Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay, has told the North not to think of contesting the 2023 presidential election, as it is the turn of the South to produce the next president of Nigeria. In this interview with VINCENT KALU, the legal luminary gave conditions Igbo must fulfil to succeed Buhari.
Nigeria is more divided now than even during the civil war, why and how can this division be arrested?
Yes. Nigeria is more divided now because a lot of people who were living on free Nigerian money which they didn’t work for; which were depleting our resources cannot have access to it again. They are corrupt. They are the people stoking the ember of fire of disunity because of their hatred for Buhari, and they are fighting him. Look at BVN, TSA and oil subsidy fraud – all these have made corruption difficult and a lot of people lived on them before, and so are not happy.
Look at the loot that has been recovered, over one trillion naira – the local loot, ploughed back into the budget. Look at the infrastructural development – roads, railways, Second Niger Bridge, and other things all over the place. The point I’m trying to make is that we are lucky to have a government made up of at least the top two that I can swear on their behalf: Buhari and Osinbajo, who are not only committed, but they are absolutely honest and want to serve. The only joy and reward they seek is the opportunity to serve. For once, for a change we have people who are serving the country selflessly, and we are doing very well and the world is beginning to recognise us.
Transparency International that was always putting us far behind, I challenged one of their leaders at a conference, he said ‘we didn’t do the research ourselves; its perception, we just ask people.’ I said then, ‘you are not a serious person, how can you put perception on record and publish it to the whole world, and people are now using that to measure Nigeria; why not dig to find out what has been done and compare it to the situation it was before.’ A lot has been done and we have gone very far. We can reasonably compare this period we are in now to the level of honesty that we enjoyed under the Abubakar, Zik and Awolowo era. I have been through all, I was a grown up lad of 19 years in 1960, and so I have seen everything. I took part in politics; I was a member of Action Group, I campaigned in an election as a student in 1964 federal elections; I campaigned all over the Yoruba states. You can take me as an example of someone who has been through all the phases Nigeria has ever been – Pre independence to now. My judgement is that this government compares favourably in terms of integrity and honesty because those old people were simple people; they were excited that they had power to decide our fate, and they wanted nothing more. This is the first time we are getting back again and we are very lucky to have Buhari and Osinbajo, and I want people to celebrate this and be happy about it because when it is all over and something else begins to happen, it is then we start regretting; it is then we would say, ‘oh, when I should have been happy and should have rejoiced, I miss that opportunity.’ Now, God forbid, let us not revert to what we had in 16 years before 2015.
You mentioned blocking oil subsidy, which you said was an avenue for corruption. Under this government subsidy on petrol is hitting trillion when the fuel pump price is N145, but in the last government, subsidy was in billions, at the same time pump price of fuel was N97. Something is not adding up here, why?
I don’t know the actual amount. I’m satisfied that it is what we are actually paying and getting. People are no more bringing in empty ships and collecting subsidy, people are no more putting the names of ships that have been deregistered 30 years ago and be collecting subsidy; people are not bringing in water and collecting subsidy.
Why is the subsidy higher now than when they were bringing in empty vessels?
It is because we are consuming more now, as we have just discovered that Benin, Togo, Ghana were all part of the consumption. What I’m more interested is that our money is used with honesty and integrity and applied faithfully without somebody pocketing it, and that is what we are getting.
Statesmen like you argue that Nigeria can only work when it is restructured, what is your view on this?
I have always been in favour of restructuring; I strongly believe in it. Because restructuring sounds too scientific, let me use a simpler term, devolution of powers that is for the centre – federal government to release some powers either completely to states or share so that it would come under the concurrent list, so that either can do it, and then devolution of funds so that the states will get more from the revenue allocation. Since 2001, I have been writing articles on that.
Yes, I support it but we are lucky that we have the federal government that is using all the enormous amount of money at its disposal, let us pray that when we devolve the money to states we don’t have armed robbers in state houses converting it to dollars and send it abroad so that there may be no impact. We pray it doesn’t happen.
For the other statesmen, their idea of restructuring is going back to the First Republic, which you acknowledged was the finest moment for Nigeria, where the regions had healthy competition. Are you in the same league with them?
