Senator Shehu Sani, APC Kaduna Central, is the Chairman, Senate Committee on Foreign and Local Debts. He also achieved the upper chamber’s adhoc Committee on Humanitarian Crisis in the North-East.
In this interview, Sani bares his mind on the release of the 82 Chibok girls, the politics that was involved, how more of other girls will be released,
How do you feel with the release of the 82 Chibok girls?
The release of the 82 Chibok girls has brought some relief, peace and comfort to Nigerians and friends of Nigeria and all the people who share our concerns. It has moved us a step closer to the end of that chapter of our history. It has given us renewed hope that others still in captivity will also be released. The release of the abduction girls is a step forward in a search for peace in the North-East. The Chibok girls abduction represents a bad phase in our history, it represents a rough edge in our national journey, it also represents a bumpy phase in our move to nationhood. The girls that are now freed is a testimony of the fruit of the efforts that have been invested over the years towards securing their freedom.
Issues have been raised on the swapping of some Boko Haram prisoners with the Chibok girls; some critics believe it was not a good decision on the part of government. What is your take?
What we need to understand is the fact that we are dealing with a hostile situation and the priority is the freedom of the hostage. The negotiators were faced with two options: To pay heavy ransom to secure the release of the girls or use the insurgents who are captives as a bargaining chip.
Now it was arrived at that of the two options it was better to swap the girls with the insurgents, there are consequences for both. If you give the insurgents heavy amount of money, they will use it to purchase arms, regroup, arm themselves and fight to regain their lost territories.
But going by the fact that the sustained military campaign has dislodged them from their base and have pushed them to the edge, the release of their members in detention will not change the military balance on the ground; so it is the better of the two options.
Again, we should look at it that swapping of prisoners with is not new in the world. America, some few years ago swapped some Guantanamo detainees with some American captives, they swapped them with Talibans. And Israel has most times swapped captured Israeli soldiers with Palestinian prisoners of the Hamas faction. Nigeria is simply doing what others are doing.
And we should understand that we cannot continue to leave these girls in captivity of Boko Haram because we have fear of exchanging them with the insurgents. And it was 5 members of the insurgents that were swapped with the 82 Chibok girls.
What was the category of the five prisoners in terms of rank?
For the insurgents to have agreed to release 82 girls for five prisoners, you could see how valuable those five prisoners were to the group. They are most concerned about their colleagues in detention as we were concerned with our girls in captivity.
The freedom of these girls is more important than keeping those insurgents captive. And we are still recommending that the next phase of the girls that should be released, the swapping formula should also be used.
You said that the remaining Chibok girls will be released, you are so optimistic; what do you have on ground?
If you could recall there were the first 21 girls that were released and later we had the second batch of 82 girls. The idea, right from the onset of releasing the first 21 girls was to build confidence on both sides, the insurgents and government.
Before the 21 girls were released, there were a number of false negotiations that took place with dubious negotiators and, because of that, there was distrust between the government and the insurgents and it became impossible for anybody to believe anything. In the previous negotiations, what the government was concerned about was that they will be scammed while the insurgents were concerned that it was possible to use negotiation as a ground of arresting and killing them.
Then the negotiators agreed that there should be the first release of the first 21 and this will give both sides some form of confidence and belief that, this time around it was for real and that was actually what happened. So with the remaining girls, the negotiation will continue in the same pattern to which the first 21 and 82 girls were released, it is the same formula that will be used to release the other girls from captivity.
In the whole of this what is the role of Shehu Sani in this process?
First of all, I got involved in the path for peace as far back as 2011 when I went to Maiduguri to meet with the leaders of Boko Haram. The idea of that visit was to explore the possibility of initiating dialogue to see how we could end in the North-East.
Now with the abduction of the Chibok girls in 2014, I was meeting the idea of still using the instrument of dialogue to see how we could get the girls out of captivity.
And I can recall that, in 2014, I was approached by Chief E.K. Clark to come with ideas on how the girls could be released. It was then that I came up with a master plan to facilitate the release of the girls. I initiated a process of running a square dialogue process where one side will have the insurgents and the other side will have the government, the mediators and then the international observers. So the process started as far back as 2014.
