September 26, 2022

Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), in this interview with ONYEDIKA AGBEDO and NZUBE OGOKE, maintains that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has lived up to expectations with regard to its pledge to curb corruption in the polity. He, however, expresses strong dissatisfaction with the manner the administration has tackled insecurity, saying, “the gravity of what is happening now is so much that anything should be done to suppress it.” Sagay also spoke on the state pardon granted to former governors Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame of Plateau and Taraba states, respectively, and how it will impact the anti-corruption crusade, the preparations for the 2023 general election and his autobiography, All Will Be Well, which he recently presented to the public, among other issues
Though you have written a lot of books, you presented your autobiography, All Will Be Well, just few weeks ago. Why did you delay its launch?
One, it didn’t occur to me early. Two, I was very busy, because when you are doing it, you have to virtually leave every other thing. It involves a lot of research. You have to go back to all the files you have accumulated over the years; may be over the last 40 years to read as much as you can. You can’t even finish them. So, that was it.
Moreover, I didn’t want official autobiographers to write my autobiography for me; that is allowing somebody else to write it. They do that a lot, but you can’t put in the emotion and the ways you actually felt about situations. They are going to leave out a lot of things that are important to you in the process. They approached me, may be three years ago, but I said ‘no.’ I told them that I will do it myself when I have time. So, that’s why it took such a long time.
Again, there were things that happened to me that I didn’t really want to sit down and begin to reflect on again, because they are things I had put at the back of my mind.
So you skipped such things in the book?
No, no, no! That’s why I didn’t write it on time, because I knew that to tell the truth of your life, you have to put down everything. And I wasn’t keen on dwelling on those things for a long time. I just summoned the courage.
Could you share some of those experiences with us even though you have recorded them in the book?
I am not going to go into detail. They were mainly bereavements. Those were the things that have really brought me down, not government-sponsored hit man. Those things didn’t affect me; anything official – being dismissed, being thrown out of my house violently in Benin. All those meant nothing to me; they didn’t get to me. But losing someone I love; for me, that is the most devastating thing that can happen to me in life. I suffered a lot of that, so that really brought me down.
The last time I checked, you had authored 11 books, which means that your autobiography should be your 12th. What does it take to churn out books in the manner you have done? 
You can’t churn them out; it’s involves a lot of work. For those who are not intellectually and emotionally involved in it, it’s boring. But for someone doing it like me, you are seeing new facts; you are discovering new ways in which existing facts can be put together and point you to a totally different direction and then you are digging out things that nobody ever knew publicly. They were there, but nobody had taken the trouble of digging through them and bringing them out to the world. So, it’s exciting, but it really takes a lot of time; that’s why I said you can’t churn it out.
My most popular book is the book on Contract Law. When I was writing it, after closing for the day (then I was still teaching), I would go home and have dinner and then go back to my office at 7.00pm. I will be there until around 2/2.30am; it was like that almost everyday. When I come out, my car would be the only one in the whole Law and Social Sciences Complex. Then, Nigeria was not so dangerous, so there was no fear. So, I would drive home and sleep.
But what drives you is that you have something you want to get out, which nobody else has done and which will give a clearer picture of the law in that area. At the time I wrote the book, there was no Nigerian book on it; Nigerian cases were not being used and it’s a case law subject. You base the law on cases decided by courts. First, I did research on cases. So, I published the book on Nigerian cases in contract. After that I wrote the textbook based on the cases. So, you cannot churn it out. It comes out in bits and pieces over a long period.
So, given the level of energy and research that go into writing a book, how were you able to combine writing your autobiography with your role as the Chairman of PACAC?
That’s a fair question. To start with, I am the chairman; it is a part time appointment. If I were the Executive Secretary, I might have had some problem, because that one is a full-time executive job; you are managing staff and various resources and activities daily from morning till night. But the chairman only chairs meetings. So, I chair meetings; I help to shape programmes; I attend programmes. But it’s not a 24-hour job, so I have a lot of time on my hands when I’m not doing PACAC job.
Talking about your role at PACAC, which you have been performing for about six and a half years now, do you feel concerned that Nigeria has been dropping in the yearly Corruption Perception Index (CPI) of Transparency International (TI) almost since this administration came into power? For instance, in 2019, the country scored 26; in 2020 it scored 25; in 2021, the score further dropped to 24 and now Nigeria ranks 154 out of the 180 countries assessed. How do you feel each time the report is published?
