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Why I’m fighting Governor el-Rufai — Shehu Sani

In an interview Shehu Sani, the senator representing Kaduna Central, speaks on federal lawmakers’ controversial jumbo pay, his disagreement with his state governor, Nasir El-Rufai, and other issues.

How has the transition been from activism to parliament?

The transition from activism to parliament gives me a new experience in governance. The fact that we are from a journey of struggles, that found us in the trenches, organising protests and standing up against injustice and tyranny. This is an opportunity for us to make positive impact in our society by seeing to the realisation of those ideas and ideals that we stood for over the years.

We have been used to throwing missiles. Now we are in a position to receive them. We have been used to criticising now we are in a position to be criticised. We have lived our lives in the opposition. During the military era, we were in the forefront of the struggle against military rule and for the restoration of democracy.

Many of us were pushed to exile. Others were jailed or even killed in that struggle. Now, we are in government, specifically in parliament. From my experience, I can say that this is different from what we were used to in the last decade.

With characters like you in the National Assembly, the hope was that there was going to be some radical changes in the way our parliamentarians carry themselves. So far, there has been so much controversy. Even the way your party, the APC, elected its leadership. What is wrong? Is this the change Nigerians worked for?


The APC is not a communist party. It’s not a party with a specified ideology. It is a convergence of people from different tendencies, ideas and backgrounds. It is also a convergence of people from different political thinking. There is the ACN (Action Congress of Nigeria), that was basically present in the South-West, from where most of the leading characters play the south western Nigeria politics. There is also the CPC (Congress for Progressive Change), the party that was formed around the shadows and image of President Muhammadu Buhari. You also have the ANPP (All Nigeria Peoples Party), seen basically as a northern Nigeria party, as well as the new PDP (Peoples Democratic Party), which is a break away from the establishment.

What brought all those forces together was the common goal of evicting the Jonathan administration and bringing the fundamental change that Nigerians desired. With the eviction of the common enemy, the reality of the differences came to the fore – people with divergent thoughts coming into conflict with themselves. The individual ambitions that were inhibited, or hidden by the reality of their existence under a common enemy, came to the open.

So, it is not peculiar to the APC, or Nigeria. In post-apartheid South Africa, there were conflicts within the ANC (African National Congress). Even in the Arab Spring, after the ejection of Gadhafi, or the removal of Mubarak in Egypt, conflicts happened. This is the reality of the situation.

In the course of time, how the party is able to navigate its way through these landmines of individual interests, ambitions and personal goals would determine its survival and its relevance in the political scene.

What is your view on the so-called jumbo pay that the lawmakers take, especially now that you are there?

The Senate is very sensitive to the position and concern of Nigerians over the ‘huge’ sums being spent on our legislators. It was because of that it resolved to set up an ad-hoc committee headed by James Manager to look at the issue. What the Senate president did was to make sure that the composition of that committee was made up of people who understand the issue. It was deliberate that he included Senators Dino Melaye, Ben Bruce and myself, so that we would be able to make the necessary changes that would reflect the interest and desires of Nigerians.

At the committee, these issues were tabled and it was generally agreed that we should cut down our salaries to reflect the current state of the economy. We decided to do away with the controversial wardrobe allowance and reduce our pay by 40 or 50 percent.

The report was tabled before the Senate and it was debated in closed session. But the issue raised was not that the Senate dismissed the report completely, but that it cannot take a decision on itself without due consultation with the House of Representatives. If the Senate wants to cut the salary of its members, they need to harmonise it with members of the House of Representatives, to see how that would reflect generally on all legislators.

We also need to consult with those working in the National Assembly that are not politicians. These consultations are necessary. If the Senate wakes up and say it is cutting its budget by 50 percent including the staff of the National Assembly that would be unfair.

Therefore, the idea was to sit down and harmonise the issues. The last has not been heard of it, because the Senate is certainly going to come out with a position on the salary that would not in any way impinge on the right of the staff of the National Assembly and also would be in harmony with what members of the House want.

It was generally agreed that the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Committee (RMAFC), who are the ones who fix these salaries and allowances, should make open all entitlements due to a senator or members of the House of Representatives.

So, how much do you earn as a senator?

What I earn as a Senator is there in the National Assembly  only N1.2 or N1.3 million.

Does this include allowances?

That is the salary. If you are talking about the allowances, the chart given by the RMAFC is the fact. If the RMAFC gives you N20 to pay rent, the only item you cannot present a receipt for is the salary.