It is the same thing. The only difference between any other person and myself is that we can’t go back to the regions again. All these ideas of six zones becoming the federating units won’t work. Why? The people who will fight and kill themselves are the states that have been created. None of them will agree to be merely part of a larger zone rather than for it to be directly a federating unit. They won’t agree.
The ideal thing is to go back to self-sufficient entities. When I was young, I was under Western Region, I knew there was somebody called, Tafawa Balewa, he had no impact on my life. Everything I needed came from Western Region. It was only when I left school that I came to Lagos to work that I became conscious of federal government and federal powers. Then, the regional government took care of all your needs from A-Z. So, federal government was dealing with armed forces, international relations, banking, etc which didn’t affect the ordinary man. Even the last Jonathan Conference, they were saying they needed more 18 states; that was absolutely crazy. You want to fracture the tiny states, which are not even viable. Our states are not viable, maybe, one or two, the rest are not; they are all states living on federal allocation and you want to break more.
Reluctantly, I’m ready to reconcile myself to living with the present states and strengthening them politically and in terms of resources to be more effective and to pray that those things that they are going to get are not misused.
The idea of those clamouring for restructuring is to convoke a Sovereign National Conference of ethnic nationalities to come up with the peoples constitution as they said the 1999 Constitution is a fraud. Do you buy into this idea?
For me, it is the end that is important, the means not so important. If the National Assembly (after all, they are our representatives ), will agree to alter the constitution to accommodate all that we need to establish a true federal system, it is acceptable to me. These conferences tend to be rancorous and noisy. I have been in one, so I know. I went to the one in 2005. It was noisy, rancorous, counter accusations, shouting, etc. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. So, if it can be avoided, it should, if it can achieve the same end, maybe, we should, if that is the only way to go, it is okay.
Talking about restructuring, devolution of powers etc, President Buhari doesn’t believe in that. Recently he said that the 1999 Constitution is fair to everyone. Where do we go from here?
That may be his belief; everybody is entitled to his belief. If you look at the party’s own stand on this matter, it is contrary to what he said. Our party is a strong believer in restructuring. The paper, which was produced by El-Rufai and his group, is very strong on establishing a true federal system. That is the position of the party; the president can express his opinion, but I’m sure if the majority of the party argue, we should engage in restructuring or devolution of powers. I don’t think he is going to put up an endless resistance; I think he will bow to the views of the majority.
Buhari is the face of APC, if you take him off, is there anything that is left of the party, do you see it surviving after Buhari?
Yes, the party can survive after Buhari. Buhari is alive; he would still be the leader of the party. He will be there for the APC, then his partner for eight years will still be around even though I don’t know what roles he will be performing, and then we will still have all the major players in the party. So, if there is no disintegration of the party whether you are in or out of office people will still work together and we hope that Nigerians will compare and decide which of the parties has brought good fortune to this country; which party has given this country a chance to develop, which party has brought infrastructural development to the country.
But people say integrity is the hallmark of Buhari, which he inputed into APC and by the time he leaves the saddle he goes with his integrity, and that is why political pundits have predicted that the party may die by 2023.
The party is an institution, and we have established a tradition, a culture, which is ingrained and whoever that takes it over has to carry it on. It is our record. There is nobody from my knowledge who is not prepared to carry it on, that will be allowed to carry our banner. There is a record that has been established and anyone who wants that banner must be someone who is fully committed to carry it on. That is my firm conviction and Nigerians at the end of the day know what is good for them.
What is your position of where the presidency goes in 2023. Some argue that the North should still retain it, some say it is Southwest, while others argue that for equity, it is Southeast, some make case for South-South.
There should be rotation between North and South that is how it has been since 1999. Obasanjo started, Yar’Adua took over. Jonathan came and Buhari has taken over. So, somebody from the South should succeed Buhari in 2023. It is convention now.
Rotation is a party affair, you are talking about PDP, which has rotation in its manifesto, but APC doesn’t have it–
I don’t see APC presenting somebody who is not from the South in 2023, I don’t see it happen.
Why wouldn’t it happen, it is not in its constitution?
