party. I have no interest in that. So, Saraki is the Senparty said they have accepted his ate President while I remain a Senator. But now, out of 109 Senators, you only hear the voice of only one Senator and then you ask yourself whether there is actually crisis in the Senate. But what I can assure you is that inside the Senate there is virtually no crisis. Majority of the Senators are behind Saraki and he has been able to steer the ship of the Senate well, maintaining harmony between Senators of the APC and PDP. He has also been able to carry almost everybody along. So the voices now being raised arose as a result of that election. So, I have no reason to fight Bukola Saraki. I share the president’s ideology of being for everybody and being for nobody. What we need to understand is that the nation is faced with so many crisis, social, economic and security wise. Yet, Nigerians are having mountains of expectations from us. Sparking off crisis in the Senate would not be helpful to the nation and the Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. For me, I think I should spend my energy on other things rather than fighting Bukola Ssaraki
If you think Sen. Marafa is alone in this fight against the Senate President, how come he is getting attention?
That question should go to the media because if out of 109 Senators, we have only one that is vocal on certain issues, he will certainly have his attention. And he has his fundamental right to express his opinion and nobody should deprive him of his right to speak. But on no account should you impinge or malign anybody or destroy the character of any person because the limitation of freedom of speech is defamation and libel. If you call a collection of people corrupt or thieves, you have to prove it in a court of law. As far as I am concerned, it is natural when you have a view that differs from that of the majority for you to have your day in the sun and in the limelight.
So many people have blamed Nigeria’s woes on the constitution. Such people claim it makes for manipulation that favours a weak parliament, a situation where processes are hijacked by the so called godfathers who sponsor people to occupy seats in the National Assembly and at the end, become answerable to the presidency and state governors. Looking back at Nigeria’s constitutional history, which direction do you think we should go now?
The webs and the bumps in the National Assembly is not the only problem in the Nigerian constitution. Nigerian constitution is full of problems and attempts to amend or rewrite it in the last 15 years, has proven impossible because successive governments have their personal interests and agenda and things they want to insert. And most of these insertions have completely destroyed the intention, motive and the whole message of the constitutional amendment. We need to amend our constitution or rewrite it for a number of reasons. Many things are happening which fault can be traced to the constitution of this country. Our local government system has no definition of what it stands for. They are simply outposts that exist in name and structure. As it is, the economy of the country cannot sustain 36 states. We need to have six states with capital in Abuja. The North West State should have its capital in Kaduna; North East State should have its capital in Maiduguri; North Central State should have its capital in Jos or Lokoja; the South West State should have its capital in Ibadan; the South East should have its capital in Enugu while the South South State should have its capital in Port Harcourt. And we should also amend the constitution to have only one parliament. The Bi-cameral parliament we are operating in the country today constitutes a great financial burden on the nation. It also makes for multiplicity and duplication of functions. Motions are raised in the Senate and are also raised in the House of Representatives, bills are raised in the Senate and are also raised in the House of Representatives, constituency projects are carried out by Senators, they are also carried out by the House of Representatives. Again, Senators are paid salaries and allowances, members of the House of Representatives are also paid salaries and allowances, Senators have aides that are being paid salaries and allowances, members of the House of Representatives also have aides who are also paid salaries and allowances, Senators have offices that are being maintained, members of the House of Representatives also have offices that are being maintained. And when Senators summon Ministers and Heads of government parastatals, House of Representatives members also summon them. Sometimes you see the same issues being duplicated in the two chambers. It has become a behemoth and cumbersome. Do you know that you can still bring a motion that was presented in 2004 and represent it in 2016 without anybody knowing that motion had been presented because the parliament is so big that it will not be noticed. So, the constitutional amendment we are going to have should have one parliament, six states with capital in Abuja and also lead to the restructuring of Nigeria in such a way that each state will be given the opportunity to exploit its resources, execute its project, cater for the needs of its people and at the same time contribute finance for the maintenance of the central government. This is how things are supposed to be. We need a constitution that is routed in the conscience, the heart and minds of our people. We need a constitution that will end the master/servant relationship in Nigeria. We need a constitution that will address the inequalities and the conflicts that exist as a result of our religious and ethnic differences. We need a constitution that will bring about socio-economic and political order that will serve the generality of the masses of this country. The constitutional amendment we need is the one that the government or people in power have no interest in. The personal interests of people in power have always affected the need to amend the constitution. The amendment of the constitution is very much needed now than a year or two from now because the lifespan of any government is two and a half years after which the campaign for another election starts.
