.Says Yakassai, Anenih, Falae too old to go to jail
Professor Itse Sagay, SAN, is the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption. In this interview with TUNDE THOMAS, he urged President Muhammadu Buhari to apply caution over recent calls by some Nigerians that former President Goodluck Jonathan be invited for questioning over the raging $2.1 billion arms scandal for which ex-NSA, Sambo Dasuki and other top PDP chiefs are currently facing trial. Excerpts:
FORMER President, Olusegun Obasanjo, recently described EFCC as a toothless bulldog.He said that the anti-graft agency has lost its bite unlike when he was in power, how do you see his comments?
I think Obasanjo was not well informed before making this comment. Indeed, there was a time EFCC went down because there were some elements within the organisation whose hands were not clean.
Now, EFCC is under a new leadership, and the new man in charge, Ibrahim Magu is totally committed to the war against corruption. He is determined to ensure that corrupt people are not only arrested but made to face justice.
Obasanjo, during his time appeared to have succeeded in the war against corruption because it was during his time that we have the EFCC and ICPC Act. The type of successes Obasanjo achieved against corruption, and the method by which he achieved them can’t be practiced now.
I said so because Obasanjo broke all the rules. In most cases, he didn’t follow due process while waging war against corruption.
Look at what happened in Bayelsa State, how he got all members of Bayelsa State House of Assembly arrested while trying to ensure that the then governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was impeached.
He did not only take the lawmakers to Abuja, Obasanjo also compelled them to impeach Alamieyeseigha. He threatened them that if they refused to do so, they would remain in detention.
Obasanjo used unorthodox methods to wage war against corruption. His own methods can’t be used today. Don’t forget that Obasanjo also used the same method in Plateau State when he used only five lawmakers to impeach Joshua Dariye, the then state governor who was accused of being corrupt. Obasanjo later installed a man called Botman as state governor after illegally removing Dariye. But these kind of methods are abnormal. They negate principles of due process.
But a lot of things are going on in the war against corruption today. A lot of prosecution is going on, and these prosecutions are dynamic.
We have a lot of cases going on and these are being followed to a logical conclusion. For instance, the case against the Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Olisa Metuh is already completed, and Metuh lost his no-case submission, but to evade judgement, Metuh has now been trying to transfer his case to another court so that the case can start afresh.
EFCC is doing its own part. The Federal Government is also doing its best to tackle corruption. Look at the case against Saraki before the Code of Conduct Tribunal: The case is going on very well.
Look at the other corruption cases against Dasuki, Badeh and others. EFCC is doing very well. The agency has been very dynamic, so I don’t agree with Obasanjo’s claims. You know you have to follow due process before you can get judgement against those people being charged to court, Like I said, Obasanjo was very unorthodox in his style when he was in government. But I’m optimistic that EFCC will get some cases concluded before the end of the year.
You sound so optimistic sir, but we have many cases that have been lingering for years without being concluded, what is the basis of this assurance that you are giving?
It is true that there are many cases like that with some dating far back to 2007. I want to assure that we are going to get some cases concluded before the end of the year.
Again, the administration of Criminal Justice Act which now makes it impossible for those who have been using various tactics to evade justice to do so again. I’m not saying that convictions, but I’m very sure that judgement will be delivered.
But the only thing that can make this impossible is if some judges decide to ignore the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, and decide to continue with the old bad ways.
Then, how do we ensure that this fear of some judges continuing in their old ways is addressed?
Our committee is doing everything possible to address the issue. We are interacting with judges on proper interpretation of Administration of Criminal Justice Act, that they should not give adjournments anyhow and that there can’t be more than five adjournments in a case.
The law says that when an application is made, you take the application and the main case together, so that at the end of the day, you will give ruling and judgement together, not that you adjourn and later give the ruling.
I noticed that some judges are doing this, but this has shown that they are ignorant of the law. But I believe with time, everything will fall into place.
The question of what should happen to looters and the loot being recovered has been generating controversy, what is your view on this?
The laws are already there. The punishments range from a maximum of 21 years to others between 7 and 10 years.
There is also a provision for plea bargaining so that whoever is quick to admit to being involved in corrupt practices will be given light sentence for admitting to his guilt and for not wasting prosecution time. But this time around, recovery from anybody making plea bargaining will be total.
