By Wole Olaoye
Shehu Sani is not your regular business-as-usual Nigerian senator. He served notice of his moral and ideological posture early in the day when, in September 2015, he publicly declared his assets stating that he had a total of N22 million in three bank accounts.
He also disclosed that he owned two residential houses in Kaduna and one in Abuja; two other houses under lease and two uncompleted office apartments in Kaduna; one family inherited house in Kurfi, Katsina State, and one family inherited house in Minna, Niger State.
He also said he owned several vehicles, and bought N5million worth of shares in 2007. On source of wealth, he disclosed that he received royalties from the over 30 books he had published in Nigeria, the United States and the UK (among which are: Killing Fields, 2007; Poverty in Northern Nigeria; Political Assassination in Nigeria, 2007; Youth as Vanguard in the Battle against Corruption; and Civilian Dictators of Africa, 2008) and that he was also the publisher of a community journal, Peace magazine.
The 50-year-old former student activist who has two wives and six children said he was following the example laid by President Buhari and Vice-President Osinbajo. He challenged other public officers to do the same.
Many people wondered why he had bothered to take such a step since public declaration was voluntary. “I chose to publicly declare and be pelted than to walk with the stain of suspicion and mistrust splashed on all public officeholders by a generation of curious citizenry,” he explained.
Since that time, Sani has not disappointed those who swore that he was bound to shake things up in the national legislature. Having emerged from the trenches of social activism from where he was plucked and incarcerated by the Babangida, Shonekan and Abacha regimes, it was reasoned that Sani was well prepared for the battle of dredging the marshes of the Nigerian Senate even though he was but a first term legislator. (It seemed centuries ago when he was sentenced to life jail by Abacha’s kangaroo tribunal!)
The personable legislator has carved a niche for himself as a lawmaker on the side of the people. Comfortably seated in the spectators’ gallery, this writer does not intend to delve into Sani’s many battles with his state governor. They will sort themselves out eventually.
On the national front, he has, in my judgement, acquitted himself creditably. Without his tenacity, would the sordid revelations of the underhand dealings of the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, have seen the light of day? Would his several candid interventions which seemed to indict even his own party but which eventually jolted government out of its lethargy have been made by any of his other colleagues?
Since 1999, the Nigerian legislature has operated on an unwritten code of silence regarding the exact remuneration of legislators in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Ask any legislator how much he earned in total and he would show you his pay slip which showed less than a million Naira per month. But the devil was in the unstated entitlements which were more than 1,000% of the stated monthly pay.
Now, thanks to Shehu Sani, the secret is out: Nigerian federal legislators are robbing us blind!
“I think what we can say is that the running cost of a senator is N13.5 million every month,” Sani disclosed in an interview with The News. There was no itemisation of what the money was meant for but each lawmaker was mandated to provide receipts to back up their expenses. Aha, the gravy train!
In addition to that, each senator was also entitled to N200 million in “constituency projects” which funds were domiciled with an agency of government. Each senator would then submit a list of projects equivalent to N200 million in a process that is as opaque as could ever be.
If Shehu Sani is not a patriot, then I don’t know the spelling of patriotism. Nigeria has been gang-raped for too long by those whose constitutional duty it is to look after our collective welfare. Some quick calculation: 109 senators at N14.2 million per month equals N1.55 Billion while constituency projects of N200 million each for 109 senators will gulp N21.8 Billion. When you add the figures of the 360 members of the House of Representatives, you’d need to check your blood pressure.
All this is happening in a country where 61% of the citizens live on less than $1 per day!
Obviously this legalised robbery cannot continue. The gadfly, Shehu Sani, has played his own part. It is now left for all of us to insist on the scrapping of the so-called ‘constituency projects’ and total disclosure of how our funds are spent. Any legislator desirous of attracting a project to his constituency should lobby the Executive to include such in the national budget as is done in saner climes. In the long term, we do not need a bicameral legislature. One part-time legislature will do just fine
Thank you, Shehu Sani, for your candour. Ayn Rand (the Russian-American novelist, philosopher, playwright and screenwriter) had warned us that, “When you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you — when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice — you may know that your society is doomed”.
May we not be doomed!