I contacted the Swiss, but before I did that, I contacted other countries, some of them showed interest but later they backed out, some out rightly said they are not interested and when I contacted the Swiss they showed interest to participate, so I brought them in.
And then they (Swiss) contacted the ICRC which also keyed in and then I brought in a negotiator that I know is credible, that has the capacity to talk to the group to work towards freeing the girls.
There were other personalities that were involved in the initial process including Dr. Cairo Ojuigboh, now the Deputy National of the PDP, and we also had Mr Fred Eno, who is a consultant. The initial phase of that effort did not succeed because the government of the day was not willing to take the advice of some persons in the sense that many political interests within that government. And that time also, we couldn’t have achieved much because the nation was not negotiating from the position of strength.
But, under this government, the same formula was used to achieve success in the sense that now you don’t have some of the players that were part of that, but it remains the same negotiator. So this government was able to run along with the same package to achieve something. But there are conditions that made it succeed under this government; first of all, there was the political will and the commitment and the determination on the side of President Muhammadu Buhari to see that the girls are freed.
Secondly, the military now has succeeded in sending a clear message to the insurgents that they could not defeat the military and that it made them to bow to pressure. The other factor has to do with the fact that the security chiefs under this administration are more serious about getting the girls released.
You can see it very well here that major credit for the release of the girls should go to a number of persons there, but,first and foremost, we must appreciate the role played by the DG of the DES, Mamman Daura, who was tenacious and resilient to see that this thing succeeded.
And then the negotiator, he has worked selflessly benefiting nothing in return to see that this thing succeeded. And also the role played by the Swissgovernment and ICRC has given an international ingredient to the process because their involvement gave assurance in terms of agreeing with the insurgents and the mediator himself.
We should also give credit to the military for the fact that their success on the ground has helped because Boko Haram was in its original strength would not have accepted the process of negotiation.
Since you came out with the template then, did the present government call you?
The present government has not called me, but the government appreciated the role I played. They are working along with all the persons whom provided and structures which I established and, as a distinguished senator, I cannot be part of that. The very fact that I laid out the ground work and my road map was used and all the persons I gave their names were also used to achieve this, I am very much pleased and satisfied with the outcome.
What is your relationship with the Swiss government?
I have no relationship with the Swiss government other than to approach them and they came in and they did not participate in the negotiation, but then facilitated the negotiation and provided training for the negotiator. And the ICRC too did not negotiate, but they provided logistics in terms of transporting the girls and other issues. These are the limitations of their roles in the process.
With the release of the 82 girls, what should be the next line of action for the government?
The next line of action for the government should be to get the remaining Chibok girls released and all captives and they should also use this opportunity as a step forward, exploring the possibility of ending the whole violence and insurgency using the instrument of dialogue.
You presented your final report last week as Chairman, Senate Adhoc Committee on Humanitarian Crisis in the North-East. In the report, you maintained your stand on the SGF, Babachir Lawal. Are you fulfilled?
I am not in the Senate only to probe issues of corruption. I am there to represent my people and what I did was simply part of the duty as a representative of my people. I see what I have done as a duty to my country, a duty to my people and a duty to my conscience should I told all the members of the committee when we started that our credibility was on the line and we have a duty to this country that we can do. And I went deep down full investigation and did it and provided a report that became almost impossible for anybody to fault.
You can see that the attempt by the Presidency to clear those we indicted in the interim report fell flat and this is the kind of report that I think should be doing.
When one is saddled with the responsibility of investigating corruption in the parliament, one must do a thorough job because the reputation of some people involved. I am not a saint and I am not an angel and I don’t celebrate the downfall of people. But when you are called to a duty you simply have to do it.
I believe that the former SGF has contributed a lot to the success of our party and he has also done a lot to serve his country as a politician, but, naturally, as a human being, mistakes were made. I do not in any way celebrate because he has failed, I in fact weep then because I had no option then I had to deliver a report which I had to because that is what was expected of me.
One of your recommendations is that security agencies should do their job; what if at the end of the day nothing comes out?
Well, we have done our own half of the side and I believe we have a very conscious working citizenry now who are by themselves performing oversight functions on anybody who is in government and on government policy. We are heading towards a stage in the history of our country where there are no dark corners and there are no escape routes.
