Rights activist and Senator, Shehu Sani recently paid familialization visit to Correspondent Chapel of NUJ in Kaduna State where he spoke extensively on a number of issues including current leadership crises at the National Assembly. Our reporter Idibia Gabriel was there: Excerpts
Why he chose to visit the Chapel
This visit is in fulfillment of my earlier pledge to visit this Chapel, to interact with journalists and to acquaint myself with the challenges faced by journalists in Kaduna and particularly the correspondents with a view to seeing how I can intervene. I am also one of you in the sense that as an activist, our partnership with the media is an agelong story. I did not emerge as a Senator simply by being a politician. I come from a socio-political movement that has been in the vanguard for struggle for change, a struggle for freedom and a struggle for democracy. I am here to appreciate the role you 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. 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.
Need for elected and appointed public officials to make sacrifices
I wish to use this opportunity to identify the need for all in positions of power to make sacrifices towards reviving the economy. I understand the outcry over our allowances, wages and salaries. But I want to make it clear to you that I have not yet received any money, I have not got any alerts from anybody. So, my view on this remains only a proposition. 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. 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 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.
APC crisis a threat to Buhari’s capacity to deliver
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. I will always avail myself with this forum and I will on quarterly basis have a forum with you to enable me make account of my stewardship in the Senate and also through you listen to the views, opinions and the ideas of the people within my senatorial district.
Is there any plan by APC to impeach Deputy Senate President because he is from the PDP?
There is no impeachment on the table. 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 distractive to the government of President Muhammadu Buhari. 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 box 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 withinthe APC which opened a crack for the PDP to take an advantage of the situation. 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 proper 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.
Why going to court over Senate Presidency is waste of time
We were not united in the elections but we want to be united in the way the Senate is run. If you go to court, either way we are likely to lose because the court processes will drag down the activities of the Senate and for a four-year tenure, that can weigh heavily on what we intend to do. If you go to court and the judgement turns out to be in favour of those who went to court, we now have to start again from the beginning and that may take up to a year or two but Nigerians did not elect us to begin to seek legal interpretations of how we run our activities. Nigerians expect service delivery and we cannot afford to waste their goodwill, which has an expiry period of six months. We want to embrace reality and go through it to be able to appease the people who voted us into office.
To boost Journalism profession by sponsoring an endowment bill
The journalists play very important role in the society and in the political life of every country. I will have to work with you people to sponsor a bill in Senate to ensure that there will be endowment funds whereby publishers and would be publishers would compelled to deposit certain amount of money for two years before he or she is allowed to publish. In cases of default in payment of staff salary the endowment money would be used to upset the arrears of salary. I know of one publisher who went to South Africa to set up his paper, as soon as they realized he was not going to pay they shutdown the company.
On NLC’s 50% pay cut for Federal lawmakers of face workers revolt
I do not know the faction you are talking about because there are two factions of NLC. As an activist it will not be good if I go against the position of a labour movement where I partly represent. On the issue of going back to the 2003 salary structure, I will accept it if it will be made to go round. That is, we the elected representatives will go back to 2003 and workers too should go back to 2003 so that it will be uniform. We have to find a way to appease the two sides. If my pay is cut, then my capacity to give will also be cut. Our economy is in 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 that depending on oil and check oil theft and oil bunkering in the Niger Delta. All these things need to be put in proper perspective.