For several months, the future political destination of Senator Shehu Sani was cloudy as he battled the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, for his senatorial ticket. Many had expected him to join other senators to defect from the All Progressives Congress in July, but he did not. Even though he was the only candidate cleared to contest the senatorial seat for Kaduna Central by the party, he was substituted by the governor’s candidate and arch-rival, Uba Sani, who was declared winner of the senatorial primary which Shehu refused to participate in. In this interview, with Tony Akowe, he explained why he refused to participate in the primary, efforts made by the party chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and President Muhammadu Buhari to keep him in the APC. Excerpts
NIGERIANS were taken aback when you finally decided to leave the APC after you were denied the senatorial ticket. Why did it take you that long?
Well, we joined the APC with the belief that it is a party that came with a lot of promises; we joined the APC because we believed that it is a party that came close to our ideology and vision for a new Nigeria. We joined the APC because we believed it was a platform where all progressives and democratic forces converged to dislodge the PDP and restore good governance and democracy in Nigeria. We joined the APC because we believed that it was a channel through which progressives minded people can come together, save the country, restore the hope and vision that we all share. We joined the APC because we believed that it had a credible leader in the person of President Muhammadu Buhari, whose major asset was his integrity and his vision for a new Nigeria, his incorruptibility as a man who has made sacrifices for the peace, security, unity and future of Nigeria. So, all these factors attracted people like us into APC. But events that have evolved in the last three and half years have demonstrated that the party has progressively and gradually moved away from those ideals, those visions, those perceptions that it came into power with as part of its identity. First of all, the crisis between the Executive and the National Assembly; you also see over the years, a government that is run by invisible forces and a government that was disconnected from the vision, the ideals and also the perception of President Buhari himself. When the president came into power, he publicly declared his assets, and then followed by the vice-president and then my humble self. We can see a diversion from those noble ideals.
Secondly, over the years we have seen issues that were raised about probing the sainthood of the party itself. Then you find out that he stands alone. So, it appears to many of us that President Buhari seems to be an oasis in a desert, or he seems to be an odd one out and there was no fundamental change and difference from the old political order.
The question sir is why you decided to leave at the time you finally did and not when your colleagues left.
If you can remember, in July, there was uprising and uproar in the National Assembly, whereby senators and members of House of Representatives decided to leave the APC. Now, I was part and parcel of that move but I stayed back because of these three factors. One, the fact that there was a new leadership in the person of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, a man that we have over the years, shared ideals, ideas and we have been in the struggle for a very long time. He impressed it on me to remain behind and I told him that there are issues that I have with the party and the governor of my state and I don’t know how I can live with such a man, whose thinking, whose ideas, whose politics is completely antithetical to mine. We have been having issues in the last three years, which include attacks on my office and attempt by the governor to frame me up for murder and I and the governor have been in court for the last one year over defamation case. He sued me for N2b and I sued him for N5b. Again, this was a governor who came out openly to call on the people to physically attack me; he instigated the people against me and I asked the party’s National Chairman, how do I live with this kind of person? Comrade Oshiomhole assured me that with his own leadership, he would do everything possible, not just to resolve my issue but also to resolve other issues that senators have with their governors. There was also an intervention by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who cautioned me against leaving the APC and joining the PDP. He told me that I come from a certain background and I don’t have to be part of PDP. He said whatever it is, I should stay back and we address the issues. Then President Buhari reached out to me and promised me that all would be addressed.
The second aspect was that our senators, who were defecting from the APC, said they were going home. Where is home? Home was PDP. My own definition of home was, it is either where you were born or where you belong and I was not born in PDP, I have never been a PDP member. So, I didn’t want to move from one foster home of the APC to another foster home. I don’t want to move from one orphanage of the APC to another orphanage of the PDP. The third reason why I couldn’t move in July has to do with the fact that if you are a political office holder with a mandate, you cannot take a political decision on your own, because your colleagues in the National Assembly were simply moving. I don’t want to be seen as moving simply because Saraki and other persons in the National Assembly are moving. So, it wouldn’t be in my own best interest, and not in the interest of my own people. So, I have to consult my people and my people insisted that I should give time, stay because they believe in President Buhari, so I stayed. I was elected under APC and they are the ones to give me the best advice, whether to move or not to move.
Are you saying nothing was done by these to ensure that you remained in the party?
