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Why reconciling El-Rufai, Gov Sani may be waste of time – Shehu Sani

Senator Shehu Sani, who represented Kaduna Central in the ninth National Assembly, was the chairman of the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debts when…

Senator Shehu Sani, who represented Kaduna Central in the ninth National Assembly, was the chairman of the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debts when the upper chamber rejected the initial loan request by the Kaduna State Government under the immediate past governor, Nasir el-Rufai. It is believed in several quarters that this action, among others, contributed to his failed attempt to return to the Senate in 2019. In this interview with Trust TV’s Daily Politics, Shehu Sani said any effort to reconcile Governor Sani and his predecessor, El-Rufai may be a waste of time.

 

The concerns regarding the $350 million loan requested by a former Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai were significant. When you and your colleagues at the National Assembly declined the loan, it sparked controversy, with some labelling you as enemies of Kaduna State’s progress. Now, with Governor Uba Sani revealing that Kaduna State is struggling to pay salaries due to this loan and others, do you feel vindicated in your decision?

The unfolding events in Kaduna State today align with a prediction I made some time ago. I foresaw a day like this, a day of reckoning for the state and its people.

When the former governor, Nasir el-Rufai requested a $350 million loan, it became crucial for the public to understand the origins of this money.

Former Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun played a key role in securing a World Bank loan for two states – her home state, Ogun and Kaduna. These requests were presented to the National Assembly by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.

By coincidence or fate, I was the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign and Local Debts when the request for the $350 million loan for Kaduna State came to my committee.

Nigeria’s Debt Management Act stipulates that when considering a loan application, we ask several questions like: How much is being borrowed? What will the money be used for? How will the loan be repaid? Will servicing this debt affect the state’s finances and activities? What is the level of transparency in managing the funds?

When the Kaduna team appeared before the Senate to defend the loan request, they failed to provide satisfactory answers to these questions. Their only response was that they wanted to borrow $350 million. Additionally, the governor continually insulted and attacked the Senate, particularly me and my committee, which raised concerns about his motives and intentions.

Was this faceoff with the former governor before the rejection or after?

Before the rejection, we had political and other issues that stemmed from how he was running the state. The demolition of homes and mass sack were at variance to what we promised, but let’s zero in on the funds. We went through the internally generated revenue of Kaduna State and the federal allocation. We tallied it to the point that if this money was given to Kaduna State, there would be issues with the payment.

Then they arranged it in such a way that he (El-Rufai) would borrow the money and use it while payment would begin a month after he left office.

Do you think this loan was strategically designed, or was it the natural way it could have been structured?

Well, it seemed that was how it was designed. As I examined the details, it became clear that the state would struggle to repay the loan without other institutions suffering. Additionally, there was lack of transparency in how the loan would be managed. The document indicated that only three people would oversee the management of the fund, raising concerns about the potential impact on other services.

After a careful deliberation, our committee concluded that approving this loan would lead the state into a serious financial crisis. I foresaw that the problems would not immediately arise but would instead emerge after El-Rufai left office, coinciding with the start of the loan repayment period. Repayment would begin a month after he left office.

Furthermore, I predicted that if we started repaying the loan, it would be deducted from our federal allocation as a state, which, coupled with the natural depreciation of the national currency against the dollar, would exacerbate the financial burden.

Despite facing pressure and threats, including the risk of losing my seat as a senator, I chose to oppose the loan. I presented the facts to other senators from Kaduna State, including Suleiman Hunkuyi and Danjuma Laah, who also agreed that the loan should not be approved.

Ultimately, after presenting our case to the larger house and a thorough debate, the loan request was rejected. And from there, the battle line was drawn.

The issue of debt is not limited to Kaduna. Every Nigerian is aware of the reasons behind the quadrupling of debt servicing. The forex crisis in the country has significantly contributed to this situation. If the naira was still valued at N400 to a dollar, Governor Uba Sani might not be complaining. However, the fact that it has tripled has consumed all that was supposed to be left for development. This is a national issue; even the federal government is struggling to pay off about N10 trillion, just to service about N100 trillion in loans. Some may argue that it was just a coincidence, not by design, that these loans were taken. Perhaps the parameters used by the former governor were that the state would be able to pay off these loans. What do you think?

When you are involved in governance, it is crucial to be able to forecast future events. Kaduna State is currently facing the consequences of past mistakes. Even without the naira depreciating, the state government cannot service a $350 million loan based on federal allocations and internally generated revenue (IGR) alone.

There are reports that N20 billion was withdrawn shortly before the handover, tied to IGR and at a high interest rate, suggesting a deliberate attempt to cripple the state’s finances. This pattern is not unique to the former Kaduna governor as many others have similar attitudes of spending extravagantly during their tenures, leaving behind financial burdens for their successors.

At the national level, if former President Buhari had removed the subsidy in 2015, Nigeria might not have found itself in its current crisis. Buhari had significant popular support and trust, which could have helped mitigate the fallout. In contrast, Tinubu does not command the same level of fervent support. Some people are so devoted to Buhari that they would be willing to die for him, and his words hold great influence. If he had removed the subsidy earlier, the current situation might have been different.

I am not justifying or condemning the removal of fuel subsidies, I am acknowledging that it has happened and that we are currently experiencing its consequences.

Regarding Kaduna State, it is clear that regardless of the naira’s value, the state cannot service a $350 million loan. The decision-makers perhaps overlooked the fact that Kaduna, like many states in northern Nigeria, relies heavily on federal allocations for its development, as it is not an oil-producing state with a strong industrial base. This situation highlights the need for careful consideration and planning when making financial decisions that can impact the long-term sustainability of states and the country as a whole.

The call for a probe to unravel the true picture of spending in Kaduna State seems to be gaining momentum, especially given the current financial challenges. Many are advocating that the current governor set up a committee of experts to scrutinise the books, and if necessary, ensure that cases of diversion are addressed, including possible refund. What is your position on this? Also, what do you make of the past governor’s silence in the wake of this controversy?

I know the current governor, and I have always said that El-Rufai doesn’t know who Uba Sani is. He knows him from 2003 to 2023, but he doesn’t know him. I have never gone to bed without the thought that a day like this would come because nobody in the whole of Kaduna State knows the governor more than I do; and nobody knows me more than he does, so I knew that this day would come.

I can predict that it is not just that El-Rufai doesn’t want to talk, he is studying the situation to know whether the attack is actually coming from Kaduna State or Abuja. That is my speculation.

In the case of River State, you can see that Wike talks but Fubara doesn’t, but in the case of Kaduna, it is the other way around, and this one did not attack the other person; he simply stated the record on the ground.

And by bringing that to the open, I know that when his friend will respond, he is not going to direct his missiles only to the governor of the state, he is going to direct them to Abuja. And I can tell you in clear terms that with this, a battle line has been drawn and it is going to continue until the end of the tenure of this administration. So anybody who wants to reconcile A and B is simply wasting his time; nothing is going to happen.

What then can be done to salvage the situation from degenerating into an all-out war?

First of all, the president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has to help Kaduna State, if not, our people will seriously suffer. He has to help us get out of this debt.

The most important thing is that the governor must have the courage to set up a panel of inquiry that will invite government officials who have left office, as well as contractors, to scrutinise this debt and see how much we can recover from those who have either run away, refused to do the job or left abandoned projects, as well as government officials who also enriched themselves from Kaduna State’s resources. This is what we need to do.

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