opinionBy Imam Imam
Lagos — In announcing his retirement from politics recently, Senator Saidu Dansadau, closed a magnificient chapter which many feel will not be filled in a long time. In this report, Imam Imam goes down memory lane to extract some of Dansadau's glorious contributions to Nigeria's political landscape
Without doubt, he is one of Northern Nigeria's most articulate politicians. In his school days, Senator Saidu Muhammad Dansadau, who served in the upper legislative chamber of the National Assembly between 1999 and 2007, was nicknamed by his classmates, and often referred to, as Mr. Justice. At the end of his political career, two constant words used by associates to describe him are honesty and sincerity. While he served in the Senate, he was often called the conscience of the Senate. These three words, justice, honesty, sincerity, have no doubt shaped the life and times of a man revered in his local community and respected nationally. The name Dansadau may not come as familiar to many Nigerians, this is because in his sphere of influence, he does not seek to be popular, and neither does he pick on issues that in the end, all he could achieve was a positive review from the public. Yet his recent announcement that he was quitting partisan politics for good came as a surprise to many. If for nothing, he represents the type of conviction politician who is a rare breed in Nigerian politics that has since been turned into an avenue for self-aggrandisement.
As a Senator representing Zamfara Central Senatorial zone, most of Dansadau's colleagues and constituents have come to agree that he had an emphatic presence in the senate. He had served in various strategic positions and had discharged himself creditably. He was, at one time, ANPP Senate Whip and chaired the following Committees: Commerce, Anti Corruption, Public Accounts and Science and Technology. He also served at various times as Vice Chairman of Committees on Defence, Police Affairs, Housing, and served as a member representing Zamfara state in the National Assembly Joint Committee for the ill-fated Review of the 1999 Constitution. In the Second Republic, he had been Director of Publicity and later, Secretary of the Sokoto State branch of National party of Nigeria (NPN). He was also a member of the 1995 Constitutional Conference.
Dansadau was one of the forces behind the creation of Zamfara out of the old Sokoto state. In 1981, he served as the secretary of the committee set up by the then Governor of Sokoto state, late Alhaji Shehu Kangiwa, to look into the agitation for the creation of additional states from Sokoto. The report of the committee, which was accepted by the government, recommended the creation of new Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara states, a report that formed the basis for the creation of such states more than two decades later. From 1980-1983, he served as the secretary of the Contact and Mobilisation Committee for the Movement for the Creation of Zamfara state; and later, chairman of the Publicity Committee for the same movement.
Anyone who has monitored Dansadau's involvement in politics going back to the '70s will agree that the ex-senator is one of the most principled politicians in the country and someone whose word is his honour. In a career that spanned three decades, Dansadau faced serious challenges to his principled stand from his colleagues right from his early days. Going down memory lane in an interview with THISDAY recently, he said the most difficult challenge he faced was in 1982 when he was the then Sokoto State Secretary of the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN). "The convention we organised to determine who got the gubernatorial ticket for the NPN between Dr. Garba Nadama and Alhaji Ibrahim Gusau, who was then a minister in President Shagari's cabinet, will remain the most challenging decision I ever had to take in the course of my political career. The rivalry between the two of them was so fierce that many contemplated whether we should postpone the convention to allow frayed nerves to cool. The party was more or less sharply divided between the two contestants. I was young then, but I was able to put everything in place and the convention was held in a free and fair atmosphere. In the end, Nadama won, but as expected, Ibrahim Gusau appealed to the national secretariat of the party in Lagos. I was summoned to Lagos to defend our actions and after reviewing what happened in Sokoto the party adopted our decision. Magaji Dambatta was then the chairman of the Sokoto Convention Committee who defended our action before the Appeal Panel which had people like Senator David Dafinone, Alhaji Bello Kirfi (Wazirin Bauchi) who was then Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Galadiman Borno. Dambatta recommended to the then NPN to send a team to Sokoto to fully under-study what we did with a view to adopting it at the national level of the party stating that the party as managed in Sokoto equated with the best practices in party management obtained anywhere in the world. It was a proud moment which I will forever cherish. The experience taught me to be more objective and fair in whatever I am saddled with, and it has defined my political career since then."
When in 1984, after the Major- General Muhammadu Buhari-led coup, the executive of the NPN in Sokoto was detained briefly, he exhibited an attribute of endearment when his fellow detainees mandated him to answer questions on the finances of the party. He gave such a detailed explanation that not only to justify any penny spent but also his fellow detainees were so enamoured of his maturity and responsibility that they had very good words for him, assuring him that if he maintained the path of honour he was threading, he had a bright future.
It appears that situation will play out at virtually every stage of his career. As a serving senator in 2003, Dansadau drew the wrath of former Zamfara state governor Ahmed Sani Yarima when he courteously and quietly turned down car gifts donated to the federal legislators from Zamfara because he believed the money spent for the comfort of the legislators should have been spent to provide for some of the basic needs of the ordinary folks in the state, more so when the National Assembly had provided him with generous allowances to purchase official vehicles. The gesture did not endear him to the governor. He was to pay a heavy price for this "impertinence" which characterized much of his relationship with his governor and with many of his legislative colleagues. According to Dansadau, the strained relationship between him and Yarima actually started even before the governor was sworn into office for his first term in 1999. "When we brought the then APP to the people of Zamfara, I had an ambition of becoming a member of the National Assembly, not minding whether I should be in the Senate or in the House of Representatives. However, along the line, I was made to go for the Senate, but surprisingly, I was the only contestant for the seat in Zamfara that was made to suffer for the ticket. My other colleagues (Yushau Anka and Lawal Shuaibu) were assured of their tickets by the governor-elect, but he pushed one of his associates to contest with me. Until the last minute, when the pressure became unbearable, my rival on his own decided to step down for me. Then, as early as year 2000, while trying to undermine me, he promised three different people my seat in 2003 - a Permanent Secretary, a Commissioner and my former opponent in 1999. All ran posters vying for the seat, saying I had fallen out of favour and by 2003, I would be replaced by them, each claiming he was the anointed candidate. I had to fight back. Actually that was the beginning of the problem."
