These were the welcoming remarks by Professor Itse Sagay when Sunday Trust visited his office in Lagos for this interview: “I have every reason to be worried. Since I made a remark criticizing the last elections especially in the South East and South-south as not being credible, I have not rested.
I have received calls from people in power asking why I made such remarks. Nigeria is not the safest country in the world and that was why when I saw your huge group, I began to be worried if you are truly a media team.” In this explosive interview, the Delta state born legal luminary who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), though expressed fears for his life but stuck to his guns that elections in the two regions were essentially rigged by what he described as ‘unintelligent riggers’ and ‘barbarians’ who were bent on pleasing President Jonathan with block votes.
The votes should have been cancelled, he insisted. He spoke on the post-election violence in some northern states, the investigative panel set up by the federal government, the contentious zoning and other issues. Excerpts:
We are taking you up on the same issues you spoke about a few days ago; I mean your criticism of the last elections. Nigerians require more clarifications.
I am limiting my criticism to the South-East and the South-South basically. The elections in the South-West were almost perfect. In fact, the standard of election in the Yoruba states is equivalent to what you can find in Europe. I voted throughout and I know what I saw. People were so relaxed and we waited for the votes to be counted. Some residents in my area brought large coolers containing drinks for people to drink. Some brought chairs for people to sit on after the accreditation before voting commenced.
Some even brought umbrellas and as they shared the drinks, friendly discussions and laughter filled the air. When it gets to your turn to vote, you simply moved to the polling officer for a ballot paper before you cast your vote. It was like ‘first 20 accredited come over to vote, after then, 21 to 40, etc until the votes were finally counted. It couldn’t be more civilized, more relaxed. But I am sorry, I come from the South-South and so, whatever I say about them, I say about myself. I am not saying it about the ordinary man but the politicians. The desperate politicians of the South-South and the South East are barbarians. And I repeat it; they are barbarians because they did not allow elections to take place smoothly and freely. It is in these two zones, there are exceptions, I must say but basically, it is in those two zones, you see ballot snatching, violence, (party) agents being scaved away and there were fantastic results. It’s a pity I don’t have my data here, but I took the South-South and the South-East and that of the North West, the Middle Belt, that is North Central, was neither here nor there; not good or bad. But the very bad is the South-South and the South-East.
If there had not been violence in the north after the election, it would have been an excellent election but they destroyed all that with the post-election violence. You will notice this pattern in the result: in the South-South and the South-East, where a PDP man is declared the winner, the score hits the sky, the next person will get 5,000 votes. Somebody gets 190,000 in a hotly contested election and the next person to him gets 3,000 to 4,000. That is not natural. It means those figures were allocated and not natural. If you go to the West, like Ogun State. Look at the senatorial contest between Iyabo-Obasanjo and the man who won. The man who won got about 100,000; Iyabo had over 50,000. That makes sense and you know that there was a contest. The other one was even closer; it was like 69,000 to 50,000. You find this replicated in the South-West and the North. At the presidential contest where Buhari won in the North, you find Jonathan fairly close. A range of 1.2 million to 1 million; 900,000 to 300,000. You could see a genuine contest. Go to the South-East like Imo and Abia States, where Jonathan was scoring 1.3 million; the next person was scoring 5,000 to 6,000. That doesn’t make sense. Not only that, when it came to the governorship elections, the governors could not replicate the same figures they produced in the presidential contest. I give you an example. Let us take Imo state now, where Jonathan got over one million votes during the presidential polls. The man who won the governorship election got over 300,000 votes. What happened to the rest of the votes? The same thing in Enugu State. Governor Chime got about 400,000, but during the presidential election, Jonathan got about 800,000.
But it was blamed on voters’ apathy during the governorship polls?
To such an extent, are we going to say that voters are keener on the president who is 700 kilometers away than a governor who decides their fate a few meters away? It is a very serious question. For me, as a citizen, the most important election is the governorship election. I have very little with the president. He is commanding the army, running the railways, in charge of currency, telecommunications, and so on. But the governor is the man who controls the schools my children go to, the hospitals, my general welfare, the roads, he allocates land that I build on; that is the man whose actions directly impact on me. The presidential one is relatively unimportant for the citizen. For the country, very important but for the citizen, it is not so important. If you go to the North, the governorship elections tallies well with that of the president. Let us look at the figures the person who won the governorship (seat) in Kano had. When the governorship election was conducted, Kwankwaso had votes in the region of 1 million. You could see correlation between that and what Buhari scored in Kano – about one million votes. It was the same with Katsina. Come to Lagos, Fashola got 1.5 million and Jonathan got 1.2 million. This are correlations.