Honestly, I have very fulsome contempt for TI. And since I have done what they have done in Nigeria, I can say that all they do is just fake report that they spread round the world. They are an organisation of misinformation and fraudulent report; that’s what they are. They are based in Germany and we attended one of their conferences. I told them point blank that what they are telling the world about Nigeria are fairy stories, lies. And they said, ‘well, I should know that they are not there to research on the facts but mainly dealing on perception of people.’ I told them that perception cannot be facts and they agreed. If you go to people in the opposition camp, they will say that we have done nothing in the fight against corruption and then, you say that’s perception. It makes no sense. They couldn’t argue with me.
For the one of last year, I issued a statement where I pointed out all the errors and there was no response. This year, we didn’t bother to comment at all.
Because it has no relevance to Nigeria, we have the facts. TI does not deal with facts; it deals on impression of people and if you deal with that, then you are wasting your time, because if you ask the average Nigerian today, who is angry, what you will hear is, ‘oh, nothing has been done; it’s a failure.’
Just to digress a little, there are people who have been interviewed in Nigeria about the School Feeding Programme and they said that no child had told them that he/she was eating free meal in school. A child will come and tell you that he/she is eating free in school. That is the mentality of Nigerians. But 12 million children are having free lunch everyday; and many other millions of people are getting N10, 000 (it was N5,000 before) cash transfer every month, because of their position in life, which is very retched. The money is intended to give them the capacity not only to survive, but also to try and make a living and improve their status. But if you ask the average Nigerian, he will tell you that he/she has not seen anybody who received the money. And there are millions receiving that money in every part of the country.
So, that is the Nigerian mentality. For example, we know that we have security problems now. Once that comes, this government has done nothing. Nigerians like talking a lot; everybody is trumpeting like an elephant all over the place without any attempt to be rational or factual. That’s what I have found out. Thank God I have passed the age of contesting elections. Never in my life would I contest any election in Nigeria because the country is ungrateful; all they do is to condemn. Yes, there are many things to condemn, but there are many good things also to commend.
So, forget about TI. All they needed to do was to go to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and get the data; go to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and get all the facts; they are there. How many prosecutions have EFCC done; how many have been convicted; how much loot was recovered in a year. All those information is present.
But some people will tell you that they hear only about recoveries and nothing about how recovered loots were expended by the current administration?
That is the other thing they keep saying, but they don’t make any effort to know. Recoveries in the first five years of this administration were officially ploughed into the budget to the knowledge of those who want to know. The amount that was recovered and the amount by which it increased the budget were there. It is now that they are using it for some other daunting purposes.
This is the first government I know where there is no re-looting after the money has been recovered. It never happened, but nobody has ever congratulated the government for that whereas in the 16 years under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) flagrant re-looting was going on. But nobody has ever said well done.
I’m not saying this government is perfect. The government has many problems. I don’t agree with them on the way they have tackled security. I’m not satisfied; I’m one of the critics. But there are many areas like infrastructure; the railway system, which was dead in this country, has been brought alive. Never mind whatever the bandits did. The Second Niger Bridge is nearing completion. Nobody sees all those things. He has done nothing! There is no change! That’s not true.
There are many things they need to do that they have not yet done. I maintain that the fight against insecurity is unsatisfactory, because if you don’t feel safe, many other things are affected. Everybody cannot go by air. Some would want to go by road, others by rail. So, in that one, I will admit that there is a lot to be done. But in many other areas, this government is unique and nobody gives it any credit.
With the way things are, would you in all honesty say that this government has been acting on the recommendations of your committee?
Yes, to a reasonable extent. I won’t give you the detail, because our advise is confidential. Let me say that they have implemented like 75 per cent of our recommendations. One example I can give you now is the Proceeds of Crime Recovery and Management Agency (POCA), the new agency that has been established by law to collect anything recovered from looters. Previously, those things were being managed by EFCC and ICPC. But now, this new agency is there purposely to receive those things so that those who collect looted fund do not manage it. So, they just collect and pay into POCA’s account. POCA will now be the one to keep, supervise and manage it and when there is need for it to be used, they will now produce it.
I give you one very vital example of why POCA is necessary. The anti-corruption agencies seize cars. If you seize a car and park it in your premises as the police always do, give it five years there and it will be useless. Under the POCA bill, when the anti-corruption agencies seize any car, they will transfer it to POCA, POCA will sell it and then put the money in the bank and leave it to generate interest until they get a directive as to what they should do with it; the same thing with jewelry and so on. Those were the things the EFCC found difficult to keep.
