Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay, has said that the North will be playing with fire if political power doesn’t rotate to the South in 2023.
The Professor of Law told VINCENT KALU in this interview that the feud between Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki and the National Chairman of APC, Adams Oshiomhole may cost the party the governorship of the state.
Does the insecurity in the country frighten you?
The state of insecurity is disturbing. When people ask me this question, I always say, it is as if all the criminal organisations held a convention and say, let us all start operating at once so that the country would be confused, and the government would also be confused so that they won’t know where to start – left, right and centre; North, East, West and South. Everywhere becomes so difficult that you will not know where to deal with first. It is a very disturbing situation; it is one in which we all need to cooperate with each other, some positive things are happening. The states are beginning to get together like Amotekun, and I’m sure before too long, Southeast will have its own, as well as South-South. By the time we start all these, it becomes a joint national endeavour to curb this sudden spike in criminality all over the country.
You can also see that the government itself is very concerned following the meeting the president had with security chiefs on Monday where they planned more strategies to deal with this situation. I think it will begin to improve, but it is bad and disturbing.
Some people allege that some foreign forces in collaboration with some internal elements want to break up Nigeria, do you share in this sentiment?
No, I don’t. What I know from state house sources is that Boko Haram particularly, is doing cross border operations. They don’t have base within Nigeria; they are in Chad, Niger, and Cameroun, so they just cross, they strike and then cross back. What is missing is the cooperation with these other states to now organise to attack this sect in their own states because Boko Haram as we know is no longer the Nigerian factor, it is an international factor; it is getting support from international terror organisations like ISIS, etc, and they are getting a lot of money and encouragement from them.
We need international cooperation, our soldiers and other armed forces go after them and defeat them, and they will scamper over, reorganise and come back. That situation is not tenable; there has to be cooperation in which all the states will put pressure on them at the same time as partner states. That is the major thing, the others are internal. I don’t think there is any plan by any group to dismember the country.
You mentioned Amotekun, but while those in government vehemently opposed it, you were the only one in support of it, why?
We have a problem in this country, particularly those in the North; they are so concerned about what I will call, ‘organised action’ by other parts of the country. I look at that psychology, it is as if we are not organised to help ourselves, but we are organised to be against. That is the impression they have created. Those who were hostile to it were mainly from the North. I always say that if Amotekun is organising to fight against insurgency and criminality in the South western zone, what stops those in the North western zone, North eastern zone and North central zone from also organising.
Why would somebody from those parts be obstructing the efforts and attempts in countering criminality, kidnapping and all these negative activities in their own zones?
The way I see it is that those who were opposed to it were not opposed to it in good faith, but were opposed to it as if they believed that there is some rival organisation coming up to challenge their own power. This country belongs to everybody, so, nobody should see himself as the power, rather go and cure yourself as the Southwest wants to cure itself; everybody should mind his own business.
One group is not the supervisor of the rest of the country. Don’t adorn yourself with the robe because legally it doesn’t exist and nobody is going to tolerate it. So all those people who were complaining should go and organise their own zones against criminality.
Let the Southwest and others who want to eliminate criminality carry on with their own struggle, let everybody mind his own business because every individual has the right of self-defence. A state has the right to defend itself against criminality. What you have as a right can be exercised collectively; I have a right here and I can go across to my neighbour to say let us exercise our rights together so that we can be stronger. It is recognised in international law and national law; collective rights of self-defence. I don’t see what anybody has against Amotekun and I’m glad it finally emerged in spite of such negative attitude.
Are you sure what the Southwest is doing now on Amotekun’s legal framework will eventually please the federal government or are we expecting another hiccup?
This sort of thing is not a thing that can be put in straightjacket. It is something that is going to develop with time according to the challenge that it is facing. The federal government should look at it as a phenomenon that will help in reducing criminality and therefore help to reduce the labour of the federal police in the areas that they will be working on. If you say that the first duty of the state is to protect the lives of its citizens, then, everybody should be happy about those who are organising themselves either singly or collectively to fight against criminality.
You can’t put them in a straightjacket; what they meet in the field determines what they would do. Experience will be their best teacher. Nobody can really lay down the exact format whether Neighbourhood or whatever, it depends on what they meet. For example, this South western security group, their major problem is going to be in the forest because that is where those criminals live and they come out to obstruct the highway, carry people, rape women, kidnap, collect money, kill in some cases and do all sorts of evil.
Amotekun and other organisations will not be providing effective services if they do not penetrate the forests to locate these criminal camps and eliminate the camps, chase away all the people in those camps and arrest those they can and therefore neutralise all of them and make their areas of operation free for the ordinary man to live in. They will be entitled to do whatever it takes to achieve this.