In the past, people get covered, people get protected by the allegiance and loyalty to people that are highly placed in government; but we are reaching a point today where it is becoming impossible for anyone to have refuge or protection for doing wrong or destroying or exploiting this country.
When you table such damaging report on the floor of the Senate, you are also tabling it in the conscience and memory of all Nigerians and it is the options of Nigerians, it is the position of Nigerians, it is awakening the conscience of Nigerians that have made it impossible for the executives to bury this thing.
Your Committee has screened the 27 RECs, what do you think should be the relationship between Resident Electoral Commissioners and governors of the state they are posted to serve?
I think if you have gone back to what has happened some few years ago, you would have seen how the unholy relationship that existed between state governors and REC, where many RECs in their name, their history, their image, have rubbish themselves by the temptation.
It is naturally for a state governor to try to bring a REC very close to him, to hold him tight and to corrupt. And the REC has a duty to understand that he is occupying a very sensitive position and that when dealing with a politician, what matters to a politician is power and what matters to a REC is his reputation, is his integrity.
The REC can only protect his own image and integrity by distancing himself from any form of relationship or contract that goes contrary to his required standard ethical conduct of his own office.
Governors like to bribe REC to want to influence elections, they want to determine everything that in the process you are also blackmailing RECs; RECs must resist blackmail, they must resist the temptation of corruption and they must see their names, their integrity and their honour more precious than what they are going to gain. The governors have immunity, they can be in power for 4years or 8years before being prosecuted, but the REC doesn’t have such immunity. And there is nothing you will do with a politician without the issue of becoming to the pubic glare. So RECs must not in any way be involved in any unholy relationship with state governors.
How is your state, Kaduna?
Kaduna is fine.
How is the APC there?
APC in Kaduna is there, but it is in crisis.
Have you been meeting?
We have been meeting. The APC is factionalized; the government house has its own APC with its selected executives. And those of us the genuine APC progressives also have our own executives.
You, Danjuma La’ah and Hunkuyi are the senators from Kaduna, Danjuma La’ah is of the PDP, only you and Hunkuyi are in the APC. Is Hunkuyi part of the progrssive, has he been attending the other meeting or your meeting?
I don’t have any problem with Hunkuyi, we have a very good relationship and good understanding. But what I can assure you is that on our side, we have all the founding fathers of our party including the chairman of APC of Kaduna state that is recognised by the national leaderCommittee of the party.
Governor Nasir El Rufai and you used to be very close. At what point did you fall out, what actually led to the cold war?
We won the 2015 election under the flag of the APC. During the primaries. he worked against me and he had his candidate for the Senate which I defeated. But I had no particular candidate, I simply want to contest my own election.
So after he won his primary and I won my own primary; I was to have contested the governor, but there were a lot of pressures on me to contest the Senate because it was clear Buhari wanted him to be the governor of the state, so I settled for the primary, but I didn’t run against a vacuum there was an incumbent Senator and he was the preferred candidate of Nasir El Rufai.
Nasir El Rufia is not a political heavy weight in Kaduna, he had no structures, he had no political experience, he has been a minister and he has been an Abuja person, but all my life, I have lived in Kaduna state, I have never gone out of Kaduna for a year or two, that was my home.
When we won the election, we were supposed to have worked together. First of all in setting up the transition committee, everyone who won election, his name was there except mine and I called him when he was in Dubai and I asked him; a transition committee was set up and you even included people who lost election and those who won but out of everyone I was the only one who was excluded, why, what is happening?
He said he was sorry he wasn’t the person who did it, that it was the person who was the SSG of the state government, he said he was going to talk to him to include my name and then he spoke to him to include my name and then I went there and I accepted it. So if I wanted to be at war with him, I shouldn’t have done that.
He won election, of all those who won election, there and then he gave an offer to everyone to present a list of people to be appointed into various offices. I came from Kaduna South local government, the most populous local government in Kaduna state that gave APC a sizable amount of votes and gave him even the highest amount of votes.
So I went back to my local government and asked them to give me the list of people that they know are capable; I would have drafted the list myself and give him, but I told my people to give me the list and they went and met and shared this thing and gave me and I sent it to him and he acknowledged that he has received it.