POCA will know how to keep jewelry; they will have the contact to sell such jewelry at the appropriate international sources and they will have staff that will know how to take care of buildings so that buildings that have been seized will not deteriorate. So, POCA will have many specialities as an organisation.
Of course, POCA will prevent re-looting because when you seize and keep it by yourself, you can start taking out of it. But once the value is recorded and given to POCA, it has to account for it.
But some will argue that the establishment of POCA is another case of creating more agencies even when the government cannot properly fund existing ones?
That is a legitimate issue to raise; it took a long time for us to conclude that we needed an agency like POCA. When you are the one applying for forfeiture and then receiving it, you are accountable to yourself and that’s where re-looting can happen; where those who have seized it can treat it as their own, particularly when it’s a building, money or vehicle.
But under POCA, they will collect whatever is seized, then transfer it and this transfer is registered. POCA staff will be specially trained not just on management but also in maintenance of facilities. All these are attributes that the anti-corruption agency is going to have. So, it’s a new set of people with new type of skill for managing forfeited properties and this is all over the world. We are just learning from other people who have handled the situation better.
Did your committee recommend the state pardon granted to former governors Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame of Plateau and Taraba states, respectively, to the administration?
No, that did not pass through us at all. That was an affair of may be the Attorney-General and the Council of States. We were not a party to it.
How did you receive the news then?
Well, I was surprised. I think out of 10-year/12-year convictions, they had spent between four and six years individually. I can understand decisions like that if the health of the person is deteriorating and you have acquired all that he had stolen; and he has spent some years in detention. It could be a case for having mercy on him; after all, it’s prerogative of mercy.
However, what I would insist on is that it should not be limited to privileged people; the prerogative should be extended to all categories of people in detention. That is the only case I would like to make; otherwise, if you spend a number of years in detention, I don’t see anything particularly wrong in granting such pardon if you have really been of good behaviour and your health requires it; and you are likely after that to live a relatively good and transparent life.
But won’t toeing that path negatively affect the war against corruption in the country?
Not seriously! I mean, imagine it; you know the governors, you know how powerful they are. They are the alpha and the omega in the states. If you look at the elections of today, many aspirants that are succeeding is because of the power of the governors. The governor is very powerful. He controls a huge budget; he has security vote, police, army and so on. The Office of Governor is a very powerful and privileged position. Suddenly, you leave the office and the next thing is to find yourself in detention. You can’t move; you are in a square room. Nobody likes not being able to move around; you are just in one yard for four, five, six years. It’s destructive of the spirit. I don’t think anybody going through that will do anything that will make him/her to experience it a second time.
So, I think they have suffered enough. The drop in status, respect and regard is huge. I know one or two people who did not even go strictly to prison, but negotiated and were allowed to spend about nine months or so in the hospital. When they came out, they were broken and never appeared in society again, because they have lost so much pride. So, let’s not underestimate the effect of going to prison; it’s not a nice thing.
Recently, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Mahmood Yakubu, decried the monetisation of the electoral process by politicians, saying the country was inching towards plutocracy. Is this your wish for the country, having previously defended the N100 million cost of the APC presidential nomination forms?
I think the N100 million is a bit high; I must confess. If I were younger and stronger and wanted to contest, it will be beyond me. Who is going to give me N100 million? So, I think there is a bit of a problem; I don’t know why they raised it so high and in spite of that, many people rushed to obtain the forms. So, I think I agree with the criticisms.
Whether it’s going to be a government of plutocrats or not, I don’t think so. If you look at the candidates who are still in the race, many of them cannot be called plutocrats. People said friends and admirers raised the money for them; how correct that is, I don’t know, but obviously it might have been so in some cases.
How do you think the country can bring down the cost of elections, which will consequently translate to a reduction in the cost of governance?
This has been a recurring problem. Cost of elections is too high but Nigerians are so desperate that they are ready to do anything to be able to get power. This is what encourages what happened in APC, which put the cost of their forms very high to discourage people. But they were not discouraged; we are too desperate for power in this country.
As you rightly said, it makes cost of elections and therefore cost of governance too high, because some people would want to recover their money. Some people want what they are paid to be so high because of the expenses they incurred and so on.
