Prof. Itse Sagay
By Dapo Akinrefon
Professor Itse Sagay is the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption, PACAC.
In this interview, Sagay says he had no information about the pardon granted to convicted former governors, Joshua Dariye and Rev Jolly Nyame, who were serving jail terms until he read it. Nyame and Dariye, who governed Plateau and Taraba states respectively, were jailed for stealing public funds while in office.
How do you feel hearing that the Federal Government granted pardon to convicted former governors?
I don’t think I have a particular feeling about it. Their stay in prison is brief. There is no question about it. But I think society has been placated sufficiently because these high persons who had been in charge suddenly became imprisoned. That is a very severe punishment for people like that. After they leave the prison, they won’t have anything to do with public offices.
I know some people are arguing that when you are pardoned, everything is wiped out. It could be legally. But morally and socially, nothing is wiped out. They may not be able to hold office again forever. I don’t think we should lament about it, especially when health issues are involved. We don’t want them to die in prison.
Following the outpouring of outcry, government in its defence said the Presidential Advisory Council on Anti-Corruption, PACAC, advised that the convicted persons be pardoned. How true is that?
I am the Chairman of PACAC. Occasionally, things come up that I am not officially notified like when it is as important as this. But I have heard from one or two members of the public that the pardon should be spread downward.
There may be one or two members of the committee who feel that way, but I don’t see anything wrong with it. In fact, I think more Nigerians of the lower strata who are in prison should enjoy this more than the higher ones. For the lower ones, the offences they committed are usually less, especially when it involves financial crime.
Also, they are people who are not in authority, who do not have heavy moral duties like those in power. I agree with that even if it emerged informally from some members of my committee.
Don’t you think what has happened would dampen the morale of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, in the discharge of their duties?
No, it won’t. The job of the EFCC is to put the bad guys behind bars. That is the objective. It is simply to get them convicted. Once that is achieved and the person is sentenced, the job of the EFCC is completed. That is the end of the story. The same thing applies to ICPC. They are not concerned about political follow-ups or how long the person is spending behind bars. It is not a personal thing. They don’t hate those people. They are doing their job to make sure anyone who commits an offence is pursued, prosecuted and sentenced to prison. Once it happens, the EFCC continues looking for more people to prosecute.
What do you think this development means for how Nigeria’s anti-corruption fight is rated globally?
I don’t think it would affect Nigeria’s corruption perception. I don’t think people will now feel they won’t serve a full jail term if they commit a crime and are imprisoned. I don’t think there are Nigerians who would want to be in prison. Those who commit crimes think they would get away with it. They don’t consider the possibility that they would be in prison. It is a very unpleasant experience because it is a place where people have no rights. In prison, your liberty is taken away and you are confined to a little space.
Would you say that former Heads of State who constitute the NCS acted in national interest?
This is a very difficult question. From the little we heard, it was said that these people are in bad health. I had no prior information about that until I read it. We don’t really know the full details of why this was done. So, saying it was done in national interest or not is a very difficult question.
Where you think of national interest is where you have a plea bargain, which enables you to pay back stolen funds or a situation where you spend one month in prison and taken to the hospital. If the person is released after these events, that sort of thing is certainly not in national interest.
If someone is incarcerated and serves four years out of a 10-year term, I think justice would have been served to a reasonable extent.
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