Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), in this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, speaks on the three years of the Muhammadu Buhari administration and other issues of national importance. Excerpts:
President Buhari will be marking three years in office tomorrow as president. He was elected on a four-year mandate which will elapse in 2019. Do you think three years is enough to assess his performance?
No, I don’t think three years are enough to assess his performance but I think in these three years, sufficient achievements have been recorded by this government by which it can be judged. Three years won’t be a complete picture but there is substantial evidence for one to make an assessment.
So, if you are to assess him on the three cardinal programmes of his administration namely war against corruption, revamping the economy and tackling insecurity, how will you rate him in these areas?
I think he has been largely successful under very difficult circumstances. Let us take the issue of corruption in which I think he has scored an excellent grade. In other words, given the circumstances of the country and the hostility plus resistance of the elites who are behind the looting of the nation’s treasury, I will rate his achievement as excellent. If you look at recovery of assets by this administration, it is unprecedented anywhere in the world; assets recovery from every angle such as Abacha loot, loot under the Goodluck Jonathan government and so on. It amazes me that Nigerians pretend that they are not aware of these things. If you ask them , what has Buhari achieved in the fight against corruption?. The response you will get is ‘he has achieved very little in the area of corruption’. In fact, that is a blatant lie. He has achieved a tremendous lot. We have had activities on the part of EFCC and ICPC which is totally unprecedented because of the political commitment of this government in the anti-corruption war. What people fail to appreciate is the level of resistance, the fighting back by these very powerful oligarchs who are using our resources which they stole to fight us back. It is these resources they use in paying their lawyers, bribing judges and creating all sorts of obstacles.
Look at the case of Olisa Metuh. Look at the resistance with all the drama to having the trial concluded. Someone was told sit where he was but he said no, he must go to the dock and halfway to the dock, he suddenly dropped pretending to have collapsed. As a result of that, his counsel insists at any cost that the case should be adjourned again. So, this government is going through fearful obstruction in the fight against corruption. That is why it has decided to concentrate on recovery of assets because we have discovered that if you deny these looters of their assets, it is even worse than sentencing to imprisonment because it robs them of all the gains of their looting. If you recover these loots from them, all they have planned to do with the loot will be lost and you see them developing high blood pressure and all sorts of things which could be worse than imprisonment. If they could go to prison for a time and retain the loot, they will choose that because they will come and enjoy the loot once they are released. Also, what people seem to forget is the difficulty of conviction because of the lapses of the Nigerian constitution which places the burden of proof not only on the prosecution but also proof beyond reasonable doubt. It is extremely difficult particularly when you have lawyers who are determined to frustrate and stall cases. We forget too that the names of these people have been published. The loot that they have stolen have been stated, the whole country is aware of who they are and they have lost their reputation and respect in the society. That is a punishment that could be worse than imprisonment. So, on this issue of anti-corruption war, this government has passed it in flying colours. We have been engaged in training of judges, prosecutors, training in drafting of charges, interacting with professionals to see how they in their own spheres can cut corruption short especially those in the fields of Accountancy, Law etc. So, I will class the achievement in this area as first class.
When we come to the area of security, we have a major problem. If it was limited to Boko Haram alone, I will also have given this administration an A. But these herdsmen attack has been so horrendous; totally devastating that it has affected the image of the government. There is no question about that. Even those of us who are in total support of this administration are disturbed by the way these herdsmen appear to have gotten away with their terrorism. However, I am relieved and encouraged by the fact that the government has now made it the priority in their security activity. They have deployed forces to the affected areas massively and these people are now being fished out, arrested and killed. They now know that they cannot continue with their impunity. One can say the government reaction has been slow but to me it is not. What has happened is that they did not put in enough action against the herdsmen. They actually put in effort but it was inadequate and there was an incremental level from stage to stage. Now we have a very anti-herdsmen force dealing with them in all the places they are operating such as Benue, Nassarawa, Taraba, Kaduna and others. The herdsmen now know that they can no longer act with impunity, get away with it and come back the next day as if Nigeria is a killing field. I am also happy that the federal government has provided a substantial sum of money for those communities to be rehabilitated and brought back to the standard they were living before so they can continue with their lifestyles and farming without fear of attack.
President Buhari and former president Olusegun Obasanjo last week engaged in war of words over the $16bn Power project. Will your body advise the president on whether it should be probed or not?
Yes, when the time comes certainly we will do that. It is an issue that we didn’t really think about in my committee. The anti-corruption agencies are the ones who have all the facts, names and figures. So, we will leave them to use their initiative but if this issue becomes political issue as it is being turn into, it may be necessary to get the facts and take the necessary action. If anybody wants to make capital of politics by running down this government which in my view is the most upright government we have had since a part of the Murtala Mohammed government, then this government may have to show that it is a government of principle and one which has the will to suppress corruption and those who challenge it may face the music.
Former South African president, Jacob Zuma is currently trial for his actions in office. Do you think Obasanjo is sacred cow that cannot be prosecuted?
Heavens will not fall if Obasanjo is prosecuted and jailed if found guilty. In my opinion, this government has a very kind disposition towards former presidents out of respect. The government doesn’t want to create the impression whereby a former president who is the image of the country is being brought to trial. It will look a sorry sight. But no one should challenge this government and then compel it too establish that those who are talking are not the best and they allowed a lot of dirt under them for which they are not being prosecuted.
Why do you think Obasanjo is too critical of those who succeeded him in office unlike what obtains in the United States where you hardly see former presidents criticising the incumbents despite political differences?
Why even go to the United States? Let’s look into Nigeria. How many times has Yakubu Gowon under whom Obasanjo served as a military officer criticise anybody? I am sure when he has anything to say he will go quietly. How many times has Abdulsalami Abubakar criticised anybody? Even Ibrahim Babangida was quiet before, respecting himself until Obasanjo started pushing and egging him to speak. You could see it wasn’t natural with Babangida coming out to attack a successor. So, this is an Obasanjo ego trip. He has to be the President-General forever. He is always envious of anyone who came in after him. He has to interfere to be relevant and you must allow him preside over the presidency otherwise there will be no peace. He didn’t allow Yar’Adua to rest; he didn’t allow Jonathan to rest now it is the turn of Buhari. I think this tendency of putting your hands in the eyes of those who succeeded you really has to be stopped. His shenanigans has to be stopped. He went to Afenifere, a group he has had nothing to do with for years for support. He has to formed some artificial party ADC and all sorts of ridiculous associations thinking he can destabilise this government when he was allowed a free reign as president. He got two terms and then wanted a Third Term. Nobody killed him for it even though that attempt failed woefully. So, I think Obasanjo should allow Nigeria to rest. He should give Nigeria peace. He should just go to his house and leave us alone. We have had enough of him