Interview by Punch Newspaper.
Senator Shehu Sani, who represented Kaduna Central in the 8th Senate, in this interview with TOBI AWORINDE, speaks on the failure of the Federal Government and Northern Governors to tackle the insecurity challenges in the region, despite large budgetary allocations and several Military operations
The Northern States Governors’ Forum recently held a meeting with northern emirs and chiefs and came up with some resolutions on social media censorship, including a ‘major control mechanism and censorship of the social media practice in Nigeria.’ What are your thoughts on that?
First and foremost, it is unfortunate and tragic that Governors from a region that is facing a serious security threat in terms of banditry, kidnapping, insurgency and violence have decided to prioritise the issue of social media over the issue that affects the lives and livelihoods of their people. In the last few years, kidnapping and extrajudicial killings and murder by bandits, herdsmen and insurgents have become the order of the day in northern Nigeria. Mourning and funeral services have become a daily affair. Many people are on the streets of Katsina, Sokoto, Niger, Zamfara and Kaduna states. Thousands of people have been displaced from their villages. Farmers cannot go to their farms because they have been under siege.
People in the rural areas have been impoverished because of payment of ransoms. Corpses litter the bushes. People are still being kidnapped, not only in the villages but on the outskirts of the towns. For such people to have gathered and to see that what was more important to them was the issue of social media is most tragic and unfortunate. Social media has become the only tool by which Nigerians, particularly young Nigerians, can hold their government to account. What they (political leaders) desire is to have a political space where they will act with impunity; where they will work with compromised traditional media; and where they will always have their way and say. So, the resolution of these people is condemnable and is something that should not be taken seriously by Nigerians because their major interest is the image of their government; the preservation of power; politicking, politics and partisanship. This is what is most important to them and not the lives of their people.
Aside from insecurity, the North has the highest poverty rate and number of out-of-school children in the country. Why do you think the issue of social media is more of a concern to northern governors?
Social media has become the people’s parliament and also the only weapon that is used by almost every Nigerian to hold the government to account, to hold them in check, to criticise the government and bring issues to national discourse. It has also become the torchlight with which grey areas of government and governance can have some light. They are only interested in a nation of silence and quiet; a nation of docile people who cannot stand up and challenge them. And they see social media as a threat to their government and their power, not as a threat to the country. It is unfortunate that the same people who used social media to ascend to power are now trying to undermine that same tool. As far as I am concerned, what they want is simply a society and nation without an opposition, criticism or dissent, and they see the clampdown on social media as a means towards achieving that objective.
Are you saying the northern governors’ failure to address insecurity, poverty and under-education is a case of misplaced priorities?
There are lots of issues the North is confronted with that ought to have been a priority to these governors. First is insecurity – banditry in the North-West, kidnapping in the North-East and herdsmen/farmers’ violence and ethno-religious crisis in the North Central. The second issue is poverty – people are so impoverished and the North has remained one of the poorest regions of Nigeria. That should have been a purpose to them. Third is education; the North is educationally backward. Millions of young people are out of school and, unfortunately, those who have been in positions of power ought to have done something about it, but they have failed to do that. The fourth aspect is the collapse of the economy of the North. The system of federalism, as it is today – fake federalism – and the overdependence on oil has destroyed agriculture, solid mineral exploration, industry and even human capital in the North. These issues should be of importance to them and should have been given more concern. Even the issue of health – most of the diseases that have long been wiped out in other parts of the world are still prevalent in the North or were recently eradicated, for example, polio. Leprosy and cholera are still with us. If those things cannot be a priority to them, why should social media be an issue?
The ongoing debate over social media regulation is still at the National Assembly. Should this then be made a geopolitical issue?
The point is that the social media regulation bill was brought to the floor of the 8th National Assembly when we were there. The promoter of that bill was Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, but we never wasted time in killing that bill. That bill was killed and buried. But now, the ruling political establishment is desirous of having a placid, complicit and indolent nation that cannot stand up to challenge those in positions of authority. So, they hide behind the guise that social media has been used to incite tension, create problems and destabilise the country. But all they want to do now is curtail, stifle and silence the voices of dissent and criticism that have courageously been able to stand up to power in Nigeria. So, if this National Assembly attempts to pass that bill, they would have dealt a serious blow to freedom of expression, freedom of speech and freedom of the press in this country. Our democracy must learn to live with the rights of people to freely express themselves. If former President Goodluck Jonathan’s government had passed the social media bill at that time, many people who are in government today would have been in jail because social media was a tool with which they fought the last government and ascended to power.
The Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, was one of those in attendance at the meeting of northern leaders. Some people question him for attending such a meeting where decisions that pandered to the interests of the North were taken?
I think it was a very big mistake. There is no reason a regional meeting should bring in the federal executive because he has to replicate that. If the South-East governors are meeting, the IG has to attend. If the South-West or Niger Delta governors are meeting, he has to attend. This has set a precedent and it is a dangerous precedent because regional issues are regional issues. There was no reason why he should attend a meeting when the issues were about what concerned them alone. All he was supposed to have done was to make his position known and send it to him, not to physically attend their meeting. But by doing that, they have already set a precedent that he has to attend all regional meetings of governors in Nigeria from now on.
Do you think it was deliberate?
I think, from his point of reasoning, he may say he was there to brief them on security efforts of the Nigeria Police, but the danger of it is that he now has to make regular attendance at all the regional meetings of governors in Nigeria, and I don’t know how that will be helpful. And he has to be physically present because, if he physically attended the northern governors’ meeting, then he cannot send an Assistant Inspector General of Police or Deputy Inspector General of Police to attend the meeting of other regional governors. He also has to be physically present because we live in a country where every action or word is interpreted, classified and categorised.
Would you say his presence at the meeting politicises his office?
For now, his presence there has only attracted the attention of other parts of Nigeria because if he refuses to attend other meetings, then a conclusion can be reached. But if he attends all the other meetings, whatever resolution is given to that can then be addressed by his presence in all the other regional meetings.
Recently, the Nigerian Army said it would commence the Operation Crocodile Smile to combat cyber attacks. With the IG’s presence at a meeting calling for censorship of social media, should Nigerians be concerned about their freedom of expression?
All these operations they are doing – whether crocodile, snake, python, tiger or lion – have not been able to address the security challenges in Nigeria today. Where were all the crocodiles and pythons when foreign powers had to come into Nigeria to rescue their citizens from the hands of kidnappers? Why have our own crocodile, python, snake and tiger been unable to address kidnapping and rescue people who were kidnapped? As I speak, most parts of the Niger East senatorial district are under bandits and kidnappers. Also, most parts of the Birnin Gwari, Igabi, Giwa local government areas in Kaduna State and the southern part of Kaduna are under the grip of kidnappers. Right now, you cannot even freely move in the evening to the Kaduna Airport from Kaduna city without being kidnapped. In the many cities in the north-western part of Nigeria, just two or three kilometres’ walk outside of the city, you will find yourself in the hands of kidnappers. You cannot move from Kaduna to Abuja by road without being kidnapped, so people have resorted to taking the train. You would even see military generals and senior police officers travelling by train.
As far I’m concerned, our security agencies have failed, and unfortunately, in the last four to five years, defence and security budgets have had the lion’s share, but that has not translated into adequate security for our people, nor has it ended kidnapping. Kidnappers have laid siege to the villages of Udawa, Gurumana, Madaka, and Galadima Kogo in Niger State. In Shiroro and Munya LGAs, you cannot move around. In Kaduna, three LGAs in the Central senatorial district, Giwa, Igabi and Birnin Gwari are under siege; Southern Kaduna is under siege. In Zamfara and Kaduna states, it is an unfortunate story that kidnapping is all over the states. In parts of Sokoto, a massacre is still ongoing by bandits. So, what are we talking about? With all these monies being spent on security and defence, why have they not translated into adequate security for our people?
The northern leaders said they rejected and condemned what they described as subversive acts of the #EndSARS in the North and they vowed to contain the “menace” of the protests. Why are the protests seen as a menace?
The protests have brought to the public the reality of how the apparatus of state is being used to intimidate people, to violate their fundamental human rights and unleash terror against people; how an agency funded by the state that ought to have been a shield for citizens has become a killer of its own citizens. So, the northern governors’ meeting, I believe, should be about the security of the North and not about attacking or criticising the #EndSARS protests. Now, during the #EndSARS protests, in order for the northerners not to participate in #EndSARS protests, the political establishment concocted protests against insecurity in Nigeria. It was not a protest that came from the people of the North; it was a protest that was artificially conceived to counter the #EndSARS protests, so that people in the North would not join the #EndSARS protests.