It was very clear that the Governor of Kaduna State was not prepared to listen to Adams and was not prepared to listen to the President. He seems to have overbearing influence on the president. He ended up writing a memo to the President which later was leaked to the media. In fact, the presidency had to come out openly to denounce it. But despite all those things, I have seen that as time goes on, they kept on assuring us but it came to head during the primary election. Before the primaries, we bought forms and went for the screening and the National Working Committee came up with the list of people who were cleared to contest. I had to be the only person cleared to contest Kaduna Central. For whatever reason, I don’t know because I am not a member of the NWC. So, I was getting prepared for the process of affirmation when suddenly the Governor of Kaduna State went to the media and said he wouldn’t abide by the NWC clearing me alone. So, he reached out and virtually abandoned governance in Kaduna State and lodged in Abuja. He was moving from the Presidency to Adams office. I can correctly say that part of the reason why violence erupted in Kaduna was that at the very time when a governor was needed on his seat to address every issue, to listen to every security report and to nip the crisis in the bud, he was perpetually in Abuja. The staff of Adams Oshiomhole’s office would tell you the Kaduna governor was always there to stay from 8pm to 4am. He virtually turned the place to his office all because of Shehu Sani. Now, having done all those things here it reached a point whereby he forced on Adams and the party to violate their own rule.
Could you throw more light?
While on the website of APC, it was Shehu Sani’s name that was there, the governor went and cleared other aspirants and conducted primary elections, and they were asking me to go and join and I said, how do I become part of a primary election where the delegates in APC Kaduna were written by the governor and his aides who he was anointing to be the senator? There was no congress in Kaduna, all the APC exco were written with a pen in a hotel. Some of them were the boys, the guards, the brothers, in laws of the person who wrote it. So, I cannot be part of that election and then secondly, I couldn’t partake in that primary because it violated the rules of the APC on several grounds because, one the governor political adviser went to court and sought an injunction to stop the primary election. Now, they went and did the primary, against that injunction. Thirdly, people who weren’t cleared by the NWC went there, were cleared by Nasir El Rufai to partake in the election. After all these, they declared the governor’s aide the winner. I raised these issues with the party’s National Chairman. He told me that I should write and petition the appeal panel and I wrote the appeal panel headed by Professor Osunbor. I said, you should declare me a winner based on three grounds. One, I was the only person cleared to contest. Secondly, there was a court injunction against the primary which they went to court but they violated the court order and went to organise a primary. I was invited by the panel and they listened to me and the appeal panel acceded to my request and insisted that I remained the valid candidate for the party.
But surprisingly, the report of the appeal panel was not adhered to. I did my findings. While in the chairman’s office and national secretariat, they wouldn’t tell you whether your name was the one sent to INEC because the party was operating like a mafia, where even members of NWC don’t have the information of what is actually going on. So, I now found out that it wasn’t my name that was sent to INEC, without anybody informing me. I did my own investigation and I said well, if a party can violate its own rules, its own regulations because it wanted to appease the governor of a state, I don’t see the reason why I should remain there. And now my people in Kaduna Central, if I had defected in July, it would be seen to be, I defected because the Senate President and other senators who were anti- Buhari were defecting. But now I decided to leave the party because there exists evidence in justice and prosecution and complete disobedience and breach of the laws of the party. The rules of the party were completely violated.
Do you feel betrayed by those you said pleaded with you to stay back when your colleagues were defecting?
I must be very frank with you, Tinubu has done his best but there is a limit to what he can do. He isn’t from the North and has a lot of issues to attend to but what was very clear, I won’t rain insults on the President or Chairman of the party, but what I would say is that their weaknesses, their vulnerability, their failures have been evident in the very sense that they were helpless in the face of firepower by the state governors.
Will you see what happened to you as a reprisal action, by not only the Kaduna governor but even the party leadership and the presidency? Don’t you see a gang up in all these against someone who has consistently taken the party to the cleaners even on the floor of the Senate?
Well, I must be very frank with you, there is no way Adams will be opposed to criticisms and we have come a long way. President Muhammadu Buhari has never complained but it was very clear that they insisted on me but the governor of Kaduna mobilised other governors and mobilised himself to go to show them that they must drop me. A state governor with resources! For President Buhari and Adams Oshiomhole, what we can say about this is that the president has his weaknesses and likewise Adams. These weaknesses could be seen in the kind of protests and objections that have trailed the primaries. So, as far as I am concerned, I do not think that it was because of that but I can see their inability to tidy up their ends before making pledges to us, because what they supposed to have done was that if they were going to reward or appreciate the loyalty of national legislators, there could have been a detailed, comprehensive consultations with the governors of the states. But it was very clear that they were pledging and promising what they couldn’t deliver. They were also pledging and promising without taking cognisance of the pressure and the force that would come against such things.
The President needs to know that he works with the legislators and that Adams tried to save the National Assembly during the period of defection, on the grounds of these promises that the issues would be addressed but they were never addressed, rather it came to a head and we ended up where we are.
Why do you keep exonerating the President?
I didn’t exonerate the president; what I said was that he was unable to curtail the powers of the governors. He succumbed to them.
You talked about invisible forces within the party and government. I will like you to speak in specific terms on this.
Well, if you look at his attitude to governance and his philosophy of being for everybody and nobody has led the party to nowhere and it is also leading the party to nowhere. If you are a leader you cannot preside over a nation by body language or side language. You have to take decisions, you have to be decisive. You don’t also have to depend on the decisions of others but you can consult others for the decisions which you are going to take. The governors under the APC today don’t respect President Buhari, they have no respect for him and they don’t share what his philosophy is all about.
