Says ex-govs who contributed to ex-president’s project should be tried also
Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof Itse Sagay, has said that the governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose has implicated himself by admitting that former President Olusegun Obasanjo forced him and other governors to donate to his Presidential Library. He called for the investigation and trial of both Obasanjo and the former governors who diverted state funds into an individual’s private venture. In this interview with VINCENT KALU, the legal luminary stated that in law, both the receiver and the giver are guilty.
You accused the Nigeria Customs of being very corrupt, how did you come to that conclusion?
I’m not going into details on this matter. We have met the Comptroller General, who is extremely concerned about lack of change in some of the Customs establishments, and he has made up his mind to make extra efforts to make sure that the situation is changed drastically.
He reassured by the concern that he showed, and he is a man of his words, honest and so he will do as he had said.
Why is it that in the face of the onslaught against corruption that some people are so hardened to refuse to slow down while Nigeria’s rating in the global corruption index has not improved?
Even though you need a psychologist to answer that, but my feeling is that people are used to impunity; doing illegal things and getting away with it. Over the years, particularly since we returned to civilian rule in 1999, that habit is dying very hard.
However, I’m confident that increasing convictions – when they begin to see that people are actually going to prison to spend years of their lives, we will see an improvement in the conduct of people.
I’m not saying that is the only way you can reduce corruption. There are other positive ways, which include, engaging the society, the communities to make them see that at the end of the day, corruption is the enemy of everybody – that on that road where your uncle had an accident, that the contractor didn’t spend the money to do it well; on that hospital where your sister had a severe problem trying to have a baby was because of lack of equipment because the person who was supposed to equip it bolted away with the money, etc. The massive youth unemployment that is all over the place is because of corruption. We have to educate the public to make them appreciate that corruption is not just about stealing public money, it is also depriving the masses of certain rights, including right to life, right to education, right to housing, right to safe driving and usage of our roads.
We need to get our people identify the consequences of corruption, and not to look at it that the man only stole government money. It is more than that.
When that begins to happen, it will be reduced. In addition to that, the increase in the rate and severity of punishment, like the one we had few days ago, when a former governor of Adamawa State was sentenced to five years imprisonment without an option of fine. We are going to see more and more of that.
Most Nigerians have the opinion that the presidency seems to shield government officials who are alleged to be involved in corrupt practices; take the case of Secretary to the Government of the Federation, that Senate had accused him of corruption over the cutting of grass at one of the IDP camps, and it is believed that the presidency has cleared him?
If I read the argument well, it was that the Senate has not interviewed him. The Attorney General has interviewed him and written a report on that.
The Senate should invite him personally. If he sends someone, Senate should reject it and insist on him appearing personally.
Warrant should be issued against him if he doesn’t come. That case is not yet over.
They cited Chief of Army Staff that was alleged to be involved in properties in Dubai and other places and the presidency came up to clear him because both the SGF and COAS are parts of the government?
I don’t subscribe to that. It will be wrong to shield anybody from the consequences of his action. By being in government, your standard should be higher than those outside, because if you do not demonstrate that standard you have no basis to expect the public to show some rectitude in your behaviour. I think all these matters are still on.
On the Buratai affair, I don’t really know the details. Our committee is like a think tank. All I heard was that he contributed to acquiring a property. Again, I cannot verify. It is up to the authority to pursue that issue.
How would you feel if after your efforts and another government comes up and discovers that there was so much looting in this present government?
I will be very depressed. Those who are involved in this government, even those of us who are at the periphery are supposed to uphold the highest standard of morality and incorruptibility in public affairs, if one is found guilty of anything that has to do with corruption, then what is the basis of saying that you are running a government whose main mantra is to eliminate corruption. It is very important that everybody who is associated with this government in any way should show a high level of rectitude and integrity. If anyone is found wanting, such person should be dealt with very dearly because he or she is denting the image of this government.
The arguments continue to rage that the fight against corruption by this government is one sided; that only those in opposition are being prosecuted, and if the anti-graft war is wholesome, there are some people in the government who should be facing prosecution. What is your position on this?
In this matter, the question of proof, evidence is very important. I’m not surprised that most of the people who are under investigation or facing prosecution are people in the last government, because they were the ones who had access to the national resources. The PDP controlled most of the states then. That is why the preponderance of people being prosecuted come from that party.
If any person from APC is found to have soiled his hands, his own punishment should be stronger because it is an embarrassment to the government whose main qualification or basis of coming to power is that it wants to sanitise the society.
I’m not surprised that it is mainly those who were in the former government because they were the ones who had access to our resources and the government at that time didn’t seem to be in control of anything. They just allowed anybody to do whatever he or she wanted and got away with it. However, the law should apply to everybody.
At the opening of the Presidential Library built by former president Olusegun Obasanjo last week, Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose said, Obasanjo forced all the then serving 36 state governors to contribute N10 million each, making N360 million to the project. How can you describe such a thing?
I believe it. There was a lot of complaints at that time that Chief Obasanjo was twisting the arms of those governors and other public officials to donate to the library.
As someone said in a write up recently that you are not even supposed to donate public money to a private library. What Fayose and the governors did was improper, and it sounds very ill in the mouth of Fayose to raise this issue now. Why did he do it in the first place? It sounds very ill in his mouth that he committed an illegality and when you fell out with the man in whose favour you committed it you now come out and begin to cry foul.
He should be the first person to be punished because he put his hands into state funds and donated it to a private person. In fact, he has convicted himself already of stealing N10 million from his own government. That is disturbing.
In law, both the receiver and the giver are guilty. There is no question about that. So, Fayose, as well as the other governors, the givers and Obasanjo the receiver are guilty and should be prosecuted.
Obasanjo, when he came out from prison was almost bankrupt, but after eight years as president, he seems to be very wealthy that when rich Nigerians are counted he wouldn’t be missing. The anti-graft war seems not interested in such sudden wealth? Why can’t the war be stretched to Obasanjo’s time?
You are right. We have cases of 2003 that is, during Obasanjo’s regime. Some of these past governors, many of them are in the Senate. Their cases are still going on. Their cases have all been to the Supreme Court on technical points and many are coming back and are now being prosecuted. The substantive matters are being heard. All they were talking about is jurisdiction.
Majority of people facing prosecution come from PDP, and the reason is that they were in power for so long. Prosecution is not for those who lost power in 2015. It started from 2003. They are now vigorously pursued because the law is much tighter and favorable towards a streamlined and efficient prosecution of these cases.
Can we give enough protection to the whistle blowers when those who have well armed security guards have been killed?
There is no absolute guarantee of safety. Protection will be offered and it will have some effects. A person who is being protected should also be very alert against any possibilities. It is not for him to relax and say he is being protected. No doubt, there is a risk in it. I learnt that the first whistleblower rejected his five per cent commission.
Part of the policy of protection includes not stating who blew the whistle; the name will never be released.
Why do you take interest in fight against corruption at the risk of your life?
I take an interest in trying to right the wrongs that our society is suffering from, a few elites who are in a position of power and authority and abuse it grossly, thereby subjecting our people to a lot of sufferings, and the whole country to under development.
It is the injustice that those people are subjecting us to that motivates me.
Why do you want to get so much of public funds that if you live 1000 years you can’t finish it when there are so many people dying daily of hunger; millions are unemployed; hospitals are unequipped, roads are not being built, and we are borrowing money from China to build railway. It is so unconscionable. It is this feeling of the injustice which this act of impunity inflicts on the society that is my motivating factor.