What is the relationship between you and President Muhammadu Buhari and the governor of your state, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai?
The relationship is that we all have our families in Kaduna and we are all from the APC. We all wish Nigeria well and in support of the change agenda and aspirations of Nigerians. As for Buhari, I can say that he is one man that I have admired for a long time, not just because he has expressed his interest to join politics. He is a man of integrity, one who will always stand by the truth and always defend what is right. He is one of the few Nigerians who both Nigerians and the international community agree that, in comparative terms, he is not a saint or angel, but a clean man.
Why are you at loggerheads with your governor?
First of all, it is natural to be at loggerheads or, if you like, logger hearts, logger ear, logger eye, as you may want to call it because human beings are not bound to agree on every issue. We are at loggerheads because we are in the same party, but we have different visions on how the change agenda should take place. My politics is routed in the ideology of the masses. It is routed in the politics of principles. I have a history of struggle, of activism and always being in the opposition political party. I have moved from one opposition party to the other and I have never been in the PDP. It is, therefore, natural for people who come from a different background from me to think differently because APC is a convergence of people with different political tendencies and persuasions. Some people come from the right and others from the left. Some come from above and others below and we find ourselves in the same place. We were all together, united in solidarity against a common enemy which is the PDP. Having done away with that, we are now settling to our personal differences and I can see that his thinking and vision of what change is is fundamentally different from mine. He is from the political right and I am from the political left. My principle of development is that which the masses, the masses and the masses alone will be and should be my priority. He (Mallam Nasir El-Rufai) has a capitalist agenda and when you have such people who think differently, they are bound to clash. I can give you the philosophical basis of our differences. In APC, I was never his candidate during the senatorial primaries. He had a candidate who contested with me and who I defeated. I contested with five people, including his candidate. We then moved into government and when we established government in Kaduna State, what he did was to share positions and gave it to the person I defeated. He empowered him to start fighting me. This is one. The second has to do with the fact that his programmes were anti-masses. The first bone of contention is the demolition of houses without paying compensation. I was the first person to raise objection against him. I told him that he cannot come and meet a people who are struggling to feed their families, pay their rents, educate their children and live after 15 years of trauma, of destruction and of suffering for you to come after few months to demolish their property. He also planned to remove destitute from the streets and plant flowers. He is to hide the destitute somewhere so that anyone who comes from Abuja and Lagos would see that Kaduna has become a Dubai or an Amsterdam or a Paris. If you hide them somewhere, whoever comes to Kaduna, I will show him where they are being hidden. These are the basis of the conflict between me and the governor. Now, what they did was that they used the party in the state against me. Some people went to my ward to financially induce some members of the Exco in my ward to suspend me. We have evidences. How can a government that is fighting corruption and in the spirit of change financially induce an Exco to suspend a seating Senator. His plot was rubbished by the Zonal Vice Chairman of the party and by extension the secretariat of the party issued a statement. They have done many things and they are still in the course of doing more. Shehu Sani is the number one, two and three agenda of Nasir El-Rufai. If they are constructing roads, it is about Shehu Sani to see. If they are talking to people, it is about Shehu Sani. If they are sleeping with their wives, Shehu Sani is in their brain. So, Shehu Sani has become the number one agenda of El-Rufai in Kaduna State. This is very unfortunate. He should not have taken it this far. A governor and Senator ought not to be fighting. We ought to put our heads together for the benefit of Kaduna State.
Have you met your governor for discussion over these issues?
Please, you met me with one phone number. I have this phone number since the arrival of GSM in the county. You can get my phone with any Keke Napep rider in Kaduna State, at any park or any Akara seller around. Ask him or her Shehu Sani’s number and he or she would give you. Go anywhere, whether in Government House and ask whether there is anywhere to contact El-Rufai. Come to my house every weekend and see two to three hundred people outside. They come to see me, the masses. Go to Government House, Kaduna if you will see any person outside. As far as I am concerned, I am a man whose struggle was routed in the aspirations, needs and wants of the masses. Before you go to somebody there must be access to him. He has to create that access. Ask journalists in Kaduna how many of them have access to El-Rufai? Many of our party members have no access to him. That is the fact of the matter. This is not just all about Shehu Sani. There are people who worked hard to remove PDP from Kaduna State and enthrone APC government. They have all been put aside. I was critical of the government of Ahmed Makarfi and you know that as a journalist who worked here. I was critical of the government of Namadi Sambo when he was governor here, critical of the government of late Ibrahim Yakowa and Ramalan Yero. Most of the governors I even took to court. Why should I not now speak up? I do not believe that because we are from the same party I should keep quiet when things are being done wrongly. Political party is not a cult where people are not allowed to talk. the government of Ahmed Makarfi
Do we then say this is a carry-over of your struggle against the people in power?