There are complaints that elections were rigged for Jonathan in the North.
Yes, but they need to prove that. But that will not detract from the general hypothesis, if I may put it that way. That there is some credibility in the figures from the North. That is what I am saying. The type of rigging in the South-South and South-East was unintelligent rigging. It is a sign of insecurity to go overboard and at the end of the day, you expose yourself. I am very upset because I come from that part of the country. It is time we really got out of the jungle and join the rest of the civilized world as far as elections are concerned. That is what is driving me in making my statements.
Most election observers both local and international have described the elections as free and fair. In fact, the 2011 elections have been described as the best in the history of Nigeria. What do you say about that?
I know more than all the observers put together from wherever. I have been involved in elections in Nigeria since 1964. When I say involved, I mean involved. I actually campaigned as a student. I was on the field and I have followed elections since then. The best I can say of the 2011 election is that it is better than the 2007 elections. I can’t say more than that. Definitely, the 1999 election, that is the General Abdulsalami Abubakar’s election was even better. Check your data, please - in terms of rejection (of votes) and elections petition. Those elections were accepted. It was only at the presidential level that there was a problem. The 1979 elections were much better than the 2011 elections. Go to the records and check. It was only the two-third of 13 states that was the only argument in that election. Otherwise, it was a perfect election. But this one, you will see the avalanche of petitions.
What about June 12, 1993?
Ah, June 12 was beautiful. It is the best of all. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining and Nigerians participated and conducted the best election. Those two elections, you can set them aside. The 2011 election is not near them. This is what I want everybody, including Jega to accept. Once they accept it, they can now begin to say ‘let us prepare for 2015 and try to eliminate all these (short comings).’ Look at what happened in Imo state. They had to bring how many army divisions from local governments in Imo state to be able to get the results for Imo State. Police, army, customs. I saw every type of uniform from every part of the country for just four local governments. Are we at war? Why are Nigerians not concerned? Everybody say ‘oh, wonderful election.’ That is not good for posterity. It is not fair. If you are not honest enough to point out what is wrong, then we will always continue on the wrong path. Why did he need an army to conduct elections in four local governments? It shows you something is deeply wrong in those two areas.
Do you have data to authenticate some of the things you are saying?
First, take the National Assembly elections. I want to concentrate on the South-South and the South-East. I want you to get the results of the PDP candidates who won senatorial seats from the South-East and South-South, put down their figures. Then, those who came next to them, put down their figures. Then come to the West and the North. Take the results of the ACN senators who won and that of the PDP who followed them. Do same for the north and see the contrast. You will see that in the South-South and South-East, the winners hit the roof; the next person is not in sight.
Is that why you said Professor Jega should have cancelled the elections in the South East and South-South?
That was why I said he is naïve. Naïve, because if I were in his shoes, alarm bells will ring in my head and I will say ‘hold on. This result, though I have no proof of fraud but they look odd to me. I need to examine them further to satisfy myself that they are accurate and honest result.’ That is where the naivete comes in. He just accepted them. I will not accept when I see odd things like that. And I have just told you too if you look at the presidential.
You said your remarks at the University of Lagos criticizing the 2011 elections as not free and fair have elicited unkind responses ever since by powerful people. Don’t you fear for your life?
Definitely, I am. I know I have to be more careful now because Nigerians do not like the truth. That is why the country doesn’t make any progress. Nigerians don’t like the truth. We have to get out of this electoral fraud wilderness, otherwise we will never get anywhere in the world. All the international observers will come and pat us on the back and deceive us; getting home they will be smiling and laughing and saying, ‘look at these foolish people, they can’t conduct elections. We just wanted to make them happy because we like their oil.’ Are these same people not confirming Museveni (of Uganda) who has been rigging election after election and imposing himself on Ugandans? The same West is approving him. So, what are we talking about?
What aspect of the law can those going to the tribunal exploit to argue their case?
What they will do, I don’t need to advise them. There are sharp election tribunal lawyers. And I know what they are going to do. They are going to go for forensic tests. This time, the world is forensic. Just watch out, this is my prophesy; that a lot of forensic experts will be brought into this country and there will be tests on ballot papers and we will see that a lot of multiple voting took place.
If the CPC or ACN were to ask you to handle their case, would you accept?