Then later when appointments came, all other Senators and members of the House of Representatives and other persons who gave him names all their candidates were given appointments, not one person from me. So it became my own again, he also took position that was supposed to be given to me, he gave it to the person I defeated in the primary election.
Now if President Buhari started giving appointments to people who Nasir defeated in the primaries what would have happened to him? So it became clear to me that this man that doesn’t want us to work together, so I simply wished him well and I went my own way.
And then gradually some of his aides and close associates started local radio stations to start attacking me and I said okay I am not trained in politics but I am trained in the struggle and I said let’s start this and see, I am a marathon runner, I am not a 100meter runner, I can fight this battle from the beginning to the end and that became the basis, the trigger that started this crisis.
He did a number of things, first of all, he used some of his aides to induce some excos to suspend me and when that suspension for 11months didn’t give him the necessary peace he needed from me, he made them again to give me indefinite suspension and when that did not give him the peace he needs from me, my office was attacked by gun men inside Kaduna and when that did not give him the needed peace, he ended up, reporting me to the national secretariat thinking that the national secretariat will endorse that and then move.
And there was also the campaign of calumny against me including sponsoring some persons to go to the media and question my own secondary school certificate and even the polytechnic which I attended. And I told people, if you have any doubt about my qualifications, you don’t come and ask me, all you need to do is to go the school. If my primary, secondary school and polytechnic tell you that I was a student or I wasn’t, then I work out. He even sponsored some persons to match to my late mother’s home, for them to burn it; all sorts of campaign against me.
I told him that as far as I am concerned, you would be in this, as far as Kaduna is concerned, it is where I was born, it is where I live, it is where I won my election. And we will know between me and him, we will continue to battle for the soul of the common people in Kaduna and he started unleashing policies and programmes that will increase the hardship and sufferings of the people of Kaduna and that is very much unacceptable.
Now I can see clear difference between his own version of governorship and my version of governorship. I came from the background in the struggle as an activist, he came from the establishment and he calls himself a technocrat. He was part and parcel of the PDP, then he will tell me that PDP has destroyed this country for 16years, but he was a 13years member of that very PDP.
He is the kind of person that will tell you that PDP has destroyed Nigeria for 16years but they will limit their criticism to former President Goodluck Jonathan which was 7years out of the 13years which they were all part of.
So these were the fundamental issues that we confront as people in Kaduna state. But each time anybody ask me about my differences with him, what I will say is that don’t ask El- Rufai about Shehu Sani, don’t ask Shehu Sani about El- Rufai, go to Kaduna and ask the Kaduna people and ask them about what are their views of Shehu Sani and El- Rufai , I think whatever they tell you is what you are going to take.
Have you not been called by the APC leaders and stakeholders for settlement in the interest of the party and the state?
Well, it is not only in Kaduna, the national secretariat has made some moves and the move it made was that it set up a committee headed Bello Masari to reconcile the crisis in Kaduna state. Masari sat in Abuja here and invited aggrieved stakeholders, I was also invited and many other persons were invited, but the governor refused to honour the invitation from Masari and that shows where the problem is coming from.
Before President Buhari traveled to London for yet another medical attention, there was a letter to the National Assembly where Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was asked to coordinate the activities of government. What is your take on this especially when you compare the first letter which indicated acting and the present one?
First of all I was not in the Senate that day the letter was read and if I was there, I would have raised issues. First of all the letter has cited the relevant constitutional provisions that made it clear that power is transferred from President Buhari to Vice President Osinbajo. But such words as coordinating ought not to be there, it was fundamentally wrong for anybody to do that and it is confusing and it is bound to raise suspicion.
Properly, we can accept the fact that Osinbajo is the Acting President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, but that word coordinator shouldn’t have been used and whoever did it could either be for mischievous reasons or lack of experience. It is unfortunate that such a letter should be sent to the National Assembly that contains that fundamental clause that made it possible for people to speculate and raise suspicion.
And we live in a country where people just believe anything and are suspicious of everything. And in this kind of atmosphere,such official communication could have been done with the highest level of standard, professionalism and articulation that will fully reflect the message that was being sent.