Most APC governors have lost touch with voters and are afraid of direct primaries, says SANI

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Shehu Sani

• In Politics I’m Older Than el Rufai
Senator Shehu Sani, representing Kaduna Central Zone, has told The Guardian that his recent meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari in Daura, during last Salah was not aimed at achieving upper hand against Governor Nasir El-Rufai, but to assure the President of his loyalty and support. He said most governors are afraid of direct primaries because they have lost touch with the people. He spoke to SAXONE AKHAINE.

The National Assembly is yet to resume after purported plans to impeach Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki. How do you see this?
First and foremost, the crisis in the National Assembly was fomented because of the leadership style of former chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Oyegun. He was unable to unite the party, forge a common front and address some issues that faced the party at the early stages before they degenerated to an unbearable level.

If the former party leadership had addressed the crises in the states, especially in Kaduna, Kano, Bauchi, Kogi and Rivers, among others, we wouldn’t be where we are today. It is the crises in the states that became the crises in the National Assembly. And the opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) cashed in on the crises to woo APC chieftains, especially legislators to their side.

But this is common in politics. People take advantage, just like parties, which was what they did. The current situation in the National Assembly and the nation is one where there exists a mutual distrust between APC caucus in the National Assembly and leadership of the National Assembly. Unfortunately, APC frittered away opportunities in the last three years, simply because some people assumed they were more important than others.

In a party, it is expected that every card-carrying member should be treated with dignity and given a sense of belonging. But suddenly, they created a new formula for measuring commitment to the party, based on whether you are pro or anti-Buhari. But how can you say some senators are pro or anti-Buhari, when every Senator elected on the party’s platform is supposed to support the President? Does criticising the President mean you are anti-President? Does going to bow before the President every time make you pro-President?

We are a party, and we came to power as a result of objection and protest against the inherent criminality of misrule that characterised the country in the past. So, we are supposed to set a standard for equity, transparency and adherence to democratic values and principles. But, we failed in that direction in the sense that we became enemies of ourselves. We were hostile to one another, and trying to pull one another down.

The postponement of the resumption of the National Assembly is as a result of anticipation of crisis, of the problems that may arise as a result of the present situation. There is fear on the part of those who thought there are attempts to overthrow the National Assembly leadership illegally and install a new one. Also, there is an insistence by the ruling party that, as the majority, we are supposed to produce the leadership. And all APC members have keyed into that.

But, proper reasoning is prevailing now; that what should be done is follow democratic procedure. It should not be about cordoning off the National Assembly, with the military going there to take over. I’m so glad that Adams Oshiomhole’s coming has saved the APC. Before his coming, APC was on a death row. He brought back life into the party. And because of his intervention, I can say many of us decided to stay back.

You were able to secure a reprieve to contest Senatorial seat in 2019…
Well, my visit to Buhari was to pay homage and to fully assure him of our commitment and determination to support and stand by him at this trying period. All along, when many of us rained abuses and criticisms, many people thought we were anti-Buhari. But because I criticised Buhari does not mean I was anti-Buhari. My criticising Buhari’s policies at times, is to express my opinion as a man with an activist background, as well as give him a sense of direction. I am convinced that his leadership is progressive. We have a lot in common. I am a socialist through ideological leaning, and many of his programmes and policies are in that direction.

For instance, I am opposed to the sale of refineries and the Nigeria Liquefied and Natural Gas (NLNG). I am for the role of state in socio-economy and political transformation of the economy. I am for policies and programmes that will better the lives of the masses. I am a revolutionary, one that is committed to liberating our people from economic woes. However, while it is natural for one to express his/her opinion on issues, it shouldn’t get to the point of humiliating the President. Buhari is someone I have known not just personally, but also through my parents for a very long time. But that does not mean I shouldn’t say so, when things are going wrong.

