Editor’s Note: Tribune on Monday, December 21, 2015, following denials from Professor Sagay, SAN disclaimed this interview and issued a statement.
Professor Itse Sagay, SAN, headed President Muhammadu Buhari’s advisory committee on anti-corruption. He speaks with Olakunle Taiwo on the legal implications of the Kogi governorship election, why some key institutions are corrupt, the president’s integrity and his anti-graft crusade, among others. Excerpts:
As a constitutional lawyer, what do you think would have been the right thing to do in Kogi when the All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship candidate, Prince Audu Abubakar, died before the declaration of the results of the election?
You know the issue is new and there was no provision for such at all in the constitution, but somehow the decision should have been at the discretion of the Attorney-General of the Federation or the prerogative of the court to actually decide which way to go. It was like a lacuna or lawless case, where anybody can just act the way he feels, because there was no provision for it. So, both parties can do what they like and that is just it. Sincerely, there is an extent to which the case can be prosecuted legally, because having no provision for it, it has created a loophole for anybody to act anyhow. We will just be making noise. Therefore, in such a case, the judiciary or anybody can be influenced.
How do you mean sir?
You should understand now. For instance, most of the political judgments in court now will be tilting to the side of the APC, because they are in power. That is the truth, especially in a situation where there is a clear loophole that gives any judge the leeway to give judgment he feels like. Nobody will have any ground to query such judgment.
How best can such issues be resolved then?
Of a truth, the election was almost concluded before the death of the APC candidate. It was a clear case that APC was winning, and if that was the case, I think the decision should be more to the APC and not to the PDP, because if we had any cause to decide the election with that results, the APC had already won but their candidate died. The only thing I am not comfortable with was that when Audu died, it should be his running mate that should have taken over and not somebody who never campaigned or contested.
Many legal experts have different views on this issue…
That is why we say there is a loophole. If that election had been concluded and results announced, and Audu died, there would be no argument. Honourable James Faleke, his running mate, would have taken over. Unfortunately, the returning officer said the election was inconclusive, and you know APC is peopled by very clever and highly-intelligent, as well as criminally-minded people. I am telling you sincerely, you can hardly beat them in such an issue. They take advantage of any slightest opportunity unlike the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Once the APC saw that the running mate, though they accepted him as running mate, didn’t carry the kind of weight to be their governor, they quickly exploited the loophole. You know running mates, whether deputy governor, vice-president or what have you, are just like stooges; they don’t carry any political weight. So, the fact that they agreed to his becoming deputy governor didn’t mean he would be acceptable to them as governor, because a governor takes decision. And maybe they realised that Faleke would not listen to them in their caucus. You know within a party, there are always caucuses; so, the powers-that-be within the party might not want him in power. That was why they had to manipulate the whole situation, which nobody has any ground to query. Let anybody take it to any court.
Was the position of the INEC the best option in such circumstance, given the fact that Honourable Faleke and Idris Wada are still kicking?
In fact, that is the most intelligent position that could help the situation then. It was a situation that nobody envisaged, so the best way to it was to declare the election inconclusive. But one thing is that both the INEC and principal actors in the party knew that there was no provision for them in the constitution. Therefore, all of them were depending on who knows who. They would have quickly gone to press buttons in the judiciary and the office of the AGF, because there is no independent judiciary.
No independent judiciary?
Forget about it. It is just a mere saying.
So, who is controlling the judiciary?
Who puts them there? The executive, of course. But it is not peculiar to Nigeria, maybe the whole of Africa. Even in developed countries, the judiciary can be influenced, but the only thing is that they are careful in all those manipulations.
What do you mean by influencing the judiciary?
Influencing the judiciary may not necessarily be through cash splash. For instance, a judge can be fired by the person that puts him there if he gives a judgment that is not pleasing to the party. And because the judge is still interested in his job, he will want to act to the script. So, it is very easy for the judge to compromise without receiving any cash incentive. But you know that the party will not do without giving you money anyway. Another reason judges are easily compromised is because many of them don’t have plans for life after retirement. So the fear of developing stroke after losing their job is what actually kills most of them; they allow the powers-that-be to have their way.
How then can sanity be restored to the judiciary, given the fact that the oppressed look up to the judiciary as the bastion of hope?
