APC Leaders Are Promoting Corruption, Says Sagay
The Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Professor Itse Sagay, during an appearance on Channels Television’s Sunday Politics, spoke about the scandal in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption war and his problem with leaders of the All Progressives Congress, among other things.
Are you alarmed by the allegations in the NNPC?
Well, I’m not particularly alarmed. There is no organisation that does not have its internal problems and I think it will be resolved with time.
Do you think this is just an ordinary problem?
I think we really have to wait until we hear the other side. We have read what one side, the accusing side, has said. Then we have to wait, patiently, to hear the response from the other side before we can make very rational judgement in this matter. I don’t think one should rush into any conclusion.
You have spoken so much about the corruption in the NNPC. You advise the President on this kind of issues and you had said corruption in the NNPC is one of the things that your committee would focus on. How are you shining light on the NNPC right now?
I think I need to explain the way we operate. We are not an anti-corruption agency; we are not an executive body. We are more of a think-tank. So, we advise the government on various issues that come to our knowledge. We make proposals for reform and improvement of the administration of criminal justice and we also provide support for the anti-corruption agencies to make them more effective. We also do a lot of workshops and dialogues and seminars for the judiciary, the anti-corruption agencies and various other bodies that are relevant in the fight against corruption. So, I cannot tell you, for example, that I am investigating the NNPC. We don’t have that mandate.
What would you advise the President to do about these kinds of allegations around the NNPC?
Well, my advice is an obvious one that any reasonable person with any knowledge of law and legal practice would make and that is to hear both sides. And then, having heard both sides, then make an effective decision that will solve the problem.
Mr Femi Falana (SAN) is asking the President to relinquish his position as Minister of Petroleum. Also, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Petroleum Resources shares that position. Do you think that the President should relinquish that position?
Not necessarily so. I think what we are really interested in is the effectiveness of that ministry. If the Minister of State (for Petroleum Resources) is invested with sufficient authority, he can do the job effectively and report to the President at regular intervals. I think that is where we should focus our attention on. That is, investing the Minister of State with all the requisite powers and authority so that all the parastatals under the ministry will recognise his authority and respect it and make the Minister the medium through which messages and activities will be channelled to the President. And there should be strict observance of the various regulations and procedures of those agencies, NNPC included. So, I think the Minister of State can effectively do the job of the Minister because, of course, the President has so many other things in his hands that we don’t expect him to give full attention to any specific ministry. But he can retain the position, and the ministry can still be run effectively if the Minister of State is given sufficient powers if power is delegated effectively to him.
They say that sometimes perception is everything. With the current state of things regarding the report on the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Babachir Lawal, and also the report on the suspended DG of the National Intelligence Agency, Mr Ayodele Oke, it looks like Nigerians are expecting so much of the President. What can you say about the kind of urgency that the government should be putting in such, which of course, affect how Nigerians perceive this government?
I have no doubt in my mind, that the present government is actually fighting corruption, in accordance with its mandate and its promises. There is no question about that. But on the specific issue of the suspended Secretary to the Federal Government and the Director of the NIA, I would agree that action has been much too slow and there should be immediate decision on this matter so that we can put it to rest and move on. I agree with that but I certainly disagree absolutely with anyone who suggests that is government is not fighting corruption with all its might and resources.
A senior member of the APC did say that when it comes to fighting corruption in other agencies and arms of government aside from the executive, the Presidency uses insecticide but when it comes to fighting corruption its own atmosphere it does use deodorant.
Well, that is the perception of that particular gentleman, but I don’t agree with that. I think there is an even-handed approach to the issue of fighting corruption. Everybody who is suspected of corruption of the commission of the Economic and Financial Crimes would be investigated and the EFCC and the ICPC, who are the bodies who are invested with the authority to act in such matters, will act in accordance with their own priority. You know, I think we should make it clear. We cannot handle all corruption cases at the same time. As you know, in this country, that the cases of corruption go right from the top and permeate to the lowest level. There are hundreds of thousands of corruption cases. So it makes sense for the agencies involved to choose what to pick and what to drop or what to suspend.
From your standpoint, you say that the government is fighting corruption, but the citizens and the voters who voted for President Muhammadu Buhari are asking for evidence of the success of the anti-corruption war.
