Zamfara governor knows he can’t win second term, except… —Sani Yerima
Senator Ahmed Sani was governor of Zamfara State between 1999 and 2007 on the ticket of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). He was elected as senator to represent Zamfara West senatorial zone in 2007 and he emerged as Senate Minority Leader. Now a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), he recently spoke with journalists in Abuja on a wide range of issues in the polity. TAIWO AMODU was there.
HOW do you feel that Zamfara State that you once governed is now under the control of the opposition and what do you think is responsible for the loss for the All Progressives Congress (APC)?
First of all, as a politician, I haven’t been happy with the development, but I believe that God alone has power over all things. I believe it is an act of God. What happened had to happen; everyone had to play his role to actualise what we have seen today.
The major cause is breaches of rules. As you know, in party politics, we had meetings at the APC and the president was there. The national chairman was there. At the well-attended meeting, we said there had to be open primaries, whether it came in form of direct, indirect or consensus. The party said it wasn’t comfortable with the arrangement in Zamfara. A committee was set up, just like similar committees were sent to every other state. And the committee came back without conducting primaries. The chairman set up another panel and nobody knew what happened.
I tried my best. As you all know that the then governor was my product; God gave him that position and I led the struggle to bring him to that office. We had problem with my former successor who was my deputy for eight years. They later resolved that there won’t be problem any longer.
People didn’t know what really happened. The main cause of the quarrel between me and the governor then (Umar Shinkafi), who was my deputy, was the fact that after endorsing him, we endorsed Abdulazeez Yari as his running mate. We campaigned together until seven days to the election, when he collected his Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) form to fill. He came to me in the night and said he wanted me to bless Yari instead. And I said it wasn’t possible. That was the cause of all the problems. And Yari came to discover that we were arguing about him and his so-called people. By that time, he had already established his presence. He was the incoming governor and I was the outgoing governor.
So, Yari too said he wasn’t comfortable with the crisis and said if I imposed him on the governor, after the election, he would just use the state Assembly to remove him. So, a decision was reached to replace Yari and we allowed him to go to the House of Representatives.
From that moment, I said I wouldn’t come out in the open to speak on anything Yari was doing. I would meet him in his room and advise him. If he takes to my advice, I would be happy. But if he takes my advice and we have problems, then, I wouldn’t be happy.
So, I did my best. I tried to project myself as a father in Zamfara politics. I refused to come out in the media to argue with Yari or any person in Zamfara, but what happened did happen. I tried to mediate among the party, the national chairman, the state chapter of the APC and the governor himself. Unfortunately, we landed ourselves in the position we found ourselves.
However, the same governor that is governing today was my commissioner for eight years. He came to the House of Representatives when I came to the Senate on the ticket of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). That is why people were surprised when I went to congratulate him. I believe that party politics ends as soon as election is completed and a winner is declared. So, as an elder statesman in Zamfara, I had to go and congratulate him and wish him well. I will also continue to advise him so that we can have peace and prosperity in the state.
Do you see the APC coming back after four years?
Let me tell you one thing: Since 1998, when this dispensation started, the then All Peoples Party (APP) was transformed to ANPP. And as a result of the merger between the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), ANPP and Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and others, we had APC. Since then, I have never lost an election.
In 1998/1999, I became governor; in 2003, I was reelected, and in 2007, when I was leaving office, we elected my former deputy. He only defected to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and that was the only time he ruled the state. We went into election and defeated him in 2011. This governor assumed office as a result of Supreme Court ruling. We will never, by the grace of God, lose election in Zamfara.
Are you not worried that a once peaceful Zamfara is like a theater of banditry now?
I am very worried. You see, when I was governor, I did everything I could to the extent that the Inspector General of Police (IGP) during Olusegun Obasanjo-led government had to write a report to say that Zamfara was virtually crime free.
The records are there till today. They even put our crime rate at two per cent. I don’t know the criteria they used to arrive at that figure.
But what happened after me? This thing didn’t start now. It started with cattle rustling during the government of Shinkafi who succeeded me; I think in 2007.
From cattle rustling, kidnapping started; then, something I can call insurgency is what is happening now, because the armed bandits would just go to a village and start killing people in form of revenge.
What happened is that during the time of the former governor in 2019, he used what he called vigilante group and this group started attacking the Fulani who they believed were the cattle rustlers. This was to the extent that a Fulani man would come to the market and he would be lynched.