I must tell you without prejudice that the consensus of the 2014 national confab must be implemented. I am telling you the truth; the whole of Nigerians were well-represented at that confab. Every geopolitical zone was represented and they arrived at vital decisions. Let us implement those decisions so that we can move forward. Another thing is that we have a criminal situation everywhere in the country. For instance, let’s look at the Senate. I doubt if their salary is up to N1million but their allowances are up to N25 million per month. I don’t think there is any professor in this country earning N1 million per month.
Now, some governors are saying they can’t pay the N18,000 minimum wage, which is not up to the money some of them use to feed their dog per day and some of them will have up to six. So, who do you want to give N18,000 to? A secondary school student will even spend more than N18,000 per month not to talk of a man married with two kids and you now say the person will not perpetrate fraud. They will. That is why you can’t fight corruption successfully. It is not possible. Another example is that you will see a graduate being paid N50,000 per month to secure N50 million and you will say he should not commit fraud. The children will come and bring ‘don’t come to school on Monday’ letter and your wife will say if you know you want to sleep in this house, drop money for us. That is the unfortunate thing.
Let me tell give you another instance, I am very close to some of the police officers and I know how much they collect. It is ridiculous and that is why they can’t stop checkpoints, because that is what they use to maintain their vehicles for patrol and other expenses. The money that is supposed to go to them doesn’t get to them.
At the Police College, Ikeja in 2013, the government said it was training the police for security reasons and it gave them N150 per day; that is N50 per meal, an adult for that matter. This is the reality. They would prepare a watery soup inside a bucket and 25 people would sit round it with only one big head of a fish. What the government is doing is destroying their psyche and even before they eat that food, they bribe their way to pass and to be posted to the right place. Some policemen buy their shoes and uniform themselves and it is not as if allocations were not made for all these things and nobody is talking. Afterwards, you will say you are fighting corruption.
We are not sincere with our anti-graft fight. It is just on the media we see it. Before you can say you want to fight corruption, you must put certain things in place, because a hungry man will steal. Let us put necessary infrastructure in place. Lt the people be well remunerated, then you can now begin to impose sanctions.
With the way the Kogi and Bayelsa elections went, do you think INEC will live up to expectations?
Well, I am very close to some of their top officials somehow and I know that they dance to the tune of the politicians, especially the incumbents. For instance, in Kogi, before the election, the people and key PDP stalwarts didn’t support the candidacy of Idris Wada. However, the APC should not have got that kind of votes. And when that kind of a thing happens, that is the loophole INEC takes advantage of to the advantage of whoever it wants to support. People still buy INEC and that is the truth. In Lagos State, for instance, no other party can win except the APC.
All the INEC officials in Lagos are on the payroll of someone who will ask you what it takes to win. Someone who is ready to give you more than you ask for. It is everywhere but it depends on who can spend more. And that is why you see a civil servant who is an INEC official with so much money. I have many friends among them and the salary of these senior people is not more than N150,000 per month, but they have houses everywhere. Where did they get the money? One of them, after the 2011 elections, bought a home of about N100 million, where did he get the money?
If the judiciary and INEC are in such mess, what then is the place of integrity in Nigeria’s society today?
Integrity is very rare now; people no longer say ‘if I die, I die.’ Though we still have people of integrity, they are scarce. And where integrity is lacking, anything can happen. Immediately President Buhari got to Aso Rock, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Department of State [Security] Service (DSS), as if they have not existed before, began to arrest and do all sort of things. But, if you look at it holistically, are they saying it is only PDP governors or public office holders that are corrupt? No. One thing is that they are doing whatever they are doing to please the president, who can hire and fire them. Which of the governors, out of the 36 states, is not corrupt? So, why is it that only PDP people are being chased up and down?
Does that mean that as the head of the advisory committee on corruption, you are not satisfied with the whole thing?
As much as I am not a politician, one thing I know is that the anti-corruption crusade is selective, but most of the people being pursued by the EFCC are corrupt. What we are saying is that all others in the APC that are stealing should also be chased if President Buhari is really serious about this corruption of a thing. It is only then that the fight against corruption can be seen as fair and balanced. When there is no equity and justice, people will begin to doubt your integrity in whatever you are pursuing. For instance, if we recall 1983 when Buhari/Idiagbon came to office, immediately they knew there was corruption, they changed Nigerian currency so that all the people that had stolen money and kept it at home had such rendered useless and all corrupt officials were arrested.
