Professor Itse Sagay (SAN), Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) chairman, is as tough as they come. An activist to the core, he is frank and down-to-earth and for this, he has incurred the Senate’s wrath. But he is not perturbed. He tells Joseph Jibueze, in this interview, that he is always ready for the Senate. Sagay also speaks on corruption in the judiciary, restructuring, former Petroleum Resource Minister Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke and sundry issues.
THE Senators accused you of making hate speeches and using abusive language against them. Have you apologised to them?
On the contrary, they should apologise to me, because if you saw their statement, if I had not become thick-skinned because of my two-year chairmanship of this committee, I’d have been very upset. I’m a bit thick-skinned now. I’ve been insulted left, right and centre. Even those that I’m hoping would benefit from our work young ones whose patrimony is being wasted away some of them are rented to insult us. So, there was nothing they (Senators) didn’t say about me that I was ranting, I was over-excited, I talk anyhow, there’s no name they didn’t call me. I said two things. One, that they’re not committed to Nigeria, that they’re there for themselves alone and simply consuming all the national assets and leaving poor Nigerians to waste away and the country under-developed. And I provided the figures. I know that worse exists, which has not been detected. I didn’t say what the minority leader, majority leader, deputy Senate president and Senate president get as extras. They run into hundreds of millions. What I said at that lecture is a tip of the iceberg. We’re going to do further thorough research on this matter, and we’re still going to come out with figures. What we’re aiming for is for the National Assembly to admit that they’re frittering away our national assets and funds and therefore preventing them from being used for the other vital sectors, to create more employment, to fix our infrastructure. If you recall, the former Governor of Central Bank said they were consuming virtually one quarter, 25 per cent of our budget. They didn’t deny it.
Why are you against their allowances?
There’s one more thing I need to stress. If you look at the allowances, Nigerians need to ask themselves questions. Should we be the ones clothing Senators? Should my tax be used in hanging Agbada on a Senator? The press has not taken it up, but this is serious. How many times have government provided clothes for you, and yet you’re clothed? But these men who are overpaid, who are absorbing the largest share of our resources are still asking us to clothe them, as if they arrived in Abuja naked. It’s not acceptable. These same people are collecting huge sums, claiming that they’re suffering hardship by doing their job. If you go to the Senate chambers, you will see the luxurious furnishing, fully air-conditioned; you’ll see staff running around, attending to every little thing they need, serving them, hand and foot that is hardship. What about the man who is earning N18,000 a month, who’s carrying machinery, working in a factory, cutting grass on the road, cleaning the roads, sweating with hard labour. Nobody is paying them hardship allowance. But the people are paid hardship allowance for living in tremendous luxury. They’re claiming utility allowance. In other words, if we don’t give them money, they don’t have cutlery, tablecloth, plates and saucepans. We have to provide those for them. The list goes on. It is criminal. It is unconscionable. It is wicked for people who are so highly privileged, who are the wealthiest people in the country to still be sucking our blood dry by collecting these things which they don’t need and depriving others of them.
Do you agree with suggestions that we should do away with the bi-cameral legislature to save cost?
In fact I was just coming to that. If we’re going to keep the bi-cameral type of National Assembly, we must do something. And that is: We must make it part time, as we had in the First Republic. They would legislate for two months, and then everybody would go back. To save this country from this tremendous cost that is bending our back, we need to turn the National Assembly into part time operation, so that any member who is there is someone comfortably having a profession somewhere else. In those days, teachers, professors, local government chairmen, emirs and so forth, they all came. They were only paid sitting allowance and were housed. They had their professions. They were not looters who had come to make a fortune in the National Assembly. We must go back to that, make it part time and pay them only sitting allowances.
The Senate said you did not get your facts right in claiming they have not passed any bill to aid the anti-corruption war. Is that so?
There’s passing and there’s passing. Let’s take the Financial Intelligence Agency Bill as an example. The bill they passed is just pure vendetta. There are other financial intelligence unit that are located within other anti-corruption agencies all over the world. What is important is the level of their independence within where they’re located. But these people want to take it out of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) because they want to smack the Acting Chairman Ibrahim Magu in the eye. That’s all. So I don’t count that as an achievement. When you do something based on hatred, it’s not an achievement.