From there, they started taking up arms, apart from their normal sticks, to defend themselves. But I believe that this is something that can be resolved. It isn’t only in the military way. The current administration has started talking to them and they have started responding. Even yesterday (Thursday), I was in Zamfara to condole with the former speaker over the loss of his father. I also went to condole with the governor and the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), because it is a general loss, and I found out that the bandits have released a lot of people.
In fact, some of them are from Sokoto State, because the governor of Sokoto State was there to take charge of his own people who were released.
So, that negotiation is important, because, as I told you, criminality can start small and grow large. It is not always a matter of military solution. I think the method that we are adopting now: talking to them, appealing to them to surrender their arms is good. And their parents were there. They know these people and they know the communities. I think we are going to adopt two approaches: negotiation and the military action. We started with negotiation only, but it didn’t work. But the carrot and stick approach is working. That is what we are going to continue to use.
There is a disturbing dimension to this issue of banditry. That is the alleged involvement of traditional rulers. As a former chief executive of that state, would you believe this to be true?
There are two things. One is the level of poverty in the society. People have forgotten that during the last administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, the economy was virtually on its knees, because of the level of corruption that was all over the place. By the time this administration came in, the task before it wasn’t only corruption, but also principally the economy and insecurity.
Remember that Boko Haram was already in Abuja and something had to be done. So, a lot of resources were required to fight insurgency and the fight against corruption was also not easy. However, by the grace of God, the harvest in the following year was good and the economy started changing. But that level of poverty that was inherited had made some people, including some of the traditional rulers, to start looking at other ways.
The second issue is fear for lives. Some people, because of the little amount of money they were getting from the bandits, started giving them information, hiding them or giving them all forms of supports. But some did that out of fear for their lives.
If you can recall, one of the things that happened was the kidnapping of an emir in Zamfara. He was taken away for a very long time and was freed after some ransom was paid. So, every emir started being afraid of the bandits. But I think what is happening now, with the action that has been taken, sanity will prevail. You can see the former administration led by Yari had to suspend one emir for his alleged role in support of the bandits. It also affected some district heads. From that moment, every emir has come to the realisation that it is either he supports the government to eradicate banditry or loses his position.
So, I think the two issues of poverty and fear of insurgents made some of the traditional rulers to be part of the problem. But now, things are changing.
You just mentioned in passing that the APC will regain Zamfara. What is happening seems to be at variance from your optimism. You are aware of suspension and counter suspension saga by factions in the state chapter of the party. As a leader, what are you doing to reconcile the warring groups?
It is all part of politics. You see, from the beginning, all these factions you are talking about believe in me taking actions. They believe that I could have brought them together; and that is what I tried to do initially, but it didn’t work.
But as we speak now, every so-called faction is awaiting the intervention of the National Working Committee (NWC). What is likely to happen is the restructuring of the party; its reengineering. We have to look at the structure again and make sure that we bring them together, using the party machinery to ensure that we now harmonise the groups and come up with a solid structure in the state.
You said your party would win back Zamfara. How can it achieve that, considering the level of acceptance that the new administration has earned for itself since it assumed office?
Let me cast your mind back to 1998. At that time, when the APP, PDP and other parties were contesting in Zamfara, my party, the APP won almost all the local government areas in Zamfara State, including in the state capital.
One of the candidates who lost in that chairmanship contest, because we started with chairmanship election, was the current governor. He contested for local government chairmanship of his local government under my party and he lost. I appointed him Commissioner for Local Government to supervise the person that defeated him and that is what is bringing us together.
What you see him doing now is not only his work; he was my commissioner for eight years. And he came to the National Assembly, as I said, with me. It is a combination of the advice he was listening to and the fact of all of us working together. It isn’t he alone.
So, for that, you can now know whether it will be easy or difficult for us in Zamfara. Don’t even be surprised, if he moves to the APC.
We are expecting the list of ministerial nominees from President Muhammadu Buhari. Against the backdrop of the party’s Next Level mantra, what kind of cabinet do you envisage?
Well, we have learnt a lot of lessons from the formation of his first cabinet and I am sure Mr. President himself would have listened to the party and he is now going to select politicians who know what their people require to run the affairs of the various ministries. He has seen the lapses of the first four years by nominating largely technocrats in his cabinet. But the party has been talking and I am sure the president has listened.
