Renowned Professor of Law, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof Itse Sagay, is a die-hard optimist and firm believer that President Mohammadu Buhari-led government is on right track.
In this interview with Sunday Sun, he gave reasons the North should forget about strategizing for the 2023 presidency, his worry on the level of indiscipline among Nigerians, the awkward position of Kogi State to COVID-19 response, review of ECOWAS protocols on herdsmen migration, among other issues. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of the Federal Government efforts on COVID-19 so far?
Given our resources, I can say that I am very impressed by the amount of concentration and resources and time devoted by the Federal Government and the Lagos State government to this problem. I am aware that every evening they assemble all related agencies and ministries to give an account of the latest, they give us scientific aspects, so many aspects of the situation, and then they advise on the next line of action. Also, they advise the Federal Government about measures to take in terms of face mask, lockdown, etc. I think they have been very diligent, extremely diligent, they meet every evening unfailingly they are there and they spend time there brainstorming, evaluating the situation and coming out with positions on what to do, what is expected of the people to do and what the government should be doing also. For me, I think they have been very diligent, I don’t know what else they could have done.
Have lessons been learnt?
Of course, we will always learn lessons. You know some of these things particularly when you don’t have experience in it, but things happen that give you some sort of a means of dealing with it or if anything like that or similar one happens in the future. For example, I think the way the first person came in, we were looking at China as the source of the problem and we were suspicious of China, but the problem came from Italy. The person just sneaked in from Italy, so that is something to learn. Secondly, of course, we now know, not that we didn’t know, we knew all along, but we can see the consequences of having a relatively weak health system and I think with this experience, not that anybody lost his life because the health institutions couldn’t cope, but what was in my mind and still in my mind is that if we had an attack at the rate they are having it in Europe and America there will be chaos here. But thank God we have a manageable proportion that we are having and they are managing it well, but it exposes us to the danger that could arise if it had come with a larger or in more ferocious proportion. So, it teaches us now that we must beef up our health system, but particularly we must begin to build up or establish a new health system that can take care of all those who go abroad. For example, the people who normally go abroad, not only did they not go abroad but those of them who were there they rushed back to come and rely on the very system they were running away from. So, that is a lesson that we must do something about our health institutions here to make sure that we have a reasonable number that can compete with the best in the world.
The governor of Kano State, Ganduje recently raised the alarm on the influx of foreign herdsmen into the country, asking the Federal Government to stop it so as to end the herders/farmers’ clash. He also wants FG to seek the review of certain ECOWAS laws concerning migration. What is your take on this?
I agree entirely with it. I am not up to date with ECOWAS protocols now, unless there is something in it that says we can just allow cattle from other countries to enter our country without any control. Unless there is such a thing, I don’t see why we can’t even begin to implement it now, firmly police our borders and turn them back. This is the only area it happens anywhere in the world; how can you just enter another man’s country and penetrate its territorial boundaries and integrity and then come inside and foul up the whole place, kill people, cause chaos and confusion and then walk back whenever you like. That should not be encouraged. The first duty of the Federal Government or any government indeed is to protect the security of its people and the integrity of the country. Both are being breached by these people (foreign cattle herders). So, I agree with the governor of Kano that something very drastic needs to be done now. I am not sure there is any protocol existing that can tie us to lying down and allowing hundreds of thousands of cattle and herdsmen to come from other countries and cause mayhem in Nigeria; no, no, we can’t continue to tolerate that.
Recently too, Col Abubakar Umar accused President Mohammadu Buhari of lopsidedness in his appointments…?
I may not want to dwell on that now. He has a right to air his view. He is entitled to his opinion. If I have anything to criticize, I won’t say it in the newspapers, I will pass it on as a memo privately, so I can’t comment on that for now.
This administration celebrated its first year in office recently in its second tenure making its five years in office. So far, what is your view?
