We’re Running A Failed Judicial System– Sagay SAN - Welcome to Uju Ayalogu's Blog

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Tuesday, 14 August 2018

We’re Running A Failed Judicial System– Sagay SAN

We’re Running A Failed Judicial System– Sagay SAN

Itse Sagay

Prof Itse Sagay (SAN), the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) chairman, does not suffer fools gladly. He is blunt and fiery. A lawyer and teacher of no mean repute, he is not afraid of controversy. He can give as much as he can take.

Right from his days as a university teacher till now, Sagay has remained a thorn in the flesh of those he tags enemies of the people. These, to him, are those who do not want Nigerians to enjoy the good things of life as they are now doing under the Buhari administration. In this interview with JOSEPH JIBUEZE, Sagay speaks on the state of the judiciary and what is being done with recovered funds, among other issues.

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President Muhammadu Buhari has blamed the judiciary for frustrating corruption cases. How would you assess the judiciary ahead of the new legal year?

Let me start by saying that the President was right. The judiciary, acting as presidential tribunals, was a disaster. They did many terrible things, particularly in 2007. That was a most shameless act at a high level, where they could open their eyes and write that a ballot paper without serial number is a valid ballot paper.

It never happened anywhere in the world. That was most shameless. There have been a lot of improvements since then, even though we still have corrupt judges. There is no question about that – at all levels. But the level of corruption has gone down. There is an attempt to fall in with the spirit of the anti-corruption struggle that the Buhari administration has introduced.

How do you mean?

I always say that the Chief Justice’s directive that special courts should be designated by Chief Judges of various courts in the country for corruption cases only, and the establishment of a monitoring group, are very excellent ideas.

They were ideas we were pursuing for which we were not successful because the National Assembly to whom we sent the bills refused to consider them. But the Chief Justice did it administratively and they’re operating and doing very well. You heard recently that two former governors were sentenced to lengthy imprisonments and it was by one of these courts.

So, I’m encouraged by that. But, we’re still watching the Judiciary. Everything is not perfect yet. We’re still far away from the type of Judiciary we had, particularly the type of Supreme Court we had when Eso, Oputa, Mohammed Bello, Obaseki, Karibi-Whyte, Nnamani were there.

Then we had the best Supreme Court in the world. It has dropped sharply since then. So, we are nowhere near there. And I keep telling the present crop of judges, including the Supreme Court justices who are all my juniors, that they should aspire to what we had before. They’re not there yet and I want to see them positively aspiring to that.

Some have said the holidays judges enjoy are too long – from July to September, in addition to Easter and Christmas vacations. In view of court congestion, would you recommend a reduction?

I have a slightly different opinion. The work of a judge is very, very demanding, mentally and extremely demanding. They have to do a lot of reading to write a single judgment, and do a lot of analysis, and after that begin to crunch their brains about where the law is, and not only law, where justice is leading them.

So, if they have a two-month holiday, I don’t mind. My complaint against them is the callousness with which some judges – and many judges do it – will not sit and they will not tell you before hand. You come there prepared; you’ve given up the whole day just for the case, you’re in court and you’ll be told the judge had gone somewhere. The registrar would just tell you the judge had gone somewhere.

That’s an insult on the lawyers and an insult on the people of this country, for a judge to just take off, and they have our phone numbers. Nobody will call you. That’s number one.

Number two, their conferences are too many. One conference today, another one tomorrow – seminar in Dubai. There is too much laxity, a sort of I don’t care attitude about the sufferings of lawyers and their clients. I do not have the feeling that judges are concerned.

Have you had a personal experience?

When I was much younger, about 20 years ago, I went to the Court of Appeal, then presided over by the present Emir of Ilorin. I got there and they had pasted something at the gate, after I had left my office. So, I wrote a stinker to him, which he did not take well.

He too wrote a stinker back and when next I appeared before the court they gave me hell in a case I was handling before them. But that’s not the right spirit. They were wrong. So, for me, what they should do is cut down on holidays, be more sensitive about their role in the society, and be more concerned about the fate of parties, who want their cases to end.

They should also show more respect to lawyers, because when you leave the court without notice that you’re not going to be there and a lawyer comes, that’s an insult to that lawyer. You’re both lawyers for goodness sake. That you’re on the Bench doesn’t make you a different person. That lawyer can become a judge tomorrow. That is lack of respect! And it’s very bad.

