Fiery Senator Shehu Sani, representing Kaduna Central in the red chamber, spoke with newsmen in Ibadan on Saturday on why he blew the lid on the monthly takings of Senators, reconciliation efforts is his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), re-ordering of elections, among others. DARE ADEKANMBI, who was there, brings excerpts:
WHAT spurred you make the disclosure, despite the oath of secrecy sworn to in the Senate?
I am not a typical politician. I came from a civil rights background and my politics is driven by conscience and a set of guiding principles and it was on that foundation that I contested and won election to represent my people. Based on the fact that I am not a typical politician, I should be expected to do things differently from the typical politician.
It is not easy in a situation like this in the very sense that whatever one would say, there would certainly be consequences. It is also not for the fact that I wanted to antagonise my colleagues on incite people against them. I am of the firm belief that things should not continue to be as they were for a long time. My observation was that when I came to the Senate, I had read the public mood and perception and views when it comes to the issue of people in the National Assembly.
The NASS is made up of distinguished personalities, doctors, lawyers, engineers, academics and all who made it in life. But because of this culture of secrecy and silence, people who found themselves in the NASS are criminalised and stigmatised. The dome of the NASS is being seen to house people of questionable character and integrity. So, what I did was to rescue the honour and credibility of the NASS by removing the veil secrecy to bring it once and for all to an end. It has been 19 years [of civil administration] and it has been 19 years of secrecy, of people not wanting to speak out. We have reached a point where people speculate and say so many bad things about the NASS. You see all sorts of figures of what Senators are collecting, some say N50m, some speculate N100m. But whatever people say naturally, others will believe because there is no counter information, no truth coming from the other side. So, I said I know it is painful, I know that I will lose friends and colleagues within the very establishment that I serve. But I need to speak because I was part of those who fought and struggled for the restoration of this democracy. I went to jail and was in the fore front of the protest against military rule. It is not possible for me to speak against the military rule and now I cannot. And as such I say it is temporary pain.
But now that Nigerians know what the Senators are earning, it is time for them to also ask what is happening in the Presidency, the Judiciary and the other arm of government. Since I have come out to speak, we should also ask people to ask the members of their state houses of assembly who also collect this money to speak. I know things are not going to be easy because when I made the disclosure, there was explosion, even right in my own house. So, I know very well that it comes with a lot of price. But in the long run, our people will not be focusing on the Senators. They will now be focusing on other areas and other people who refuse to come out and speak.
But you have been collecting the same money as your colleagues. Now that you have blown the lid open, do you intent to stop collecting this huge amount of money so as to further set an example for others?
When I came to the Senate, I said this is what should be done. I said the RMFAC should let Nigerians know what we are earning. I even forgot that I said that until the Premium Times yesterday published what I had earlier said and that, that had always been my position. I will continue to collect as other are collecting too until there is a law or there is an adjustment to say we should collect half of what we now collect. I will continue to collect because I am not collecting it for myself. I am collecting it for my people. But what I see fundamentally is that it goes beyond that. We live in a society where there is a very low level of political consciousness and awareness. Our people are still unable to differentiate between executive and legislative duties. They want their legislators to build schools, hospitals, construct roads and so many other things. Money is being given to the legislators for them to be able to do this. Now, this money became the primary purpose why many people want to be in the NASS. Also, this money diverts the attention of Senators and Reps from doing their primary duties of raising motions, bills and performing oversight functions. I would like a point where they will say what a Senator is earning is this much and nobody should come to me for school fees, rent and to solve their problems. We will then have only people with ideas coming to the NASS and this monetary inducement and enticement will come to an end.
But as of now, out of every 10 people that come to see a legislator, it is only one that comes on issues of motions and bills. Nine of them will be about their own personal bills for you to solve. So, we should reach that point. If you go to the NASS now, you will see people trooping in at the gate. When you ask them, you will see they are people who are coming for notes to get some jobs of some form of work to do somewhere. Majority think there is a lot of money in NASS and actually there is. So, they come to collect the money. I would like to see those in my reception to be those who have come to discuss issues that took me to the NASS.
I will appeal to Nigerians to now to shift focus to the governors, the ministers, those in the Presidency, the SGF, the Chief of Staff to the President, NNPC GMD, those in the state houses of assembly, to ask them to say publicly what they earn monthly. I lost friends because of what I said. People were not happy, but I had to do it. We can’t continue to be like North Korea for the next 100 years. It is not going to work.
Is there anything you and other people of conscience in NASS to review this salary in a manner that will make it a moderate amount? Or can there be a law that will put some responsibility to be able to justify this huge money being received?
