Monday, September 7, 2015

Jonathan didn’t understand that corruption is wrongdoing — Sagay

Chairman of the seven-man Presidential Advisory Committee on
War Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), in this interview
with LEKE BAIYEWU and TOBI AWORINDE , speaks on what
Nigerians should expect from the ongoing anti-graft probes
In the simplest terms, what are the responsibilities of the
panel set up by President Muhammadu Buhari on his anti-gThe (anti-graft) agencies
are already there. Our job, really, is to provide support. We
are first to promote the fight against corruption generally,
then to intervene comprehensively in the whole process in
order to promote and support the existing agencies to be
more effective and to have more capacity. We are also to
make the administration of criminal justice more effective;
produce results quickly and efficiently. Very broadly, that is
what we are supposed to do.
Can you break it down into specifics?
There is no need breaking it down because our mandate is
very wide. But, I can give a few examples of what I am
talking about. For example, in the area of giving support to
the anti-corruption agencies, we are going to interact with
them; and when we do, we will find out what challenges
they have. Why are so many cases stalled? Why are so
many cases lost? Is it that they lack technical capacity in
terms of equipment for investigation or in terms of training
and manpower or people who can do forensic works
effectively? Is it financial or is it a question of integrity; are
there people in their midst who are colluding with the people
being investigated? These are some of the things we are
going to look into. Where they have challenges of the sorts I
mentioned, it is our job to recommend procedures and
actions to the government to take care of such problems
and eliminate them. That is one aspect of our work.
Then, if you go to the area of administration of criminal
justice, we are looking at a number of things. These include
the speed with which corruption cases are held and
concluded and how corruption cases are stalled in courts.
For example, we are looking at adjournments, which, luckily,
the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 has now
taken care of by eliminating any adjournments, and by
stating that once a case comes up in court, it must be heard
from day to day – Monday to Friday – without any
adjournments. But where an adjournment is inevitable,
because certain things can happen, it must not last for more
than two weeks at the most. Also, there must not be more
than five adjournments per case. But we also need to
monitor the process to make sure that these rules are kept.
We also have the issue of judges who are hearing a case
and they have almost concluded the case and they are
promoted to the Court of Appeal. Under the present law,
once that happens, they drop the case. A new judge will
start afresh, as we have it in the case of Intercontinental
Bank, which Justice Habeeb Abiru virtually concluded
before he was promoted. Now it has started afresh. Who
knows whether it will take another five years? That has been
eliminated under the new Act. Whether you are promoted or
not, once you are already hearing a case, you must
conclude it. You cannot abandon it to take up your new
post. You can take up your new post but you must conclude
the case. That too has been eliminated.
Another thing is that we now have a new genre of senior
advocates whose sole means of existence is to stall cases,
especially corruption cases. And the way they stall cases is
very simple: once the charges are filed, they look at the
charge. Instead of tackling the charge and providing
answers for the issues raised, they simply file a preliminary
objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court to hear the
case. And many judges, in my view, foolishly in the past,
play along with these senior advocates. They abandon the
main case and concentrate on the preliminary objection,
which may take perhaps a year or two. Meanwhile, the
substantive issue of corruption is suspended. When the
judge finally arrives at the conclusion or judgment or ruling
that he has the jurisdiction, the chap (defendant) appeals
straightaway – still abandoning the substantive issue for
the issue of jurisdiction – to the Court of Appeal. At the
Court of Appeal, if he fails, he takes it to the Supreme Court.
How does the accused escape in that type of circumstance?
By the time the Supreme Court finally decides that the court
has jurisdiction, 12 years or so might have elapsed. By then,
the investigating police officer (prosecutor) is retired; the
officials of the Ministry of Justice, who handled it (the case)
at the early stages in the High Court, would have been
promoted and the judges themselves could have retired.
Thus, many things would have happened; and what we call
prosecution fatigue sets in. What happens after is that the
case dies a natural death. It is not that the accused is
innocent but the state does not have enough stamina to
pursue the case to the end. That is what has been
For instance, governors, who were being investigated for
what they did as governors, are now senators or occupying
various important positions in the country without
questions. What this Act has done is what any judge with
common sense would have done before. The Act has
decided to do it for them by stating that if anybody files a
preliminary objection, the judge is compelled to take both
the preliminary objection and the substantive issue together.
He must no longer abandon the substantive issue.
