2023: The Chairman of Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof Itse Sagay, has warned those clamouring for jettisoning of rotation of presidency to rest such idea, as zoning is an arrangement that assuages the feelings of the people, and gives them the confidence that they have a role in the affairs of the country. “People should not be too clever because I’m seeing some cleverness in those who are now talking of competence. I would be more comfortable with them saying that, if the part of the country from which they do not come has spent eight years, then if they talk of competence I would take them very seriously. I see some of these talks of competence as a disguise for wanting perpetuation of power in one section of the country”, he stated.
In this interview with Vincent Kalu, the Professor of Law warned that Edo might witness bloodshed if the September 19 governorship election in the state is not properly handled.
Of late, you have been critical of the Justice Salami Panel probing Magu and the EFCC, what are the specific issues you have against the inquiry?
We have to be very clear about what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the process of fair hearing; I don’t have anything at all against the panel, and I have the greatest respect for Justice Salami and he knows it. But what I criticised were two things: One, most members of the panel came from agencies that are in fact the accusers of Magu, that is contrary to our normal principle of fair hearing. You cannot be the accuser and the judge.
The second is: Those who petitioned made their cases when he wasn’t there, and after they had finished, then he was asked to make response and that is the information I have; again that is contrary to all our procedures in the common law. In accordance with the constitution, when somebody is accusing you of something, you are supposed to be present; first, you are to be served in advance of whatever you are accused of, then you will be there when the person is making a case, so that you have an opportunity of challenging him, cross examining him and exposing any lies or inconsistency if there are. Those are what I criticised, the procedures of the exercise.
As the chairman of PACAC, have you written to President Buhari to make your grievances known about the panel or the way the anti- graft war is being fought?
Of course, we write advices from time to time, but not on this particular issue. What is the point, he has appointed a panel, do we tell him to dissolve it?
You talked about the issue of fair hearing; one would expect that you would have complained to the president on this
I don’t regard that as my duty. I have made my views known and I’m sure that Justice Salami would know and would therefore ensure that in spite of all the inadequacies and drawback I mentioned, justice will still be done.
As a strong supporter of the APC, are you comfortable with the state of the party now, especially with the recent development that led to the sack of Oshiomhole as its national chairman?
It is a very difficult situation; there was so much confusion, so much instability. I won’t call it an APC thing, it is a Nigerian phenomenon; everybody fighting every other person, people jostling for positions; people wanting to be this or that, and not having a limit to what harm they can do in order to achieve their objective. This type of extremism, do or die orientation of Nigerians, particularly the political class is very frightening.
Obviously I wasn’t happy, and I criticised that man from Port Harcourt (Victor Giadom), who was assistant secretary and declared himself chairman. It is outrageous because that line of secretaryship doesn’t end up in chairmanship; it is the line of deputy chairman, assistant chairman that ends up as chairman, not a secretary. That is chaos and anarchy. So there are too many people with too many interests, who are prepared to pursue their interests to any limit regardless of the consequences, and that is my worry.
Oshiomhole appears to be the face of APC campaigns in the Edo governorship race; people say it is an indication of his desperation to foist godfatherism in the state. Do you share in this sentiment?
Nigerians read motives into everything. Nobody does anything out of good faith or out of innocence, there must be a motive; that person must want something, that is our mentality. When you are doing a job well, they say somebody must be paying you, you must be making some material benefits somewhere along the way. You cannot do anything for nothing or out of principle. That is Nigerian mentality.
I think Oshiomhole is simply very enthusiastic, very keen to install somebody whom he supports and who belongs to his party. I don’t think there is anything behind it.
But that was the way it was four years ago and we have seen how it has turned out
In fact, what is happening in Edo State will make a good topic for Nollywood film. At times, reality surpasses fiction. If this one had been done in fiction, nobody would believe it, but we are seeing in reality how two people just changed positions like that and the one who supported this before is now supporting that. This peculiarity of Nigerian politics is just incredible.
The way the Edo election is going, analysts say blood will flow; more so, the state is part of Niger Delta where violence is usually used to settle issues or problems. What is your take on this?
What disturbs me is the desperation of the parties; they are just too desperate. A person doesn’t have to be governor for Christ sake; they had a life before they became governors or governorship candidates; they didn’t die. In fact, these are people who are living very well far above the average Nigerian, so what is the desperation about? I don’t understand. Nigerian politicians are too desperate, and that is responsible for part of our problems.
I agree that there is a lot of tension and the fear that there may be bloodshed if this thing is not properly handled. It is a very sad situation that at this level, at this stage, 20 years after we return to civilian rule, people are still maintaining this do or die mentality for positions; it is such a disaster.
One of the pillars on which APC came to power is corruption fight, then should people standing corruption trials actually be allowed to stand for election using the platform of the party, as is the case in Edo. Has your committee thought about this to advise the president on it?
There are a thousand and one issues involving corruption in the country, some more urgent than others. So, for me, this is not one of the most urgent. There is no proof yet of the corruption, it is an allegation being investigated. The priority does not apply to this case as much as in other cases. We have more urgent matters that we are confronted with, which we are trying deal with.
So corruption is graded now?
Definitely. There are some acts of corruption, which are so enormous and outrageous that they need urgent attention compared to others that are just potential.
Is it not on the same issue that Olisa Metu, former PDP spokesman was jailed; his was N400 million and this one is N700 million?
