By Agaju Madugba
Popular human and democratic rights activist-turned politician, Comrade Shehu Sani, represents Kaduna Central Senatorial District at the National Assembly, on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Speaking at an interactive session with members of the Correspondents’ Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists in Kaduna, Sani notes that if the intra-party crisis currently rocking the APC persists, it will impact negatively on programmes of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, among other issues.
On salaries and allowances for lawmakers
I understand the outcry over our allowances, wages and salaries. I identify with all Nigerians on the belief or suggestion that all holders of public office should make sacrifices so that we can restore the economy on a good footing. We have been elected by the people on the promise of change and we will, by the grace of the Lord, live up to their expectations.
We are very much conscious of the high level of expectation on the side of our people as far as their needs and aspirations are concerned and we will do everything possible to address these expectations. I wish to use this opportunity to identify the need for all in positions of power to make sacrifices towards reviving the economy.
So, I am fully in support of these sacrifices that need to be made by legislators at the National Assembly and governors and state legislators. But I should also make it very clear that impoverishing the legislators or reducing their wages will not, in any way, be the magic wand that will restore the economy on a sound footing.
The people must in all respects monitor budgets and be vigilant and all Nigerians must be an agent for the fight against corruption and that is the only way we can improve on the economy. Our economy is in a very bad shape and it is not possible for the people in power not to set an example but cutting salaries is not enough to address our challenges. People should be vigilant over how budgets are implemented.
That is the most important thing. There is also the need for people to understand that an impoverished Legislature will not improve the economy as we have various ways through which we can bring back our economy in track. Number one is a cut in salaries, conserve our foreign reserves, and formulate new ways government can generate revenue other than depending on oil. Then checking oil theft and oil bunkering in the Niger Delta. All these things need to be put in proper perspective
Senate leadership crisis and APC blunder
Let me also use this opportunity to make comments about our party with particular reference to elected legislators at the National Assembly. It is true that our party is facing a serious post-election crisis in terms of the challenge in uniting all APC Senators. Mistakes were made but naturally, all revolutions are always faced with post-revolution crisis. We are now facing our post-revolution crisis and by the grace of the Lord we are going to overcome it.
Those from the PDP who thought that the divisions that exist within the ranks of the APC Senators is an opportunity for them to cash in and re-establish themselves in power are making a very big mistake.
Yes, we have problems within ourselves but they are being addressed and I commend the efforts of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in trying to reconcile both the Unity Forum led by Senator Lawal and the Like Minds led by the Senate President, Bukola Saraki. Such reconciliation is needed for the party to make progress.
The division within the Senators if not properly addressed poses a serious threat to the government of President Muhammadu
Buhari and his capacity to deliver.
President Buhari needs the APC Senators to be united and act with one voice for the success of the Buhari administration. The reality on the ground now is that Senator Bukola Saraki is the President of the Senate and the position of all Senators should be the position of President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC.
There were flaws in the election process and unfortunately we had to share some positions with the PDP in the Senate. That was not supposed to be and I was not part of it but we must move on.
When you are faced with challenges, what you do is either to run away from such challenges or you confront them. We will walk through the landmines for the realisation of the goals and manifestoes of our party.
The reconciliation process
For now, reconciliation process is going on between the Unity camp and the Like Minds towards seeing how the camp of Senator Lawal can be accommodated within the new arrangement. But the first step is accepting the fact that we got ourselves in a corner and how we live in that corner is what is of interest to all of now.
So, the party has no intention of impeaching any Senator of the PDP holding any principal position. It is now how we can live with the situation in which we have found ourselves. There is always a first time in everything. We have never had this kind of situation but it is going to be a test of our wisdom and leadership and a test of our political skill in terms of being able to wriggle out of the turbulent situation we have found ourselves.
We did not envisage that it was going to happen but the divided house of the APC gave room for the PDP to exploit the situation. Even with Saraki as Senate President it could have been worse. The PDP had the power on the floor to pick the position of the Deputy Senate President because of the division within the APC but there was also an intervention by Saraki himself to ensure that we did not lose everything.
But to be candid with you, we are pained by the situation because our people voted for change and they wanted an APC leadership but there was a problem of lack of reconciliation within the APC which opened a crack for the PDP to take an advantage of the situation.
The collective resolve is to accept the situation and see how we can operate effectively. What we want to avoid is unnecessary over-heating the Senate. That will be a distraction to the government of President Muhammadu Buhari. But I tell you, if Saraki is absent and Ekweremadu is there, the APC still has the majority in the Senate and in every vote it is the majority that counts.
Even if Ekweremadu takes over in acting capacity, he will not be able to tell us to do what we do not want to do as a party. What we are trying to do is to ensure that proper reconciliation takes place before the Senate work starts because if we continue in the Senate as a divided house, the programmes of the President Muhammadu Buhari government will be in serious jeopardy and subverted.
We were not united in the elections but we want to be united in the way the Senate is run. We want to embrace reality and go through it to be able to appease the people who voted us into office.
Media and democracy
I appreciate the role the media have played in the struggle for the restoration of democratic rule and the struggle you have continued to make between 1999 to date in ensuring that the game is played according to the rules and you have played a role to ensure good governance and a corrupt-free society and democracy based on the tenets of democracy itself.
I believe all those who have found themselves in public office today are beneficiaries of the role played by the Nigerian media. From 1983 to 1999, the Nigerian media led the resistance against military dictatorship. You gave us the coverage we needed, the backing and the moral support to be able to dislodge the military out of power and restore our country to democratic rule.
When we were in prison during the military era, the Nigerian media kept the torch of freedom alive and the media have kept the flag of freedom flying. In the last 16 years the media have become a dependable parliament for the people in the sense that they have offered the opportunity for people to express their opinions and challenge government and to also put in check the people in power to conform to the dictates and the principles of democracy.
The Nigerian media played a major role leading to the success of the APC. You informed and mobilised the people and by your information you sensitised the people. It would have been impossible for us to evict the Goodluck administration without your professional support.
The eviction of Jonathan was possible because you informed and enlightened Nigerians on the need to look at the future with hope and optimism to take the course of change. The change in Nigeria can only be of value if it brings meaning to the lives of the common people, those common people who toiled day and night and have suffered for years and those common people who came out and using their thumb prints to bring us to power.