What else can be done to address delays?

To conclude this part, because it’s a very important point you’re raising, the cases that are outstanding are so many. They go on for 10 years and yet are not concluded. There is need for them to be conscious of this. There is need for the government to provide recording equipment.

If you go to London, where I have appeared several times as an expert witness on Nigerian law, the judge has a computer in front of him, and there is a lady who is recording in addition to the computer, and the judge is very relaxed because he is asking questions and not writing anything – very relaxed. At the end of the day, before you go, you get the proceedings.

They just roll it out of the computer and you take it home. So, you can see that the judges are living longer; they’re fresher. The judges here have to take everything by hand.

You say something, they’ll write. You have to wait for them, and speak very slowly because you know they can’t write at the rate at which you’re speaking. So, it takes a long time. There is strain; they suffer from all sorts of diseases – back diseases, brain diseases as a result. So, we must – there’s no choice – introduce recording equipment. That will hasten proceedings.

Is a funding problem?

Some courts too are not very honest. At times the vote is prepared and given to them to buy these equipment; they will not buy it. The next year, they will apply again for another vote on the same thing. That is also there. There are lots of problems. We just have to sit down and think of the people of this country; think of the service we’re delivering as one major arm of government and be proud of what we’re doing.

As it is now, they cannot be proud. None of us is proud of what is happening now, because cases are taking so long. It’s scandalous. Some cases take over 20 years. The Supreme Court is so congested now that if you file an appeal, don’t expect it to be heard in five years. It’s not good. For me, it’s a failed system that is being run now.

The Chief Justice, the National Judicial Council and all these top judges should meet and think of a way out. Maybe one other thing they can do to help them is to have clerks made up of young, brilliant law graduates attached to them to do their research and even write their preliminary judgments, which the judge will then go through and improve upon. But they need to get together and do something.

What is your reaction to claims that the anti-graft war is selective, and that the focus seems to be on those in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)?

No. The PDP was in power from 1999 to 2015. They were the ones who had access to Nigeria’s assets and resources. And they had an inclination and orientation of simply helping themselves to state assets without looking back. I mean, it was just a horrible thing. I’ll just give you one example.

When they were there, they were fraudulently obtaining petroleum subsidy amounting to N380billion a year, saying they had supplied petroleum products, which they never supplied. You’ve seen all the recoveries that have been made. Look at what they did during the elections when Diezani brought her billions to bribe INEC officials all over the place, including Rivers State.

That’s why I laugh when Wike says he has been elected. The Rivers State chief electoral officer was bribed. And she deliberately distorted that election and ensured that it was rigged in favour of Wike. A lot has happened since then. Our reserves dropped from over about $50billion to less than $2billion. They were spending money like water.

In the last days, Jonathan was travelling round the West, dolling out huge amounts of dollars to Obas and so on. Look at the former National Security Adviser; look at the amount of money, just walking into Central Bank to take away $46million in sacks.

It was so primitive and brazen. That is why they are the ones being prosecuted; because their impunity was so high that I don’t think it’s been experienced in this country before.

Some still say the EFCC only goes after those in the PDP. They say for instance, Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom was accused of corruption after his defection to PDP. Consequently, the state’s account was frozen . To them, the EFCC is being used as a political tool. Are you worried about that?

No, I’m not worried at all about that. There must be a good reason they went after him. I don’t have the details. But that man himself…I don’t want to say much. This is a man, who says today oh I’m going to PDP, tomorrow he says no I’m not going again. Then the third day he said I’m gone.

And not that he went on his own volition. He said youths forced him… I mean, what sort of human being is that? Is he fit to be governor, a man who doesn’t have his own mind? So I don’t know what he’s done with security money.

Critics said these issues didn’t come up while he was in APC…

You’re right, but I can tell you one thing. The EFCC from what I know is investigating all former governors and keeping a tab on serving ones. It has their records, and progressively, given its capacity, one by one, they’re going to be called to answer. There’s nothing they can even do to him. He can’t be arrested. They can investigate him, put down the records of what they found, waiting for him to finish his tenure.

