Buhari’s friends will rubbish him —Shehu Sani
Senator Shehu Sani, who represented Kaduna Central Senatorial District in the eighth National Assembly, is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Centre for African Freedom Foundation (CAFF) established to promote national discourse. He shares his thoughts on national development with journalists in Abuja. OSARETIN OSADEBAMWEN was there.
After leaving the red chambers of the National Assembly, what are you looking at to keep yourself busy?
The Centre for African Freedom Foundation (CAFF) to confront, address and open a platform for conversation, discuss national issues and perhaps global issues that are of direct relevance to our lives, politically, socially or economically. As a citizen of this country, it is 20 years since the restoration of democracy in Nigeria. When we fought hard to disengage the military from governance in Nigeria, and when I say ‘we,’ I mean those who sacrificed their lives and liberty for the struggle of freedom of our country. Who are those? The civil right activists, the intelligentsia, labour union, the media, students and the youth, as well as the progressive arm of the political class all fought the military to a standstill to restore democracy in Nigeria.
How has Nigerian democracy met the nation’s quest for development in all ramifications?
In the first two to three years, we referred to our democracy as nascent. I think two decades after, we cannot call our democracy nascent. If there is any single achievement that cannot be disputed is that for the first time in the history of Nigeria, our democracy has been able to last for 20 years (1999 – 2019). But, what are the contents of that period. We cannot say with our right senses that this type of democracy was the wishes or the aspirations of Nigerians when we realized that some people sacrificed their lives or personal liberty; some even when into exile; others to jail and many were buried in the struggle to restore democracy in Nigeria.
What is the place of citizens’ right to register their grievance through public protest under our democracy so far?
It is repugnant and unfortunate that two decades into our democracy, those who are in power are still intolerant of criticism and dissent. We have always nagged on the 16 years rule of the PDP but it is also enough time to probe and interrogate the democratic credentials of those in power today. Lest we forget, the democracy in Nigeria today is a product of protest and sometimes open rebellion and dissent against the military dictatorship. We can properly say that the democracy is a product of the conscientious objection and denunciation of the system that held us to ransom for decades as a nation under a military junta.
Fast forward to 2015, the people holding political offices today were vanguards in the protest for justice, freedom for good governance and respect for fundamental human rights. So, we have seen and can adequately, properly and rightly say that the ruling political establishment and people are beneficiaries of the protest and rebellion. On several occasions, we saw the leaders of the ruling party and the people occupying offices: senators, ministers and even the current president leading the people on the street to protest, insisting and challenging an order that was strangulating us as a nation. It is a betrayal of the history and those events that led us to where we are today. Nigerians were promised that there would be respect for fundamental human rights and the freedom to criticise, but we have seen a growing objection and allergy on the side of the people in the position of power to opinions that are contrary of differ from theirs.
There is an apparent growing climate of fear that people might be harassed, arrested and dealt with if they try to express their opinion on perceived inadequacies of the people in power?
Now, I must say that in as much as the ruling political establishment, particularly the president is desirous of leaving a legacy for posterity and for his open personal history, the most important legacy you will leave is to uphold the rule of law, fundamental rights and preserve democratic values that you inherited and benefitted from. If those in power desire only for people to be forced to silence, then we will be dealing with a bigger problem.
There is currently a challenge of national unity. What will you prescribe to the government?
No matter how you try to portray ourselves as united an indivisible nation, the government and the political establishment must demonstrate that they are for all. If we treat one part of the country with so much and then treat another part of the country with so little, certainly the pillars on which the beam of the nation stands will continue to stagger and threaten to fall.I will say this. It is always important for us to recognise that Nigeria is a fragile state and our history tells us much about that over a century after amalgamation and close to six decades since the flag of Independence was handed to us by the British. We all accept that we are still struggling to be one; struggling to be united; struggling to be seen as a nation. The National Flag cannot unite a nation when you do not have justice. The National Anthem and the National Pledge cannot unite a nation when there is no justice. The Coat of Arms with the two white horses cannot unite a nation that is divided psychologically mentally and spiritually.
The president and the government of the day should not think that to unite Nigeria is by constructing a second or third or even fourth Niger bridge. Physical bridge will be of no relevance when spiritually and in our souls we remain divided as a people.
You are a rights activist, how will you rate the level of compliance by the Federal Government to the rights of its citizens?
I have said it repeatedly that if people are desirous of protecting and defending their freedoms through peaceful protests, the state or nation has a constitutional responsibility to respect their rights and protect them to express those rights. If you crush dissent and jail dissenters, you are forcing people to take the road of violence. I outright condemned the attack and attempt to lynch my friend and brother, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, in Nuremburg, Germany. However, it should also be a wakeup call to each and every one of us. If a state makes it impossible for people to express their opinion peacefully legitimately and legally, it is pushing the people to be hunters rather than protesters, to be mob stars rather than critics. In order to protect our constitution and our democracy, there is the need for the government to respect the rule of law. State apparatus must not engage in indiscriminate arrests of people for expressing their opinion and use force to crush peaceful dissenters without inspiring people to take the vigilante option in terms of defending their rights and getting at the people in authority. Those who take to thuggery outside of the nation are inspired by the way protesters and dissenters are being treated by the state. There is no difference between the way my friend and brother was treated in Nuremburg with the way protesters were treated in Lagos and Abuja everyday by the state apparatus. So, the state is the main culprit in terms of inspiring people to take the road other than the one that is legal, legitimate and lawful.
