Itse Sagay

Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof Itse Sagay, has said that Nigerians would vote for President Muhammadu Buhari because of his integrity. According to him, the president needs another four years to consolidate on his achievements. He revealed the mind of the Buhari administration on the president’s strongest opponent in the 2019 election, Atiku Abubakar, saying government believes the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, is corrupt but lacks concrete evidence yet to prosecute him. “What is really delaying or suspending any action against him is a question of proof”, Sagay declared in this interview conducted by VINCENT KALU.

The presidential and the National Assembly elections campaigns kicked off on Sunday, what should be the campaign issues?

Campaigns should be driven by issues, and not by personal attacks and abuses, which we have experienced in the past.

The issues should be mainly social and infrastructural programmes; like education, infrastructure, roads, bridges all across the country, railways, electricity, health and of course corruption. Those are the issues that should be on the front burner.

Talking about corruption, the ruling APC will use it as its achievement, that it has been fighting graft, but the opposition PDP will carpet that, citing cases like Babachir Lawal grass cutting case, Oshiomhole’s alleged bribery allegation, etc….

When someone is pushed to the corner he has to say something. The PDP reveled in uncontrolled corruption for 16 years. Their members and members’ children looted and carted way virtually everything available in this country and rendered us bankrupt. Thank God they apologised, although I’m sure they are regretting it now, they knew what they did. This country was financially bankrupt by the time the APC took over and it was a very rough time.

Since APC took over, the whole issue of corruption has been transformed, you will not hear corruption in high places anymore; you will not hear ministers carting away billions of naira, you won’t hear civil servants building palaces all over the country. All those things are gone. Not only that, things like petroleum subsidy fraud all gone. That was costing us about N388 billion a year, and then there has been the recoveries, almost one trillion naira so far recovered from corrupt persons, in addition to prosecution going on.

People now know that it is a risk to steal government money, state money or even in the private sector. In banks and so on, quiet a number of bankers are on trial right now for the way they mismanaged and stole the deposits and resources of their customers.

Anybody can say anything, but you have to be either mentally retarded or extremely perverse, acting in bad faith for you to say that this government has not made a dramatic change in the area of corruption fight.

You are talking of PDP as the looters, the same people in PDP are in APC, and secondly, we never heard of the looters until the party was pushed out. Are you sure that if APC is sent packing we are not going to hear of more corruption?

Let us hear more. The more corrupt persons are fished out the better. If APC is pushed out, and whoever takes over should go with a big magnifying lens and look for those who have been corrupt and pick them out one by one. We have to do so if we are to end corruption. We must make sure that under no circumstances will it be safe to be corrupt whether under APC, PDP or SDP etc. Let it be a danger that a price will be paid and the person will have his days in court, apart from his assets seized. I support that view, let it be so.

When the Kano State House of Assembly was investigating the state governor, Ganduje over $5 million bribery allegation, you said that the Assembly lacks the power to do that. What of the DSS that is investigating the APC National Chairman, Oshiomhole over bribery allegations, does the security agency also lack the power to investigate the APC boss?

These are all EFCC matters, and of course if he is suspected of having taken bribe or in anywhere acquired money or other types of resources illegitimately, he is open to investigation by the EFCC, and not by DSS. DSS only comes in when there is a security aspect involved. Once security is involved, DSS should come in.

The speed with which the EFCC moved against former Ekiti state governor, Ayo Fayose, why didn’t it employ the same speed against former SGF, Lawal Babachir?

You cannot compare the two. Fayose was already on trial before he became governor for the second time for allegedly stealing money and said he used it to set up chicken farms and buying houses in Ibadan. He was already in trouble. The trial was on after his election, he got thugs and invaded the court, scattered the court, beat the judges, tore their clothes, and the judges out of fear stopped any continuation of the cases. There is an addition, that in the process of getting re-elected, over N2 billion was ferried from Central Bank in cash to him, and the person who brought the money, Obanikoro has told the EFCC that this is what happened, ‘I brought the money and handed it over to him.’ You can’t overlook that, man who is so loud and totally self-righteous and praising himself to the skies and then doing such atrocious thing. Of course they have to invite him. My view was that they should start watching the various outlets into the international community before he finished his term. I’m happy that he has finally been put to where he belongs and let him now explain himself.

Babachir is different because the amount involved is very small, very minimal. He has been disciplined; been removed from office, so there has been some punishment. The rest is left to the EFCC to consider whether it’s worth its time because this issue too is a question of resources. If you have to spread yourself over a million cases with limited resources, it means you are not using your resources properly. There are few cases, which will bring in millions of naira back to the government to which I think they should concentrate.

Going after Babachir now would seem to me an unwise use of resources though it is legitimate. What they should do is to recover the money from him, which we are already doing under plea bargain and other things. It is not everybody who stole that goes to prison for a long time. Some of them will surrender most of what they have got, and get a much lighter sanction than they would have gotten.

Between Atiku and Buhari, who do you think have the chances of winning in 2019?

The man with a better record; the man who has integrity; the man who doesn’t have a single stain on his name; the man the world respects; the man who has brought respectability back to Nigeria and made it an important member of an international comity of nations, and that is Buhari, and not those who cannot travel to ordinary America that we all travel now and then. Anybody who has a baggage, particularly when it involves corruption and lack of integrity cannot win, Nigerians know. There maybe some who are talking loudly, I read Prof Ben Nwabueze in the newspapers saying that he would lead Atiku’s campaign, we will see how far it will get him, but we are talking of integrity now. We need that integrity; we need to feel that Nigeria’s resources are being protected and the tiny elites will not have access to loot and cart away all our resources and leave our people suffering. I have no doubt in my mind that Buhari will win, as Nigerians will not like to shoot themselves in the foot.