Then, to make sure that there is no loophole, the Act also
provides that where any party disagrees with any ruling of
the court and appeals, the court must not stay proceeding
because of any appeal; it must continue the day-to-day
hearing regardless of any appeal. With that setting, we
ourselves have set to do a number of things. One, to try and
assist the judicial system and the government to ensure that
we have in place a judicial structure that can hear
corruption cases without any problem; without any issue of
compromise or integrity. We are going to look for judges
who have the honour and integrity, who are upright and
have passion for justice and who can never be
compromised. They are going to be indentified and
transferred to the criminal division of each court; they will be
there. We are not the ones to do this; it is for the Chief
Justice of Nigeria and the heads of various courts to do.
Once this is done, it will take care of the issue of quality and
character of judges and the law. Then, we are ready to meet
the challenges of corruption cases.
All the judges are meant to be incorruptible, but where the
incorruptible ones are to be picked from among their
colleagues for this anti-graft war, it means some of them are
corruptible. What will be done to the corrupt judges and
In our democratic system, there has to be proof before
someone can be convicted or punished for anything. You
may have judges who are rumoured or, in fact, known to be
corrupt. But unless they go through the process of being
tried, there is no form of punishment that can be inflicted on
them. The best thing, for now, until such evidence has been
concretely established, is to avoid them and let them deal
with cases other than corruption cases. We need people
who can resist the blandishment of material things and
those are the ones that the system is going to try and pick
Some people are of the view that special courts, like the
election petitions tribunals, are redundant since the accused
will end up appealing a verdict in the conventional appellate
and Supreme Court. Why the special courts?
There is no anti-corruption court right now. If we want that,
we have to submit a bill to the National Assembly to amend
the constitution to now include an anti-corruption court
among the series of courts that we already have. That is a
long process but it can be done; I don’t know yet what the
government is going to do. It is likely as a future measure
against corruption that that is going to happen. We don’t
have that now. For now, we must work with the tools that
we have. What is likely to happen now is to make the
criminal division of the state high courts into, sort of, anti-
corruption courts. We can use them for that purpose.
What will your committee do about the case of some VIPs on
trial, who find their way to five-star hospitals in the name of
illness while their trial is pending in court?
There is no doubt that Nigeria is a very difficult country. No
matter what you introduce, the enemies of the country will
introduce some counter moves to water down whatever you
are trying to do and make it ineffective. That is the problem
we have. But for you to be sent to the hospital during the
period of conviction, you need a very credible medical
certificate from a highly qualified doctor in the area of the
illness, which states that the prisoner can only be attended
to in that hospital such that he cannot be looked after in
prison. It is a difficult thing when a doctor says that
because if you, as a judge, reject it, supposing the man dies,
that creates a big problem. To avoid such a thing
happening, the tendency will be if there is a very cogent
reason given by a doctor in a certificate, that person will be
allowed to go to a hospital, which is unfortunate but it can’t
be helped. Eventually, you have prison officials and
policemen being detailed to that hospital at extra cost to the
state, to ensure that he does not escape while he is in the
hospital. Altogether, it will be an unfortunate thing, which
possibility cannot be ruled out.
What is going to be done such that crimes, especially financial,
will attract commensurate punishments?
These are the areas that we are going to look into to ensure
that the punishment fits the crime and that the law is no
respecter of persons.
Do you think the removal of the immunity clause being enjoyed
by certain public officers is a necessary measure to curb
I have never been a supporter of those who want to remove
the immunity clause, because one has to really look at the
character of our countrymen. Nigerians are fond of
litigation; they will go to court at the drop of a pin. If a
governor or the president is subjected to such litigation, I
don’t think he will have one minute’s rest to do his job. He
will be so distracted that governance will become more
difficult than it is already, knowing the nature of Nigerians.
Thus, I still support that clause. After he has left office, you
can go after him; why not? We can wait for four years, or a
maximum of eight years.
Some people believe that such officials under immunity cover
should be tried for a criminal offence, if not civil offence. Do
you agree?
That distinction should not be made at all. All cases should
await the person leaving office.
There has been a controversy over Buhari’s decision to limit
his probe to the last administration. Do you think this is
appropriate, looking at how deep the cankerworm of corruption
has eaten into the fabrics of the country?
You are right, the cankerworm has eaten deep. At every
level or segment of society you look at, corruption has eaten
the heart out of this country. It is an enormous task and I
think what the President really meant was that he would
operate within this period; he has only four years, unless he
is re-elected. How much can he achieve within that period? I
think he is looking at what is immediately obvious and
apparent. I refer to them as low-hanging fruits. It is just like
you going into an orchard and you want to pick some
mangoes. You pluck the big ones that are closest to the
ground; you won’t climb to the top and leave the ones
below. If you still need more, then you can go higher. I think
that is really what the President meant. If it is possible to
conclude all the cases, which are so obvious; where the
evidence is recent and easily obtainable; where we are
being offered assistance from all over the world to identify
and detect, then we move on to the next stage.
