A lecture at the prestigious Island Club and the amazing unfolding political events in Brazil, where a former President has been brought back to the cabinet by the incumbent president to circumvent a corruption trial, form the theme of our discussion today.
The lecturer at the Island Club was legal luminary Professor Itsay Sagay SAN and his given topic was ‘ How to fight and Win the War against Corruption; Challenges and prospects ‘ which he changed to the juicy and highly educative topic – Confronting the Scourge of Corruption. This is the topic on which I will dilate extensively today given the very bright light and hope it generated in me, that at least, there is one man standing, ready and willing to use his enormous erudition and learning to sing the death knell of corruption in the current war on corruption embarked by the Buhari Administration.
Professor Sagay spoke in his capacity as the Chairman. Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption and his lecture threw immense light on the strategies on hand by this administration to fight corruption according to the rule of law, taking great cognizance of the challenges and obstacles inherent in the Nigerian environment and context, both historical and potential, and ways to see the strategies through to achieve their objectives. In effect Professor Sagay analysed the issues involved pragmatically, empirically and practically in such a way that one can only tremble at the fate and dire prospects facing treasury looters caught in the act by this administration in the priority it has set in using the ant I corruption war to sanitise our economy and society by identifying and punishing those who have used public office to loot our common patrimony to feather their own private pockets while Nigerians live in squalor when indeed the country is a very wealthy national entity.
Amazingly, while Professor Sagay was postulating on giving corruption a punchy legal upper cut, sequel to a boxing knock out in the Island Club, a different situation that he already foresaw and was warning against in his lecture was unfolding in far away Brazil. That soccer loving nations’s president, Dilmar Roussef was appointing her former boss and former president Lula da Silva to the same position of Chief of Staff in which she served him so that the former president would not face charges for fraud and money laundry that had been brought against Lula and were widely publicized in Brazil.
I had written earlier on this unfolding drama and had commended incumbent Brazilian president Dilmar for her guts in allowing the charges of collecting bribes from oil contractors of Petrobas against Lula to see the light of day and wished our own government had the same guts to charge our former president to court if found culpable on the diversion of money meant for arms revelations which we have aptly called Dasukigate. Obviously not only myself but Brazilians and indeed the whole world had been taken for a ride by this Brazilian lady President. She has sworn in Lula as her Chief of Staff thus giving him immunity from prosecution from Brazilian federal courts and prosecution only by the Supreme Court. A court in Brazil has ruled the position illegal but the Brazilian president has appealed against the ruling . What happened in Brazil which is also fighting its war on corruption is precisely what Professor Sagay highlighted as a major challenge to the war on corruption posed by very senior defence lawyers who use all their experience and knowledge to frustrate the prosecution of their clients by unethical methods. One of such underhand methods he highlighted was – political rehabilitation of accused by high profile political appointment and electoral victory into public office and –compromise of the court of the prosecution or both. This is what the incumbent Brazilian president has done in bright day light and Brazilians have taken to the streets in protest. But it is something quite common in Nigeria given the ongoing trial of the Senate president by the CCT and the huge numbers of former two term governors now distinguished senators in our National Assembly.
It is pertinent at this stage to highlight the major parts of the Sagay Island Club Public lecture on Confronting the Scourge of Corruption. The lecture had sections on – The Negative Impact of Corruption; The Emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari as someone who has zero tolerance for corruption and how that has set the tone of the war on corruption; The means for combatting corruption namely the ICPC started by the Obasanjo Administration in 1999 and provided a legal framework called the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act in June 2000; the EFCC established in 2000; the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal in 1989; the Code of Conduct Tribunal and the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption – PACAC in August 2015.
The Duties of the PACAC headed by Professor Sagay include the following – promotion of the anti corruption struggle by developing comprehensive interventions in Nigeria’s Administration of Criminal Justice System; Engendering Inter Agency Cooperation and Information sharing; promoting the efficiency and effectiveness of the anti corruption agencies; Examining the workings of the present system of the Administration of Criminal Justice; Seeking to put an end to all orders of Perpetual Injunctions against the investigation, interrogation, arrest and prosecution of anyone for corruption with the objective that such persons must defend themselves in court and such cases must go through the full trial process; the lifting of all existing injunctions protecting anyone from investigation, interrogation, arrest and prosecution for corruption; and revisiting outstanding cases of egregious corruption and impunity which have been stalled or suspended.
PACAC has a four point strategy to achieve its objective and ensure that the Administration of justice achieves its anti corruption war objectives. These strategies are efficient investigation, effective prosecution, speedy adjudication and effective sanctions. The lecture also identified a National Anti Corruption Plan, Assets Recovery,The Recovery of Public Property ( Special Provisions Act 2004 ), and The Administration of the Criminal Justice Act of 2015.
With regard to effective prosecution, the Professor called for the prosecution of any person who has compromised the prosecution process either as a judge, a prosecutor or investigator and that such people should be jailed if found guilty. He highlighted in particular a set of consultants called specialists who are retired judges at all levels -high court, Court of Appeal or Supreme Court who make themselves available to corrupt judges. He asked that such people should be jailed if found culpable. All of them, he averred, SANs, Consultants and judges who compromise trial proceedings need to be charged, prosecuted and imprisoned if found guilty. According to Sagay – a few cases of imprisonment of this category of unpatriotic Nigerians is necessary for honour and integrity to return to the judicial process. I cannot agree more.
However, it was in the question and answer section of the lecture that Professor Sagay proved his mettle and commitment as an unrepentant anti corruption warrior, both within and without Nigeria’s temple of justice. To the plea from a questioner that the government should concentrate more on improving the plight of Nigerians rather than the war on corruption, the professor admitted he was fed up with such suggestions which betrayed that that those holding such views could be corrupt too. On a view that judges were poorly paid he countered that that was not sufficient excuse to be corrupt as judges know their salaries and should live within their means. On the view that the EFCC was slow he explained that the volume of revelations from on going statements by suspects has created a huge number of inter related frauds and new cases that the EFCC has had to take on. On going back to past governments on the anti corruption war he said that was not feasible as there was enough on the plate already with the sordid level of revelations of corruption of the last administration.
In spite of his strong convictions I found it unbelievable that Professor Sagay was against capital punishment for corruption as widely canvassed by commentators at the lecture. He simply dismissed it by saying once a man was dead that was it. All the same I found it commendable that he recommended for use in the fight against corruption the adoption of Decree No 3 – Recovery of Public Property of 1984 promulgated by the present Head of State when he was a military head of state. This is because the decree which is still valid stipulates prison sentence up to 21 years for corruption as against our present laws which stress seizure of assets which he said is not deterrent enough .
The Island Club Public Interest Symposium is an initiative of the Club’s Chairman the ebullient Dipo Okpeseyi who revealed at the lecture that he was a student of the lecturer . The Chairman at the lecture was the legal sage and former Supreme Court judge Justice Sola Oguntade who showed a bias for picking lawyers at question time as if anti corruption war was an all lawyers affair which is a fallacy that could provoke another war this time not on corruption but against discrimination in favor of lawyers von such matters . Any way I was aggrieved as I was not called to ask any question at the event even though I had my hand up like a flag all the time . Again I doff my hat to the brilliance and commitment of a Nigerian Professor of law to the all important war on corruption and the hope it holds for all similarly committed and patriotic Nigerians. Once again long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.