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SIP Shouldn’t Have Been Removed From Osinbajo’s Office - Itse Sagay

In this interview with ENIOLA AKINKUOTU, the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), speaks about trending topics

You’ve been drumming support for the confirmation of Ibrahim Magu as the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Why are you doing this despite a damning report by the Department of State Services that he is corrupt?

That report is fake because its contents are untrue. It was done out of dislike or hatred. It is a biased report and it was done with the intention of frustrating his appointment. There is no truth in that report and I don’t see why it should be a factor in his appointment
There have been allegations that the EFCC’s anti-graft war is one-sided

How?

For example, a son-in-law of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar is facing charges for attempting to distribute money ahead of the presidential election while All Progressives Congress leader, Bola Tinubu, had two bullion vans with money in his compound on the eve of the same election and he is walking free

These concerns are misplaced. Atiku’s son-in-law was caught committing an illegal financial transaction. There is no question about that because it was a crime. What is a bullion van? Why can’t a bullion van come into my compound? There is no offence here. There is nothing wrong with bullion vans coming into a person’s compound. Let me also say that these people just hate people out of bias. Tinubu has always been a very wealthy man. He is a man who worked in the petroleum industry before entering politics. And when he had to flee Nigeria during the Abacha years, he was the one sustaining most of the other freedom fighters on exile. In other words, Tinubu has been a rich man long before he entered government. So, governance and his relationship with state matters have nothing to do with his wealth. He acquired wealth long before entering government and you would expect a person with that kind of money to have invested it in various ways and probably increase it. So, all these bias and hatred for no reason except that he is a strong man who has his own approach to politics, and has a way of organising himself of always being on top, there will be a strong attempt to pull down such a person with things like ‘bullion vans’ and all and I think it is totally irrelevant.
Two persons facing EFCC probe, Timipre Sylva and Godswill Akpabio, have been appointed ministers by President Muhammadu Buhari. Sylva’s case is on appeal in court while that of Akpabio is still under probe. Do you think this is right for a government fighting corruption?

When I was interviewed on this matter some months ago, I did say that the appointment of Akpabio should have been put on hold pending the outcome of investigations. I have said this before and I don’t want to keep repeating it so that Akpabio will not think it is personal. I was only speaking on principle and I still believe that his appointment should have been suspended pending the outcome of investigations. I believe that if a person is being investigated and it has not yet been concluded, he should not be appointed into any position because if on conclusion of the probe, there is evidence of wrongdoing and the person has to be charged to court, it will be an embarrassment. That is my view on that. I don’t know everything. Whether they have investigated and found nothing substantial is still unknown to me. Generally, all these talk about one-sided prosecutions is unfair. There are many people who are high up in the APC that have either been tried and sentenced or are undergoing trial or investigation. When I checked the number of people undergoing investigation in the 8th Senate, a large number of them were APC members. You know that two former governors who are now in prison are APC members. Also, you know that a former governor, who is in now in the Senate has a case in court and the case is almost concluded because of the brilliant work of the EFCC. So, quite naturally there would be more prosecutions of those who were in power for 16 years than the APC which has only been in power for a few years because if you had not been in power, how would you have had access to public funds? So, it is not true that the war on corruption is exclusively a non-APC affair
But how do you explain the case of Senator Danjuma Goje who was being tried before a Federal High Court for allegedly mismanaging billions while he was the governor of Gombe State and the court had said he had a case to answer? His case was dropped by the attorney-general just shortly after he decided to support the APC’s candidate for Senate President

Well, under the law, the attorney-general has the power to intervene in any ongoing case and withdraw the case at any time. I don’t know about that case. My committee is an advisory one and we are not involved directly in all these things and my knowledge of some of these things is based on the information I gather. I don’t know why Goje’s case was dropped but I know he was on the list of those facing prosecution by the EFCC. I don’t know why his matter was withdrawn but I think you should ask the EFCC or the attorney-general. You can ask the AGF why he decided to withdraw the matter
Earlier in the week you confirmed the arrest of former AGF, Mohammed Adoke, in Dubai. Are we expecting his extradition soon?

Definitely! The charges against him have been forwarded to Dubai. The authorities of the UAE will then determine that there are serious charges against him and then trigger the implementation of the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty which would see him being brought to Nigeria for trial with or without extradition proceedings. The charges will ensure that he is held pending the appropriate steps being made to ensure his extradition
There are reports that the court had quashed the arrest warrant granted to the EFCC. Why has the Federal Government not served this fresh court order on INTERPOL?

I heard about the court matter but I don’t want to comment on it. This is why we in PACAC are saying that the judiciary should be brought in and properly informed and educated about the war against corruption. This is a time that the judiciary should avoid technicalities and dwell on the substance of the matter. If I were sitting at the court, what I would ask myself is, ‘does this man have a case to answer?’ If that is the case, whether he has been served or not are mere technicalities which a judge ought to avoid because if he escapes, he escapes with billions of naira belonging to the country and it is the duty of a judge to see that person face justice. So, I think some of our senior judicial officers need to be educated about the effect of corruption on society and on the need to take action to see that corruption is fought to a standstill. They should not take decisions that will set free those who have deprived this country of development. The corruption is what pushed this country into poverty, unemployment and other issues.
Are you saying it is right for the government to disobey court orders based on national security or an overriding national interest?

