Incumbent INEC Chairman Incompetent – Sagay | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Incumbent INEC Chairman Incompetent – Sagay

Prof. Itse  Sagay (SAN)
Posted: Mar 24, 2016 at 3:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), a renowned constitutional lawyer is the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti- Corruption. In this interview with Temidayo Akinsuyi, he speaks on his committee’s role, Rivers rerun elections and other sundry issues. Excerpts:
As the chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption, has any of these alleged corrupt looters approached you or any member of the team for soft landing or try to compromise you?

To be fair to them, none has approached me. On the contrary, what we have been getting are petitions. We have received dozens of petitions. Every day, we have people petitioning about what other people are doing. That was not part of our duty initially. They are supposed to direct their petitions to the anti-graft agencies but they believed in us that we are going to monitor it to the end. So, we have established a section in our office in Abuja where we process all these petitions and send them to the appropriate agencies with a monitoring line. From time to time, we asked the anti-graft agencies how far they have gone with the petitions. We know that officials of these agencies are compromised massively from time to time, but we follow-up to ensure that these petitions are not dropped. So, those are people who have been approaching us, the petitioners. Those who are actually corrupt don’t bother coming to us because they themselves know that it would have been a futile move.

Looking at the state of the nation, fuel scarcity has lingered for so long. Also, power generation reached a peak of over 5,000 megawatts last month and later dropped to less than 1,500 megawatts. Do you believe this is due to the failure of government or corruption fighting back?

Of course, corruption is fighting back and we expect that it will fight back because what it will lose is considerable. When we talk of corruption, most people always think of these direct financial scams. But it goes beyond that. Look at all these revelations being made of billions of money looted including Dasukigate. Today, I read about the ones in Dubai totaling almost N200b. That is the financial aspect of corruption but there are other aspects. For example, those who are making a lot of money out of lack of electricity. Think of those who are selling power plants and generators. These ones will definitely fight back to ensure that there is inadequate power in this country. Also, think of the case of those who collect subsidy from supply of petroleum products. These ones will never want refineries to work successfully in this country because if that happens, there will be no more importation. There is a set of Nigerians who are dead against our self sufficiency in refined petroleum products and who are determined that we will always import because that is where they are making their money at the expense of the country. All those will definitely back and that explains why we have petrol queues because if government doesn’t throw it open for everybody to import or pretend to import and collect subsidy and allow the looting to on from that subsidy. So, we have all these various persons, institutions and organisations who are the enemies of this anti-corruption struggle and they are fighting back. On the issue of electricity, I am beginning to think if there is something spiritual about it which makes it impossible for us to rise above 3,000 megawatts. Once we rise above that number, something drags it down. The late Bola Ige tried all he could between 1999 till 2002, yet he failed. He was sabotaged. Now, we have Babatunde Fashola, the most hardworking governor we have ever had, who I know right now, is straining and stressing himself to the limit so that we can have uninterrupted power supply not just for our comfort in our homes but for our industries. Today, industries are dying because none of them can continue to rely on generators. Also, look at the fact that even when we obey economic laws, the benefits of economic laws will not apply. We were told that if you do not regulate something, you should leave it open for everybody. This will allow so many people to participate and because of the volume of production, prices will go down. As we speak, there is no control over diesel. The government has not fixed a price on it but left it open. Now, when the price of crude oil fell from $140 to $30, price of diesel still remained the same. So, this country is one in which rules, principles and laws don’t function, particularly when such laws will function for the benefit of the people. It will not function in Nigeria. Corruption is fighting back and so many other factors which are very discouraging. But honestly, I think we need to stick with this government because if anything goes wrong and this government loses grip or this administration ends, it is goodbye to Nigeria.

On the issue of power, some Nigerians have called on the president to unbundle the ministry of Power, Works and Housing under Babatunde Fashola and allow the Minister focus on Ministry of Power alone. What is your perspective on that?

