Is it true that you have dumped the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the People’s Redemption Party (PRP)?
If I want to defect from my political party to another, I will do it publicly. For now, I remain an APC senator. But frankly speaking, we have issues with the ruling party and we are saying in clear terms that the crises must be addressed for peace to reign. There are issues in the party, from Kogi to Niger, to Kaduna, to Kano, to Bauchi, in fact, in most of the states in the country. It is a time the president waded in and resolved these crises as failure to do so will affect the future, integrity, unity and stability of the party. The fact that I have been outspoken against an attempt to muscle, to shuffle, and to press us down has made some people uncomfortable and they see us as an enemy. It is good you said it is a rumour. As I am talking to you, I remain an APC senator. But we have tabled our issues and they must be addressed. And if they are not addressed, we have Plan B. Certainly.
Recently in Osun State, you said concerning corruption that the character of this government would be known after it is gone. What exactly were you trying to say?
If you are the president or a governor, hardly will people know how clean or honest your government is until you are out of power. When you are out of power, it will avail the people the opportunity to go through your files and know what you have left behind. If you are a governor and you are in the habit of giving contracts to friends and family members, a time will come when the people will know what transpired. Most of the past governors are today standing trial and in the past, they were lords and gods in their domains. They were untouchable; you could not criticise them or ask them to account for what they were doing. Today, out of power and with no immunity, they are standing trial for their past deeds. One day, public office holders will account for what they did once they leave office.
Some people are saying that the president is surrounded by bad people. Do you agree with that?
It is not everybody around Buhari that is bad but it is very clear that there are forces that are drawing the country backwards and the president appears to be doing nothing about it. He is unable to control them. I think the president needs to hear what people are saying, too, not just these people. What these people are saying before Buhari is different from what they are saying behind his back. I think what they are saying behind his back matters than what they are saying before him.
What do you think is the permanent solution to Boko Haram insurgency?
There are security issues. We need to continue to support our troops to fight in order to contain and curtail them. There are also political issues. We have to restructure and address some basic grievances that led to this problem. There is also the need for us to rehabilitate the victims and support the states. That is why we have the North East Development Commission (NEDC) today. We believe the NEDC will do all I enumerated above.
The herdsmen/farmers crisis in the country has assumed a disturbing dimension, how do you see the development?
We must move to end this crisis. This is a crisis that is undermining the peace and stability of this country and the president must call his aides to order. It is wrong for the president’s aides or his political appointees to try to misinform the general public by justifying or rationalising the reason for the violence. Many lives were lost. It is time for us to find a solution to the problem. The killings in Benue, Adamawa and Taraba are unacceptable and they should be rightly condemned. The exchange of words between CAN [Christian Association of Nigeria] and JNI [Jama’atu Nasril-l-Islam] is most unfortunate. We must take these things very seriously. Nigeria has never been more divided than now. The North is no more one. People are speaking of ethnic and religious divides. The earlier we bring an end to this the better.
Uba Sani is reportedly being touted to take over your seat in the Senate come 2019. How do you feel about that?
Well, I am on the seat and nobody will be stopped from aspiring to be anything. But the character you mentioned, I know him very well. If not for the fact that he is in the corridor of power in the state, he cannot, in any way, attempt to confront Comrade Shehu Sani. His principal was unable to muscle Shehu Sani, much less an errand boy. You see, we are in a political season, you can recruit anybody, pay them to go to the radio to talk rubbish but that is not where politics lies. Politics is about oneself; it is about your acceptability and I have consistently said elect a person that you know can eloquently stand for you, somebody with character and acceptance. So, I am not disturbed one bit. I think Kaduna Central deserves a better candidate because we have set a standard and it is left for the people to bring any type of representative or maintain the standard. Again, let me draw your attention to one thing: ninety-five percent of the governor’s aides and appointees are vying for elective offices. Why are they doing this? Because they are not sure whether their principal can cross the line; everyone is simply taking a lifeboat to see how they can survive after 2019. They are taking advantage of their closeness to him to see how they can muscle the party, suppress somebody and threaten people to endorse him. But if you are an expert in politics, you know that going to the media to make an oral endorsement does not make one win elections. There are many hurdles to cross.