No, no! I will not handle a case for any party.
The reason is because I am not too sure of the motives of the CPC. When Buhari lost, he might have lost unfairly, I don’t know, but that is not an excuse for the massive violence that took place in the North. And I have not been impressed by the reaction of the CPC to that violence. I am not impressed at all. It is something they should have condemned unconditionally, and called for the arrest and prosecution of those involved. Rather, they are questioning the constitutionality of the President to set up a probe panel to find out about the facts of this violence. If you have nothing to hide, why do you raise constitutional issues when we are all interested in fishing out the culprits? I am not too comfortable with the CPC. As for the PDP, it is a party I have never liked. It is the PDP culture of greed and avarice, the culture of being predators who feed on Nigeria’s resources that has brought this country back in the last 12 years. So, none of them appeal to me.
What about the ACN?
The ACN appears to have a right orientation towards good governance because they provide service and you can see it on the ground. You can see what Fashola is doing in Lagos. You can see what Oshiomole is doing in Benin. You can see the way Fayemi has gingered development in Ekiti and the place is moving. You can see Osun is overnight attracting people from abroad. I must say there are one or two non-ACN states that have the same enlightened governance. Rivers State under Rotimi Amaechi is one of them. In fact, I would have even thought Amaechi should join the ACN because he is service and development-oriented. Basically, the ACN has the service orientation needed by a nation that wants to get out of the quagmire of underdevelopment and join the states that are enlightened, civilized and developed.
So, you can take their brief?
I don’t think ACN has any problem; definitely if I have ACN’s brief, I will take because I believe in their cause.
Some argument in favour of Jonathan is that even if a free and fair election were held, where there was no ballot box stuffing, as alleged, he still would have won. What is your take?
I agree entirely with that. I think Jonathan would have won. In fact, I am angry with those who have created this problem of unnecessary high votes because it dents the credibility of what the man has achieved. If you look at Jonathan, he had the support of the South- South, South-East, South-West and the North-Central. That was enough for him to have won and I believe he won. But those who thought they could catch his eyes and say ‘President, see how I am packing votes for you’ have now dented the beauty of his victory. I have no doubt we are going to see a lot of wrong votes among those millions that they were counting. He would have won on his steam. And to be fair to him, he had said nobody should rig for him.
Do you think cancellation of votes in the South-South would have led to crisis?
I tell you what I would have done if I were in Jega’s shoes: Any votes that are suspicions, I will not accept. I will do a re-run election in those areas. I would have cancelled them. I know there was some tension in Imo, eventually it was done and everyone is satisfied now. That should have been done in many of the South-South and South-East states.
Does the federal government actually have the constitutional right to constitute an investigative panel into a violence that occurred in states outside the Federal Capital Territory?
There is a judgment of the Supreme Court in which it was held that the Federal Government had no power to institute tribunals in the states. It is not in any list and any matter not in any of the three lists is a state matter. Therefore, the Federal Government’s power to institute tribunals is limited to Abuja. But the way I see the present inquiry is a little bit wider than critics are looking at. Number one, I do not consider it as investigation into a specific state. I consider it as investigations into the violence that Nigerians experienced in various states. If you want to apply that Supreme Court ruling in absolute terms, you will then require the governors of Bauchi, Nasarawa, Kaduna states and all other individual states to be setting up inquiries. For me, that defeats the whole spirit of the law. As far as the President is not saying I’m setting up inquiries into the violence in Bauchi state, but he is saying it is an inquiry into the violence in various states. That, in my view, comes within the scope of the powers of the Federal Government.
On a moral side, I think it is essential that an inquiry should be conducted into what happened so that this will be the last. We have been having this since 1953. I am a very keen student of Nigeria’s history. When the late Pa Anthony Enahoro moved the motion for independence at Onikan, Lagos, at the House of Representatives, that motion was countered by the late Sir Ahmadu Bello, when he said independence should come as soon as convenient, rather than 1956 as specifically requested by Enahoro. Lagosians were very angry. When the northern representatives were coming out (of the chambers), they hooted and booed them, calling them all sorts of names. They (members) were angry and when they got home, they related their experience to their people (in the north). So, when next Southerners went to the North to campaign, there was riot in the north. People were killed. That was how riots in the north started and since then, we have had riots in the north almost on a yearly basis. And, of course, we know what happened in 1966 and 1967, and we know what has been happening in Jos. With all that in our mind, I don’t think it is right for any Nigerian to oppose any attempt to identify people behind this in order to find a way of eliminating it and putting an ugly past behind us.