In 2002, Dansadau contested for the national chairmanship of ANPP. Following the expiration of the tenure of Alhaji Yusuf Ali who was elected in December 1999 and the controversial appointment of Senator Mahmud Waziri, then ANPP chairman, as a Special Adviser to President Obasanjo's government, Ali, a one-time Managing Director of Unipetrol (now Oando) and ex-chairman of the Nigerian Football Association (NFA), was again anointed by the then seven ANPP governors as its Chairman. Up till then, all efforts to conduct a proper convention failed - that was until July 2002. The contest for the chairmanship was a three-horse race between Ali, the incumbent, Dansadau and Alhaji Wada Nas. Dansadau was clearly the front runner. To dim his star, the ANPP hierarchy zoned the chairmanship to Kano where Ali hails from. Dansadau remained undeterred and unfazed in the comfortable knowledge that the zoning had no basis in the party's constitution. He mounted a highly successful campaign for the chair and as the convention date approached, it looked like it was his to lose. The convention never held as the Governors, sensing they could not stop the momentum of Dansadau, devised an ingenious method to get him off the way. A faceless rump of the party quickly and surreptitiously obtained an injunction (which was later discredited) and stopped the convention when the party faithfuls had gathered at Eagles Square in Abuja bent on electing the candidate of their choice. The party then accused the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) of a grand conspiracy to stop its convention as a prelude for rigging the 2003 general elections.
While a Senator, two of Dansadau's contributions will remain indelible in the country's political history. First, as the Secretary of the Northern Senators Forum, a position he took up in 2002, he, along with the Forum's Chairman, late Senator Idris Kuta, formed a formidable group that became a rallying point for all Northerners irrespective of party affiliation. The Forum had existed since 1999 but was invigorated by the energy brought into it by Kuta and Dansadau. As it later turned, the forum worked hard to make it a very formidable source of opposition to President Olusegun Obasanjo's well-oiled attempt to turn himself into an imperial president and breach the two-term constitutional limit for being president. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, he served as the Chairman of the Publicity Committee for the Anti-Third term movement, a group of National Assembly members opposed to the tenure elongation agenda of former President Obasanjo. In that capacity, Dansadau led other distinguished senators to foreign missions and media houses soliciting for support against the former President's ambition. That effort earned him the title of Kwamandan kasha tazarce (Commander of the anti-third term army) among many people in the North. Giving an insight into the kind of battle they waged to stop Obasanjo in his track, Dansadau said it was perhaps the greatest battle he fought in his political career.
He told THISDAY in Gusau that the anti-third term movement succeeded largely because majority of Nigerians were against it, and because they had support from an unlikely source: the President's cabinet. That revelation is likely to send shock waves among political historians and allies of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Before now, Nigerians have hailed members of the anti-third term group, notably members of the National Assembly and other opposition elements within and outside the ruling PDP, but no one knew of the efforts of the former President's cabinet in the whole saga which culminated in the defeat of the agenda on May 16, 2006 on the floor of the senate. According to him, at the height of their mobilisation effort, many senators hitherto seen as pro-third term were actually against it, and were waiting for the right opportunity to make public their stand.
"A lot of factors were working for us. Unknown to Nigerians before now, we had ministers and special advisers who provided us with inside information on what was going on in Aso Rock and among the pro-third term movement. They over-looked the great risk they were in to give us inside information on the activities on Ibrahim Mantu and his friends. We met at odd places and at odd hours to strategise on our line of actions. The involvement of some of the ministers were so secret that even among us the anti-third members of NASS, many were unaware of it. Among Governors, notably Bafarawa of Sokoto, Kure of Niger, Tinubu of Lagos, Orji Kalu of Abia, Akume of Benue, Boni of Adamawa and Shekarau of Kano were resolute in their support for our cause. Our information sources were powerful, varied and had reach. As a matter of fact, we got inside information on things that happened in the Villa. They failed because they did not succeed in planting a mole among us as we had done to them. A case in point was when (former Deputy Senate President) Ibrahim Mantu promised President Obasanjo that he will deliver 87 senators who will vote for the bill. On hearing that, we initiated impeachment moves against him (Mantu) and he was saved by the then senate president Ken Nnamani. Even then, we made sure his activities were probed and in the end, he was discredited. That action sent a strong message to Obasanjo that his front man in the senate was himself impeachable."
Dansadau said another factor that worked for the anti-third term group was a letter written to all members of the National Assembly from the South South geo-political zone by some of militants in the Niger Delta warning them not to support the bid. "Psychologically, that gesture helped us because the militants were serious and some of the members got jittery and were afraid something might happen to them back home. Some who were pro-third term came to tell us that they were with us but had already committed themselves publicly to support Obasanjo.