What about the Whistleblower Bill which they passed?
We were already operating the Whistle-blower policy before it went to them. And I’m not aware that the Bill has been signed into law. But, the policy was already in operation.
They also said they passed the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill, contrary to your claim…
I am even surprised government took that bill to the National Assembly. If we have stolen property abroad, mutual legal assistance enables that government to cooperate with us for the return of our assets. It gives us access to properties located within foreign territories. You don’t need legislation for that. It’s just something between two heads of state.
So, which laws were you referring to?
The Special Criminal Court Bill, which will create a court specifically for cases on corruption, narcotics, kidnapping, with main emphasis on corruption cases. They are sitting on that.
Is that all?
There is the Proceeds of Crime Bill, which automatically will put anybody whose assets is seized on the defence, to prove ownership. The burden of proof will be reversed. He has to establish that he’s the owner. There are little clauses under various laws but we want to put them under one head where a prosecutor can zero in and use it. They have not passed that.
Let’s move to the issue of loss of high profile cases. What is being done to reverse this trend?
A lot is being done. There is a manual for prosecution. We noticed the weaknesses in the existing system. It guides the anti-corruption agencies in prosecuting cases to be effective, successful and fast. It proposes that it is not an investigator alone who should be involved in investigation. It must involve a potential prosecutor, because it is the lawyer who knows the ingredients that constitute the offence. So, if the policeman is veering off into irrelevant things, he can stop him and say no. Second, there is a committee made up of top members of the anti-corruption agency, before whom a progress report is brought, who would then look at what has been brought, the evidence that has been found and look at the offence. So there’s a vetting committee. By the time an investigation report passes through the prosecutor who is working with the investigator, and then passes through a committee made up of about five or six people who are professionals in various areas including law, then there is likelihood that what will come before the court will be something substantive.
Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution Mr Okoi Obono-Obla recently said some cases he filed at the Supreme Court were yet to be heard nearly 10 years after. Have you had a similar experience?
He’s very right. The cases before the Supreme Court are a cause of major frustration. I have a private case which has been sitting there. The registrar told us: ‘For the next five years you won’t hear anything’. So it’s a very major problem. I don’t blame the Supreme Court too much because under our present procedural system, anything goes to the Supreme Court, anything interlocutory matters that will still come back to the High Court, which should have been disposed of finally. So they’re overloaded. We need to come together, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and others, first to amend the Constitution, so that we totally eliminate interlocutory matters. Second, there is no need for commercial cases to go to the Supreme Court. They can be resolved at the Court of Appeal level where you have three justices. Leave constitutional cases, criminal cases, things concerning administration of government, human rights just about five things for the Supreme Court.
Do you support the idea of regional Supreme Courts?
We had that before. The Western region and the western state had a Western Court of Appeal, but when they gave their judgment, they still went to the Supreme Court. If you’re going to have that, then it has to be made in such a way that appeals end there. So it’s true (that cases last up to 10 years), but it’s not the fault of the Supreme Court.
Some have called for the reform of the National Judicial Council (NJC), saying the CJN should not be NJC chairman to prevent conflict of interest. What is your take?
I think that retired justices should be introduced into the system. I feel that the head of the NJC should be a retired judge. Why? Because they will not have an axe to grind. There are dangers of self-interest and lack of objectivity in some of the activities of the NJC. If you see some of the judges being prosecuted now, their cases went before the NJC, and they said they didn’t find them liable, they should go back. So there’s a lot of esprit de corps, lack of objectivity, protection of wrong self interests. Again, Nigeria is a very difficult country. Not all retired judges are good. I know of some retired judges whose job is to carry bribe, because the people who are there now are their junior colleagues, so they go and influence them with money from Senior Advocates. In Nigeria, we have not yet established a system of checking the background and records of people before appointing them. We’re not sufficiently ruthless in saying: ‘No, you’re unfit. Period.’ It doesn’t matter that you’ve not been found guilty. The fact that there is suspicion against you is sufficient. A judge, like Caesar’s wife, must be above suspicion. He absolutely has to be above suspicion. There must not be a breath of misconduct about him. If that happens, certainly he’s not fit to hold an important position.