Well, let us judge it. What is the number one duty of government? It is to provide for the safety and security of the people. The government sees some of the things we don’t see. Since I was appointed as Chairman of this Presidential committee, I have been able to see things which normally I would have criticised because I was not aware of the reason behind some of the actions of government. So, there are certain things we know that you don’t know. And unless the government has made it a habit to disobey all court orders, I think we should be wary of blind condemnation. If it is in just one, two or three cases, then find out why the court order was disobeyed. Usually there are cogent reasons. And the courts themselves have admitted in one of their judgements that national security supersedes individual human rights.
But is it the court that determines what is national security or the executive?

It is the executive that determines what is national security and then they inform the court so that the court would appreciate the danger which is being averted by keeping such a person temporarily in custody.

With the continued detention of Sahara Reporters Publisher, Omoyele Sowore, and others who have met bail conditions, would you admit that government institutions have taken the law for granted?

No, I wouldn’t say so. I have been following the case of Sowore closely. I noticed that in the last statement issued by the DSS, the spokesman said they were ready to release him but that they would only release him to his surety. Now, if the surety goes there and the DSS still denies Sowore his freedom, then everyone will disown the DSS. But why are the sureties shy? I see the point of the DSS not releasing him to protesters who will then carry him shoulder high and start another protest, block highways and cause more confusion. So, if the sureties themselves come and the DSS refuse to release him, then they will have questions to answer.
But why can’t the DSS release him to his lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN)?

Honestly, my view is that if the DSS say they want to release Sowore to his sureties, why can’t they come forward? When we are talking of human rights, both sides must make efforts. One side cannot be protesting and proclaiming things from afar and putting all the blame on the other side. The DSS has said at least one surety should come forward. Why can’t Sowore’s side accept the olive branch and come forward? So, the blame is not on the DSS on this matter. There is something wrong in the sureties refusing to come forward.
Falana said Buhari is planning to have a third term in office. Is this true?

(Laughs) That is impossible. Quote me. Buhari is a democrat and will never do such. Some of us even blame him for becoming too much of a super democrat. He has become too tolerant and too lenient because there are some societies that need some level of authoritarianism to make progress. He will not run for a third term. I don’t know how such a thing could be suggested. It will never happen. He believes in the constitution
What is your view on the bill to regulate social media and the bill on hate speech which prescribes a death sentence for purveyors of hate speech?

I will never assent to any bill that prescribes death sentence for such an infraction. Even if fake news or hate speech leads to the killing of another person, I will not support death penalty for the person spreading the news. It is the person who does the killing that should be the one to face the death penalty. The person who makes the statement will be arrested and if he is found to have conspired with the person who committed the act, then he can be held liable. If someone just makes hate speech and someone takes it upon himself to kill an innocent man, then that is his headache. He should answer for it.
But generally speaking, I think there should be some regulation as regards hate speech. I have read comments on social media even with my limited knowledge of it, I am horrified by what I see. Statements are made without regard to morality. People are accused of horrendous crimes that they have not committed. I have been personally insulted. These people on social media don’t proffer sound arguments or make healthy debates. They will rather insult and abuse you and say the most devious things about you. Nigerians are very intelligent but have a tendency to overdo things. Social media is being abused. Even sex tapes are on the Internet. So, there is a need to curb such obscene and inciting things but I do not support capital punishment.
A few days ago the President said about N1tn has been spent on constituency projects of the National Assembly in 10 years with nothing to show for it. You have been one of the advocates of transparency in the legislature and have lamented the jumbo pay they earn. However, despite the National Assembly being an APC one, we haven’t seen any transparency.

I have always lamented the huge allowances given to legislators. I don’t see any difference with respect to the current National Assembly. There is no indication that they will cut down these allowances drastically. I told them a few days ago that the cost of governance must be reduced and they agreed. They said the current budget should be reduced and the capital budget should be increased. But they defended the money they are getting which is N125bn out of the over N10tn in the budget. But the way I see it is that this Senate is more receptive to suggestions. I have a feeling that they will take action in that regard. For instance, they have said Nigeria has too many MDAs which is over 700. They have said they will reduce the number in order to save funds. So, while I cannot guarantee that they will reduce their allowances, they are conscious of the huge cost of governance and are willing to reduce this.
The Vice-President’s role seems to have been whittled down in this second term and he was said to have been responsible for some successes in the previous term. Do you see this government doing better now that the Vice-President’s role has been reduced?

The main responsibility that was taken away from the Vice-President is the Social Investment Programme which has been taken to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs. I was given the impression that some people working on the SIP have been moved to that ministry. I think we should wait and see. My approach to things as shown in my support for Magu is that when things are going well, I don’t like disturbing them. The Vice-President’s office handled the SIP in an impeccable and successful manner. So, I think removing it from his supervision is a risk because it may slow down things. Mrs. Mariam Uwais who was the adviser, did a magnificent job. They were thorough, professional and curbed corruption. The school feeding programme and other aspects of the programme went well. Those involved in corruption were brought to book and monies were recovered. I personally would have wanted things to continue as it was. But those who have the powers have decided that they want to transfer it to a new ministry. I just hope this new ministry does not fall below the standard.

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