To what extent does criticism of those in power assist the government to lead a nation towards inclusive development and growth?
We who speak the truth to power are not the enemies of the government. It is those who pretend to be his friends today that will fight them after power. Omoyele Sowore cannot be seen to be the enemy of Nigeria or the enemy of the government or even the enemy of President Muhammadu Buhari. This was a man who sacrificed and fought the Peoples dEmocratic Party (PDP) then and contributed his own quota to the emergence of the current government. I cannot be said to have mistaken to say that many of those occupying political offices in this government went to New York and met Sowore on many occasions to help them to fight the PDP and its government. Now, how do you turn again and say the same person you used and spoke about justice and freedom five or six years ago is now the enemy? The enemies of the president are today those who are pretending to be his friends. I have always reminded those in the position of authority even before I became a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and while I was a senator that power is ephemeral. It is temporary in the life of a man. The life after power is longer than the life when one is a power.
I want to be quoted on the marble. That’s when President Buhari finishes his tenure, those he considers friends today will be those that will be abusing and rubbishing him. They will be destroying and assassinating his character and even calling for his prosecution. And those that he thinks are his enemies today will be the ones he will rely on.
President Buhari is not a product of 2015. When he contested in 2003, the media, the civil society, students and the progressives stood by him. Ditto in 2007 and 2011. Most of the people who are claiming to be Buharists today are simply Buharists because Buhari is the president of the country. They were not calling themselves Buharists before he became the president and they will never call themselves Buharists when Buhari is out of power
Where are those who said they could die for former President Olusegun Obasanjo when he was in power? Where are those who said they were ready to kill others for Obasanjo when he was in power? Today, they cannot even raise a voice when Obasanjo is being criticised or attacked.
What is your counsel to political leaders, in view of such attitude?
When you are in a position of authority, you should always differentiate between friends of the king and friends of the throne. Friends of the throne will continue to be with whoever is on the throne. So, I will always like to bring our attention to the fact that we should understand that Nigeria is a multi-religious and multi-ethnic nation. And we must learn to always balance the differences, reflect it in governance, politics and in the economy. Imagine marginalising or penalising a people because they did not vote for you. It is not good for the peace, stability and the unity of our country. When Nigerian political leaders take the oath of office, they always swear to be fair to all Nigerians. The Oath of office is not for Nigerians who voted for them; not Nigerians from the political parties; not Nigerians from their own ethnic groupings; not Nigerians based on their religion, but Nigerians wherever they are.
What in your view will drive national unity among Nigerians at this moment that national healing is indeed urgent?
If we want to preserve this Union and this country, we must say, what we say to our people in our languages as we say it in English because when Nigerian political leaders speak in their own mother tongue and local dialect, they are chauvinists and tribalists. When they speak in English, they are Nationalist and Patriots. So I am using this opportunity, to call, and demand that in the interest of peace and stability of our country.
One, a democratic government must subject itself to democratic rules and articles and spirits of the letter of the Constitution. It must learn to respect the fundamental rights and protect the freedom of Nigerians. Those protesters you jail; those protesters you kill are the ones who will defend you when you are out of office? The Press you gag, the Press you intimidate, are the ones who will stand for you when all politicians have left you.
When President Muhammadu Buhari was going to court how many of the people today that calls themselves Buhari’s we’re going to court together with him? When he was jailed after 1985 coup, how many spoke for him none? So I will use this opportunity to call on the people in the position of power to always keep to tab that no matter how we are allergic to revolution; no matter how we oppose to revolution or a revolt; we will be removed. As long as there is entrenched injustice and institutionalized marginalization of people, we are simply deferring days of reckoning as a nation.
What in your view can drive national unity at this moment that national healing is indeed imperative and urgent?
If we want to preserve the union and the country, we must say what we say to our people in our languages as we say it in English because when the Nigerian political leaders speak in their own mother tongues and local dialects, they are chauvinists and tribal. When they speak in English, they are nationalist and patriots. So, I am using this opportunity, to call and demand that we speak in the interest of the peace and stability of our country. One, a democratic government must subject itself to democratic rules and articles and letters of the constitution. It must learn to respect fundamental rights and protect the freedom of Nigerians. Those protesters you jail; those protesters you are trying to kill are the ones who will defend you when you are out of office. The Press you gag and the Press you intimidate are the ones who will stand for you when all politicians have left you. When President Buhari was going to the courts, how many of the people today that call themselves Buharits were going together with him? When he was jailed after the 1985 coup, how many spoke for him? None! So, I will use this opportunity to call on the people in power to always keep a tab that no matter how we are allergic to revolution; no matter how we are opposed to revolution or a revolt, we will be removed. As long as there is entrenched injustice and institutionalised marginalisation of people, we are simply deferring the day of reckoning as a nation.