It will not be like a situation before when somebody is accused of stealing N2 billion would be askedto return N2 million under plea bargaining.
As for the recovered funds, I know that the money is being kept somewhere. At the appropriate time, government will decide what to do with it.
On Dasuki’s case, it has been attracting so much publicity, and one of the reasons for that is that many people are wondering why the man has not been released on bail after about 5 courts had granted him bail, what is your view on this?
My understanding is that Dasuki haa other matters that are not covered by bail.
For some elderly, prominent Nigerians that were linked to Dasukigate, people like Chief Olu Falae, Tanko Yakassai, Tony Anenih and others, some Nigerians are saying that they should be sent to jail if they are found guilty, their old age not withstanding, what is your take on this?
When Nigerians want to be radical, at times, they go overboard. The law recognises the physical and mental state. There are people who are not fit to undergo trial. So, we can’t be an exception. Therefore, we can’t afford to drag a 90- year old man to jail.
At a certain age and a certain level of infirmity, the best you can do is to get whatever you can from such suspects. You can’t send everybody to jail, you have to take into consideration, age and state of health. Like all criminal offences have mental ingredients, the question you ask again is this, what is the mental state of the person that receives money, did they know that the money being received was criminally obtained or do they think it was collection from the party that was given to them?
The fact that these elder statesmen received money is not enough, there has to be a motive. Actual taking or receiving money by these people is not enough reason to send them to jail, you also have to consider their mental state when they were receiving it. We have to find out what the person understood he was collecting and from whom he was collecting.
Some Nigerians have been clamouring that former President Goodluck Jonathan should either speak out or be invited to react to the allegations against him by some of these people that had been picked, what is your opinion?
It is a sensitive matter – we have to be very careful. My personal view is that somebody that is of high rank in this administration should talk to Jonathan. We have to handle the issue diplomatically. I’m not one of those persons that will say go and haul your former president into jail. The matter is sensitive. Like I said, somebody can be sent to Jonathan to get his own reactions or views regarding those who have been mentioning his name, and see what can be recovered. We should be careful about how we handle the issue. The issue can affect the image of the country.
How would you assess the ongoing anti-corruption war?
It is achieving the desired result. The impunity that you can commit fraud and escape with it is no longer there. People are now aware that it is no longer business as usual. Nigerians are being re-orientated that looting is evil. Nigerians are now being made to be aware that corruption should not be tolerated. Then, Nigerians should also realize that the era of impunity is gone forever.
What has your committee been doing since it was inaugurated by the Federal Government?
We are working towards ensuring that the work of judges and anti-corruption agencies is made easier. We also have a manual on plea bargaining.
Your view on Supreme Court pronouncements on Rivers and Akwa Ibom State elections has come under criticisms in some quarters – that Supreme Court judgement or ruling should be seen as final, how do you react to this?
The Supreme Court is the final court. There is no appeal again except to God, but the judges at the Supreme Court are infallible. They make mistakes; and of course some of their judgements are wrong. But we can’t appeal against it.
But my own personal view again is that the Supreme Court judgements on Rivers and Akwa Ibom were terribly wrong. I call it perverse. I’m going to write a comprehensive review and my own opinion on those judgements, and I’m going to publish it. Nigerians ought to know what exactly went wrong.
We have certainly not heard the last on the elections in Rivers and Akwa Ibom State because the Supreme Court judgement on the two states is going to have a profound effect on the future of election petitions unless something is done about it.
Is there a way your own view and what you intend to publish can have effect on subsequent Supreme Court judgements?
It can have. Of course the National Assembly can also make bye-laws to correct errors in previous Supreme Court judgements. The lawmakers can make laws to correct Supreme Court.
Have you been receiving criticisms over your dissenting views to the Supreme Court ruling on Rivers and Akwa Ibom State elections?
I have been criticised by some people while some have also commended me. I have been criticised for attacking Supreme Court judgement on the pages of newspapers, some felt that I should have done so in a law journal, but remember that a law journal comes out in every five years. Even at that, only a few people will read it, but I want to do something that all members of the public will read. I have no apology for criticizing the Supreme Court judgement because what I’m doing is in the best interest of the country. I have no apology to offer anybody, my comment is for public good and in the interest of the Judiciary. This nation comes first – I will not allow any parochial interest to becloud my own sense of reasoning.