Senator Shehu Sani represented Kaduna Central in the 8th Senate. In this interview with BODE OLAGOKE, he spoke about his newly-established Africa Centre for Freedom, Peace and Development (ACFPD)
What is the centre all about?
This is to bring out the consciousness of Nigerians and indeed Africans. It is a think tank and advocacy platform that would focus on key areas of democracy, peace and development in Africa as a continent and Nigeria as a country. It is a centre that would be involved in research and advocacy in key areas as democracy and political freedom. It would provide the platform for resource persons, intellectuals, organisations
and spirited individuals interested in promoting political freedom, democracy and good governance. Secondly, this is a centre that would advocate for economic and social justice. It would be fully involved in performing independent oversight on institutions directly related to economic progress of the country and continent. Also of interest is the issue of peace and security which Nigeria and the continent have been facing ranging from sectarian strife to terrorism, religious and ethnic violence.
Now, with the signing of African Free Trade Zone (AfTZ), there is need for advocacy by organisations and individuals and this centre would play a key role to see that AfTZ is not only an intergovernmental affair but also an idea that would be rooted in the heart and minds of Africans.
What is your relationship with the government considering your political interest and how do you think the centre would be acceptable?
There is no individual that is denied the right to set up an organisation based on what our constitution says. Even though it is a political organisation, my political affiliation and interest does not in any way affects the centre because the centre itself also has political issues to address in terms of making sure that the constitution of the country and the rule of law and good governance are the issues that can also be taken very seriously. I believe there would have been conflict if I am still holding political office but the fact that I am not holding any political office, I am just an ordinary person like you journalists. we have that right I am the executive director of this body.
Is the centre a pressure group?
As for the centre, ours is to provide the necessary material resources and ideas for others to act and that will include even the government. If the fact that we have presented it made it a pressure group, then that is what it is, but as far as we are concerned, we are not a pressure group.
Our relationship with the government is to assist where our services are needed. We would also prefer solutions that the government is at liberty to address, we would provide solutions to security challenges confronting Nigeria whether it is banditry or insurgency or herdsmen violence. I think these are the major challenges that affect us. So, we will also provide the same solutions to other African countries; in fact, we have sent out the necessary correspondents to governments from across the continent.
How would the centre make the policy actors saddled with the responsibility to act in the direction of implementation?
Yes, as a country and a continent, we have problem with implementation of our policies and programmes and I think that is why our crises tends to prolong but that should not stop us from advocating for what should be done and why it should be done rightly. if we simply give up because government does not take up ideas to implement programmes, then the problems are not going to end. Everyday, hundreds of people have been killed by insurgents and by bandits. If you don’t keep up the advocacy for the government to do what it ought to do, nobody would take you seriously. As someone just coming from the parliament, I know that public pressure play a key role in forcing the government to do what is right or get the response of government to issues. If however, you allow the government to act within itself then so many things certainly would not work in that aspect.
What is the plan if the centre about victims of human trafficking?
As a senator, I had raised issues on human trafficking and migration a number of occasions. It is unfortunate that African governments and not just Nigeria have still not taken the issue seriously. Hundreds of Africans risk their lives crossing the Sahara getting into terrorist enclave in Libya and most times die in their attempt at crossing to Italy but you don’t see that issue occupy the front burner of discuss whenever African heads of state gather. That is because the pressure on them is coming more from the European side than from African groups, individuals and institutions. Many of our national anti-human trafficking agencies are grossly under funded and they depend on donations from Europe to act; they don’t have vehicles and no navigation equipment. They don’t have even the resources to advocate to reach out to universities and young people for them to stop crossing the Sahara. That should not be the case. This centre would work assiduously to make sure that we stem the tide of young people crossing over to Sahara, Libya and then to Europe. We would do that by reaching out to those that are directly involved. Those who are deceived and those who are responsible for these things here. So, it is a major point of interest to us.
Nigeria is currently battling with debt burden both local and foreign. What plan does this organisation has to help rescue Nigeria from the mess?
Nigeria’s current debt stands at almost $24trillion and by 2015 it was about $15trillion. The issue is that there is lack of awareness on the citizenry on what that is all about. Governors simply request for approval from state assemblies and the assembly approves without public hearing. Civil society groups appear to be more interested in what happens at the National Assembly and not state assemblies. Because of lack of advocacy on the issue of debt, governments simply get away with it. The way we are moving, if we had been out of the debt trap in 2006 and now we have risen to $24trillion, think of where we would be in five years. The position is that when the awareness on debt is high, there would be less and less desire for government to borrow. They are exploiting the ignorance of people on debt and we are simply pilling up debt. Many states now are unable to pay their workers’ salaries and execute their capital projects because of the previous burden of debt left behind. The centre would provide the citizens with the necessary information they need to know because you will never get any serious information from the government. The only information they will give is that you need to borrow to execute projects, without telling you at what interest they are borrowing, when is the money would be paid, how and from which source? These things are shrouded in secrecy. The second point is that we also need to enlighten the citizens on the so called grant. Many state government and even government agencies collect what they call grant without explaining to people that the grant is also a form of loan. So, when you say you want to borrow and your citizens said no, then they would go through the back and arrange grant and when they say it is grant, everybody will think it is free; so, these are the issues.