Magu was a victim of the civil war in Buhari’s cabinet
Senator Shehu Sani, APC Kaduna Central is the Chairman, Senate Committee on Foreign and Local Debts; Vice Chairman, Foreign Affairs Committee; Chairman, Senate adhoc Committee on Humanitarian Crisis in the North East as well as member, Senate Committees on INEC, Media and Public Affairs.
Senator Sani, author, playwright and president of Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria, had some months back, tackled Northern Governors in their bid to secure foreign loans. During the screening of the acting Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Ibrahim Magu as substantive Chairman of EFC, Sani sounded philosophical when he reminded Magu of the essence of the day – the ides of March. He said: “Mr. Magu, let me remind of the significance of today. Today is March 15, the ides of March, the day Caesar visited the Senate and he was stabbed. May God help you.” It was prophetic. Excerpts:
By Henry Umoru
DID your background as an activist advance you in the Senate?
Well, whatever you are aspiring to be, you should be well prepared for it. I have been a civil right activist all my life and it is about the pursuit of and also about ideals and principles. I have been in the trenches through the moment of the history of this country when men of conscience were compelled by history and the circumstances we found ourselves, to stand up and speak for truth, justice, democracy and for freedom.
My decision to venture into politics was not an accident, it was a decision I took to represent my people in the pursuit of the realization of those things I have been fighting for as an activist. And if you know what you are aspiring for, you should be both spiritually and physically prepared for it and that was why I seamlessly got into it and also it is working out well.
What is the fate of your interim report on the Humanitarian Crisis in the Northeast?
In the next few days you will hear something about it. The other interim report led to an earthquake, you should await the final report. We are not out to target anyone. I never knew that I was going to be made the chairman of the panel. I didn’t even know what it was all about, until I was appointed the chairman to head the investigation. So our preliminary investigation and report have shown to us and to the nation that public office holders who are close to the president simply use the opportunity to award contracts indiscriminately and in the process not being able to achieve the major aim of addressing the sufferings and hardship of which people in the Northeast are undergoing in the last few years.
The insurgency that has ravaged the Northeast has created thousands of orphans and widows and the most we can do for them is to commit resources and see to it that they return back to their lives, but we have not done that. So in that process, I would say that I am working together with my colleagues in the committee to present a final report for which Nigerians will know how some people have simply been diverting public resources for the helpless and for the poor for them to simply enrich themselves.
As Chairman, Senate Committee on Foreign and Local Debts, what is the state of Nigerian foreign debts now?
We are indebted to over $60 billion now and of which, $10.4 billion is external debts and the rest is local debt. And experts would say we are in safe debt limit and it is rising and of which we shouldn’t take things for granted. I can tell you that a number of states have taken in so many debts to the point that they have strangulated themselves. If not for the bailout funds and funds that have been pumped into the system, many of them would have been finding it difficult even to pay salaries. Unfortunately, most of the debts that are high are not commensurate with the project and infrastructures they were said to be committed to. Most of Nigeria’s debts were wasted in sharing money to political cronies and family members and not embarking on projects that are verifiable.
The APC-led Federal Government came on the mantra of change. Are you really changing things?
Looking at where we are coming from, a past that was riddled with corruption, that was unable to tackle insecurity and a chunk of our country was taken over by insurgents. President Buhari’s promise of change has been able to achieve two fundamental things. One is restoring order in the Northeast and two is fighting corruption. Corruption has really destroyed the fabric of the Nigerian society as much as it is has destroyed our economy. He has done a lot to curtail corruption.
On the insurgency, let us not forget that the insurgents were hosting their flags, appointing governors and taking over territories. Now, that is not the case. However, the economy is still in a bad shape, many people are out of job and there is an atmosphere of uncertainty. That is a very big problem for us and we need to do a lot to address it.
We can also say that in the area of fundamental rights, we also have problems. In some states now, processions are banned, peaceful assemblies are banned, we still see people being arrested for posting messages on facebook and twitter; we still see journalists like the one we have of Sahara Reporters being raided and arrested. We also have anti-corruption agencies and the police disobeying court orders. So these are some of the grey areas in the ship of change that need to be straightened out for us to have a perfect society.
What is your assessment of President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption war?
Mr. President has been doing a lot, but he is an island in many respects. For example, he publicly declared his assets and his vice president did and nobody again did. That is one. Secondly, you can see that Mr. President has been able to energize the anti-corruption bodies; millions of dollars have been recovered and also property worth millions of dollars too, that is no small achievement. The last administration was simply a thievery one, crime became the order of the day and they destroyed the economy of this country and impoverished our people. So President Buhari has been able to restore hope in Nigeria and a sense of both fiscal and financial order. He is the President we need at this very time.
What is your reaction to the Senate’s rejection of Ibrahim Magu as chairman of the EFCC?
Nigeria has no option than to continue to fight corruption because part of its problems is linked to corruption. And corruption has been so cancerous in our history to the point that the world sees us from that light, which is very unfortunate. But now our ranking has improved and people are seeing a different Nigeria. Magu was a victim of power play within the Villa, he is a casualty of a civil war within the cabinet and that emanated and became a problem to us. So, the Senate should not be blamed, rather it is more or less in order for us to do our job, we simply have to give the nation the best we can. We are not a ministry or department that is instructed to execute an executive order, we are a parliament and our duty is clearly spelt out in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
How is Magu a victim of the civil war in the kitchen cabinet?
You have power blocs who are working against each other and undermining each other that at the end of the day affects even the capacity and capability of the wheels of the government to move forward. This was what happened.
So what should Mr. President do in this instance?
The President should stand on his feet and destroy all these power blocs and insist that everything should be a team thing and no one is above another and all of them should work towards to realise his objectives for this country.