Yes. Nobody is saying that if the investigators find evidence that they should not eventually prosecute the fact. What I’m saying is that as things still stand, it is just an allegation. In Metu’s case, it was investigated and it was charged to court, then it was established in court. So, there is difference.
So Metu’s case was accelerated, while this one is not?
Metu’s case took over four years; so I don’t see anything accelerated about that.
This one has been there too?
Honestly, in a situation as we are in this country, there are so many cases and many trials going on and many convictions are also being achieved. So there may be one or two that have not got to that point, we just carry on until we reach there.
If he wins now and also wins re-election after the first term, the case will wait for eight years?
If he wins and the allegations are still being taking seriously then they can investigate him, prepare a report and immediately he leaves office, they will now go to him and make him account for what they have found in the investigation.
By then the case file must have gathered dust after eight years?
It doesn’t have to. In fact, most of the cases you are seeing now; where there have been convictions are cases the EFCC and ICPC have to wait for eight years, 12 years where the cases have been going from court to court. We are used to that.
There have been calls for sack for Service Chiefs because of escalating security situation in the country, what is your position on this?
I don’t have any position. All these emotional calls don’t impress because the president, who is a military general should know more about the capacity of those who are working for him, and I think we should accept his judgment. We the civilians cannot be the ones to know more than Buhari. So, we should accept his judgment. I accept his judgment because he is a military man and he has all the information.
Between rotation and competence, which should come first in the consideration of who becomes the president in 2023?
People should not be too clever because I’m seeing some cleverness in those who are now talking of competence. I would be more comfortable with them saying that, if the part of the country from which they do not come has spent eight years, then if they talk of competence I would take them very seriously.
I see some of these talks of competence as a disguise for wanting perpetuation of power in one section of the country. There is no doubt about it; both parts of the country have competent people, there is no monopoly of competence. If this is an arrangement that assuages all the feelings of the people to give them the confidence that they have a role in running the country and that their side of the country is respected in a manner that things are done and organised in the country, then that political peace and quietude that rotation brings is worth it and be respected. Either side has competent people.
Those who are calling for competence should say, let somebody who is competent from the side, in this case, the South come out and we support that person, otherwise, there will be room for suspicion that we are dealing with irredentism or some sort.
What do you make of these revelations coming out from NDDC and other agencies, and what would you advise the president to do immediately?
The NDDC has been rotten. I won’t say from the beginning, as the first three or four years appeared to have been okay, but since then, it has been a rotten edifice, which people who have aspirations to become wealthy overnight have hung their claims. People from all over the country, including Niger Delta people themselves don’t give a hoot for the purpose of which NDDC was established, which is to develop the Niger Delta area and bring them out of misery, to provide them with modernity of life, to compensate them for what they are contributing to the country so that they have a good standard of living; they don’t care about that.
These people from the beginning have gone there to share whatever it is that is available for the NDDC and they have a few projects here and there, pretending that something is being done when in fact the bulk of the resources is being shared by individuals at the expense of people of Niger Delta. The whole edifice is rotten, it is such a terrible shame, it shows very low standard of humanity among us.
What has your committee advised the president on the immediate action to take in this instance?
I have already on behalf of the committee stated that the interim committee should be dissolved and that the minister of Niger Delta should be made to resign or should be removed, and a fresh task should be given. I also recommend that whatever group that is appointed, because I know that the National Assembly has already approved some appointments, there should be a monitoring committee that will monitor them and monitor every contract that is awarded; not only monitor in terms of the project, the cost of the project, they must monitor the progress of the project and make sure that the project is being completed at a certain pace agreed upon at all times, otherwise, they should raise the alarm. It needs extreme monitoring and new group of people who will handle the job of managing the NDDC.
Many believe that you are no longer critical of the government since your appointment as PACAC chairman; that, this is not the Prof Sagay that they used to know, as everything the government does seems to be okay with you. What do you say to this?
I don’t regard myself as a top shot in this government; I just head a part-time committee. So, I just do my own little thing in my little corner. To say that I don’t criticize the government may not be quiet correct. But now and then I have expressed views, which are pointing out a different direction to what government is doing at a particular time. So, it is not true. Of course, I don’t make it a habit of criticising the government because it is my government; I’m at the periphery, but I’m part of it. It is not everything that is wrong that I’m going to pronounce in public. There are certain things we send in terms of advisory and there are other things we say at meetings with the authorities. It is not everything that you hear from me in public, but on a few occasions, for example, my views on Salami Panel you just said, were publicly expressed, but I cannot do that for every issue.
This talk about loans; every time, we hear government is borrowing, are you not concerned that your children and grand children will be saddled with the payment?
We Nigerians always find problems where they don’t exist. The economic experts have informed us and I believe them that we are still within the level of borrowings by comparing the borrowings to our GDP. We have to trust people. But even more important than that, I know that every kobo borrowed by this government is channelled into some productive activity, which eventually is going to yield the money we will use in paying back the loan.
The railways for example, we are going to charge a little bit above the running cost, the excess will go back in to the Chinese. The same thing with the Second Niger Bridge, which is definitely going to be a toll bridge when it finishes, and many roads are going to be tolled. A lot of these monies are going into infrastructure. If you have noticed, most of it is going into infrastructure, without which we can never move forward in this country, and that type of infrastructure is the one that can make financial returns on investments; those are what we are going to use in paying back the loans.
As long as we have not exceeded the level of borrowing our economy can carry and the money is being productively directed such that we are going to have the tolls to generate money that we use in paying back the loans, then I’m not worried.