While the chairman of the party sees the need to preserve the loyal band within the party, the governors don’t see the need for it. They want to plant their stooges. As far as I am concerned, the seat that I occupy, the Kaduna Central senatorial seat, Nasir El Rufai is putting a stooge there to keep the place for him so that after he is out of government, he can also be a senator. The governors see senatorial seats as places they should preserve for their future and that’s why you find some people going to the National Assembly without standing up to do their work as parliamentarians, because they were there standing in for somebody.
Your new party, the PRP doesn’t have a presidential candidate. May we know the candidate you intend to vote for, or the one your new platform intends to adopt?
The party is still deciding on what to do. This is a party that I haven’t just joined; it is a party that my parents belong to. We came from a tradition of NEPU and PRP, the parties we grow up with as children, as young people. Balarabe Musa was an idol when we were in school. So, others can call PDP their home but this is my home because it was a party founded on socialist’s revolutionary ideas and on the thoughts and vision of Mallam Aminu Kano. So, it has been a party that has maintained honour and integrity; it is a party founded on principles and not interests. It isn’t a merger where people come from left, right, centre and then merged— the strange bedfellows that the APC has proven to be.
So, the PRP is in discussion on whom to vote for but at the end of the day, we have to take a position. We can decide to vote for Buhari, we can decide to vote for any other person. But it will be a collective decision which we are going to take.
Is Atiku also part of the options?
Well, when we say that we haven’t taken a decision, it means we haven’t closed the door against anybody. We can vote for any person who we see as the best option for Nigeria.
For a long time, there appeared to be some level of peace in Kaduna, but this peace was broken by the ethno-religious violence in state recently. What do you think is responsible and how can it be curbed?
Well, the ethno- religious violence in Kaduna has been with us for the last four decades. Many of us grew into a city divided between Moslems and Christians but we must be very frank with ourselves. In the last two decades, Moslems and Christians in Kaduna haven’t been living in peace but they have been living apart. The northern part of the river is predominantly Muslims settlement and the Southern part of the river is predominantly Christian settlement. For the last two decades, if you are a Moslem and you decide to visit the Christian area by 7-8 pm, you don’t need to be told to leave and go back to your home town and your own part of the city and if you are a Christian and you travel to the Northern part of the city, when it is 7-8pm, nobody will advise you that it is time to go to where you come from. If you are a visitor in Kaduna and you decide to pass the night, the first question you will be advised is to live where the people of your own faith are living. Anything in Kaduna can trigger a crisis, even a simple chat between two friends. But taking cognizance of the sensibility of a place like Kaduna, the leader it deserves is the one who treats everybody with respect and sees everyone with respect. If you are the type that sees only people from the perspective of their ethnic or religious group, then there will be problem. But then, why is the problem of Kaduna still lingering? First, there is so much poverty, hunger and joblessness in northern Nigeria and you have an army of young people who can move to the street with the snap of the finger to kill and maim. Secondly, politicians have manipulated religion to suit their purpose and they exploit this with divisive utterances with hate speech. The other aspect is that no effort was made to integrate Muslims and Christians in Kaduna for the past 20 years. A small trigger can lead to violence. But what led to the violence in Kaduna has to do with the fact that the governor spent more time fighting Shehu Sani and other political opponents than concentrating on addressing the problem of governance in Kaduna. Before he talks of peace and unity, he will talk about Shehu Sani 20 times. So, I can tell you that the problem of Kaduna cannot be solved by Nasir El-Rufai because he is already seen as a divisive figure, one who is not carrying everyone along, whose utterances and conduct does not help anything.
What will you be telling people to vote for you as a member of PRP considering the fact that you will be contesting against an incumbent government. What are your chances.
In the PRP, what matters to us more is our honor and integrity, our ideology and revolutionary ideas. We are not bothered about victory or defeat. The PRP is more than a political party because if it were a political party, it would have died since 1983. It is a belief, a movement and an ideology and that is why it has continued to be where it is. I had the option of joining the PDP, but I cannot leave the orphanage of APC for that of PDP. So, as far as we are concerned, we don’t fear any incumbent. When the APC came to power in 2015, was there no incumbent that time. You know that the vigour and virility of the APC in 2015 is not what it is now because it has been demystified by its conduct and failures as well as its inability to provide leadership in the party, talk-less of providing leadership in the country.
Why did APC senators back out of impeachment plot against Saraki?
It is technically impossible to remove Saraki because the APC does not have two thirds majority. Secondly, Saraki has been able to carry everybody along and provide a leadership to the extent that he is able to accommodate those critical about him. Thirdly, the opposition is more united and more formidable in the resolve to keep the Senate President than the ruling party in their plot to remove him. So, I can tell you that removing Saraki through constitutional means is impossible because the APC is not united to do that. The APC is not having the number to do that.