The Senate is on holidays again. Why are you people always on holiday? Is there no work to do? Committees are not even in place?

If I was not in the Senate, these are issues I would have mobilised people to the National Assembly to protest. Why our senators should be earning such jumbo salaries and simply going on recess. But, now, since I came into the Senate I was provided with a legislative calendar, which is statutory. There are periods that legislators can work and times they can go on recess. Except we will jettison that legislative calendar, there is nothing anyone can do. The legislative calendar is not peculiar to Nigeria. It is normal in every parliament around the world. When they say Senators have gone on recess, it is the plenary; sitting in the chamber, raising motions and passing bills. Going on recess does not mean that the committee work would stop, or the processes of the motions and bills that were put forward. All the offices are always open and senators who were appointed into committees are still working. It is not that the whole National Assembly was shut down for six weeks.

In your constituency and home state, you seem to have some friction with your governor and friend, el-Rufai. What is really happening?

What is going on in Kaduna State is not personal, but more ideological, particularly with the way our people are treated. I wanted to contest the governorship of the state in 2015. I opened offices in the three senatorial zones. Later, there was pressure on me to step down by people who said there was a preferred candidate, who was Nasir el-Rufai. I listened to them and stepped down. I went on to contest for the Senate. But, there was an incumbent senator that contested the primaries and I ejected him, by winning the ticket.

Nasir did not contest against an APC governor. He contested with others who were also not governors and won. Nasir and Isa Ashiru were the two major contenders out of the five that contested the primaries.  He got about 1,600 votes from the three senatorial zones. I got over 920 votes from one senatorial district. If  I had contested the governorship, he could not have beaten me.

I contested the senatorial election and won. Nasir had his own preferred candidate, who was the incumbent, General Sani, whom I removed.

The other candidate also had a preferred candidate, Sani Suleiman, a former local government chairman. One can see that the two gubernatorial candidates had their own senators that they want to work with. I combined both Nasir and his opponent and thrashed all of them in the election.

I told them that I was going to win this seat without giving anybody a kobo. I challenge any politician in Kaduna under the APC to say that he did not give people money to win elections.

Having won the primaries and general elections, we decided to work together for the success of the party. I won my election before Nasir won his. He then set up a transition committee and put all the other senators, and even the senatorial candidate who lost the elections, without my name there.  I had to draw his attention to that omission. As a sitting senator, there is no way a transition committee would be set up without my name there.

He said it was an oversight and assured me that my name would be included. During his inauguration and swearing in, I was there.  We went round during the campaigns. After he won, it came to the point of sharing positions, he asked me to send the list of my people which I did. But he threw the list away and decided to allocate some commissioners to the senator representing zone 1, and from my zone, he gave it to the person I defeated in the primaries. Even in my local government, no appointment, not even a councillor was considered.

Will Nasir be happy if the president gives an appointment to the person he defeated in the primary elections without consulting him? 

So, what he was doing was simply gathering opposition and empowering people who are determined to fight me.  He never knew that I am an old fighter. He said he is stubborn, but he cannot be more stubborn than a person who spent so many years in jail. I believe Nasir’s men came to the political scene in 1999, whereas I have been in the trenches even before anybody heard of his name. Go back to Abacha and Babangida eras and see how we stood up against military dictatorship and tyranny.

With all these appointments, he had simply drawn a line for the first issue. The second is the way he is running Kaduna State. First, he appointed about seven party executives into his government, namely the state chairman of the party, who is now the deputy governor; state secretary, who is a commissioner; the auditor, also a commissioner; assistant legal adviser, now also a commissioner; financial secretary, organising secretary, now the chairman, publicity secretary, auditor, ex-officio members are all chairmen of local government councils.

You don’t do things like that and expect people to keep quiet. You must separate the party from the government. Effectively today, in Kaduna there is no APC executive, because all members of the executive are in Nasir’s cabinet.

Three, on the issue of demolitions, I could not have said anything if Nasir said he was recovering lands from hospitals, schools, and the affected persons have been given alternative lands or where to go. When you see a house, one is talking about an entire family.

The governor simply gave them two weeks before sending bulldozers to pull down everything. Abuja of 2007 is definitely not the same as Kaduna 2015. In a democracy, whatever you want to do people must be carried along. He sent bulldozers to demolish houses belonging to families, rendering them homeless, particularly women and children. Nasir does not know Kaduna, because he has spent so much time in Abuja. He does not know the sensitivity of those places and the problem that action is going to generate.

