Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN) is a Constitutional Lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). In this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, DAILY INDEPENDENT he speaks on the leadership crisis in the National Assembly, bail-out for governors, national conference, controversy over Amnesty International report and other issues. Excerpts…
It is almost a month since President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in. Many Nigerians are wondering why it is taking him so long a time to announce his cabinet. Is that not a source of concern to you, too?
I don’t think that is a source of concern. He has made it clear that he really needs to put together the best team possible. Knowing our nature as Nigerians, one can understand how many different sources are putting pressures on him on who to appoint. You have governors, party leaders, even this character in Ekiti who calls himself governor, Ayo Fayose, suggesting that he should be allowed to nominate a minister. So, the pressure is much. Since he has said he wants to pick the best possible, he has to sift through a lot of names to determine which are the very best. That is one problem. I think if that is what he is trying to do, we can wait a little bit longer. It is a four-year period for him to come out with his team. It is consistent with the fact that he wants to pick the best team.
Some Nigerians have suggested that President Buhari should look beyond APC and retain some ministers who performed creditably well under former president, Goodluck Jonathan. What is your take on that?
I absolutely disagree with that position. Yes, it doesn’t have to be APC people alone. He could take technocrats, who have no party affiliations but I am absolutely against picking any PDP person, particularly anyone that has served with Jonathan. They have established a system of very low values, total lack of commitment to the country, and have demonstrated utter disdain for the welfare of the Nigerian people. All they were after was personal enrichment, greed and callousness towards this country. So, there is nobody to be picked in Jonathan’s cabinet. They shouldn’t even be touched with a pole. Anybody who has served in that government obviously does not have the mind of service to the people of this country.
What is your take on the current financial crisis crippling the activities of some states in the federation?
It confirms the point I have been making over a period of time that states should learn to generate their own revenue for the running of their own states and not rely on the resources from Niger- Delta oil. To do that to me is a case of extreme indolence and irresponsibility. We know that the oil itself, not only is it subject to this price fluctuation, it is also a diminishing resource. One day it will be finished. So, why should the states in the country base their economy and survival on such a transient commodity? It is even immoral when your own state is not even producing the oil and you are living 100 percent on it. It is such a shame. Some states are only generating less that N3bn IGR in a year. That is an absolute disgrace. What they are really saying is that they are not qualified to be states because state in a federation is autonomous of the federal government. Each one of them has total authority over matters prescribed to states under the Constitution. In those areas, the federal government has no power. In a sense, states are co-entities with the federal government all operating in the same space but under different matter. One should not be subordinate to another. When you have a situation when states now carry begging bowls every month to go and collect allocation from the federal government, it is a shame. Also worthy of note is the fact that what is being allocated does not belong to the federal government.
It is the federation account that is involved in this case which belongs to everybody, but essentially, the oil is coming from a particular place in the country. Why should any state now rely entirely on that? It is just planning to fail in future as we have seen now because it creates lack of productivity. They only talk of sharing, nobody is talking about producing. This is a very dangerous situation that is gradually dragging us towards the status of a failed state. The fall in oil prices has really exposed Nigeria for what it truly is. It is not a federation, it is in fact, a country under a unitary government where states are like local governments running to the central government all the time. It is a disaster for the country.
But despite these challenges, some Nigerians are still agitating for the creation of more states. What is your view on that?
Honestly, I have very strong words for that. I think it is crazy, absurd and highly irresponsible. Those people who are looking for states, who is going to fund the states for them? Just like local governments which is being funded from the federation account, they will want those states to be funded so that this situation where there is paucity of funds can be worsened because the same money that is being shared for 36 states will now be shared for maybe, 50 states. It is totally irresponsible. Nobody should listen to those agitating for states creation. These are greedy, selfish people, who want little kingdoms where they can steal money and plunder resources just as they have seen in other states.
So, do you think state governors who have difficulty in paying their workers should be given any bail-out by the federal government?
In principle, they don’t deserve any bailout from the federal government, except those who carry out infrastructural projects on behalf of the federal government. Like I said earlier, most of these states are so dependent on the monthly allocations they receive from the federal government that they cannot think of ways they can internally generate their own resources. Then you begin to hear state governors complaining that we have not gotten our allocation for this month. It is so humiliating. We shouldn’t hear a thing like that in a federation. Is the state a civil servant that gets salary every month? It never happened in the First Republic because when you say federation, what you have is federating units which are independent and autonomous, having full powers controlling their resources, who then, out of those resources, send a proportion, a fraction, to the federal government who doesn’t have its own resources. Federal government is an artificial entity created by the federating units.
President Buhari recently said that the administration of former president, Goodluck Jonathan, is worse than the Second Republic under Shagari. Are you surprised to hear that?