Why is it that you identify Atiku with corruption, yet you are yet to pin him down on any corruption charge?

You are right. There are some cases that are going to be very difficult. He (Atiku) has covered himself very perfectly. The only clear case that is known is the case of Jefferson in the US. I don’t know how that a huge sum of money was found in his freezer. He was talking to Atiku at that time and so I don’t know the relationship, so the man went to prison. In this case, there is one thing to have suspicion, and another thing to have proof. What is really delaying or suspending any action is a question of proof. I don’t think that is certain.

If so why do you attach corruption to his name or say he is corrupt?

Yes, there is no concrete proof.

But if we publish that he is corrupt, won’t he drag us to court?

Of course, but the danger of his doing that is that in the end you dig the evidence and bring it out.

I always advise my clients that they should not sue for libel if you don’t have a totally clean record. In this instance, evidence will come out as people will go to NPA and so on and begin to dig; people will go back to Customs and dig. So, I won’t advise him to do that. Let me say that his activities are covered in a cloud of suspicion. I won’t go beyond that.

What are your expectations for 2019?

We have a very good government in power now, but like all governments and human beings, anything controlled by human beings has their negatives and they make mistakes. I, myself, have quiet a number of areas in which I criticise the government, even though I’m not likely to come out in the open to say it, but I express it through private channels that these are things that I’m not satisfied about.

A lot of solid actions and achievements have been made. If you go to inter states roads, you won’t believe the amount of works that has been done there in the last three years.

For the first time the government is committed to the Second Niger Bridge, apart from other bridges. You go to railways – they have not taken the attitude of past governments that what a government starts, they let it die. No, they completed the Abuja –Kaduna railway. They are doing the Ibadan- Kano railway; they are almost completing the Abuja internal railway and they have a long list of things they want to do now, including Lagos to Abuja; Calabar to Lagos. There are major structural works going on, apart from the whole issue of integrity and total zero tolerance to corruption.

He will win because Nigerians want these things to be consolidated, and they need Buhari for another four years to make all these changes part of Nigeria’s culture that if in future that Nigerians feel that there is any detraction from such achievements, they will feel that they have been personally affronted and will arise in anger.

Are you talking about the elites or the man on the street who is crying of hunger everyday?

That is true that the man on the street is hungry, but they have the feeling that we have an honest government in power; the comfort may not have started trickling down, however, the background and foundation has been laid, and we are going to build upon it gradually, and by the end of the next four years, the ordinary man would be happier. I don’t so much pity the elites because they are responsible for all our problems; people of my standard, we are the cause of Nigeria’s problems; people of my level, because we are so greedy, uncontrollable and indiscipline that they want to take all the wealth of this country for themselves and leave the whole place totally uninhabitable, thinking that they send their children aboard for them to be safe, while people are dying here.

Those are the problems, but the ordinary man you are talking about, I won’t say all of them have not appreciated, no. They are feeling the impact. You know of the school feeding programme, the federal government is feeding over ten million children everyday, their parents are happy.

Where is this feeding taking place, because the last time I asked people from different states, they were also confused?

Not all the states are enjoying it. Just over 20 states that have actually fulfilled the conditions to join. Over 10 million a day, in those states school enrolment has increased as parents say that ‘if I send a child to school that is one meal less and there will be nutrition.’ So, they are going to school.

We have the conditional cash transfer, where the most wretched families are given N5, 000 a month free to enable them to do little businesses like roasting of plantains, etc, and build on it. Some of them have come forward to say that using that money in the last nine months or one year has lifted their conditions and they are in a much better position. There have been testimonies.

You have N-Power, which involves the training of over 500,000 young people attached to a profession and being paid over N30, 000 a month to sustain themselves during the attachment period. You have another programme for lending money free of interest to young people, farmers and women. Many thousands are involved. It is a pity that many Nigerians say they don’t know about it. It is going on. It is publicised on TV.

At the last Bola Tinubu colloquium, they all came from different parts of the country and gave testimony. I will look for the email address of Mrs Mariam Uwais, let her send you statistics of what this government has done in Nigeria. They have spent over N1.5 trillion; all this money being recovered is being pumped into these social investment programmes for the poorest and most wretched Nigerians. It is happening, there is no question about that; that is the reality you can hold with your hand.

When you talked about corruption, you mentioned fuel subsidy, but from what we are hearing the present government is spending far more than the past government on fuel subsidy?

It is because of the demand, and I can assure you that the NNPC people will not touch a kobo of that because before they know what is happening to them they will be behind bars.

People are frightened now of misbehaving. Those people will account for that money effectively. We demand a lot, go out and see the number of cars driving on our streets. Every Nigerian wants to drive a car, that is the ambition of every Nigerian and nobody cares for pollution or cost of petrol, and the government is now meeting the bill arising from this. So, I’m not surprised about this.

But the president during his 2015 campaigns promised that there wouldn’t be fuel subsidy anymore

It is suicidal for government to say that it would not provide subsidy because if you leave it at that we are going to talk of petroleum cost going to about N260, N280 per litre, and people will revolt. That is money well spent until the Dangote and other refineries come on board, and everything will crash.

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