By Bartholomew Madukwe
Professor Itse Sagay, SAN, is the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-corruption (PACAC). He is a former Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Benin. In this interview, he speaks on President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption war, appointment of Ahmed Rufai Abubakar as the substantive Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and what government ought to do to stop herdsmen/farmers clash.
In view of the fact that several suspects among the elites, charged with corruption by the anti-graft agencies in the country, hardly get convicted, what do you think this administration needs to do to secure conviction in spite of lawyers’ antics?
It has nothing to do with the lawyers. The laws that we have now give the court the power to curtail these excesses and what I will call gross misconduct on the part of lawyers. The sad part is that the courts are not using their powers. The provision of the 2016 Administration of Criminal Justice Act empowers the judge not to grant adjournments for more than 14 days. That is number one. It insists that trial must be from day to day. It also insists that if you bring an application, which is interlocutory, in other words, a case is filed and the next thing is for the other side to file an application that the court has no jurisdiction or that the charge is defective. The court is empowered to take the application and the main case together. You must not adjourn to hear the application and then give a ruling on it; against which they will now appeal. It is not even empowered, the court is compelled by law to take that application and still continue with the main case.
Furthermore, if for any reason any lawyer, who is dissatisfied with anything, appeals to the Court of Appeal, the high court is compelled to go on with the case and not to stall the case for that of the Court of Appeal. So it is not the fault of the lawyers because the lawyers are not being controlled. The judges are ignoring the powers they have been given. You will see judges adjourning for two or three months, whereas the law does not allow them to adjourn for more than 14 days. The judge does not have to adjourn for ruling, but give both ruling and judgement on the same day. The problem is the judges. The judiciary is the problem in this case.
It therefore means that the problem with the judiciary living up to expectation still involves putting the Senior Advocates of Nigeria on check?
Oh yes! The Senior Advocates really are the most major problem we now have in the whole anti-corruption war because, who are the people who corrupt the judges? A judge cannot sit in the court and corrupt himself or herself; somebody makes the suggestion, somebody carries the money to him. It is just a pity that the judges now do not have strong moral character to resist it and expose such people. There is no reason a judge cannot send out a senior advocate from the court, if he is deliberately trying to delay and frustrate a case. So everything bounces back to the judge, who should exercise supreme authority in his own court and not become the dog being wagged by the senior advocates’ tail. This is what is happening in many cases.
Some concerned Nigerians have accused the presidency of playing the ostrich in the investigation into the intrigues that played out in the appointment of Ahmed Rufai Abubakar as the substantive Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). What is your reaction to this?
My reaction is that it is troubling that somebody who is from that side should again be appointed to such a sensitive position, given that the other two security positions are for all people from the same side. I think it is a mistake of not putting the matter into a thorough consideration, considering this country’s diverse population and federal character. Putting all security agencies in virtually the same side or state, I don’t agree with the federal government on this. It is a mistake that has been made and I feel some correction should be made for the future. There is nothing illegal about it. It is even politically unwise to concentrate all security offices in one part of the country. I do not agree with the decision, but it is not because it is illegal. It is not a good political move and it is not right, in terms of federal character of this country.
Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, has disclosed that after the January 11 incident in which 73 persons were allegedly killed by the herdsmen, more people, including security officials have been killed by same herdsmen. What is your take on this?
My take on it is that the Federal Government should now increase its fire power in this area because these are people who have no fear of any form of government, government’s reaction or position; they have no respect for the sanctity of life. These are just animals, wild animals. They are not better than jackals and animals in the forest. They don’t have any human emotion at all. The only thing they fear is if you come with fire power, you kill a few of them and the rest will run away.
I think, with the military being brought into it and their moving into those forests, we are going to see a very sharp drop in their criminal actions.
But is it not proper for the herdsmen to be labelled terrorist group as seen in the case of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)?
Absolutely, I agree! They are a terrorist group, as far as I am concerned. What their objective is, if they have any, is to terrify the population, to kill innocent people, frighten them and make them submissive and totally broken. Yes, they are a terrorist group.
Following the herdsmen attacks, in your view, do you think an organised resistance is ideal?
I believe so. What Professor Wole Soyinka was saying is not anything new. The criminal law of Nigeria gives every Nigerian a right to self defence. If a person wants to kill you and you kill him, it is a good defence. If somebody is trying to kill you and you are defending yourself and kill him, it is a complete defence- you are going to be discharged and acquitted.
Individuals have a right of self-defence. We can band together and provide a collective defence. This perfectly legal and sensible.
Undoubtedly, standard of living for an average Nigerian has fallen since after the last presidential election. As PACAC chairman, what is your perception of this administration’s bid to make life better for the common man?
Those who are saying that standard of living for the average man tightened since after the last presidential election can be divided into two categories. One is the counterfeit, fraudulent people who are beneficiaries of corruption, which is being tackled and gradually being wiped out. The second group of people are those who are abysmally ignorant. So those are the two groups. I don’t agree that things are tightened because things are much better.
The question we need to ask is, where are we coming from? We are coming from a situation in which the whole of our treasury was looted, there was hardly anything left in our foreign reserves because the politicians in the governing party had shared it among themselves. What do you expect Buhari to build the state with when there is nothing? As at the time he came in, oil prices had crashed from $100 per barrel to $30 per barrel. Production had also crashed because of Niger-Delta militants from 2.1 million barrels per day to 1 million. But this government found a way to build up our economy. They have built up institutions, we have a social investment programme, free food is being served in schools, young women are being given loans and the fuel subsidy scam has come to an end. As at the time there was subsidy under the Jonathan government, they were defrauding this country of N282 billion yearly. All of that has ended. What do Nigerians want from a government?
Let us wait until 2019, if Nigerians are so stupid and they shoot themselves in the leg – goodluck to them. But I believe that Nigerians know what is right for them and that is the Buhari/Osinbajo government, that is the only alternative. There is no other alternative that is in existence for the benefit of Nigerians.
Talking about the 2019 presidential election, the political atmosphere is already tense, especially with former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s movement. What is your expectation of the 2019 presidential election?
I expect Buhari and Osinbajo to sweep the poll. Not just win, they will sweep the poll because Nigerians know what is good for them. Obasanjo has never recovered from the fact that he was forced out of government in 2007 when his third term objective was rejected. So he is still in that frame of mind and he still thinks that somehow he can use certain things to come back.