If they were actually talking about their people, when the governors met, they should have addressed the protests about insecurity in the North. But because it was contrived, they never made any comment about it. The North, from Maiduguri to Sokoto to Niger to Kaduna to Kano, people protested against insecurity. If actually that protest was natural, the governors would have spoken about it. But many of them were behind such protests.
In Kaduna city, a lady with a seven-month-old pregnancy was killed. There are many people who have been in the bushes, kidnapped by bandits and there is no money to pay for their release. So, kidnapping, banditry and insurgency are going on; why have the protests stopped? They have stopped because it was not done to reflect the insecurity in the North; it was concocted to counter the #EndSARS movement in the North, and that is why the governors refused to make it an issue. If the governors have met, I expect that the basic issue should be the killings and kidnappings going on in the North, but it wasn’t. They were there simply to counter the #EndSARS protests and it’s unfortunate.
Why do you think the governors failed to address the discovery of warehouses where COVID-19 palliatives were stored across several states, which was a follow-up to the #EndSARS protests?
The #EndSARS protests have shed light on government and governance – the cruelty of people in power, their infamy, iniquity, injustice, and wickedness. How can governors hoard such foodstuffs when people are hungry? It has been over three months since the lockdown was lifted in Nigeria. What were those items doing in warehouses? Those items were in warehouses not in expectation of a second wave of COVID-19, but simply hoarded because our government and people who are in positions of power in the states are insensitive.
It’s unfortunate that the President (Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.)) has found himself in the midst of people who are wicked, cruel and insensitive to their own people. It’s unfortunate that the governors are so furious that warehouses were looted, when in many of their states, thousands have been killed and their corpses buried in their bushes, and many of their citizens are in the bushes. As far as many of these governors are concerned, a carton of noodles is of more importance to them than the lives of their people. They talk of hoodlums and thugs – ‘hoodlums and thugs’ were produced by the political establishments. These are the reserve army of the political establishments that they used to get to power which they abandoned after getting power. So, ‘hoodlums and thugs’ are by-products of the system; they were crafted by the people who are in power.
What do you think about the recent statements by governors of Kaduna and Ekiti states, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai and Dr Kayode Fayemi, that Nigeria should restructure, even though the All Progressives Congress had promised it and even set up a committee headed by El-Rufai to look into it?
I saw the statement credited to the Pan Niger Delta Forum and Afenifere; do not be deceived by people who are in positions of authority that have the levers of power to restructure and prefer to come to the media and make a noise about it. Do not be deceived by it. The political establishment says it is for restructuring. It has control of the upper and lower chambers of the National Assembly. It has control of most of the states in the country. It has control of levers of power and apparatuses of state; why has it refused to restructure after more than five years in power, when it has an opposition that is not opposed to restructuring? I see restructuring simply as a tool that is used for campaigns. It was used for the 2015 campaign; people fell for it but it was abandoned after the elections. It was used for the 2019 campaign and abandoned afterwards. Now, it is also going to be used for 2023 elections. So, I feel sorry for anybody who believes whoever is in a position of authority in the ruling class today. If you think that they believe in restructuring, then it is not they who are the fools; you are the one who is a fool.
Do you think that restructuring is the solution to the problems of insecurity, poverty, resource control and so on?
Restructuring will address a number of things. The system as it exists today is only benefitting a few people and does not give room for regional development and some sort of autonomy. Many states have abandoned the idea of exploring for resources to contribute to the centre because oil flows in the Niger Delta. All the states are looking forward to the end of the month, so that the minister of finance will call them to collect their cheques for federal allocation. We need to restructure in order to reduce the cost of governance and government. We need to restructure in order to make it possible for all the resources in all parts of our country to be exploited for the benefit of this generation and the future generation. We need to restructure in order to make it flexible for regions with peculiar socioeconomic identities to work together for the betterment of the country. We need to restructure to make it impossible for people to see government and power at the centre as a source of wealth and fame, and remain in their own states of origin to be able to work for the development of Nigeria. That is the spirit of restructuring and nothing else.
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