It doesn’t matter, it has been established. It wouldn’t happen because the APC is a party that is interested in its own survival and survival of the country. So it won’t happen, anyone who wants to plant such idea doesn’t have the interest of the country at heart. There is a consensus that there should be rotation after eight years from that part of the country then the South should also enjoy eight years.
In the South, we have three zones, where will it berth?
It can be any of the zones. The way I see it, planning to win the presidency is not a matter of proclamation; it will not take anybody anywhere. If you want to win, you strategise. You cannot win, for example, if you are not a member of APC or PDP for now, so you can go and set up a small party and say it is ‘our turn’.
Then within that zone you must plan to ensure that you have influence in a party that is going to win. I have always thought it to be a mistake for any nationality to put all its eggs in one basket because if that party fails, the ambition of the zone will fail, so you have to balance your interest. Those are the things we should be thinking about––people should plan, not proclaim. Nobody listens to proclamation. People have to strategise, you have to make your presence felt.
You are talking about consensus at the federal level; in the South, is there something like that? Southwest has done eight years, South-South, five years and Southeast, none. Based on this equity, can it be said that the Southeast should have it?
There cannot be anything like that. I did not want to speak on this, but let me put it in a very brief way, if the people of Southeast want a person from the zone to win the election they should strategise; it is not by proclamation. You need to have influence in the two major parties; you need to go into them and try to win support within them that is what they should do. If you do that, then the sky is the limit, but if you are not doing that and you think anyone will sit in one place and proclaim and then someone will now carry power and give you, it won’t happen. Politics is a very hard business. So it is a possibility, but they really have to strategise, you can’t sit back and just proclaim it.
The Information Minister, last week said they were going to regulate social media and anybody who engages in hate speech, fake news shall be fined, some people say that it was with hate speech, fake news that the APC pushed out Jonathan government. They cited when some APC chieftains were calling Jonathan names, referring to him as ‘clueless’, ‘drunken fisherman’ etc
The issue of hate speech is a very difficult one to define. I don’t see anything wrong with calling somebody ‘clueless’; it is normal political talk. If you use it on me I wouldn’t mind; you use it because you want it to undermine your political opponent if you think he is not performing. ‘Drunken fisherman’ is a bit strong; I don’t think it is the best to describe anyone in high office.
I agree with the Minister of Information that people are abusing social media; no respect for anybody, making stories, telling lies like this one they said about me asking Oshiomhole to contest with Buhari. They just tried to create a conflict situation between those who support the president and me, even though I’m one of them. I have been insulted so many times. When I lay down on arguments, these young grandchildren of mine on Facebook cannot argue with me, so the best they can say is that ‘you are senile’. They can’t respond to my argument, they just give up and abuse me. That is the problem we have. It needs to be curbed. The problem in this country is that whenever a good thing is introduced there is the tendency to abuse it. We are too exuberant; too confident of ourselves that we are right; we are too loud and therefore have no considerations for other people’s feelings. It makes people hate us all over the world.
Those who have known your pedigree, when you begin to defend certain things about the government, they begin to ask what has become of this Cambridge product.
What am I supposed to do? Okay, if I don’t like this government, which government am I supposed to like? There is no evil in this government, that is why I’m talking; there is no evil at all. This is the best government we have had since independence. A Cambridge product is an upright man, a man of truth, a man of principle.
All these praises about this government can only be here in your office, you say these things at the bus stops, people may attack you because there is hunger and everybody is angry
They know that there is problem and they know that this government came to the rescue of this nation, and that if they hadn’t come by now, we would have been down and out; we would not have been able to pay for any import and by now our reserves would have been gone, nobody would have come to invest. The Buhari government rescued us. The people you are talking about are the people who are being given succour by this government. You notice that all the money recovered from these looters is being ploughed back to support these vulnerable Nigerians: poorest families are being given N5, 000 per month. They have a scientific way determined by the United Nations, not Nigeria. United Nations officials accompanied them in selecting and determining the criteria and various things that are done. The people in the village are involved in choosing the most wretched. You have young men who are strong are being trained in skills and paid N30, 000 per month for the period they are under training. After that they can open their own businesses. People are getting money to improve their businesses interest free.