There is this argument that the violence in the north was a popular revolt by the masses who had no confidence in the judiciary?
I don’t agree with that. I think they had made up their mind that this time, it has to be Buhari. They sort of put all their hopes in one person. First, that it has to be a northerner and that northerner has to be Buhari. That did not happen and the disappointment that arose totally took over their reasoning and led to this terrible carnage. What I don’t know is whether it was instigated, whether there are people behind it or it was spontaneous. That I cannot say.
What is your take on zoning of political offices, given that President Jonathan is from the South-South is obviously taking a shot on what was supposed to be the turn of the north?
I am not very keen on zoning, but at the same time, I don’t condemn it because it has a purpose. It allows some positions to go round. Although, there should be a caveat that there should be some merit, some capacity on the part of the person who is nominated. Specifically on Jonathan taking over, the crisis that arose out of that was a big surprise to me and an eye-opener about the state of affairs in this country. Jonathan was the Vice President to Yar’adua and he served him faithfully. Rather unfortunately or tragically, President Yar’adua died. For me, in any rational society, it will be automatic for the vice President to step into his shoes. The constitution makes it clear. At that stage, you waive zoning aside. This was not on the mind of people when they were distributing the zoning. Nobody made provision for this. How can you tell a sitting president who has not had his own term and was just completing another person’s term to step aside? It doesn’t show regards for the person. It doesn’t show a sense of humanity. It dehumanizes the person.
I felt the demand of Malam Adamu Ciroma and his group was extremely unreasonable, unfair and showed lack of respect for people from other parts of the country. I support Jonathan contesting. He deserved to contest. In a civilized society, his party gives him automatic ticket to contest because he was the Vice President and Acting President before becoming the President. On what basis would you tell such a person to step aside?
Do you expect Jonathan to do just one term or you think he could still contest in 2015?
He has said he will spend only one term. We take him by his word. Honestly, nobody can tie him down because we are all servants and slaves to circumstances and histories. We don’t know what is going to happen in the next four years. Situations can change in such a way that it could become necessary for him to continue or it could be that nothing changes and he has to go away. And we are still going to have crisis because the South-East is not going to lie down and allow it to go to the North. There is still going to be clashes.
Obviously, the South-East did not support the North when it insisted that the PDP zoning agreement be honoured. Do you think the South-East will have anything to stand upon to ask that it should be given its turn?
But they are already saying it, if you are reading the press. Their argument is that they are about the only ones who have not produced a president apart from Aguiyi-Ironsi who was head of state for six months; no South Easterner has been Head of State. That is their argument. It makes sense; this issues of monopoly and domination when the North controlled everything, for almost 50 years. Now, we have to develop to a certain stage where it doesn’t matter anymore. I don’t know whether we are there yet, but that is where we have to develop to. In a more developed clime, nobody really cares where you are from. It is the turn of this zone doesn’t arise. In England, if it is a Scot who is the party’s leader, or a Welsh or English, everybody accepts him.
Remember in America when Clinton (from Arkansas) was the president, his vice president -Al-Gore - came from Tennessee, both Southerners. I am hoping that we will develop to that stage when we will be looking at the candidates and be asking ourselves, ‘who is going to serve the Nigerian interest best?” Not where he comes from. My experience of this where the person comes from is that the people from that region don’t usually benefit anything. They (people) get very angry when the person leaves office, saying; ‘what did you of for us?’
By your assessment, do you think the National Assembly has been doing its job of oversight functions well over the federal government?
I think they have done reasonably well in that regard, but my quarrel with them is whether they were doing it in good faith. The impression I have of the National Assembly is that their oversight responsibility was being used as some clubs over the heads of ministries to get individual advantages rather than as a service to the public. Altogether, the last National Assembly was a very bad one. It was a National Assembly that went there to plunder the resources of this country. That was what they were interested in. The oversight functions were just being used as an excuse to make more money for themselves.
You tell a ministry we want to go on a retreat to review what you have done. Provide a N100 million. They embarrassed a lot of Nigerian representatives abroad. You will see 20 members of a committee traveling by First Class and packing themselves into one institution abroad where there is a Nigerian and saying they have come to exercise their oversight responsibility. Just absolutely squandering Nigeria’s money and achieving nothing. We had a very bad National Assembly that wasted our money. I am glad two-third of them are gone.