Coming to your State, Kaduna, you have been at loggerheads with your governor, Mallam Nasir El- Rufai. At what point did you fall out with him and what led to it?
I read his interview where he said that I fell out with him because I gave him a list of names and he refused to appoint them as commissioners. And secondly that I wanted to be governor and that was why I was criticizing him. Let us start from the second one, people know who I am and I have always been airing my views. Even before El-Rufai came to national limelight I had been airing my views. He was known in the Nigerian political scene from 1999 when democracy came in and he was appointed the head of BPE. Before then nobody knew where he worked or heard anything about him.
But I had been on the scene, in the struggle for democracy through the 80’s and the 90’s and I have paid dearly and made sacrifices for the freedom of this country. So, nobody can tell me anything about freedom. But for El- Rufai, he was all his life with the political establishment, it is the PDP that made him who he was and who he is and as such, you can see that he came from different political pedigree, but we found ourselves in APC.
Perception on governance
And again he is on the right-hand side of the political divide and I am on the left-hand side and that is why our views and perception on governance are quite different. He believes that the only way to address begging and hawking is to pack all of them and to hide all of them somewhere. But my view is that they are Nigerian youths that need to be empowered and for them to address that as social economic problem that we can address.
He has his views and I am a liberal conservative activist and I have my views that are lefties and revolutionary. But in general sense, he submits mainly to Buhari to give them appointments from Kaduna state. So what of me as a Senator, why don’t I have my people being appointed into offices? And he said I brought people who don’t have Ph.D. Does he have Ph.D? Or does the President he is loyal to have Ph.D? All those Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto and Tafawa Balewa, do they have Ph.D? And how many Ph.D holders are now in his cabinet? It doesn’t make sense to me.
And secondly I have been critical in government in that sense right from 1999 when it was PDP and that was at the very time when people like him were wining, dining, eating, sleeping and swallowing PDP all their lives. I was not converted to the philosophy of change, I have been born into change but he was converted; he came in and joined us and now by joining us, he knows that he should be at the last floor. He cannot claim to be more purist and cleaner than any other person having been part and parcel of the PDP. If you said PDP destroyed this country for 16 years and he has been in it for 13 or 14 years, so he was also part and parcel of the problem. So I think this is the most I can say for now in response to what he has said.
Do you really want to be the governor of Kaduna State? Do you have a chance against El-Rufai who has the control of the party and its structures?
If you look at the political configuration of Kaduna State, it is not the way it is in other states; it is a state that is half divided between Muslims and Christians, so it is a state where there is no political godfather, it is a state where people decide who they are going to vote for and who they are going to reject. Kaduna is divided into three zones; the Southern Kaduna Zone, the Central Zone and the Zaria Zone and you can see some high level of political consciousness. If not, it is the only state in the Northwest where people voted for PDP and they have a PDP Senator.
It is also a state in the north where nobody is sure who is going to win the next election. It is the people that are going to win. It is not a state where one person will stand and say follow here and everyone will follow. I think if you want to hear public opinion about him and me, you shouldn’t ask me about him, you should not also ask our supporters; you should go to the streets, ask the market women, ask the artisans, ask the drivers, ask the poor and the rich and hear their own views about Shehu Sani and El Rufai and whatever opinion poll you collected, I will be able to accept it as long as it is done fairly and justly. So I have my confidence in saying go to the people and ask them where do they stand in between Shehu Sani and Nasir El Rufai?
How is the national leadership of the party looking at this crisis?
Well, the party is actually in crisis because the chairman of the party that was recognized by the national secretariat is not the one who the governor recognizes. There are two chairmen, the one the governor recognizes and the one the secretariat recognizes. And in a situation like this, there is a lot of danger for the party in the state because division, fractionalization, disharmony are prevalent in our party in the state and until and unless that issue is addressed, but the national secretariat has done a lot by appointing the governor of Katsina State to serve as a mediator in the crisis in the Kaduna APC.
He has done his best, but the governor of the state refused to cooperate with the committee.
Have you been invited by the committee?
The committee has invited everybody, but they invited him (El-Rufai) and he refused to come.
At what point do you think the government got its acts wrong in the management of the ethnic crisis in Southern Kaduna?
There is a need for us to know how the former government was able to tackle it through consultations and giving all sides the sense of belonging and the sense of identity. I think if you are able to do that, you will be able to now carry everybody along and I think there is a lot to learn from those who have been able to handle the crisis in the past. So for now, I can see that in Southern Kaduna there are four kinds of crises; there is the Muslim-Christian violence which has been there for almost four decades; there is the indigene-settlers violence; there is the farmers-cattle herders violence and now you also have herdsmen killing people, maiming people and burning villages. So people should not mistake one conflict with the other. Herdsmen attack, ravaging, killing and maiming people and burning villages is a new development like I have mentioned the existence of other crises that have been there.
What role did you play in brokering peace with Boko Haram?
I have not mediated and all that I did was the fact that I reached out to people who were close to them in 2011 and invited former President Olusegun Obasanjo to lead a process of negotiation to see how we can use the instrument of dialogue to address the violence and that is another issue. Then, we also had the issue of the Chibok Girls and I drew the road map that led to their release, where I brought the persons who mediated, the Swiss Government and the ICIC too and results were achieved later.
I wasn’t part of it, but I drew the road map and I brought all the players who were going to work for it, but the last government was not responsive. This government responded to it and it was achieved. I believe that some issues have come in now which have become stumbling blocks for the release of the other girls which I don’t think it is good now to make it open on the pages of the newspapers for the fact that there is still dialogue and consultation going on over the issue of the release of the rest of the Chibok girls.