It is something that I cannot really comment on with any confidence. This is because when you are not involved, anything you say is speculations. Even I myself, when I sent Fashola a letter of congratulation, I said ‘we are all praying for you, because this is a very daunting assignment’. I know Fashola’s capacity for work and I think there is some scientific reasoning behind his portfolio. It is like calling him the Minister of Infrastructure. I think the government is trying to look at the problem of infrastructure as a whole rather than doing it in bits which may be clashing with one another. I will want to give Fashola more time. He was appointed in November last year; we are now in March. Five months is too short to assess his performance. We should give him more time before concluding on whether we need to unbundle the ministry and share out some of the powers. On the issue of power, I have always said that the power problem will be solved in this country when we break down power supply and consumption into smaller units. For example, if you say Surulere Power Holding Company generate and distribute for entire Surulere. Lekki Power Authority generate for Lekki . By the time you do that, it will be the end of power problem. The cause of the power problems we are having is because the scale is too large. We have transmission all over the country and you can imagine the length and breadth of Nigeria, between one end and the other, so many technical and mechanical problems, breakdowns. The incompetence at one end will affect the whole country. By the time you eliminate all these by having small units that are self-organised, we will be able to enjoy power. Go to America, I don’t think that they have any power authority that exceeds a city.

President Buhari’s decision to join the Islamic Coalition against Terror has generated a lot of mixed reactions from Nigerians. Some people, including Ayo Fayose, the Ekiti state governor has alleged that it is a plot to Islamise the country. What is your take on that?
Anyone who is taking Fayose seriously himself is not a serious person. Fayose is going through his pre-condemnation process. He knows that he no future in the politics in this country. The only that is protecting him now is the immunity he enjoys as a governor. So, his future condemnation is clearly irreversible. There is nothing he can do about it. That is why he acting abnormally because of the well deserved tragic future that is coming to him. Fayose is worse than a clown and so should be ignored. He has a lot of questions to answer about his conduct in politics in terms of his integrity and some of his conduct such as going to court to beat up judges. On the issue of Nigeria joining the Islamic coalition against terror, my own approach to it is functional. Nobody can make Nigerian an Islamic country. It is impossible. The constitution has guaranteed that and in any case, the way God has operated in Nigeria is in such a way that the Christians and Muslims are very balanced. I believe President Buhari when he said that he joined this coalition in order to effectively fight Boko Haram and other terror organisations in the country, bring it under control so that Nigeria can move on, develop and be concentrate on positive things. I believe his joining the coalition will not make us an Islamic country or make us drift towards that status. It is not possible.

What is your take on the crisis between the Agatu community in Benue and the Fulani herdsmen. What do you think the government can do to put an end to the lingering crisis?

First, I criticise the federal government on this issue. Federal government must be very careful of not creating a situation in which it could be accused of ethnic bias giving the fact that the President is a Fulani. The FG should be sensitive about that. It should have taken actions long ago. I blame the Minister of Interior in this regard for not reacting to the situation with vigour but taking it as being normal. We have to be extremely careful because if this matter is not handled properly, the people of Benue state will now be compelled to arm themselves with guns and confront these people, because they can fight too. It is not only the Fulani herdsmen who can fight. We have to be careful to prevent a situation whereby because government is not protecting communities, these ones will now arm themselves and confront terrorists. These Fulani herdsmen are terrorists. So, I think the government needs to apologise to Benue people on this matter. Secondly, we need to be very vigilant. The security agencies should be drafted to all those areas. As we speak, the whole villages are being occupied by these herdsmen. Some people have also alleged that Boko Haram members have infiltrated these herdsmen. So, I believe they should be arrested, and if they resist arrest, maximum force should be applied on them. They should be cleared from the area so that the inhabitants can come back. Also, these inhabitants should be heavily compensated by the FG. After that, there should be a rebuilding process of those villages. They should be given money to rebuild their homes, buy farm products so that they can start planting again. The FG owes it as a responsibility to those people to completely rehabilitate them so that they can resume their normal lives. That is the least the government can do to make up for the lapses that has occurred on the part of the government with regards to the damage and devastation being done by these herdsmen.

Most elections conducted under the new INEC chairman has been declared inconclusive. Now Nigerians are wondering if we can commit the future of the 2019 elections into the hand of this man if this ugly trend continues. Are you not worried about that?
I have always said the new INEC chairman is not competent to head INEC. I said it is two possibilities; either he is a PDP mole, in which case he is carrying out a programmed activity or he is totally incompetent. My reason is because he was head of INEC when all these governorship election cases were going on. The lawyers that he hired and INEC was paying were the ones arguing at the Court of Appeal and at the Supreme Court that the card reader has no legal status in our electoral law and therefore, it should be disregarded. Imagine INEC paying millions of naira to people who are arguing against your most important achievement, through which you have brought sanity into our electoral programme and has made INEC a consultant all over the world to other countries that are now trying to introduce card reader. The lawyers did these but the INEC chairman instead of debriefing them kept quiet. He allowed them to do the damage and of course, Supreme court capitalised on that as an excuse for these terrible, unforgivable judgements it has given in Rivers and Akwa Ibom. I also noticed what happened in Kogi where INEC performed very badly. We have somebody who has never participated in an election, but they just brought him from nowhere and say he is the governorship candidate in the runoff election. That doesn’t make sense. In law, when you are faced with a situation that the law does not cover, you look for a nearest position that the law cover that is close to that position that is not covered. Already, there is that situation where if a running mate has contested an election with a candidate and the election is concluded and the candidate dies, the running mate will step in. The constitution has provided for that. It is just a little less from what happened in Kogi where the election has taken place but the results are yet declared. Why can’t INEC apply that analogy? Why sweep all that aside and create a new law for yourself and bring an outsider as the candidate? I blame the INEC chairman for that.