But looking at the power sector, for instance, there are some
controversial contracts under ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo,
especially the $16bn said to have been spent to revive the
sector. How can the sector be probed under Jonathan without
going beyond the last administration?
I don’t think he (Buhari) is looking at it as Jonathan’s time
or Obasanjo’s time; he is looking at it as what is so obvious
and what is so clear and attracting immediate attention for
action. When that is done, any other one even farther away
will be tackled. All these are based on evidence.
Is it advisable to invite looters for talks to save the time and
resources to be spent on judicial processes against them?
Yes, that can still operate in conjunction with taking them to
court. That is very close to plea bargaining. I think that this
government and the Nigerian State, through the
administration of the Criminal Justice Act, has accepted that
there could be plea bargaining.
If such a person releases the loot, should the person still be
punished or allowed to go for returning the loot?
This is my view: There will be some punishment, but it will
be very much mitigated; instead of the person going to
prison for, say, 10 to 15 years, he may just have about
three months—that sort of thing. Definitely, there will be a
Is your committee also looking at recovery of loots stashed
away in foreign banks?
I would say the government as a whole is very much
involved in that. We can assist in our own way, but already,
the government is in contact with many overseas authorities
who have an idea where some of these loots are.
Are you expecting stiff opposition from these countries who
are believed to be using the looted funds to develop their
I don’t think so. My impression so far is that most, not all,
of the countries in which these monies are deposited are
practically in developed Western countries, and are anxious
to cooperate with the government to recover the loot. I know
America has recovered almost $500m, and they held on to it
because they did not want to hand it over to the last
government. They are going to give it to this government.
So, there is a lot of cooperation going on.
Are you saying the West did not trust the Goodluck Jonathan’s
government for fear that it was too corrupt?
Obviously, they did not. Corruption in Jonathan’s
government was an international fact known everywhere.
Thus, they were not very happy with that government
because of how corruption was so rife at every level such
that everybody in the government was involved in it and it
brought down the image of the country totally.
What do you think was responsible for the former President’s
inability to tackle corruption?
I don’t think he saw it as a wrongdoing; that is my
impression. A man who could say stealing is not corruption
just shows you he didn’t even understand what corruption
is. He didn’t seem to realise that stealing is equally a crime.
It is as if to say, ‘He merely stole, so we should leave him
alone and not bother about that’. There is a certain lack of
awareness of the gravity of corruption and its associated
concept — a combination of ignorance and a certain, very
dangerous innocence, I would say. If you don’t know
anything is wrong at that stage and you’re head of a
country in which a state is controlling hundreds of billions,
meanwhile everybody is helping himself; it is very
dangerous for the country.
Jonathan’s loyalists are now fighting back, lamenting their
media trial. Do you think all these shouts of probe are a mere
Former President Jonathan
Those who are corrupt are very powerful people. We are
talking of people who are sitting atop billions of dollars, not
just naira; and money is power. Thus, they will fight back
and this is what they have done. There is no subterfuge
they have not yet devised. First, they accused Buhari of
selecting them out and my answer is that it doesn’t matter
if you are selected. If you are innocent, you are innocent
and there is nothing anybody can do to you. It is only
someone who knows he is guilty that begins to cry out and
try to intimidate the government from trying to find out what
happened. What happened to all the billions of dollars that
disappeared? The government should just look at it and let it
go? Buhari, while addressing the Nigerian Bar Association,
was the one who said it is the greatest crime against
humanity to steal so much money that leaves a whole
country grounded and a few of them impossibly wealthy
that for the next 100 generations, they can be spending
without working. Our patrimony? Unacceptable!
If corruption is seen as the greatest crime against humanity,
do you think it should attract capital punishment like it does in
No, I think that would be too extreme. My attitude is that if
you do not directly kill a human being, or do something with
the intention that a human being will die, you should not be
subjected to capital punishment, because once life is taken
away, we cannot bring it back and we cannot create life. I
think severe imprisonment coupled with recovery of stolen
wealth is enough for now.
Obasanjo said Jonathan’s performance would affect the
likelihood of another Niger Delta indigene emerging as
president. Do you share this view?
I am also a Niger Delta indigene and I always felt the way
Obasanjo was feeling that if in future any of us brings out
his head and says, ‘I want to contest the presidency,’ they
will say, ‘Ah! But we gave you the opportunity; see how
lousy, dismal and devastating failure you were. Why do you
think we should give you another chance?’ That issue will
arise in future, there is no question about it. The first time
somebody came from our zone and was given power, he
just wasted it in such a dismal and disastrous manner. It is
unbelievable what happened under Jonathan. If people use
it against the Niger Delta people, I can understand, although
it would not be a logical thing because the next person from
the Niger Delta will not be the same. But I can understand
that sentiment. What happened was a disgrace to all of us.