The Inspector General of Police has come up with community policing model to replace the idea of security outfit by any group. How do you react to this considering your support for Amotekun?
I don’t really know what the community policing is all about. The little I know about it is people who will be moving about providing intelligence. But what we are saying now is a bit more than that. You do that in a situation where you have a problem that is not existential as it was becoming all over the country, particularly the Southwest, where you couldn’t travel for example, from here (Lagos) to Akure and be sure you are going to arrive or from here to Ile Ife or Ilesha. You couldn’t be sure you are going to arrive, that is existential. If community policing can arrest that kind of situation it will be fine. You can call it any name, but they must be empowered to arrest the situation and not only to prevent it from getting worse, but to allow us move freely again in this country.
We have an objective to create an environment in which people will not be anxious when they are out of their houses; even now we are anxious when we are in our houses not to talk of when we are out of our houses, particularly in the night or out of town. It is unacceptable, it is intolerable. Nigeria as a country must be prepared to allow these local security organisations to operate and to empower them to a level that they can curb the menace that has arisen, otherwise there will be no point either jointly or singly. As I said, you have the right to collective action; what you can do on your own you can do it together. We must not try to limit it and we must see it to the advantage of everybody – to the North, to the South, to the East and to the West; to our total advantage that the country is free from crime and people can travel where they want, you can travel from Kaduna to Abuja (which has become a no-go area), at any time you like. Those who have taken up this security struggle must be allowed to achieve it and must be given every means to achieve it.
The House of Representatives is planning to buy 400 new vehicles worth over N5 billion, and people are kicking considering the economic situation in the country. What is your organisation supposed to do in this direction or is it when an act of corruption has been committed that you step in?
This is a distinction I was making between our people in earlier days and now in terms of having ethical considerations. It is not a legal thing; they have the legal power. It is not an act of legal corruption, but it is unethical when you are dealing with a population, in a country that is so poor, where there is so much unemployment, where there is so much suffering, where people are looking for means of existence, where the poverty level is so bad and unemployment level is so high that people are now referring to us as the poverty capital of the world. Given that type of climate, you have to be very careful about the impression you create. You must show some level of compassion, sensitivity. Our National Assembly has tended to be insensitive about the state of the country with regard to its own comfort. They just take any amount, spend any amount on their comfort in total disregard to the state of the country and this is what we are dealing with. We just have to keep on harping on that point talking to their leadership; appealing to their sense of compassion and consideration for this country. It is not a criminal thing, it is not an act of corruption in the sense of illegitimately taking money, but an act that shows total lack of sensitivity and consideration for the state of this country.
Kaduna State governor, Nasir El Rufai, within the week said that the presidency should move to the South in 2023 after Buhari might have completed his term, and that the North should not have anything to do with it. However, some Northern elders still insist that the zone should retain power after Buhari. What is your view?
Those Northern Elders particularly led by this former Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Prof Ango Abdullahi, don’t care about others. It is a tragedy if you live in a society and you don’t care a hoot about the others.
This is their mentality, and this group of elders is there in the North, and they are arrogant and totally cocooned in their self worship of their power and authority and so on. They don’t care what happens to this country. It is a very dangerous proposition to say that presidency will not come to the South after eight years of it being in the North.
This country has always had this North-South problem; we call it the national question, which has so many aspects. This is one of them. There is already a gentle man’s agreement that for now, there should be rotation between North and South. In fact, it was the North that was vehement about that when Obasanjo was in power and that has now been instituted by practice, and if any man tries to break it now, it can have consequences that could be uncontrollable.
I don’t want these Northern elders to think that they are so powerful that others will just stay pensive and submissive and they will now break this understanding for harmonious relationship of peoples of this country. Luckily, as far as I know they don’t have support in the population. My impression of them is that they are isolated and in their arrogance they have cut themselves off from the population. As long as the real leaders, people that are winning elections like El-Rufai, President Buhari, stick to that agreement, there is nothing the so called Northern elders can make any difference to what the country has accepted.
As an APC supporter and a South-South leader, what is your view on the feud between Edo State governor, Obaseki and the National Chairman of APC, Oshiomhole?
I’m very disappointed that it has degenerated to this level. I remember earlier on when it started, I made a statement that Oshiomhole should stoop to conquer, in other words, he should not exercise his full power and authority in the situation, rather, he should call his younger colleague, Obaseki, and they should negotiate and find a way out of it.
Since then, he has softened down and the disappointment I have is that the APC in Edo state has not taken advantage of this change of attitude, instead they seem to have piled fire on top of fire that everyday you open the papers something has happened in the state, just drawing the parties further and further apart and making it almost impossible to resolve the problem peacefully; creating a situation where I win and you lose completely or you win I lose completely. That type of situation can have a negative impact on APC control of Edo State, it even has other unexpected consequences.