But will you lay the blame for the cancellation of the rerun election in Rivers on the doorstep of INEC?

In the case of the rerun election in Rivers last week, that is not the fault of the INEC chairman. There is nothing he could have done about that. INEC could not do its job because the atmosphere is not possible. It was a violent, murderous and destructive environment. You needed to see the INEC REC in the state. I feel sorry for him that he still retained sanity because what happened around him is so bewildering and so shocking. We have some groups of murderers and desperadoes who have never won an election before in this country. The South- South and South- East zones of this country have the most barbarous, primitive election culture in this country. In the South- South, apart from Edo state, no South- South state has ever had a proper election. Their culture has always been to bulldoze their way, write fake results and somehow, get it accepted. They are used to that. Now, with the national and state house of assembly elections which were overturned at the Court of Appeal, those people were now faced for the first time, with the possibility of submitting themselves to proper elections through the infusions of the army, police, DSS to ensure that they don’t rig. Prior to this time, they will use the armed forces to intimidate people and write results but they couldn’t do that this time because those forces are now under the control of another party. Since, they couldn’t do that, they decided to cause mayhem. In Rivers state, they have private armies controlled by the state government. These ones went on a killing and destruction spree, making it difficult for the army and other security agencies to be effective. This is where the Supreme Court will answer to Nigerians in future. If with the federal government counter-balancing the private army of Rivers state, we could not hold a proper election, can you imagine a situation where Rivers state was backed by the army. That is exactly what happened in the governorship case in April 11 2015. Since they couldn’t do that this time, they resorted to violence, causing confusion so that there will be no election. These South- South people are like people who are used to taking cocaine. Such people, if you withdraw the cocaine, they go through what is called withdrawal symptoms. They will even die because they have to take the drug. We are used in South- South to not having elections but having results manipulated with the power of the state. Suddenly, someone comes around and tried to stop that and allow the proper thing, but they resisted it. That is the withdrawal method we are seeing now. To me, I believe the only way forward is for the federal government to take over the government of Rivers state and conduct an election in the absence of such a violent government.

So, are you in support of a declaration of state of emergency in Rivers state?
I am absolutely in support of a declaration of emergency that will affect the continued operation of the governor who is there now. There is no question about that. Do your research. The best elections we have had in this country are under military government who are withdrawing. They are the umpires of the election. But when a civilian is in charge, that is when you have the worst election because they are trying to come back at any cost and will kill anybody who tries to stop them. But when a military is organizing, the politicians don’t have that capacity. So, we need a situation where the civilians are taking out of power in Rivers state, have a proper election and for the first time in Rivers state, have a government that is properly and truly elected by the people.

Your statement on the issue of Biafra generated a lot of negative reactions from the South East and Biafra agitators. Now that the issue of Biafra is still ongoing, what advice do you have for the South East?

This is my advice to the people of the South East, because South- South can never be part of Biafra. We were never part. They should sit down and say to themselves ‘What is it that the South East is lacking? ‘What are the challenges we are facing?’ They should compile them and go to the federal government and negotiate so that those things can be provided for them. For example, I can speak of two things that they talk about a lot. One is the Niger Second bridge. That is a valid concern on their part. Jonathan deceived them although by going there to do many fake commissioning. So, they are justified to be unhappy about that. I think this government owes the South East a duty to make sure that the bridge is built within his four years tenure. The South East should go and demand that through mature, elderly people who will go and negotiate with the federal government. Two, erosion is very common throughout the South East. Federal government should give backing to the efforts of the state government to stem it. Thirdly, I understand their federal roads are very bad. FG should pay special attention to the South- East roads. Those are the three things I can think of, though they may have other things agitating their minds. I will not advice violent confrontations with the FG or the rest of the country. I will not advice cry of ‘Biafra’. But of course, I am not in their shoes, if they are insistent on it, I leave them to do what they want to do.