By Dapo Akinrefon
PROFESSOR Itse Sagay, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, is the Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Anti-Corruption. In this interview, Sagay reviews the Muhammadu Buhari administration in the last one year and opines that a lot has changed for Nigeria. Excerpts:
What has changed in Nigeria under the Buhari administration?
A lot has changed, it is a totally new world. Now you have a government with integrity trying to provide selfless service rather than serving itself as it used to be. The government is trying to salvage this country which was on its way to a complete crash. The government is recovering money that was stolen, it is putting a public conduct that you must serve with integrity and honour and that the greatest pride you get being in government is that you have the privilege to serve, and not the privilege to be a locust that will destroy all our resources for personal gain.
You can see that what is happening now is a new approach to governance, the fundamental things are being done. We have Treasury Single Account under which the government has been able to collect three trillion naira, which would have been wasted if it had not done so.
You have all sorts of criminally-minded people, who have run down this economy by collecting our common patrimony for themselves, being brought to book and our money being returned. The whole attitude to life is changing. So there have been major changes in this country and we have an era of productivity and of service. So there has been a lot of change.
But critics of the government argue that the last one year has been a waste. Do you agree?
When people say that, it is as if they are coming from space and that they have not been in Nigeria. What this government has been doing has been filling a big hole dug for us, you cannot move forward under the devastating condition that this was country was left. So what the administration is trying to do is bring us up from the scratch.
I have heard people say they enjoyed life more when there was corruption. Is that not a self-destruct we thing for someone to say? Was there a future in corruption? Would this country have survived. Where would they have gone?
So, we just have to be patient and appreciate that service is being provided in an honest way and that there is an organised effort to bring this country up by its boots so that we can start once again to live a happy and productive life.
In your effort to strengthen the anti-corruption fight, your committee met with judges but it has been misconstrued that the meeting was aimed at intimidating the judges. What is your defense?
(Laughs) Let us put it this way: Can a person be intimidated to do what is right, to be honest and upright? And in a manner that will bring positive results to society? Can that be regarded as intimidation? In our interaction with judges, what we have done is to bring in experts among themselves. We organised, we are the facilitators in terms of organisation but the actual people, who facilitated it in terms of presentation, are fellow judges, with experience in corruption cases and matters, who have dealt extensively with it. They exchanged experiences with their colleagues that this is how we interpreted the provisions of the law when we had a case. It is for the benefit of this country.
Nobody is intimidating anybody.
The only person, who is inherently corrupt, dishonest and rotten and who wants to remain that way, would say that somebody is intimidating him. Luckily, all the judges we have met so far, have been happy with the interaction; infact, we have have learned from them. In the process, they have expressed what they have been through and we have all discussed how problems can be resolved. It has been a happy interaction, no problem whatsoever and together, we are moving forward for the sake of this country.
There is no doubt that President Buhari means well for Nigeria. As someone who believes in the rule of law, people are perturbed about the president’s refusal to abide by the rule of law. For instance, how would you feel if a court grants you bail but the government of the day refuses to abide by the decision?
Well I have heard that several times. It is about Dasuki, not so?
In the case of Nnamdi Kanu, even the Court of Appeal has refused him bail, his own issue does not arise at all. In the case of Dasuki, what I know is this, there is are so many charges against him and it is in connection with the law he has allegedly transgressed, which he has not been granted bail, that he is being held. For instance, if you committed ten offenses and you are granted bail for five of the offenses, you can still be arrested and detained on the basis of the remaining five.
This is the way I understand it.
It is perceived that the Buhari government has no clear economic policy. Do you think he has one?
I believe so. Even though I cannot claim to be versed in that policy, I know that there is clearly a policy and there is a team which is led by the Vice President. If I may mention two areas of emphasis, I think one is unemployment.
There has been a lot of emphasis on unemployment. The other one is the total reflation of the economy from the flat bed that it is lying by injecting a lot of funds into it. Third, they are trying to promote social welfare of Nigerians so that we can begin to feel the impact of the resources and I believe that, in another two or three months, we will be begging to feel the impact.