When President Muhammadu Buhari took over on the platform of the APC, something happened. He publicly declared his assets and the Vice President followed. I was the third person that publicly declared my assets. Since then, there has been no other person, including governors. And I said it that you can know who is a saint or a sinner in Nigeria’s political parlance without people publicly declaring their assets. As long as there is a law that says you can go secretly, declare your assets and all you have written will be locked with a key and the key will be given to you and then you go, then why should you call some people saints and some sinners?
When we took over office and I went to the Code of Conduct Bureau, I was given a pen and a paper to write the number of houses I have, my cars, what I have in the banks and how I was able to acquire them. They gave me a page and I wrote my own. I was surprised when those who are in the hall with me for the same purpose were calling for more papers to be given to them as if they were writing an examination. Some filled documents that were almost like a volume.
Could that be anticipatory asset declaration you are referring to?
I don’t know. But after doing that, they hand it over. All our forms, the cars, the houses are locked somewhere away from Nigerians who are outside without them knowing what are in the documents and declarations. But we still call some people saints and some sinners.
Today, does anybody in the political class have the guts to tell CCB to publish his declarations and let Nigerians see them? You say those in the PDP are sinners and those in APC are saints, then why is it that in the group of saints, only three people publicly declared their assets? Then, you should ask yourself whether you are being taken for a ride or not.
Before any law can be changed, you need numbers. So, do you think that that number will be available? The good thing is that the Senate has been courteous to me because as soon as I said it, the spokesperson of the Senate confirmed it. That is maturity. And for now, there has been no sanction. I don’t whether tomorrow or next there will be. I tried to make my colleagues to understand, though many don’t want to. Someone was not happy with me. So, I called him privately and asked him what religion he professes and he said Christianity. I asked him “do you know of the verse that says you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” He said “truth may never set anybody free in this place, but will only set him to trouble.”
To even open up is a monumental step, not to now talk about either reducing or expunging it. That is another thing. For me, I believe I have done my own best. Everybody collects this money, but the rule is that when you collect you keep quiet. So, we have done our own. The next step is for pressure to come from Nigerians.
Election re-ordering by the NASS is said to have been done with the undercurrent of political ulterior motive. Can you clear the air on this?
In a political dispensation or a democratic era, you can’t in every situation remove political motives, even in things the Presidency does. So, in things the legislature does, there should be political motives. But I think the reason for the re-ordering of elections has to do with the attitude of the electorate during elections. If you have the presidential election first, then there is every likehood that after voting the president and he has won, there will certainly be a bandwagon effect on other elections, especially when you have a popular president.
Is President Buhari still popular?
Well, that is another question. Maybe we will talk about it the next time. But the NASS is saying that in order to have a fair playing field for smaller parties and in fact for all parties and in order to make it possible for Nigerians to independently assess and appraise their legislators, to make it impossible to have a mass trial, mass conviction of Senators and Reps we want a situation where legislators will stand in the dock alone and then Nigerians will assess them. The NASS election is not joined to the presidential election so that Nigerians will not say because of the president, all the NASS members should be elected.
If you look at it, the APC does not have an overwhelming majority in Senate and I think this should be put into consideration. If APC has the majority, the party will have its way in everything it does. Secondly, the APC house is in disarray. If the party is united and is doing what it should do, before any resolution or voting on any issue is done in NASS, the party will have call its members and tell them the interest of the party and where to vote. But we only read about the position of the party on the pages of newspapers. For the three years that we have been in the NASS, never for one day has the party called us to say its position on issue A is vote B or vice versa. That has not been the case. In those days, the NPN, UPN and PRP would call their members and tell them their positions. SDP and NRC did same. PDP did the same thing. But now, you can see the ‘civil war’ within the APC. There is both civil war and cold war in the party. Now, APC is facing its own civil war, not to talk of ensuring peace in the country. Like Senator Ahmed Tinubu is given a task to solve the problem of Arab-Israeli, bring peace to Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Syria before 2019. This is what we have.
Is the reconciliation then dead on arrival then?
I told you, if it is possible to bring peace in Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, before the next election. But I can tell you that in the Senate, we can achieve those things, but we need the numbers. I have done my best and it is for Nigerian to now decide. I think one thing we lack is the culture of protest in Nigeria. The people who traditionally should have been on the streets, protesting on issues, have either pulled back or they have simply measuring their steps.
Most of them are now in government…
Oh, they are in power? So, we have left the street protest now to Charly Boy and Tuface and others. So, when you leave the stage to entertainers and comedians, that is where it is going to be.
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