I can say it is a carry-over of my conscience, principles and the mandate of my conscience to speak the truth when the occasion demands for it.
Could it be true as being alleged by some supporters of El-Rufai that your criticism of his government is to pave the way for your aspiration to be governor?
They are always scared of everything. If they hear that Shehu Sani is going to address a press conference, you will hear the phone of journalists ringing. They are trying to find out what Shehu Sani said. This is how they get scared. I have never told anybody that I want to contest the 2019 election. If I had contested the 2015 election, El-Rufai couldn’t have won. Go and check the result of the primary election. I have contributed to founding this party even before he (El-Rufai) and others joined the party. I established the zonal office in Zaria, the zonal office in Kaduna and funded the zonal office in Southern Kaduna. As far as I am concerned, this is what they have always used. And if I want to contest the governorship, nobody will stop me from doing that. What matters to me now is the mandate of my office to deliver as a Senator. I am not power hungry and nobody can tell us about democracy. When I was in the trenches fighting for democracy, when they were pushing us from one prison to another, where were they? Before 1999, did you hear the name Mallam Nasir El-Rufai? His name only came up when democracy started. Check my name and see. I have always been there and I am still here and still going to be here by tomorrow by the grace of God. So what I am saying here is that I am not against him. But he should understand that when people speak he should have no fear of the right of the people to express their opinion. He is the man who has his own vision of development and he is far better off than many people who have ruled the state. He needs to get things right as it is. But sending his men to fight me and bribing Exco of my ward to suspend me, sponsoring people to malign me on radio to destroy my reputation and behaving as if he is not concerned while teleguiding them would not be healthy for Kaduna State. I will continue to speak from now till 2019 except when things are done rightly. But for now, I must be very frank to you, I have refrained from further attacks on him because the National Secretariat of the APC waded into the crisis, sat with us and told us to cease fire. So, we are now observing the cease fire.
The belief in some circles is that your criticism of the government has slowed down the pace of development in the state.
(Laughs) It is funny to say that my criticism has slowed down the pace of development in the state. What is developmental pace if what you are doing is positive? If you demolish people’s houses and they protest against it, you should know that they have the constitutional right to protest. If you want to implement any policy or programme which the people are against, they are certainly going to fight you. Kaduna is not Abuja. Abuja is a no man’s land where people come from different parts of the country unlike people here whose parents, grand parents and great-grand-parents were born here. So, you cannot apply what you have there in this place. So it’s not about me. It is about what you do, whether it is right or wrong. I cannot stop developmental activities in Kaduna State. If you do anything against the wishes and desires of the people, you are bound to face opposition.
What then is the way forward in Kaduna State?
The way forward in Kaduna State is for the governor to learn to accept criticism. He is one of the most vocal critic of the Jonathan administration and now he doesn’t want and is afraid of criticism. It is very wrong to do that. Criticized Babangida, Abacha and they threw me in jail and we criticized Obasanjo’s third term agenda. We spoke out to some extent against Yar’Adua and Jonathan. He is very uncomfortable when people criticize him. He should learn to accept criticism. He should take criticism as part of development and then take advise on how to run the state without ruining it. Right now many people with whom they started this journey, Dr. Hakeem Baba Ahmed, Ashiru Kudan, Yaro Makama Rigachikun, Haruna Saed, Hafsat Baba have all been left out of the governance of the state. These are people who contributed to bringing about APC in Kaduna State. He shoud know that he had a name before becoming a governor and he needs to maintain that. It is not all governors that have that kind of national outlook that he has. What he does here in Kaduna is of interest to the man in Calabar, Port Harcourt and in Lagos. I will wish he has the liver to accept the kind of criticism which heunleashed on leaders in the past.
As a Senator with insight into many forays of our economic endeavours, I wonder if you will agree that we are going through the worst economic downturn since 1999, with the exchange rate falling as low as N380 or more to the US dollar, inflation rate put at 9.6 percent and unemployment rate at 24 percent?
