Erstwhile chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Shehu Sani, represents Kaduna Central in the Senate. The chairman, Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debts, who recently dumped the APC for the Peoples’ Redemption Party (PRP), having lost out in the power game between him and his governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, speaks with Senior Deputy Editor, TAIWO AMODU, on why it was difficult for the embattled national chairman of the APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, to redeem his pledge of automatic tickets for federal lawmakers in the ruling party and why President Muhammadu Buhari remains at the mercy of the governors, despite his status as the party leader.
NIGERIANS were taken aback when you made a pronouncement to leave the APC. 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 could converge to dislodge the PDP [Peoples Democratic Party] and restore good governance and democracy in Nigeria. We joined the APC because we believed that it was a channel through which progressive-minded people could come together, save the country, restore the hope and vision that we all share.
ALSO READ: Wife kills self, husband, 3 children in Makurdi
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 as well as 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 the APC. But events that have evolved in the last three and a 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, it was 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 that was followed by the vice-president and then my humble self. But after that, there was nobody in the whole of the APC that had the courage to publicly tell Nigerians ‘these are the number of houses, these are the monies in the accounts and number of houses in foreign countries.’ Then, we can saw 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 Buhari 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.
Now, the question directly goes to why I decided to leave? Well, if you can remember, in the month of July, there was uprising and uproar in the National Assembly, whereby senators and members of House of Representatives decided to leave the APC. 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 with whom 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 cohabit with such a reactionary, I don’t know how I can live with such a man, whose thinking, whose ideas, whose politics are 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 a defamation case. He sued me for N2billion and I sued him for N5 billion. 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? But 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 Senator Bola Tinubu, who cautioned me against leaving the APC and joining the PDP. He told me that I came from a certain background and I don’t have to be part of PDP. He said whatever it was, I should stay back and we would address the issues. Then President Buhari reached out to me and promised me that all would be addressed. Now, that is one aspect.
The second aspect was that our senators who were defecting from the APC, they 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 didn’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 had 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 didn’t want to be seen as moving simply because Dr Bukola Saraki and other persons in the National Assembly were moving. It wouldn’t be in my best interest, and not in the interest of my people. So I had to consult my people and the consultations which I had with my people, they insisted that I should give time, stay because they believed in president Buhari, so I stayed. I was elected on the platform of APC and they are the ones to give me the best advice, whether to move or not to move.
But now in the last three months, efforts were made but it was very clear that the governor of Kaduna State was not prepared to listen to Adams and he 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 and denounce it. But despite all those things, they kept on assuring us but it came to a head during the APC primary election. We 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 in Kaduna Central for whatever reason, I don’t know, because I am not a member of the national working committee. 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 what the NWC said about clearing only me. So, he reached out: he virtually abandoned governance in Kaduna State and lodged in Abuja. He was moving from the Presidency to Adam’s 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 reports and to nip the crisis in the bud, he was perpetually in Abuja.
The staff members of Adams Oshiomhole’s office would tell you the Kaduna governor was always there to stay from 8 p.m. to 4 am. He virtually turned the place to his office all because of Shehu Sani. Now, having done all those things, it reached a point whereby he forced Adams and the party to violate their own rule.
How do you mean?
While on the website of APC, Shehu Sani’s name 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 aide who he was anointing to be the senator?’ There were no congresses in Kaduna; all the APC executives’ names 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 could not be part of that election. Secondly, I couldn’t partake in that primary because it violated the rules of the APC on several grounds, because one the governor’s political adviser went to court and sought an injunction to stop the primary election. But they went and did the primary, against that injunction.
Thirdly, people who weren’t cleared by the NWC went there, 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 Oserheimen Osunbor. I said, you should declare me a winner based on certain grounds: One, I was the only person cleared to contest. Two, there was a court injunction against the primary; they went to court but they violated the court order and went to organise a primary.
So 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. The reason they wouldn’t tell you whether your name was the one sent to INEC or not at the chairman’s office and national secretariat was because the party was operating like a mafia, where even members of NWC didn’t have the information of what was actually going on. So, I 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 interpreted that 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 exist evident injustice and persecution and complete disobedience and breach of the laws of the party. The APC primary election was one of the biggest and greatest political robberies of the 21st century. Leaving the APC is like leaving the den of Boko Haram. The difference between the APC and Boko Haram is that in Boko Haram, you have one Shekau, while in APC you have so many Shekaus. The rules of the party were completely violated.