What are your plans ahead of 2019, do you want to go back to the Senate or contest for the governorship seat?
Well, the time will come. It is not going to be my independent decision. We are giving room for dialogue and making consultations. We will make public whether we will remain in APC or not. Things will be made very clear in a matter of weeks. It is going to be a decision we will take in Abuja within us and whatever the resolution is, we will make public.
What is your relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari, it doesn’t appear to be cordial presently?
It is very cordial. I love him. He is a man of integrity. I did not just know him when he was our presidential candidate or when he became president; I have known him for a very long time – even when nobody cared to know him. But that does not mean I cannot express my view if I see something going wrong. My view will not always be in tandem with the views of others. I am not a blind follower or a sycophant; I will always express my view when I think something is wrong, and I think the president respects me for that.
If the president decides to re-contest in 2019, will you support him?
He has not made his intentions known. That means there are issues. If there are no issues, the president would have already made a public pronouncement. For the fact that he is reserving his intentions and keeping people in suspense shows that he is measuring his ropes to know what is best for him. As far as I am concerned, he has the constitutional right to contest and my views might not necessarily be accepted. For a man who has attained about 75 years of age, if he decides to re-contest, he knows the pressure that will come to bear on his health, his family. And if he chooses not to contest, certainly, he will still be a national hero. He will be a hero because he has already achieved what he wanted to achieve.
Do you have somebody in mind that you think will be a good replacement?
I don’t have anybody in mind but I have the firm belief that whoever is going for the position must be a man of proven integrity, a unifier, somebody who will be accepted and seen as president for all Nigerians. He must be someone who has experience in addressing crises, a man who will be acceptable to all Nigerians
Do you believe in restructuring holding the ace for Nigeria’s rebirth?
Of course, I do. Before anyone started talking about restructuring in the country, I was one of the few Nigerians that had been at the forefront of the agitation. But today, we have many opportunists who are cashing in on the national pulse like the governor of Kaduna State who went and crafted a certain committee and presided over it and brought out some ideas.
But the committee you are talking about was set up by the national headquarters of your party?
As far as we are concerned in the National Assembly, we are not aware of any committee like that. If the party set up a committee, it is left to them but we have enough documents to work with on the issue of restructuring and we might not need his committee’s report.
What do you make of the recent special statement released by former President Olusegun Obasanjo about the administration of President Buhari?
Obasanjo’s statement was apt. He has the right to express his opinion. As a former president, this was not the first time he would write a letter to a sitting president. He wrote similar letters to [Shehu] Shagari, [Ibrahim] Babangida, [Sani] Abacha, [Umaru] Yar’Adua and [Goodluck] Jonathan. He has since been known to be a man of consistent conviction in the pursuit of what he believes to be right. I knew him as a political prisoner. We were in the same prison with him for many years and even in prison, he spoke his mind to the warders. If he could be in such a situation and still speak to authority, how much more could he do as a free man? I don’t think he meant any harm to the president by expressing his opinion. It is left to President Buhari to take it or leave it. Does Obasanjo tell Buhari not to contest portray him as the president’s enemy? Or would he look at Obasanjo as his friend if he asked him to re-contest? So, there is nothing wrong with what he said. As a senator today, every day I received thousands of messages, some commending me and others insulting me. But as a leader, you have to take it. That is what leadership is all about.
Recently the House of Representatives approved a $350 million loan for Kaduna State. When is the Senate expected to approve the loan?
Well, the loan is still on our table and we are still studying it. But the Kaduna State government has taken another path of sponsoring people to abuse and insult us in the media, organise protests to damage our character and reputation. I don’t think this is the best way to secure the loan. We will do our job and nobody can force us to do what is wrong.
What is the monthly salary of a senator?
That is very much available on the website of the National Assembly. You will see it clearly spelt out there. If I said I earn N1 or N2, nobody will believe me but what you see on the website is certainly what we are earning.