But you also have to remember that Ambrose Ali died in prison; Adelakun, who was deputy governor to Bola Ige, died in prison; Olabisi Onabanjo developed kidney problem in the prison. Most of these people were Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) governors. But in whose house was N50 million cash belonging to the government was found? That person was only given a house arrest, because he is a Northerner. No Northerner was treated the way they treated the Southern governors. That is why as much as I respect President Buhari, I know that his sincerity is not total.
In what way sir?
If you remember the case of the 53 suitcases, Abubakar Atiku was the Customs officer in charge and it was through the back door that they used to bring in the 53 suitcases to Nigeria. But they were intercepted; Atiku was in Customs then. But when he wanted to make trouble about it, he was sacked by Buhari and nothing was done. What is [sance] for the goose is [sance] for the gander. The only way people can respect you or your integrity is when the children of the people you don’t know at all and yours commit a crime and you deal with them accordingly; people will respect you. Corruption is everywhere.
It is endemic, and that is why he should not focus on one side. Our anti-graft fight is cosmetic; we are not serious about it. I must be sincere with you. I think the APC will try a little, but what is supposed to be done with N50 billion, they will do it with N100 billion. But you know the thing about Nigerians is that, if you tell them you want to tar the road that leads to their house and they see the road tarred, they don’t want to know how much you have spent.
The only thing you will hear is this is an action man; he promised and he has done it. What people don’t know is that the APC is more corrupt, but unlike the PDP, they will do projects that people will see, although they will not be of good standards. But people will still see something. And if you try to probe into those projects, you will realise that they have defrauded Nigerians they take even more than the PDP, because they have a clever way of doing that. That is the truth.
What lessons can we learn from the recent elections, especially in Kogi?
In the case of Kogi, I believe the National Assembly and the House of Representatives must be working on constitution amendment to make provision for such cases. But I know that before any major election, it will be enshrined in the constitution. The Nigerian Bar Association and the judiciary should sit down and deliberate on it.
We have highly intelligent people in this country; we are not mediocres, but it is just that mediocre people rule over us. I cannot just imagine President Buhari, who has a primary school certificate, ruling the country when we have loads of intelligential great men and women. Many of these politicians are business mayors and cannot handle any business successfully despite the fact that they already have the resources at their disposal. But because politics is a dirty game, those who do not want to be rubbished will not be willing to come out, and that is why the dirty ones will continue to rule.
But I think the only way out is to bring sanity to our mode of electioneering. It should be removed from the constitution that any presidential aspirant should have a minimum of a school certificate. And how this even find its way into the constitution was when the Hausa people were in power. They did that to accommodate themselves, because a lot of them don’t go beyond primary school certificate and they believe they are destined to rule, imagine.
In case we have another instance like that of Kogi, how best should the constitution address it?
In a situation where such thing happens, the normal thing is for the running mate of the winning party to assume power. That is the way I see it and the normal way I think it should be. It shouldn’t be that somebody who never contested will now be brought from somewhere to take over. But if the election has to be cancelled and everybody now comes out to contest again, then it is a different case.
What is your take on the question of party supremacy, because Faleke is still fighting his party’s decision, leading to the National chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun saying the party might move against him at some point?
When you talk of party supremacy, it is too political. For instance, in 2011, the PDP candidate for the Speaker of the House of Representatives was not Honourable Aminu Tambuwal, but he became Speaker. The same played out for the APC this year, because the party’s candidate for the Senate Presidency was Senator Ahmad Lawan, not Senator Bukola Saraki.
The party made all manners of noise forgetting they had been a beneficiary of the same thing against the PDP, so, that is why I said party supremacy is political and a game of power play. It is because the party didn’t support Senator Saraki that is why they are instituting all these allegations against him. Can you tell me any of them that have given accurate figures of his assets? None of them has done it with utmost sincerity in this country. In Nigeria, you are only a thief if your party isn’t in power, because once the powers-that-be are not on your side, you are the biggest thief. So, the question of party supremacy, to me, makes no sense. Is the party’s constitution more supreme than the Nigerian constitution? No.