• Thursday, February 29, 2024
businessday logo


Sagay, on the podium for corruption fight

Before his appointment a few days ago by President Muhammadu Buhari as the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption, Itse Sagay, a professor of law, constitutional lawyer and civil rights activist, had been a vocal voice against corruption in the country.
Some analysts who reacted to the appointment of Sagay to head advisory committee on war against corruption, said going by his antecedents he would do a credible job, expressing however, that it has become difficult to actually establish who is really a gentleman, in Nigeria.
An Ibadan-based psychologist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said; “I have not had the privilege of meeting the man in person, but from what I read about him- his interviews, news stories and analyses- I can say he is a Nigerian in the mould of President Buhari, who hates corruption. I think, that may have been responsible for his appointment. I hope he will advise well. The country, for me has seen a lot of committees and panels; what we really need now is implementation of the good recommendations contained in uncountable reports gathering dust at the Presidency. But I wish him well.”
A female lecturer with a private university in Lagos commended Sagay’s appointment, saying that the present administration should endeavour to tap the talents in people like the constitutional lawyer. She however, expressed fears that Sagay may be tainted by politicians, urging him to tread softly.
“There’s no doubt that we have people of integrity in the country. I think, what appears to have infected many is this rat race of a thing. People are madly chasing after wealth, no matter how illicit. We are seriously discovering that some are politicians while pretending to be saints. We see people we thought were incorruptible, shedding that toga, losing ground and embracing graft. In the recent past, some of those who chaired some panels ended up messing themselves up. Professor Sagay is a credible personality, who has remained his humble and forthright self over the years. I should think that he will creditably acquit himself,” said the female analyst.
A legal practitioner, who asked not to be named, said: “Professor Sagay believes so much in the present administration. I have been following his comments. Even before the elections, he was pro-APC. I also read his comments during the crisis period at the National Assembly; his stand was that the federal lawmakers must respect the directives from their party on the choice of principal officers. He believed that the party was supreme. So, his appointment is in sync with the philosophy of the party, which I believe he is a member.”
The committee’s brief is to advise the present administration on the prosecution of the war against corruption and the implementation of required reforms in Nigeria’s criminal justice system.
Although he hails from Edo State in the South-South geo-political zone of the country, he never spared the immediate past administration of Goodluck Jonathan on corruption issues.
Sagay believes that the Jonathan government encouraged corruption and that it was probably the worst administration since the Shagari era.
In a recent interview, the legal luminary took a swipe at the Jonathan government, saying it did a lot of harm to Nigerians than good.
The anti-corruption crusader, it would be recalled, was vehement against the election in 2011 of Aminu Waziri Tambuwal as the speaker of the House of Representatives on the plank of corruption.
He said the House lacked morals by electing Tambuwal despite his alleged involvement in a N10billion loan scandal for which Dimeji Bankole, a former speaker, had been arrested by the Economic and Financial crime Commission (EFCC).
Sagay particularly zeroed in on Tambuwal, insisting that he ought to withdraw from the race and clear himself of the allegations.
The lawyer’s standpoint stemmed from a statement by Bankole’s then media aide, Idowu Bakare,   detailing how the controversial N10billion was shared among key officers of the House, with Tambuwal, then deputy chief whip, said to have received N327million quarterly.
Sagay, carpeting the entire House, described the members as bunch of people lacking in morals.
He contended that for Tambuwal’s name to have come up in the N10billion scandal, was enough for him to have withdrawn.
 “If it were to be in a civilised society, it shows that there is no moral and practice of ethics in public offices. It also shows that our democracy is immature, is still in its formative stage. In United States of America that we imitate, such thing could not have happened,” he said.
Sagay was one of the lawyers who warned former President Goodluck Jonathan over his repeated comments that stealing was not corruption.
It would be recalled that Jonathan was in the habit of dressing corruption in a different garb. On one particular occasion during the Presidential Media Chat, the former President tried very hard to separate the act of stealing from that of corruption.
“If somebody is a thief, he is a thief. We should not use the word ‘corruption’ to cover a case of stealing. Thieves should be called thieves,” he had said.
But Sagay had dismissed the rationalisation as a sheer bunkum. He said there was no technical difference between the two acts, and that people involved in either should be made to face the wrath of the law.
“In a broad legal sense, they are the same. Stealing is taking what belongs to another person without the consent of the owner with the intention of keeping it permanently.
“Corruption is using an office to acquire the resources of an organisation without working for it and without the organisation’s awareness. Looking at it, using an office as a political office holder to acquire what belongs to the state results to stealing.
“Ultimately, every act of corruption is an act of stealing. There is no question about it. There is no moral or ethical difference between them. Both are criminal, immoral and anti-social acts and nobody should attempt to make one look lighter than the other. People who commit either should be dealt with seriously,” he said.
He also picked holes in Jonathan’s claim that corruption was not the major problem of the continent. According to the Bayelsa-born ex-president, “Corruption is not the cause of all the problems confronting Africa. In terms of security, Boko Haram is the biggest challenge we (Nigeria) have at the moment.”
Sagay fired back, “For Mr. President to have said that corruption is not our number one problem that must be the misstatement of the century.”
When in the build up to the last general election, Jonathan raised over N21.27 billion from friends to prosecute his re-election bid, the legal luminary was among those that raged.
He was livid with annoyance that in the midst of collapsed economy, high state of insecurity, poor power supply, rising unemployment and pervasive poverty, the former president could muster such a humongous amount of money.
Sagay said the fundraising was a deception in the midst of under-development.
According to him, since the PDP was the ruling party and had the resources of the nation at its disposal, it could organise any fundraising to raise money.
“But for me, it is all more of a camouflage because they already have the state’s money at their disposal. We have a very serious problem in this country where the government in power tries to plough into the state’s resources for party campaigns. Legally, there is a law but it is neither observed nor enforced; these are reforms that affect conduct and culture which will have to be enforced in future if we have to develop,” he said.