Given the circumstances of this country, the resources available and the difficulties in any attempt to implement things the government has performed very commendably because if you look at all the parameters in developments, infrastructural developments are unprecedented on roads, on Second Niger Bridge, on railways and many others, a lot of developments going on which had been static, which were not moved at all for years and years and I know that even the Ajaokuta Steel mill is now to be resuscitated, so that is that. Unfortunately, the issue of the economy has been a big problem. When it was just picking up we now had this novel COVID-19, but again if you look at the other aspect, corruption. The fight against corruption has been very successful. Over 3,000 convictions have occurred, a few of them high profile politicians. Recoveries in terms of assets recovered over a trillion have been recovered and things like petroleum subsidy fraud all those things have been stopped, so it’s been a very successful administration and I think given our circumstances the government will be commended. Given our constraints as a country in terms of resources and our major constraint, our lack of discipline, lack of integrity of the average Nigerian, the government has done very well. We were talking about the implementation of COVID -19 and you ask yourself the question: Did Nigerians cooperate? Did they obey the lockdown? They were all over the place. Did they wear a face mask, at least in Lagos where I live? Fifty per cent are going about either without a face mask or with face mask won under their chin. Not up to 10 per cent are wearing it properly. People are traveling from state to state even though inter-state journeys are banned. I know people who have traveled, ask them how they are going to do it and they will tell you there is a way and they did it, they traveled. So Nigerians are not disciplined, they are not ready to accept any small inconvenience for major success in that aspect of life within a short time, no, not Nigerians, they won’t. Nigerians are very difficult people. I feel frankly that Nigerians can achieve the best result if you are a dictator in Nigeria and that is sad. I am not surprised that the most compliant state with regard to all the restrictions on movements, lockdown, etc because of the COVID-19, is Rivers State, the most successful because he (Gov. Wike) was brutal and hard, those are the people that Nigerians respect, so this is who Nigerians are and it is a very sad conclusion, but that is the truth.
There were some states like Kogi and Cross River that refused to obey the COVID-19 laws, especially on lockdown and NCDC regulations. What is your reaction to that?
I commented on both of them and the Kogi people went to town on me on twitter, I saw the twitter there must have been others in the social media because I said they are behaving as if there is a prize for saying that there is no COVID-19 case in my state, meanwhile, they are not testing and they are not honest with the little they test and they will not allow the NCDC to conduct the test as they are doing in some other states because other states are cooperating with them. This is because it is their methodology and directives that are being applied, that is why we are having all these figures, but those states particularly Kogi refused, only for us at the last minute to find out they have and when the true figures in Kogi will come out my fear is that it will be so huge that it will be even a danger to other states and may re-ignite the second round in the whole country because they were just hiding it. So, the conduct of that governor (Yahaya Bello) honestly has been reprehensible. The Cross River man (Prof Ben Ayade) is a bit more cooperative I believe, NCDC has gone there, they have done some tests and so on, we have been able to see some results, he has been more positive with his outlook, he is genuinely introducing the concept of the mask which they are even producing massively in the state and giving free among other things. Two of them are a bit different. The Kogi one was just hiding because they were creating a make-belief world that there is nothing like COVID-19 as if they were going to win a Nobel prize for declaring that Kogi doesn’t have a single case and that is not possible. Kogi is in the centre of the country through which everybody passes, all the states are connected to Kogi so there is no way it could have escaped it. Anyway, they have accepted, at least one case has been found that is not fraud anymore, maybe, that will open them to be more cooperative with the NCDC in the future so that the thing can be stamped out of Kogi as it is being done in other places.
From political permutations so far, political zones and individuals including the North are already angling for the 2023 Presidency…?
(Cuts in) I don’t think the presidency is going to the North in 2023, certainly not through PDP and not through the APC because any attempt to do that could bring about the disintegration of the country. After year years of someone from the Northwest holding that position it has to come to the South, there is no question about that. Those Northerners who are still advocating that it continues in the North in 2023 do not want this country to continue. They are people I call separatists, they are the people that want this country to divide and for everybody to go its way. If they are interested in the future of this country, if they are interested in our continued unity and progress then we must know that the next president has to come from the South. I don’t expect the APC or the PDP, those are the two platforms on which you could become a president, I don’t see them fielding any other person except a Southerner. I mean any part of the South, so it is for the South themselves to begin to work hard to make sure that it comes to their side.