We are quite aware of all these statistics, but what is of interest to Nigerians is that our hopes should not fall on the value of the naira. We are in difficult economic moments and this should spark innovations and new thinking for the rebirth of a new nation. Our economy has long been destroyed by years of plunder, unbridled looting of the economy and lack of developmental plans. We are now living in moments of truth. For over forty decades, we have depended on oil to fund our projects, ambitions and our personal lifestyles. Now is the moment of truth. We need to diversify this economy, emphasis on agriculture, solid minerals and get it straight that the era of free money is over. This brings us to the need to restructure this country so that the federating units will be able to source their income to be able to address their needs. If it was impossible to think of that when there was money, I think this is the best time. Nigeria is not the first to be in economic recession like we are having now. In the late 70s, China experienced the same thing we are going through now. Cuba experienced this with the collapse of the Soviet Union. United States passed through periods of great recession and the economy of Britain experienced down turn in the late 70s. We can also seen how nations have turned around misfortune to fortues, how nations like Brazil, India and China have turned from the worst economy to one of the best in the world. Mexico, 20 years ago depended 80 percent on crude oil for her foreign currency earning. Today, oil income in Mexico accounts for just 17 to 18 percent. The inspiration to drive a new Nigeria should come from nations that have passed through our experience and have gotten out of it. I think this should be the guiding principle that will lead us out of the situation we find ourselves.
Both in his campaign and inaugural speeches, Buhari had declared that corruption will have no place in his government. Do you think this war against corruption is impartially and sincerely being fought, going by what some critics of the fight are saying it is now a tool for vendetta against the PDP and some perceived enemies?
Buhari inherited a ruined country and he has to clear the debris and evacuate such debris from the sight before he can lay a solid foundation for a new Nigeria. In the last sixteen years, public office simply became an opportunity to loot the treasury of the country to enrich themselves and their families. They impoverished our people, paralysed our economy, carted away hundreds of millions of dollars to purchase properties outside and inside Nigeria, buy shares outside Nigeria and deposited money outside Nigeria. They ruined the future of our children and grandchildren to build that of their children and grandchildren. They destroyed public schools to build private schools and destroyed public hospitals to build private hospitals. They destroyed public universities to build private ones. They destroyed the public sector in Nigeria and used the money to build the private sector. Each time a governor comes to office, one thing he would say is that he has always been a rich man before being a governor and that he was already a made up man. By the time he leaves, he would have incurred so much debt and looted the treasury.
In the last 16 years, we had opportunity to build a new nation that today we would have been thinking of 45,000 megawatts of electricity and industry that is founded on export and a world class infrastructure. But all that have gone. When oil was 140 dollars per barrel, we had the opportunity to rebuild Nigeria, but we are now grappling with less than 30 dollars per barrel. Algeria is a country of 40 million people and they have 140 billion dollars in their foreign reserve. But Nigeria with 175 million people has less than 30 billion dollars in our foreign reserve. Buhari inherited a raped country, a destroyed country and people expect him to perform magic within nine months. This is very much impossible. The diversification of an economy will not take less than 10 years to do because it will involve so many things. Diversification is not a situation where you plant a seed today and harvest it the next day. It doesn’t happen that way. The anti-corruption crusade of Buhari is reflective of the situation he finds himself. People looted the treasury of this country and make excuses by manipulating the law to get themselves out. I share Buhari’s determination to fight corruption and end corruption. I share his belief and conviction to arrest corrupt people and to prosecute them. But I also share the views, beliefs and positions of those who believe that fundamental rights and civil liberties need to be fully observed in the prosecution of the fight against corruption.
Despite huge federal allocations, poverty and inadequate education still thrive in the North. How would you assess the performance of Northern governors in the last five years?
You cannot assess Northern governors as a whole. You can only give them individual assessment. And this cuts across party lines. There are people who are in the PDP and APC that have done very well. I think the index for development should be how a government is able to use the little resources at his disposal and make maximum impact on the lives of his people. But a lot of things have happened. But you see a lot of things happened because a lot of the federal funds that are sent to most of the governors have actually not been used for developmental purposes. In the whole of Northern Nigeria now, there is no industry that generates foreign exchange of one million dollars per month. There is none and there is no attempt by many of the state to even boost their internally generated revenue. Federal allocation has incapacitated the thinking of many of our leaders. As long as they can go every month to Abuja and collect money and come back so many things were left undone. Look at the North of today, all the textile and other industries have closed down. The only industry that functions in the North today is that of pure water and we can’t live like that. There are nations that have achieved greatness from other resources other than oil. It’s time for Northern Nigeria to chart a new course for itself. We must return to agriculture by cultivating our land. We have the best land in West Africa. We have to devise means to exploit our mineral resources, educate our people and invest in our people. This is also an opportunity to do that. The era of oil is over and the future of the North is dependent on its ability to cater for itself by looking at its environment and exploiting its resources and potentials.