I think the Edo state governor should be a little bit cooler, less aggressive, more inclined towards reconciliation. The heat coming from Benin is too much; they should cool down. At the end of the day, neither the party nor the individuals involved would come out unscathed if they do not calm down and allow wise counsel like that of Papa Akande to prevail, everybody will lose.
This will create a great opportunity for the PDP to come and take over the state, and that will be a tragedy because if you look at the APC states, there is a tendency of providing service before self. That ethic is contrary to the PDP, which is one of exploiting the situation for self, regardless of the impact on the ordinary person. So, the more APC states we have for this country the better for the benefit of this country. If we lose Edo State, it will be a tragedy.
In view of what is going on in Edo and the manner the APC has lost some states in courts – Zamfara, Bayelsa; in Rivers, there was no candidate, some APC leaders are questioning Oshiomhole’s leadership and calling for his removal
It is fair enough; if so much has been lost, people have the right to question that leadership, but I won’t rule him out completely. What I would rather say is that he should learn from the mistakes he has made and try to bring harmony. I always feel that if you are in a leadership position and there are other people taking decisions contrary to what you want, you can always call them and find out what the problems were and see whether you can meet them half way rather than saying that at any cost, it has to be my way alone. That is the prize you have to pay as a leader, otherwise, your leadership can be disrupted and I think that is what has happened to Oshiomhole. He has been too rigid. That is what I said in my intervention the other time, but I said, since then, he seems to have calmed down, and I will ask other members of the party who are against him to also calm down and try and work with him for the sake of the party, we have lost so much.
Zamfara was such a terrible thing – Look at the majority votes for the governor, more than 370,000 to the PDP with barely 100,000 votes. The PDP candidate who lost woefully is the governor. I blame it on the Supreme Court. Something is very fundamentally wrong with the orientation of the Supreme Court. Any court is set up to provide justice. Before you take a decision, you have to ask yourself where does justice of this matter lie?
The Supreme Court is in the eye of the storm following some of its decisions. There is this Imo State judgement, which triggered protests, Zamfara’s own is there and then the Bayelsa, and now PDP is asking for a revisit of the Buhari- Atiku presidential election petition and the governorship elections in Kano, Kaduna and Osun. Where does this lead the judiciary?
For a court to be seen to be discharging its duties to the country, that judge must always ask for every case that comes before him, where does justice lie in this matter? If you are going to apply the law technically and is leading you to disastrous injustice, you have to stop, put on the breaks and go back and think again.
If you look at the case of Zamfara and Bayelsa, those two are cases in which gross injustice has been done by the highest court in the land and it has consequences because every individual looking for justice and if it appears that judgement no matter how technically correct it is leads to injustice then you begin to ask yourself whether the judicial system is appropriate and whether it should be allowed to continue, whether it is serving a purpose.
The way you handle things can encourage people to misbehave because for anybody to say he wants to revisit the decision of presidential election, the governorship elections in Kano, Kaduna and Osun states, that is gross misconduct. It is like adult behaving like juvenile; somebody who doesn’t know the seriousness of what he is talking about.
What encourages them is apparently lack of proper appreciation of the importance and gravity of Supreme Court decisions; they have turned it into child’s play, and I regard it as assault on the judicial system. We are complaining about some decisions, but you now want to tear the whole edifice apart and ridicule it, ridicule the whole country and ridicule yourself.
To say you want to go back on every judgement is just incredible. I can’t believe that there were some adults in that room where that decision was being taken and they allowed it to come out. This is so shameful.
If they bring such matters before the Supreme Court, the apex court should use them as an example by imposing a fine, maybe of N50 million or N100 million on the lawyer, not on the party; the lawyer, who is representing them, who is so irresponsible to file such a case should be personally fined N50 or N100 million.
As a lawyer, I will never take that nonsense, so assaultive and disruptive of judicial authority.
The Imo action was brought within time; it has not been accepted by those who were complaining, there were still complaints when they brought the application. Imo and Bayelsa are current matters, which those who feel injured can still go back if they have a good case without trampling or casting stone on the judicial edifice of this country, they can do that.
But, when you say you want to recall past judgement even when the time the law set aside for appeal has elapsed, then you are trying to ridicule our judicial system. You are trying to destroy it; make it meaningless. You can go 20 years back; Awolowo if he were alive can come back and bring the Shagari case and say review it. It is madness; it is too juvenile. Any lawyer filing a case like that should be subjected to a fine that will see him out of the profession.