I am not surprised to hear that. All they were doing was just frittering away our money irresponsibly without discerning what belongs to them and what belongs to Nigeria. They wasted Nigeria’s resources on personal matters, like electioneering. All the money given to various groups as bribes during the election, where was it coming from? All the $20bn that disappeared is part of the deplorable plundering of resources. The Jonathan’s government is the most irresponsible government we have ever had. It is like a government of little children who didn’t know why they were in governance and what was expected of them. I was so frightened during the election that if through some rigging President Jonathan was reelected, within two years, this country would have been grounded. These guys had no clue about what governance, service, responsibility and transparency are about. They just saw money and thought they could help themselves limitlessly, uncontrollably and totally plundered the resources of this country and putting us in this situation. We are even lucky that we have a man like Buhari, who is a good manager of funds and people to run this country during this period of paucity. If we have another spendthrift in governance, we would have been grounded within six months. What is even shocking to me is that a lady like Okonjo-Iweala, with all her achievements and qualifications, descended to the lowest level of a local Nigerian and ran our economy dry. She saw the things going wrong but continued to stay there. She was a great name all over the world, but suddenly was reduced to nothing because of her failure in the management of our economy. Honestly, it is clear that it was a very big mistake for Jonathan to have brought her back. She should have just stayed where she is to save us from the trauma we are going through now.
The latest report by Amnesty International accusing the Nigerian military of extra judicial killings has been generating divergent views in the country. What is your take on that?
I stopped attending any Amnesty International occasion long ago because I have seen through them for a long time. It is an imperialist organization sent to this country to run down Nigeria and ensure that we continue to remain under-developed, wretched and continue to be subjected to war and attrition so that we will never be able to develop. It is like there are some imperialists who are afraid that this large country with a large population with reasonable resources will emerge one day as a power. So, I think Amnesty International was sent to keep us down. That report is spurious; there is no basis in it. And to think that they will come hard against our military for trying to defeat Boko Haram, which is probably the worst terrorist organization in the world , even worse than ISIS looking at the number of casualties, that totally destroyed half of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, that has brought so much pain to this country and are currently keeping over 200 young Nigerian girls and Amnesty International will now say that this is the organization that they are going to support and use to bring Nigeria down shows that Amnesty International is the sponsor of Boko Haram. And nobody should listen to them. If I were in government, 24 hours after that report, I would have closed down the Amnesty International office and deported all of them. I will tell them, ‘go and meet your masters and let them do their worst’. We shouldn’t allow saboteurs like that to remain in this country.
As an elder statesman, are you not worried about the lingering leadership crisis in the National Assembly?
I am worried, disturbed and sad because since the end of the First Republic, we have been getting progressively worse types of politicians running the country. Each succeeding set of politicians have been worse than the previous ones. The saddest part of it is that, the younger, the worse they are. The likes of Dogara and Saraki are people who have no standards, ethics, discipline, sense of responsibility and who do not believe in organizations for the benefit of the nation. They are self-seeking characters who can destroy any entity, even destroy the country for personal ends. Can you imagine a man like Saraki disobeying and disregarding his party, even going to bargain a position that belongs to his party and handing it over to the PDP so that he can be Speaker? These people just don’t have the character and the orientation to be permitted to hold public office. They are an embarrassment and they are a danger to this country. The two of them are endangering this new government and drawing the government back from achieving the aims which Nigerians elected them for.
Look at a man like Dogara. He was not the man nominated by the APC to be the Speaker, it was Gbajabiamila. He organized a coup and got away with it. Now the party said ‘we recognize you as Speaker, let Gbajabiamila be the majority leader’, the same Dogara says ‘no’. There is a limit to which a people can stress a nation, and we have had enough of Dogara. The party should stand up now, face the consequences, and deal with Dogara once and for all. I think Dogara is a disgrace to young people and a disgrace to politics. He is a shameless person who will go to any extent, not only to appropriate power for himself, but to also be so malicious that the person whose position he is now holding, he won’t even allow him to hold a lower position. That is not acceptable. For me, neither Saraki nor Dogara is fit for the positions they are holding. But I cannot say anything. Their party is tolerating them but I think it is unfortunate. I think it is better to deal with them now and even if the APC lose some people in the process, they can carry on and make sure that the people that they have are people they can rely on, true party men, not moles who have been sent to destroy the party and the hopes that Nigerians had when they elected this government
Former president, Goodluck Jonathan, handed over the report of the 2014 National conference to President Buhari. What advice will you give to Buhari, bearing in mind that the APC did not participate in that conference?
I will advise him to set up a study group to look at the recommendations of that conference and then come up with aspects of it that they think will promote good governance, true federalism and restructuring. Once he gets their report and studies it, he should implement it. He shouldn’t throw away that report because there are many good things in that report which will promote the welfare of this country, make us stronger, promote amity, economic strength, and independence of various states and strengthen them so that they can compete better for excellence. At the end of the day, the whole country will develop much more rapidly. I think he shouldn’t disregard that report.