The evidence is staring every Nigerian in the face. Only a person acting in extreme bad faith that or who is a beneficiary of corruption will question that evidence. We have had an accumulation of recovered assets. There is no day that passes without some assets being recovered. And we are counting now towards a trillion naira, if not more, of recovered assets. We see that all the time, that is number one. We also know that the petroleum subsidy scam has been brought to a permanent halt. Under the former administration, N380billion, the government was being defrauded of N380billion every year, all that has ended. And there are so numerous other things that have been done. We have the whistle-blower policy, which is effectively bringing out so many cases of corruption and hidden Nigerian assets, we have mutual agreements with various countries all over the world through which the recovery of assets are being facilitated. So, I think people who criticise this government are thinking only of conviction of high-profile persons. That, of course, has had some hiccups. But let us wait and see on the long run, how things are going to develop because I know a lot of efforts is being made in that direction. In fact, only two days ago, former DG of the IITA, was convicted of corruption, and sentenced to, I believe, 40 years imprisonment, of course, five years running concurrently over so many charges. So, as I said, anyone who says this government is not successfully tacking corruption is putting on blinkers of bad faith or is totally ignorant or is a beneficiary of corruption, and is part of corruption fighting back.
When you say there are hiccups in the convictions of high-profile cases, a lot of Nigerians would want to know. What are these hiccups?
Well, you know that before the administration of Criminal Justice Act was passed, a lot of things were going on. Senior advocates will automatically file preliminary objection contesting the jurisdiction of the court over a corruption case whilst knowing definitely that there is no doubt about jurisdiction. And then the whole case would be stalled, concentration will be put on the preliminary objection. Then, after two or three years, once ruling is given, of course, with the court confirming its jurisdiction, there is an appeal to the Court of Appeal; the same process is gone through all over again. And with the same result, the matter goes again to the Supreme Court. After five years, it is confirmed that the court has jurisdiction and then we are back to the High Court for the trial which ought to have been completed 10 years earlier. Of course, in the interval, witnesses might have died or disappeared, the trial personnel might have become judges, and the prosecutor might have become a judge. So many things would have happened. A lot of political interference would have occurred and of course, prosecution fatigue would have set in. So, this was what it was but all that has ended now with the passing of the Administration of the Criminal Justice Act. That is why I expect that in the coming year, we are going to see a lot more convictions and this position has been strengthened by the decision of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, directing all High Courts in the country to designate specific courts in their jurisdictions as Anti-Corruption courts and then, of course, establishing a committee that will monitor all corruption cases in the country. Personally, I think the personnel of the monitoring committee, those constituting the committee, there is the need for a rethink, particularly with regards to the former President of the NBA, and I think the appointment of Justice Salami is perfect, it is the best choice possible. Supporting him should be people who have not been involved in corruption cases, defending high profile cases of corruption and I think the former Presidents of the NBA have been very much involved in this and their orientation is to defend those charged with corruption and some who actually still have cases going on, which will result in conflict of interests. So, I think there is a need for a rethinking in that area.
You have been on a collision course with some powers that be within the ruling APC. What has really happened? Are you frustrated recently by that?
Let me try and put it in a very simple way without mentioning names. If you have within a party, which has a specific mandate to fight corruption and at least reduce it drastically, to a level that it will not stall our development and our future. If you have such a mandate, and then you have within that party, people who are actively promoting corruption, who, in fact, are themselves major subjects of corruption charges who are themselves promoters of corruption, and they are defying the party on major issues that would have assisted the government in eradicating corruption, my view is that it is better to totally remove people of that nature and have a smaller party in which everybody has confidence in themselves, rather than to have a large party in which people are doing things that are absolutely contrary to what the programme of the party stands for. And my view was that the party leadership (the party hierarchy), I am not talking about the government. I am talking about those elected as the Chairmen, Secretary and so on of the party, are condoning the situation I am talking about. They are appeasing those who are guilty of all these things I am saying and therefore setting a stage for the party to have a serious problem when there is need to convince the nation that it is entitled to have another term or more terms in government because ‘show me your friend and I will tell you who you are’.