By Omoniyi Salaudeen
RENOWNED lawyer, Prof Itse Sagay, chairman Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, is not too happy with the Senate, especially with the way and manner the members are giving blind support to Senate President, Bukola Saraki, in his ongoing trial. In this interview, he passed a damning verdict on the Red chambers for what he described as invidious personal interest of the legislators.
You recall the recent botched attempt by the Senate to amend the Code of Conduct Tribunal even as the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, faces trial for alleged false declaration of assets. What is the position of the law on the issue?
There are two major issues connected to this occurrence. One is the moral issue. Legislature is set up for the good governance, peace and security of the country. It is not set up to give those who have been elected an opportunity of changing the law for their own personal and individual convenience. That is the moral issue first. If you look at the proposal, basically they were trying to reduce the power of the tribunal, giving impression that they themselves are already guilty of some acts, which is within the jurisdiction of the tribunal. So, the idea was to give themselves advance immunity to cover up whatever offences they have committed. Though technically, the National Assembly can make laws, but laws are not to be made by them for their own personal convenience, turning the whole country into their backyard for advancing their invidious personal interest.
To toy into that really gives the whole world the impression that we are still a backward Third World country without any basic principles that govern the conduct of those who are ruling us at the legislative level. It is a total, shameless abuse of power. It is lack of restraint in self promotion and self protection at the expense of the whole country.
The moral burden they are carrying is just too heavy. I am surprised that we have a group of legislators who don’t have shame. They just carry on as if they are in some animal jungle. There should be a limit to promoting self interest at the expense of the country because the people of this country can rise up one day and decide to end this type of oppression and insensitivity, which particularly the Senate has been demonstrating.
Going to buy cars that cost as much as N38 million per unit of car for themselves in a country where people are finding it difficult to enjoy a meal a day is unacceptable. And this is because it is not their money. There is a level in which they will be stopped, if they carry on like this.
What about the situation where the Senate president is still presiding over the Senate affairs even as he faces trial?
If you look at all that has happened with regards to Saraki, you will see that it thoroughly defines what we mean by shamelessness and impunity. First, when he was going to the tribunal, he had about 80 senators, marching beside him. Where in the world does that happen? An arm of government vacated its premises and poured on the street shamelessly and totally overwhelmed the tribunal. Honestly, this level of backwardness is phenomenal. It’s unprecedented that people are so primitive, so barbaric that they did not see that they have made themselves a laughing stock in the international community.
Two, when a person is charged, you plead either guilty or not guilty. If you plead guilty, the case is closed. If you plead not guilty, then allow the case to be heard. But you cannot plead not guilty and insist that the case will never be heard. Again, that is purely Nigerian phenomenon. You see one individual, supported by his colleagues who have no sense of morality or sense of responsibility trying to totally over run and abuse the judicial system of a whole country. So many terrible things are happening to the extent that he wants the court hearing his case to be subject to Senate sittings. He wants the case to be heard when he is not presiding. The whole thing is so shocking and unbelievable. To crown it all, the legislative arm now wants to invite a judicial arm to answer question.
It is as if these people are so ignorant and unconscious of the responsibility of their office. You summon a judge sitting over your case! What does that mean? You now want to query the judge, who is handling your case, intimidate him to ridicule just because he is doing his job. Honestly, our legislature in this country is totally unfit to preside at local government level. They are a disgrace to any country. These people are just too primitive to hold any public office, all of them.
Are you saying that legislature does not have power to summon a judge?
Absolutely, they have no such power. They can only summon people when they are considering activities to which they have voted money. If they are not satisfied with the way the money is being spent on a particular project, they can invite minister or permanent secretary in that ministry to come and explain how money assigned to a particular project is being spent. What they have done is totally unrelated to their powers. This man is effectively a judicial officer because he is presiding over a case involving law and he is empowered to give judgment. It completely violates the constitution because one arm of government wants to subdue and subjugate the other arm and render it useless and subservient to it. What they have done is abominable. And that is why I said their level of ignorance and total lack of civility and morality is outrageous and very disturbing.
But many of these lawmakers believe that his trial is politically motivated. Is that too far from truth?
That is not the question. The question is: did he commit the offence? If he committed the offence, whether it is politically motivated or not is irrelevant. Nobody can take me to tribunal and charge me for anything and I will say it is political. Let anybody take me there now, I will not say it is political because I have not done anything. So, that cover up is irrelevant. If he was not guilty, he will not be susceptible to any political action by anybody.
A man should be clean when holding political office. If you are not clean, then anything can happen to you and you dare not say it is political vendetta. If you are clean, nobody can take you up. I think it is a distraction, which should be ignored. If it is political, it means you haven’t done anything wrong. The court will vindicate you by the time you show your evidence that you have not done anything. Once you are guilty, the issue of whether or not is political is irrelevant. This is the more reason Saraki should be confident because he can go as far as Supreme Court.
What is your take on the issue of special court for trial of corrupt persons?
I believe in special court because the docket (case file of the judge) is fewer. Right now, some judges have 80 cases, some even have 100. But if you have a special court limited to a particular type of offences, docket will be smaller. What we are suggesting now is that special court should not be for corruption alone, it should also be for terrorism, drug offences and money laundering. Those cases are not many. Work is going on in that regard.
How then do you select judges for special court without labeling others corrupt?
That is an important question. Those of us who in one way or the other involved in some of the processes are saying it at every opportunity that the fact that some judges are selected to handle these cases does not cast any doubt on the integrity of other judges. I want to reiterate that vast majority of our judges in this country are honourable, upright and we have great respect for them.
There is also the criticism that President Buhari is spending too much time on anti-corruption war at the expense of governance. Is that not so?
It shows lack of awareness of how government functions. We have the EFCC, we have Code of Conduct Bureau, we have Code of Conduct Tribunal, DSS and Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption, to mention but a few. They are all working full time. Once government appoints people to supervise these agencies, it does not supervise them. All the economic policies that need to be put in place are being done.
The president is addressing all the challenges facing the economy, infrastructure, energy and so on. Ministers are not involved in anti-corruption struggles. The people who have been appointed are doing their jobs. There is division of labour and it is being strictly adhered to. The president is not directly involved in the anti-corruption war.
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) views the crusade as a selective one. How would you react to such argument?
I will give you two reasons why nobody should be thinking in that manner. One, when you have not been in government, it will be very difficult for you to have the opportunity to loot public funds. So, people in government now are not in government for more than a decade. The people who are being investigated are people who had managed the resources of this country and decided to loot the funds instead of using them for the purpose for which they have been assigned. Obviously, the focus has to be on those who had served in government in the past.
Two, if any one of them is innocent and he did not loot fund, he should use the opportunity of the trial to prove his innocence. But you find out that most of them don’t want the case to go on and that clearly indicates that they know they have looted money and, therefore, all intrigues are being used to frustrate the investigation and their trial. All sorts of tricks are going on. They don’t want the case to be heard. If I am innocent, I will be anxious to see the case heard so that my name can be cleared. The fact that these people are delaying cases, holding up proceedings and looking for all sorts of excuses for adjournment and postponement is a clear indication that they have actually done what they are being charged for.
A lot of people who have not even been charged have been admitting and even returning some of the monies. The whole process is very objective. The anti-corruption agencies are going after those who have looted the state funds. If they find out that anybody in APC is also involved, they will go after him. Don’t forget, there was a case of a retired military officer who is close to APC who was invited and, in fact, arrested. As far as I know, he is negotiating a soft landing by returning most of the money he is accused of taking. So, the whole prosecution process is blindfolded. They go after cases where there is evidence that funds belonging to this country have been looted.