The Senate has refused to confirm Acting EFCC chairman. For how long can Magu remain in acting capacity?
Indefinitely. The Senate, in my view, doesn’t even have jurisdiction in this matter. It is the President who has jurisdiction because of Section 171 of the Constitution where he is empowered to appoint him directly as chairman. This government is being a bit too careful, gentle, not wanting to ruffle feathers. It’s okay. Maybe that’s why they’re politicians and in government. If people like me who are not politicians were there, these people (Senators) would have heard a different message. I’d have rammed things through and damned them to go and do whatever they like, and let’s see who would come on top, because I believe that ultimately, righteousness, a good cause, a belief in principle will prevail. We’re dealing with people who are undergoing all sorts of investigations; they cannot face a righteous man. So, it’s a kind, gentle government, and I think they’re lucky that people like me are not there.
Some people have wondered: What exactly does PACAC do?
We have done a lot workshops, not only for prosecutors, but for judges in all the zones. We’ve taken them through the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, how to tackle corruption cases. For Justices of the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, we even brought people from abroad, so they would not say it’s infradig for locals to be taking them through a workshop. We brought people from England, from Canada, the Chief Judge of Ghana, those who are experienced in handling corruption cases. It was a very hot, intensive session. We have prepared several manuals. PACAC is an advisory body, a sort of think-tank. We do our workshops, our symposia; we do research and make them available to government with recommendations of what they should do. We’re still going to continue to do that even though it’s not everything that we recommended that has been carried out. We’re sometimes disappointed. They have not really rejected anything out of hand. It’s like: ‘Well, this is not the time.’ That sort of thing.
Courts are resuming for the new legal year. What are your expectations?
We are concerned about the judiciary. Without the judiciary, let us kiss the anti-corruption war goodbye. We must have a committed judiciary; otherwise they will keep messing up any case that comes. It’s so easy to give a reason, which will appear to be reasonable, and the public will say oh, the anti-corruption agencies have not done their homework. It’s not so. Quite a number of the judges are deliberately taking decisions which I’d say indicate their hostility to the anti-corruption war. There are judges who are hostile. There are judges who in fact interfere when such cases are going on; using their position to ensure that government loses. Government is aware of all this. They’re aware of so many things. It’s just as well that some of us are not in a position to take decisions. People who should be stopped are slipping through and still being relevant when in fact they should be pushed aside into retirement where they will not interfere in the anti-corruption struggle. I want particularly the CJN who is the leader of the judiciary to study his men very carefully. There are reports on these judges, some by the Department of State Services (DSS) and from other sources. He knows a lot of what is happening. I feel that judges who are showing they are not committed to the eradication of corruption should be eased out of the system.
Why is PACAC pushing for special courts?
If we could only get the National Assembly to pass the Criminal Court Bill to become an Act, the court will be set up in such a way that only selected judges with established reputation, integrity, honour and honesty established, not guess work, from record only they would be appointed judges of the court. We know them. There are some of them, well known, and they will be the only ones to man the court. Those are the only ones you cannot approach. These are people with the spirit of Eso, Aniagolu, Oputa. There are still young judges who have that spirit. We know them. We’ll select them. They’ll be put there. You dare not carry money to their chambers. You will come out in chains if you do it. We have people like that. We want that bill to be passed so they can operate on that basis. Those are some of the changes we want.
There have been so many recoveries from former Petroleum Minister Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke. What is being done towards extraditing her?
So many recoveries have been made half of our budget. What is recovered is just a tip of the iceberg. She’ll come back eventually, but already the British are investigating her for alleged money laundering. She allegedly has many buildings in Britain. She has bank accounts. She’s being investigated. I don’t think they’re going to release her, because they’ll have the first go. After she has been tried, then we can look at what we have against her. If it’s not the same thing for which she is tried there, we can still try her here on her return. I don’t see the need for a hurry to rush her down here. The British are compiling evidence. I know that some evidence from here have been sent there to support what the British are doing, because basically it is a case of money laundering transferring money to Britain to launder by building houses, buying furniture, putting them in bank accounts and so on. If you know the British, you will know that any attempt to bring her before they’ve done their own will not be possible.