There are some bodies whose salaries are alarming. The National Assembly can deny from now till thy kingdom comes, but it’s obvious that they are over paid. Shehu Sani was able to admit that they are earning over N13 million as allowance and about N1million as salary. If you put that together, we are talking of N14 million. That is what is admitted; padding has not been admitted.
Talking about constituency projects, incidentally the ICPC has totally brought their excesses under its control. Now, anybody that collects money for constituency project is followed up strictly to see that the value of the project is up to the money and that there is no diversion. So, they are all very hedgy now because a lot has been recovered from them.
So, the whole idea of constituency project, in my view, is against democratic principles and division of labour. For you to ask for a constituency project, you have turned yourself into the Executive. It’s the Executive that should do that but everything Nigerian has to be bent; it has to be twisted because a few people want extra money. So, if we can get rid of all these, the cost of governance will come down drastically.
In fact, my view on cutting down the cost of governance is very simple. And I adopt the idea of Chief Afe Babalola — have only one National Assembly and make it part time. Everybody should go home and get a profession. If you are a teacher teach; if you are a lawyer, go to the court room or do some other thing; if you are a doctor, practice medicine. May be for two months you will come and legislate, get sitting allowance per day and go back to your profession. That way, the rush to go to the Senate and House of Representatives will die down. Only genuine people who really want to serve, as in the First Republic, will put themselves forward. That is the only way out.
The present system creates a money-making National Assembly; where they make money for themselves and the whole country bears the cost to keep them there. So, for me that is the final solution.
As Nigerians get prepared to elect a new set of leaders in the 2023 general election, it is obvious that the campaign issues will remain the same – insecurity, poor power supply and the likes. This has been the trend since 1999. Why is the country not making progress per se?
I agree with you. The power thing is a big mystery to me, where we said NEPA was not functioning well, because it was a government monopoly and decided to distribute it to private companies, which have profit motivation and therefore will attain perfection in their services. But it’s just a shock that these companies are so incompetent; they cannot produce power but are greedy and have been imposing lunatic charges on consumers through estimated billing. But they are being indulged in their descent into incompetence and fraudulent behaviour. Government is always giving them money, but their level of productivity is too low. I think we should end the whole system and allow organisations to try and provide power for themselves. Let everybody do that; you will see that it will work.
Also, insecurity is a major problem. As I said earlier, I am not happy with the government in that area. The progress is too slow. I may be wrong, because there are things in government that we who are not in the middle of it don’t know. But looking at it as an outsider, it’s as if they are not doing enough.
I feel that once you identify areas where these people go again and again, there should be security zones close to the areas and distributed over a wide area with electronic contact so that if an area is being attacked, the security agents can respond immediately. What we always have is that the attackers will be there for eight hours, do all the destructions and killings and go away after which security agents will mobilise to the scene; no, no, no! They should be able to catch them in the middle of the act. We must create a situation in which attackers are challenged during the attack and neautralised. Unless we do that, we are not going anywhere in this fight against insecurity.
Given the level of poverty and insecurity in the country, and the ongoing re-alignment of political forces, what are the chances of your party retaining the Presidency in 2023?
Well, Nigerians also need to look back. Much as I am dissatisfied with the way insecurity has been tackled, we should not also forget that when the PDP was in power for 16 years, they were only dealing with Boko Haram. Now, this current government is dealing with outbreaks everywhere – terrible bandits in Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna states, herdsmen in the Middle Belt and South, IPOB/ESN in the Southeast who shoot, kill and behead innocent citizens. Thank God that not much is happening in the South-South. All those did not exist before. But it’s as if they all held a conference and said, ‘let’s overwhelm this government’. It’s a frightening thing that all these developed; it’s too much at the same time. So, I have that sympathy. Nevertheless, the gravity of what is happening now is so much that anything should be done to suppress it and bring it under control.
So, given the way these people popped up from nowhere, I don’t think the last government would have done better than the APC. Don’t forget that when this government came to power, Boko Haram was controlling over 20 local councils; and by the time they came, within two months, they cleared them out completely and they were just like bandits outside. I’m not satisfied with the level the challenge is being met but that doesn’t mean that nothing has been done in the past.
My hope is that the APC wins again and they deserve to win because they have done very well in many other sectors. In agriculture, we are self-sufficient in rice; we can even begin to export very soon. In transportation, roads have been built across the country. So many projects are going on. Given all that, I think the government deserves to be returned to power.
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