He is also a critic. He had been criticising previous governments. He expressed his views on issues during previous governments. So, he has never told me not to speak out my mind. I believe there are only a few of us that will always stand by him, even when he is out of power. Because he is in power today, many people are rallying round him, which is natural. But you ask yourself: Where are those who rallied round Ibrahim Babangida? They are nowhere to be found today. Where are those that rallied round Abacha, Abdulsalami, Obasanjo, Yar’adua and Goodluck Jonathan? They have all been abandoned.

When you are in position of power, you are bound to attract so-called loyalists and sycophants, who will sing your praises and beat pleasant drums. But it is all about their personal interests and how to secure their seats in the corridors of power. Personally, I can handle my political business myself. I have never had a godfather throughout my life struggles. Activists don’t have godfathers. Rather, we are driven by our conscience, conviction and the fact that we are able to plant ourselves in the hearts of the masses. Again, we are not desperate about power or privileges. We also don’t see politics as a career. Those who consider politics a career can’t survive outside it. Activists only see politics as an opportunity to serve the masses, to make impact and uplift society.
Many saw your stance against el Rufai as a principled one to wrest the party from dictatorial tendencies. Now, it appears you want to sacrifice all that for a ticket?

My view about him is the one I express whenever things go wrong. We both criticise each other. And when he doesn’t like what I do, he speaks out and vice versa. If I can speak out against the President, who is el Rufai? I have been speaking out, even before he became a governor. By age, he is older than me, but by politics I am older than him. He was nowhere in the 90s, when I was struggling for the emancipation of our nation from military dictatorship.

Personally, I don’t see my ticket coming from El-Rufai. Rather, I see it coming from the people that elected me into office. And I want to bring to attention the fact that he has said it clearly that in 2015, I was never his candidate, but I emerged as a Senator. So, if I could emerge a Senator without being his candidate, I will continue to do so for as long as my people continue voting for me.

What you need to understand is that he also wants to be reelected. So, we are both going to shop in the same market. If this party wants to genuinely become democratic and progressive, then it must give people chance to aspire for any position. If el Rufai has any plan or makes attempt to impose a candidate on my position, he should remember that power is temporary. He can’t be there forever. We have seen dictators and tyrants in the history of this country, but where are they now?

I criticise him not because I don’t like him. And I believe that those who are singing his praises do not truly like him. When he is wrong, I certainly have to criticise him. We differ in ideological viewpoints. He is from the political establishment. He is from the reactionary conservative right, while I am from the left side of the political divide. So, we differ in all perspectives. I have suffered a lot of persecution in the last few years from violent attacks on my office and an attempt to frame me up with murder by him. And there is also manipulation of the party to suspend me. All other things done against me through the party were done either directly or indirectly by him. I am very confident that I am going to win the election. I also want you to know that el-Rufai and I have been in court for the past six months. He sued me in Kaduna High Court for N2bn and I have also sued him for N5bn.

What he should also understand is that there will come a time he will walk the streets of Kaduna or Nigeria without anybody recognising he was once a governor. This life is temporary, just like power.
Three of you in the Senate had issues with the governor. One is a PDP member and the other who was in APC has left the party, but you are here seemingly concerned about your ticket for 2019. Is that all the fight is worth? What you need to understand is that, when some people decided to leave APC, they said they were going back home. But for me Comrade Shehu Sani, PDP is not a home. I have never been a PDP member, though the revolt was justified. I was very involved in the revolt against the APC. We needed to do that because of the inherent injustice in the party and the persecution of members. But I stayed back, because there was a new leadership, which has promised to address some of the fundamental problems in the party. And the new leadership is diametrically different from the one before it.

I was actually getting ready to get out of the party. But suddenly, there were interventions by Balarabe Musa, Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu and most importantly, Oshiomhole, with whom I had a lot of discussions. Other ideological comrades like Femi Falana also discussed at length with me. All those who left the APC were PDP members in the past. I don’t want to leave a familiar terrain for an unfamiliar one.

And if they said they were going home, it means they have their roots in that home, and I may be stranded in the middle of the desert, in the middle of the sea or end up being a stranger in the other party. More so, if I wanted to defect, it would have been to PRP, as that was my home. That was the party my parents belonged. I stayed back in APC because I believe I need to create a differentiating platform between my relationship with Buhari and the problems we had.