What is your view on calls for restructuring?
I am a strong supporter of restructuring. Nigeria is a very difficult country, that’s why there are different views on restructuring. Left to me, I’ll say we should go back to the 1963 Constitution and then modify it to suit the present circumstances. What we want to create are viable federating units. The only viable one in Nigeria now is Lagos. All the others are not viable.
Should states be collapsed?
It’s not very realistic to say states should be collapsed, because people who have established interests, whose whole life is oriented towards state activity, will object. Some people are even saying we should have 18 more states, which is a very laughable idea. So, I won’t insist that you should collapse states completely, but I think we can reduce what they’re doing, transfer more to the regional government, reduce public service, cut down on cost, and let them do some basic things which will give some emotional satisfaction to those in favour of states.
Are you calling for some kind of regional authority?
O yes. There will be election and a leader will emerge. Think of how it used to be when we had four regions. I’m not saying it must be four now. It was the regions that supported the Federal Government. Every region contributed 20 per cent of its earnings to the Federal Government. It kept 50 per cent for itself. The remaining 30 per cent went into a distributable pool meant for most disadvantaged regions. So the North was the most disadvantaged because of the size and the resources could not cope, so they were getting 41 per cent of that 30 per cent contributed by all regions. Eastern region got almost 30 per cent. Then West got about 18 per cent because it was well endowed. And then Midwest got six per cent. That’s why when the Northerners are so frightened of restructuring, I say No. There’s nothing to be afraid of. There’s still going to be a pool that will support you against difficulties. But it’ll not be enough to make you do nothing as you’re doing now, just going cap in hand to collect money every month from Abuja, spend it, go back the next month. That will end. There’ll be support, but you also have to be productive. And there’ll be competition, because there will be larger entities. There was a lot of competition in those days. The Western region introduced free education, everyone introduced it. It introduced television, everyone introduced it. It built a stadium, everybody built stadia. Then they all competed and had universities. And we were growing fast, faster than Singapore and all these other places at that time. So, we could have regions and still leave some limited power to the states to take of those who have some interests in those states. Otherwise, I’m being realistic, the debate will be very hard if we say ‘abolish all states’.
What do you make of the declaration of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) as a terrorist organisation?
Whilst I’m not sure of the legal parameters of that declaration, in practice, yes. If you look at it, we’re very lucky that this thing did not get out of hand. They (IPOB) were coming in their thousands, establishing road blocks, and all that. If that is allowed, then the country is finished. Then they burned down a police station, killed a policeman. For Christ’s sake, even if you want Biafra, you don’t have to be violent. If you look at the words that Kanu uses on the social media, how he has described our President and the rest of us as living in a zoo abusive, violent, intemperate words all those in my view constitute in totality acts of terrorism in which they can push undiscerning youths into rage and violence which can be destructive. I just thank God that the North is showing some maturity and some sense of restraint while this thing is being curbed. But we really need to curb IPOB otherwise they will turn this country into a tinderbox.
The Senate has asked the President to call you to order. The All Progressives Congress (APC) also cautioned you against comments capable of creating tension between the executive and the legislature. So, if the President asks you to stop speaking, will you comply?
Yes, he is my employer. If he tells me to stop talking, I’ll stop talking. But I have certain rights too that I can exercise in addition to that, because I’m not going to be in a position where I am impotent. So, I must obey him, but I can go beyond that and obey myself too. That’s it. As for the leadership of the APC, I think they are the most unprincipled group of people. They are lily-livered, weak, and cannot run any organisation. The whole party is collapsing under them. They cannot control anybody. Because they cannot control anybody, they’re now in fact encouraging and accepting ‘rogues’. When I say rogues, I don’t mean stealing. In literature, when you say someone is a rogue elephant, it means people who are running riot and destroying the party. They’re pampering them, saying: ‘Let’s not annoy them too much’, but they’re destroying the APC house. So, I think the APC leadership is weak, is too compromising and is certainly a failure as far as I’m concerned.