Professor Itsejuwa Esanjumi Sagay, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), is the Chairman of Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC). In this interview with JOHN CHIKEZIE, the silk speaks on judicial immunity, parade of suspects and sundry issues
What is your view on call for immunity for the heads of the judiciary taking cognizance that the President, Vice President, Governors and deputy Governors are all covered?
I absolutely disagree! This is because the jobs are not the same and already, the judiciary enjoys immunity. They cannot be prosecuted for anything done while in the course of their duties. What I mean is that they can’t be prosecuted while performing their duties, unless they commit an offence contrary to their oath of office like bribery, then such a person would be made to face the National Judicial Council (NJC). So, they are already enjoying enough immunity.
The executive arm is the central wheel of government and has remained busy executing every aspect of government policy and legislation. So, they are literally the busiest and the ones who deserve immunity. And it’s just a few of them like the President, the Deputy Vice President, The Governors and the Deputy Governors.
Otherwise if you allow all of the arms to have immunity, as Nigerians are clamouring for, the government would just crumble and come to an end.
Therefore, it is essential for the executive arm to be immune and there is certainly no need for the judiciary to be conferred with any other form of immunity because they are already protected enough.
CCT found former CJN guilty of failure to declare his assets. What are your thoughts?
I don’t know why Nigeria is the center for pretence and hypocrisy in the world. You are supposed to declare your assets but you didn’t and the law is very clear about the consequences of not declaring it.
There certainly should not be any debate about his conviction because some assets like his dollar accounts were omitted.
The constitution states clearly that whoever is found guilty of the offence of non-declaration of assets, shall not occupy any public office for at least ten years and shall forfeit the assets contained. And in some cases, that judicial officer might lose his office.
So, these are very clear issues that don’t call for any debate. We only have corrupt and dishonest elites who are raising this as an issue because they are gaining from corruption and all the wrongdoings going on in this country.
It has become the norm in the country for police to parade suspects. What is the legality of this even when such suspect may escape conviction?
I know my very good friend and learned SAN, Femi Falana, is against it but I totally support it.
These suspects should be paraded and shamed because the level of crime in this country is getting too much.
It’s not just looting, but murder, raping, assassination, fraud, armed robbery, kidnapping and all sorts of evil acts happening at the same time all over this country.
The country is currently in a state of terrible confusion right now because of all these heinous crimes.
So, I suggest that once they are caught, they should be exposed immediately.
I also support that they should be paraded even before taking them to court, so that their faces would be known, even if they escape conviction.
You know that the fact that a person is set free after a trial doesn’t mean he/she is innocent. It simply means that the prosecution could not meet the standards required in prosecuting the case. But many of them are guilty as charged. So even if they are not convicted, at the end, we can still point at them and avoid them where ever we see them. These suspects must be paraded and shamed.
Therefore, I don’t support Falana, SAN, in that regard.
This is simply because the Nigerian Constitution is peculiar. In fact, let me state this clearly: the Constitution says that a person is innocent until proven guilty but we must change it. The new law should be that an accused person is guilty as charged until proven innocent. The Constitution should be changed into this, so that whoever is accused of any offence must prove his/her innocence.
This is the only law that can contain or curtail all these criminal, fraudulent, and looting tendencies in this country.
Imagine all these people who have looted this country and are yet to be convicted. These set of people need stringent actions. If we apply this law, they will be called upon to explain how they acquired that loot. Can you imagine how many trillions of naira that have been recovered by the government and some of the looters never showed up to defend themselves. They would abandon the properties and money, and run away. And if you then try to prove a case against them, it becomes impossible.
Do you support the call for limiting the number of terms lawmakers can serve?
No I don’t. I don’t even support all these changing and changing of lawmakers after two terms or tenures. I honestly don’t believe in it because why remove a person when he/she is actively performing his duties? I believe that if a person makes a life commitment of being a lawmaker, he/she should be left alone.
In the United States of America, there are individuals who have been in the legislative body for over 60 years and they remain there till they are 100 years old and then eventually leave naturally. That’s the way it should be and not turn by turn. Why must everything in Nigeria ought to be shared? It doesn’t feel right that someone is busy working hard and doing a good job while another person is beside him busy marking time to push him off. Simply because he/she feels is their turn whether they merit it or not.
I would rather prefer that once a person is elected, the person should remain there until he/she is reelected again, because the person has gained experience and would become much more effective as a legislator.
Is Governor Nyelson Wike correct when he said that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission lacks the powers to investigate Rivers State’s account?
Yes, it is true that the EFCC cannot investigate Rivers State. This is because as the law presently stands, I don’t mean legislative law but as the judicial pronouncement presently stands, Governor Wike is right. In the sense that in the case of a Rivers States’ former governor, Peter Odili, the judge granted him and the government of Rivers State perpetual injunction against any EFCC investigation, interrogation and arrest of any of their officials for the misuse of Rivers State’s money.
Strangely enough, that judgement has not yet been appealed. Until there is an appeal, then the EFFC can’t do otherwise.
But I can tell you straight away from my own experience as a lawyer of over 50 years of legal practice, that the judgement made in favour of Odili was illegal and unconstitutional. This is because what that judgement does is to restrict the constitutional powers of the functionaries of government.
You cannot make that kind of decision. It is illegal! And the Supreme Court has accepted that it is illegal in the series of judgements upheld by the Court of Appeal. And all the EFCC need to do now is to appeal that judgement and get it lifted.
I don’t know how Wike came to that conclusion but it has done a lot of harm to sanity and cleanliness in the public life.
You have spent over 50 years in the legal profession, what is your evaluation of the judiciary in terms of dispensation of justice?
The judiciary as a whole, I am very sorry to say, has gone down in terms of integrity, trustworthiness and justice. In most cases now, you would see the judiciary clinging to technicalities and abandoning justice.
All these, I can say, changed relatively from the year 2000 till now. And before then, we had the best judiciary in the world, especially during the era of Hon. Justice Chukwudifu Oputa GCON, Justice Adolphus Karibi-Whyte and some other great judges of the Supreme Court, about 12 of them, between 1986 and 2000.
We had the greatest judiciary in the world which was far better than the American Supreme Court.
They actually set a standard for the lower courts which was following them, but since they passed away and left, the standards have dropped precipitously.
Today, money is what counts and all that matters. People are now buying judgements.
I’ve been a victim of it. I still practice law every now and then. I’ve been to court, I had prepared and I had a good case. The judge was very polite but he still gave the judgement in favour of the other party. This happened consistently in that court until finally, the whole thing was exposed.
The judge was removed from office and the lawyer on the other side was prosecuted and undergoing trial as a result of bribe. This was because a lot of money was paid into that judge’s bank account by that lawyer. And not only that, they had a link with the administration of the court which ensured that all of their cases were passed to that particular court. It was a whole ring of fraud. It was really terrible. It’s so shameful that the integrity of the judiciary has dropped.
But in my remaining years as the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), my struggle is to uplift the judiciary and bring it back to the days of glory. I am going to struggle to achieve that as my last contribution to this country.