In APC, there are three ways by which you can emerge as a candidate: the first way is either you have somebody in the Presidency who can call people in NWC and tell the chairman that your name should be included as a candidate. Number two, it is either you are in the favoured book of a governor, who himself can use his own influence to compel the chairman to remove somebody’s name. Number three is if you have the money to pay your way. Now, how can a party that has committed itself to change in Nigeria, portrayed and purported itself as an offshoot of good governance behave this way?
You can see the persistent protests, objections and petitions that trailed the primaries at the national headquarter. APC secretariat has become home of chaos and mayhem because the party has failed woefully. I left the APC because my people now are fully convinced that I am leaving the party based on apparent and brazen injustice that was meted to me.
Do you feel betrayed by the like of Oshiomhole, Tinubu and even President Buhari, who 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 he has a lot of issues to attend to. What was very clear, I won’t rain insults on the president or the 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.
Did you see what happened to you as a reprisal by not only the Kaduna governor but even the party leadership and the presidency? Did you sense 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 Buhari has never complained but it was very clear that they insisted on my candidature 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 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 don’t 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 were 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 stabilise 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.
When you said one of the ways to secure the party’s ticket is to know someone in the Presidency. Is that not an indictment of President Buhari?
Well, I don’t know if Buhari has influenced anybody’s election or not but I can tell you from the state where I come from that people have lost the primaries and they were told that they have lost, but a week after, their names were substituted. Supporters of the governors lost elections to the state and National Assemblies in Kaduna, but the names of those who won were removed and replaced with their names. That is to tell you the way the party was run.
The weaknesses of the leadership of the APC were that first of all, there was no coordination among all the members of the NWC. If you ask 95 per cent of them, they don’t know what is happening and that was why the process, the sale of the forms in APC was a big extortion, the process of screening was fraudulent and the primary was simply a scam.
You talked about invisible forces within the party and government. Can you speak on this in specific terms? You also tried to exonerate the president over the primaries, which you said were heavily compromised. Some of your colleagues hold a contrary opinion; they are accusing Buhari of self-centredness, noting that having picked his ticket, he didn’t care about the predicament of others.
Well, if you look at his attitude to governance and his philosophy of being for everybody and nobody, it 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 sign 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 in 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. All they care about is themselves. While the chairman of the party sees the need to preserve the loyal members 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. He hasn’t in any way demonstrated anything other than that. 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 are there standing in for somebody.
Your new party, the People’s Redemption Party (PRP) doesn’t have a presidential candidate. So, which presidential candidate do you intend to vote for or 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 belonged to. We came from a tradition of Northern Elements Progressives Union (NEPU) and PRP. The parties we grew 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 socialists’ 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 interest. 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 who 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.
Is Atiku Abubakar 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, whom we see as the best option for Nigeria.
Finally sir, the ethno-religious violence in Kaduna State, 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 in 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 a Moslem settlement and the Southern part of the river is predominantly a Christian settlement. For the last two decades, if you are a Moslem and you decide to visit the Christian area by 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., 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 pm. to 8 p.m., 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, you will be advised to leave for where the people of your faith are living. Now anything in Kaduna can trigger a crisis: whether it is an argument, whether it is a debate, an altercation between neighbours, whether it is an argument between a conductor and a driver or is a simple chat between two friends. Anything can trigger violence. But taking cognisance of the sensitivity of a state like Kaduna, the leader it deserves is one that will carry everybody along and treat everybody with respect, see everyone as part of him.
If you have a governor of a state who sees himself as representative of a religion or his ethnic group, or his own section of the state, certainly there is going to be problem.
Why the problem in Kaduna still lingers? There are many reasons for that. The first one has to do with poverty, hunger and joblessness in that part of Nigeria and you have an army of people who are ready to move to the street over any issue, to kill and to maim. The worst aspect of it is that politicians have manipulated the situation to achieve their political aim and now they benefit and exploit this with divisive utterances and hate speech. The other aspect of it is that there was no effort to integrate Moslems and Christians for the past 20 to 30 years; everyone was living on his own and when people are living apart, a small trigger can lead to violence.
But what led to the violence in Kaduna this time round was the fact that the governor spent more of his time fighting Senator Shehu Sani and other perceived political enemies than concentrating and addressing the problem of governance in Kaduna State.