One thing I told those that defected was that our enemies should not dictate. I refused to allow my crisis with el Rufai determine, where I go or don’t go. Because it is not just where you are leaving, but where you are going. As far as I am concerned, el Rufai can return to PDP, because he has a home there, just like many of his cabinet members, since they have houses there. But, I don’t have a house there. I am not even a tenant in PDP.

It seems the internal arrangement in your party has been reduced to man-know-man. You were able to have a meeting with Buhari to get a ticket. What of those that are not so privileged?
You will be surprised to know that he was willing to see all those who defected. But many had already made up their mind not to see him or return to APC. So, there is nothing so special about that. I didn’t know Buhari after becoming a Senator. As a Senator representing the part of Kaduna State, where Buhari has lived for over four decades, I believe that I am his Senator. Buhari has two senators— one from Katsina State and the other from Kaduna State, because he spent more of his lifetime in Kaduna than in Katsina.

Would you have left the party, if you were not able to secure your ticket for 2019?
If I had wanted, I could have left the party. But if a party treats you with dignity and recognises your value as a person and keeps its promises, you have to believe in the party. That is what I have done. Securing a ticket was not the reason I decided to stay in APC, because I am already a Senator. And the process that can return me is in my people’s hands. What I said was that we need to have such a process that we will not put us in more trouble.

There were several attempts to undermine the party and made it a dictatorial platform. There was an attempt to extend the tenure of party executives, which Buhari resisted. And now it had worked. The fraudulent congresses organised in most of the states, where names of party executives were written in hotels and given party endorsement. That was another issue.

The communication gap between the party and elected officials, whether Senators, representatives members or others, is also another issue.There was the humiliation of party members in the last three years, which has also contributed a lot to the problem. Can you imagine that APC stakeholders met three times, after we submitted our grievances against the injustices, persecution and violent attacks against our persons? And APC was unable to issue a statement to console us or condemn the terrible acts on us. Those were the issues on ground. As long as APC remains just, credible and transparent, I will continue to be a party member. I’m not saying I will be a member of the party forever, but if it keeps to its promises and principles, I will remain a member.

What if el Rufai is adamant during your party primary?
He has been opposing since 2015. I have heard him saying in many of his fora that he is not in support of me. If he is adamant, well that is his opinion and he is entitled to it. But if he engages in anything that will break the law of the party, undermines the credibility of the process and impose a candidate or manipulates the whole process, then he has gone against the principles and spirit of the party, which is an entirely different scenario.

People like him came out of the PDP to APC, citing injustice, persecution and lack of internal democracy, as their reason. So, if such a person starts doing it here now, and is allowed to do it, it means there is no change from where he is coming from and where he is now. His being opposed to me is a different thing. But, he shouldn’t prevent people from voting for me. I believe many governors are afraid of direct primaries simply because they have lost touch with the people and they don’t have the required number to win elections.

In Kaduna central, I can tell you that I don’t need to campaign for anything, if the process is transparent during the primaries. If there are direct primaries, I am very confident that the result will be positive for me. There are two things. He doesn’t want me and he wants to replace me. But that is his opinion and not that of the people. The question you should ask him is: Should Shehu Sani be his problem, when he has a formidable opposition in the PDP that is united and ready to take power from him? I don’t think he should waste his energy fighting Shehu Sani, while he has serious opposition, poised to take over his office. Kaduna APC is still in crisis.

You can see how our billboards are being damaged and thugs being used against us. You can see the hostility and inhospitable atmosphere created against us. But all that will not push me to take a reactionary path of leaving a progressive line. I believe whatever they are doing is temporary. So, with him or without him, it is God that gives power. But we have a bigger problem than Shehu Sani in Kaduna. He is fighting a war with traditional rulers, he has problems with teachers, workers, women, traders, religious leaders, house owners and those people who were undermined and treated badly.

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