But the tradermoni ended after the elections–
No, it is continuing. Bank of Industry is still giving out money. Up till yesterday, a lot of people were still getting money, and even young farmers are included. Then, school children are being fed free of charge with over 100,000 cooks in the country engaged. Farmers producing eggs are selling. This is a government that really cares for the most vulnerable, for the poorest Nigerians. It is people like you and me who have the capacity to survive who are not benefiting directly from these programmes. Those who are benefitting directly are the most vulnerable and those who are mostly impacted by corruption of the past regime.
This issue came up at a media forum and everybody was asking where were these happening?
They are not sincere. In fact, if you contact the office they will give you all the statistics, you will be overwhelmed. During the Bola Tinubu colloquium 2017 or 2018, the people came from all over the country; they came to the podium to share their stories. Are they saying there is no school feeding programme? They are seeing them, but they are turning their eyes away so that they can say what they want. The elite in Nigeria is very dishonest. This is what I call hate. Because you don’t like the government, you will never admit that they have done anything.
Many Easterners are not congratulating the government on the Second Niger Bridge because they don’t like this government. This government completed the Azikiwe Mausoleum, and the day it was being opened, Ohanaeze was declaring for PDP; they didn’t come, they didn’t send anyone. Because they hate the government, the day the greatest leader the East has ever produced was being honoured, they ignored it.
Hatred is so much and it has beclouded views, nobody wants to acknowledge any good thing from the government they hate. It is a pity. The mausoleum was abandoned, but this government has completed it, they love Zik so much all over the country, but in the East particularly, shouldn’t this create some good feelings, but they didn’t. The leading Igbo cultural organisation turned its back on that day because the wrong man completed it. It is very sad.
Some people query the appointments made by the government, which they view are skewed in favour of North. In 2017, during recruitment of DSS, 165 were from the Northwest; South-south, 42; North-east 100, North-central 66, South-west 57 and South-east 44. Ditto, the Nigeria Police. Recently, there is news making the rounds that of the 27 Appeal Court Justices appointed, four from Southwest, three from South-south. These, they posit cause these cacophony of noises across the nation. Your view?
The appointment of Appeal Court justices or the Supreme Court justices is zone-based; there is no opportunity for any government to favour anybody. Once somebody from your zone is retiring, somebody from the same zone takes over, it is automatic. It is not possible for somebody from the Southeast to retire and you put somebody from the Northeast, it can never happen. Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, that is the formula. It may be that people retiring from those zones were more than in the South. On the issue of the DSS, if those facts are really true, I will say, it’s unfortunate, and it is wrong. How can you appoint your own people alone in a federation, and ignore others who have merit. The person doing that is not only doing himself justice apart from the fact that he is doing others injustice, it is wrong, if it true and I condemn it.
But the same accusation is trailing President Buhari in appointment of security chiefs, almost all from the same zone, religion–
Look at it this way: there are so many positions that are being filled by government. People are selecting some and ignoring others. I have seen the statistics when the government decided to expose total appointments, and it wasn’t as bad as they said. Secondly, I was told and I think it is reasonable that a president will normally select people regarding his own personal security in whom he has confidence. So, if you have people who are closer to him in terms of lineage, ethnicity in those specific positions, I don’t think I would quarrel with that because next time another president will come he may feel the same way and then appoint people closer to him in lineage to head bodies that provide personal security to him.
But Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan spread theirs among the zones, does it mean that Buhari doesn’t trust people who are not from his area?
I don’t think so. I don’t want to say too much about this because what I have been told is that by the time you put everything together the over-concentration of the Northwest and Northeast in this critical positions is diluted, but I agree with you that you don’t have to rely only on those close to you ethnically, you can make it broad, but it is important that you have confidence in your appointees in their commitment to you.
Like you are also saying, somebody defended the president for learning from Aguiyi Ironsi, who played the national card by surrounding himself with outsiders and paid dearly for it
It was a very big mistake. Those closest to him, who were his protectors, with whom he was living in Fajuyi governor’s lodge were the ones who turned the guns against him and arrested him. I agree that you should not give your security to those you are not sure of.