Are you saying his performance will haunt all the people of the
Niger Delta, including those with outstanding track records?
Yes, it will definitely haunt us, but it is our job now to
convince Nigerians that every Niger Delta person is not the
same. Let me give you an example which has nothing to do
with corruption. It takes a Buhari from Daura in Katsina
State to decide to organise money and expertise to go to
Ogoniland, which is part of Niger Delta, to recover that land
from the destruction that the oil companies have subjected it
to. There was a Niger Delta indigene there; for six years,
Jonathan was in power. What did he do? His mind did not
go there. That is why I always say I am not bothered about
where whoever is ruling comes from. I never supported
Jonathan because he came from the Niger Delta; that is not
important. What is important is the quality of the man, what
he is doing, what his programme is for my part of the
country. If he comes from Sokoto State, I don’t care. What
programmes do you have for my people in the Niger Delta?
If the programme is good, you can rule forever as far as I
am concerned. I don’t want my brother in the village to go
there (presidency) and steal all the patrimony of the country
and neglect that village; then I say, ‘Yes, he is my brother.’
That’s of no use.
But Jonathan’s loyalists are pointing at the Federal University,
Otuoke, as one of his notable contributions to the Niger Delta
during his presidency…
In fact, for me, that is a negative in two ways. Jonathan
created nine new federal universities, when the existing ones
were crying for lack of care, finance, facilities and so on. For
me, that is a sign of very poor leadership. It just shows he
did not understand what governance is about. One doesn’t
just create things that he cannot support. That is a big
mistake. Secondly, you want to look at leaders, who are not
mentally matured in terms of politics; look at what they do
with various institutions and other things they create. When
you see a man putting something in his village, you know
that he is mentally underdeveloped as a politician. It shows
he is still a local, narrow-minded individual, who has not
developed at all. He is a village man put in a central
position. Let’s look at our great leaders; where did (Chief
Obafemi) Awolowo put the university he created? In Ife,
Osun State, not in Ogun State, where he came from. Where
did Sir Ahmadu Bello put the university he created? In Zaria,
Kaduna State, rather than his hometown in Sokoto. Where
did Dr. Nnadmi Azikiwe put the university he created? In
Nsukka, Enugu. That is the difference! I always tell people
that those people of the First Republic are the greatest
we’ve ever had. Since then, we’ve had diminishing returns,
smaller people—not smaller in size, but in mentality, culture,
civilisation, values and every other way. We are almost at
the bottom.
Should this philosophy be applied to the recent appointments
made by the President, which is viewed as lopsided?
The South-Eastern people are complaining bitterly. What I
will tell them is ‘Be calm, what if an Igbo person is given a
ministry? It is just one family that is enjoying’. Rather, look
out for the programme of the government; what plans do
they have for south-eastern Nigeria? Once they have good
plans, whoever is appointed to any position is irrelevant.
For example, does Buhari have plans for the Second Niger
Bridge? What plans does he have for erosion and all those
bad roads in the South-East that connect other parts of the
country? Those are the areas where they should be tackling
him, not who he is appointing. If they keep on pressing and
he now appoints south-eastern ministers and officials in
various other places and those major things affecting their
lives are not tackled at the end of the day, then the
appointments would be of no use and will make no impact;
they will not improve on the South-East or the standard of
living there. It will just be one family that is living a rarefied
life for four years and then they’ll go back to the people.
What’s the point? It is misplaced priority that I am seeing in
this country when people talk of ‘This man didn’t come from
my side’ and ‘That fellow didn’t come from my village’. For
me, that is immaturity and mental underdevelopment,
But do you think the South-East, which doesn’t have a single
person in the current government, will be satisfied with your
People will be appointed eventually. But that is not the
priority; they should take their programmes to the
government. They have powerful leaders; they should get
together and ask each other, ‘What does the South-East
want from this government?’ Not appointment of people. Go
there and present programmes and hear what the President
says. That is where you will now know whether he has good
plans for the South-East or not. Not who is appointed to
various positions; for me, that is very secondary. In the light
of this, I know (recently appointed Group Managing Director,
Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Dr. Ibe) Kachikwu
is technically from Delta State, but he is an Igbo man. He’s
controlling an organisation that is responsible for 90 per
cent of the wealth of this country. Whether or not he is west
of the Niger River does not make any difference; he is still
an Igbo man. I think we should take that into consideration.
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