Most of these people were given their land papers by the previous administration. He says he has a brain. But, all animals that have brains have hearts. But only human beings have a human heart. You met a people that were impoverished , destroyed, exploited and demoralised by the PDP in the last 16 years, and at one go, out of all the policies and programmes in the whole world on health, education, jobs  and empowerment, for Nasir, what is priority is demolition of houses belonging to the people. I told him that that is not going to work in Kaduna. You demolish in Abuja and get away with it, where you have rich and powerful people, who must have built their houses from questionable means, but not in Kaduna, a rural state where people are struggling to survive. Here people are prepared to die for their family land.

After he did that in Zaria, he has not been able to do the same in Kaduna, because people rose up to resist it.

On the hawkers, students of political science and political economy would know that whatever policy direction is taking place, one must decide which side one belongs. Nasir belongs to the ultra-conservative rightist reactionary group. They are for privatisation, elite, bourgeois and bourgeois reforms and capitalist ideas. They see people as statistics for GNP (gross national product) and GDP (gross domestic product). Nasir is a man, who, all his life, has espoused capitalist ideas and conservative rightist philosophy. I am from the political left, rooted with the masses. In all our ideas, we are concerned about how we can carry the people along.

The hawkers we see on the roads are the by-products of an exploitative and repressive socio-economic system to which the likes of Nasir have propagated all the years. You don’t address the problem of beggars by packing them in a vehicle and sending them to their state of origin. The same people in the north who cried that Lagos, Port Harcourt and other states in south were throwing away beggars are the ones now doing the same in Kaduna.

For me, before one takes an action there must be an alternative. For those he demolished their houses, he never gave them an option. For the beggars he sent out of the streets, he never gave them an alternative means of livelihood. All the three attempts he has made have failed. The beggars are back on the streets. The hawkers are back to business. His demolition cannot proceed. This is to show you that if that policy was actually in the best interest of the people, they could have been effective.

The concern has to do with reports that the beggars have allowed themselves to be used by insurgents throwing bombs and causing security concerns.

The insurgents do not use beggars and hawkers. A man who is determined to kill himself uses suicide bombers, not beggars. If you say a leper, cripple or blind man is a suicide bomber, I think you are being unfair to that person.

But, the truth is that Nasir had since apologised to the people for calling them that. He said he did not mean it. He ate his words. If he takes them to the rehabilitation centre, is he going to feed them? And where is the rehabilitation centre in Kaduna? There is nowhere in Kaduna that I do not know. He can talk about Wuse, Apo, Nyanya, Games Village and other places in Abuja. But Kaduna is our city, nobody can deceive us. We are the sons of the soil. If you come to Kaduna, you must respect the sensitivity of people’s life.

But, if government does not offend the people, how can it carry out reforms and effect the desired change?

You can achieve that. I want him to succeed. I am not being personal about it. It pains me to see people in Kaduna praising the former governor of the state. Many PDP people that we defeated and ought not to be moving round, are the ones that are being hailed in mosques in Zaria.

If you were a governor, what would you have done differently?

If I were governor, I would recognise that the problem is systemic, as a result of an oppressive, repressive and exploitative socio-economic system. What should I do to remove the people from this system? If you are a hawker, I will know that you have interest in trade, I will find out how I can move you from being a hawker to being a trader and shop owner, rather than clearing you from the streets. I will take statistics of those affected and see how the government can assist them with capital for them to grow.

What Nasir is doing is what a typical elitist reactionary bourgeois would do – to clear those by-products of the system from the streets and give a semblance of normalcy, development and growth. He is simply hiding the problem, rather than solving it. Anybody who comes to Kaduna and sees no beggars and traders on the streets would go away with the false impression that everybody is comfortable. That is not my interpretation of solving the problem. You can get the beggars out of the streets by helping them to grow their businesses. It is because his approach is wrong that the people are resisting.

You sound as if he had integrated you in his government or asked you to ‘come and chop’, this crisis would not have been?

I don’t know whether his government is that of chopping. But, for now I can say that I am not interested in any of my men joining his cabinet. The philosophy he has and the road he has taken is not the one I will, for now, want to take. I thought from the beginning that he will take cognizance of the fact that we won this election after a hard battle, because Kaduna is not 100 percent APC. We have only two senators from the APC, and the one from Southern Kaduna is PDP. So any attempt by anyone to joke with this balance is going to be catastrophic. So, that is why I am speaking out for the underprivileged and the down trodden