So, I am expecting very credible team, consisting of both technocrats and politicians. And the president has also said that is what is likely to be in his new cabinet. With that, the Next Level that the president is talking about can be realised.
You have said you played a sort of behind-the-scenes role to support the PDP in the last governorship election and you have continued in that line. There have been insinuations of an agreement between you and Governor Bello Matawalle that he would defect to the APC. Are you confident that he will fulfill his own side of the deal?
First of all, there was never an agreement between us. You see, what I said was that he was my commissioner for eight years and there was never a time either myself or the NWC of the APC had any understanding with him that ‘go and win and then, you come to the APC.’ No. I am just a politician and someone here raised a question on how we can take over and I said the governor knows better. He knows the structure that brought him to limelight to the extent that he became commissioner and went to the House of Representatives. And people now know him.
He also knows that it was the Supreme Court, not the electorate, that gave him that position by the grace of Allah (SWT). So, if he wants a second term, if he wants to find it easy, as a politician, he knows what to do. That is all I am saying.
You are one of the architects of the Sharia law enforcement in Nigeria. Do you have any regret doing that?
You see, some people don’t even know what Sharia is all about. At the time I said I was going to launch Sharia, of course, there was so much hues and cries. I would have done my project quietly, because Zamfara was 99.9 per cent Moslems and the agitation for Sharia didn’t start with me. It had been there in that enclave; Sokoto-Zamfara was very forward in terms of establishment or introduction of Sharia, because Sharia is the beginning of Islam.
People had the misconception that Sharia is only when you cut hands or when you flog people or you kill them. It had two components: it has the capital punishment that you must adjudicate on in the court and the other, which is about relationship and other activities of human beings; their day-to-day activities. If you go to Zamfara or any other state that adopted Sharia when we started in 2000 today, you will give us credit. You will never find a gambling house, unlike before where you find gambling halls. And you can’t find alcohol. You can only find alcohol in military or police barracks. They were all successfully banned and the attitude of people have changed.
Look at our girls, they used to come out with parts of their bodies open. Because Sharia prohibits that, we introduced a new form of dressing which is called hijab and it is approved by Islam under Sharia. Today, you go to the primary, secondary schools and even universities in the entire Northern Nigeria, you won’t find that. You can even recall that one lady who finished from the Law School refused to remove her hijab and it became a national controversy. And in the end, she won in court, because she has her human rights guaranteed under the Constitution of Nigeria.
So, Sharia has brought attitudinal change which will remain with us by the grace of God. You know when Allah sent Prophet Muhammed, he established Sharia and there has always been caliphate coming and going; it is just a religious thing. Before Prophet Muhammed, there was Prophet Musa; there was Prophet Isah (Jesus). They all came to their people and you can see division in different types of religion, both in Christianity and Islam. In Judaism, you see some extremists; some are called fundamentalists, while some are moderates like me. I don’t believe in extremism. Therefore, we are operating a constitutional system.
When I came in as governor, I was elected under the constitution and the constitution is what I used to enact all the laws I enacted in Zamfara. That was why nobody could challenge it.
Today, all the laws are being implemented. You see, if you have a governor who has the political will to make sure that laws are implemented, you won’t have problems. The laws are already there, nobody can remove them; it is only implementation that is needed. So, you have some governors who are serious and you have some who aren’t. This is how it will continue. It depends on who is in the saddle. But the attitudinal change that has been achieved will be there for a long time. You can’t go to my village or anywhere in Zamfara and say you want to establish brothels. No way. The people will never allow it.
Before I became governor, in the state capital, there were more than 500 brothels. But today, there is none, not only in Zamfara, but also in the entire 12 Northern states that are practising Sharia.
What is your take on the activities of Ibrahim El Zakzakky-led Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), otherwise called the Shitte sect, which is constituting security menace in Abuja?
This borders on national security. It isn’t about a religious group. I don’t think that any individual or group is greater than the country called Nigeria. If the government realises that a group is constituting itself to security threat to the nation, I am sure the government has the operatives and machinery to handle it.
I don’t believe that the Shittes are going to cause any security problem in Nigeria so long as the security agencies are doing their work.
So, as long as security agencies are up and doing, I am sure the menace of any group, not only the Shittes, can be handled.