Shehu Sani: Combining Activism with Politics


For the senator representing Kaduna Central Senatorial District in the Senate, Shehu Sani, there is nothing wrong with combining activism with politics, writes Segun James

To describe Shehu Sani, the senator representing Kaduna Central at the National Assembly, as a political activist, will not be out of place. This is because he has not left anyone in doubt of the fact that he joined politics to promote welfare of the people and he is ready to do this either through protest, press conference, lecture of demonstration.

The really surprising thing about the attack on him by thugs as he addressed journalists at the Press Centre of the Kaduna Council of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) is that it took so long in happening. He was attacked alongside Senator Othman Suleiman Hunkuyi and other prominent members of the party.

Sani has been a torn in the flesh of Governor Nasir el Rufai of Kaduna State since the two of them came into power after sweeping out of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2015 election.

He had always being a social gadfly, but lately, he has assumed the position of a political gadfly who at every turn had put the actions of the governor under heavy scrutiny and criticism, an habit that the governor often finds irritating.

At the end of the fracas, a cameraman with a private radio and television station, Liberty Radio and Television, was seriously injured while several mobile phones and recorders belonging to journalists were allegedly destroyed by the thugs who invaded the conference hall.

In December last year, his campaign office in Kaduna was attacked by unknown gunmen. At the time of the attack, some of his supporters were meeting at the campaign office.

Last Sunday’s attack must be a wake up call for the senator. Sani described the attack as an attempt to kill him and others. But, Sani is not someone who will give up so easily. After the attack, he said: “I will not tolerate sadism or fascism in our party. Those who are afraid of elections deserve no place in a democracy.”

Elsewhere, where security of citizens is a top priority, these attacks should be an indication that security ought to be beefed up around the senator.

But then, who is Shehu Sani and why is he such a political gadfly?

He was born on the 29th October 1967. An author and a playwright, he is also a human rights activist.

He was President of the Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria (CRCN) and the Chairman of Hand-in-Hand, Africa, a Pan-Africa Non-Governmental-Organisation. He was a leading figure in the struggle for the restoration of democracy in Nigeria. He has been arrested and jailed by past military regimes in Nigeria.

He was released from a sentence of life imprisonment when democracy was restored in Nigeria in 1999. He contested and won the Kaduna Central Senatorial District on 28 March 2015. Although, he had wanted to be governor, somehow, he lost the chance to El Rufai.

Sani had his primary schooling at Local Government Education Authority (LGEA), Badarawa, and Kaduna between 1975 and 1980. He enrolled at Government Day Secondary school, Kagara, Niger State (1980–84), and proceeded to Government Science College School, Kagara, Niger State. He gained admission into the Kaduna Polytechnic in 1984, to study Agricultural Engineering up to HND level, in 1993.

During his school days at Kaduna Polytechnic, he was a student union activist. He was Chairman, Central Mobilization Committee of Pan-African Student Organization and President African Democratic Youth Congress. He served as social Director Kaduna State Students Union.

Sani came from a Nigerian middle-class family. His father was a production manager who trained in the United Kingdom and Germany and had worked with pro-Northern New Nigerian Newspaper for 30 years. Before that he worked as a printer with the Kano-based Daily Mail. He was also the government printer for Sokoto State from 1976 to 1979.

His father had a well stocked library where he drenched himself and drank from the pool of literary knowledge, especially books on socialism and politics of the left. At that period, there was a massive inflow of literature from Eastern Europe. The exposure to books helped shaped his thoughts and leftist perception of life, as well as exposing him to the reality and decadence brought to the society by military dictatorship.

Sani was equally influenced by his mother who was a community women’s leader; and the likes of Aminu Kano and the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) and PRP (Peoples Redemption Party) radical politics.

From Kaduna Polytechnic, Sani plunged into national activism. He was introduced into the Campaign for Democracy (CD), Nigeria’s umbrella pro-democracy group by activists like Femi Falana and Beko Ransome-Kuti and thereafter served as the Northern Coordinator and National Vice-Chairman of the group.

He was first detained in July 1993 under the regime of General Ibrahim Babagida. His offence then was that he advocated for the revalidation of the result of the 12 June 1993 presidential election polls won by the Late Chief M. K. O. Abiola.

Sani was charged at a magistrate court, Ibrahim Taiwo Road, Kaduna, for sedition. During the interim government of Chief Earnest Shonekan, Sani was arrested and detained for two weeks and later charged to court for sedition again.

During General Sani Abacha’s regime, he was implicated in the 1995 phantom coup and subsequently jailed for life and later commuted to 15 years by the Patrick Aziza Special Military Tribunal that convicted the likes of General Olusegun Obasanjo (later President), Col Lawan Gwadabe (rtd) and Chris Anyanwu and other journalists.

His charges were: “Accessory to the fact of treason and managing an unlawful society (the Campaign for Democracy)”. He was detained in various prisons: Kirikiri, Kaduna, Port-Harcourt, Enugu and Aba.

Before his several incarceration, Sani co-founded the Movement for Unity and Progress and teamed up with other northern progressives such as Col. Abubakar Dangiwa Umar (rtd.), Dr Bala Usman, Mr James Bawa Magaji and Alhaji Balarabe Musa, to fight for the actualization of 12 June annulled presidential election and other causes.

Sani is renowned for providing human rights campaign support to the poor and the disadvantaged and in the process had clashed with security agents and other state power-wielders.

During the religious riots in Kaduna in 2000, he was the only human right activist in Kaduna that came out in the heat of the violence to condemn the massacre. In 2005, he was appointed to reshape the civil society in the national conference.

Traditional rulers in the conference asked that Shehu Sani be barred from further speaking when he asked for their dissolution because of their pliant support for military dictator in the past. The chairman of the commission, Justice Niki Tobi turned down the call. During the riot in Kaduna, he pioneered the distribution of relief materials and initiated the visit to the “war zone” at the time when it was the most suicidal thing to contemplate.

Under President Olusegun’s administration, Sani was appointed as a member of the African Union’s African Peer Review Mechanism, Member of the United Nation Reform Committee. He was also appointed as a member of the Presidential Committee on Prison Reforms, Presidential Committee on the Control of Violent Crimes and Illegal Weapons, Presidential Committee on Petroleum Products Prices, Presidential Committee on Conflict Resolution and Member of the Charles Taylor Investigation Committee.

He was also appointed by the Nigerian Government as a board member of the Nigerian Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI). Sani was a member of the Presidential Committee on National Security and Civic Responsibility.

Today, he is the Senate Committee Chairman on Local & Foreign Debts and also serves as the Vice Chairman on Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Giving his decision to speak for the voiceless and his commitment to a just and an egalitarian society, there is no indication that Sani will be out of trouble very soon. In fact, the course he had chosen for himself is such that will always bring him in clash with the powers that be.


Elsewhere, where security of citizens is a top priority, these attacks should be an indication that security ought to be beefed up around the senator.