Right now nobody can touch him. As for freezing Benue State’s account, I can’t support it. I don’t know why, but the government has to function. I don’t want people to suffer because there are no funds for basic government functions. I don’t know if they really did that; we have to be careful because it looks extreme to me.

Some still wonder where all the huge recoveries made by the Federal Government are going. How is the money being spent?

This issue has been explained again and again and again. This money, one, is being paid to the Central Bank, every kobo. This is Buhari’s government for goodness sake. This is not PDP. Every kobo is being paid to the Central Bank. And in the last two years, N1trillion has been withdrawn from it.

For last year, N500billion was used to pay N5,000 each to the poorest households in this country based on the United Nations standards, which was scientifically followed, to get them out of nothingness. The Federal Government is feeding 10.5 million school children every day; children, who otherwise would not have had any nutritious meal. In fact, because of that, enrolment has gone up. Many parents are sending their children to school so that they can eat.

It’s going to increase because not all states have joined. As a result, cooks have been given employment – a large number of cooks. Egg sellers all over the country are supplying eggs. Farmers are making sales. The multiplier effect has been tremendous. Young men, who have no skills are being trained and they’re paid N30,000 a month for the period of the training.

A lot of young people, particularly women and young farmers, who need capital for their little businesses are being loaned N300,000 each without interest. All they need to do is to pay back the principal sum for their businesses to grow. That’s what the money is being used for. The money is not just being spent. It is budgeted for and approved by the National Assembly.

What is your reaction to the Department of State Services (DSS) siege on the National Assembly, which prevented lawmakers from accessing it?

It is most embarrassing. I was watching television when suddenly we saw DSS men blocking people from entering the National Assembly. My initial reaction was that this must have been ordered by the Presidency to avoid violence because we heard some people were going to invade the place. But I was shocked later to find out that there was no such directive; that in fact, it was the initiative of the DSS itself, which is totally illegal.

They don’t have that power. They’re supposed to operate under the President’s directive. So, what they did was grossly illegal. They portrayed us in a very bad light, and shutting down parliament in effect. Parliament could be shut down in order to avert worse things. If  PDP and APC are going to exchange blows, destroy things and kill themselves, the place could be shut down. But that was not happening.

What DSS did was unconstitutional, illegal, and was against the interest of Nigeria as a democratic country. And as soon as the Acting President got to know, he took immediate steps, ordered them out of the place, and of course, dismissed the head of the DSS for doing such a patently illegal thing.

Nigerians have criticised the Buhari administration for not responding to the allegation that Finance Minister Mrs Kemi Adeosun skipped the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme and forged an exemption certificate. What do you think?

Let me tell you this. I don’t know why the government has not reacted. But, let me tell you my reaction. This woman is a brilliant and extremely valuable member of this government.

A lot of the good things happening now – the welfare that Nigerians are enjoying or are going to enjoy, because it takes time, and the way our economy is booming, how we got out of recession – are due to her expertise, her commitment, her sacrifice. There is nothing in this world that will make me remove such a woman from the government. The PDP can weep from now until there is no tear in their body; she is going to be there. We cannot afford to lose that woman.

What about the allegation that she skipped Youth Service?

Youth Service…Who cares about Youth Service? I don’t bloody care whether she did Youth Service or not. It is irrelevant as far as I am concerned.

What about the allegation that she forged an exemption certificate?

I don’t believe it. I don’t see anything serious about not doing Youth Service. I don’t see anything serious about it. That’s my own bias, not government’s. I’m telling you now. If you ask me – if I were President Buhari, I would never, ever touch that woman because she’s damn good. The enemies of this government want to reduce his capacity to provide good governance by engaging in social media attacks and trying to get rid of her. It will not work.

But the government is not reacting, don’t you see it as an issue?

I don’t know why. Governance continues.

But if the law says every Nigerian under 30 must serve their fatherland, isn’t it a violation of the law to skip NYSC?

I have nothing against anybody taking part in NYSC. Why not? That is what the law requires. What I am saying is that if, per chance, somebody for some reason misses it, that’s not the end of the world. I did not do NYSC; I graduated before it was introduced.

And it hasn’t affected me negatively in any way. So, I’m not going to allow bad belle PDP-type to try to reduce the capacity of this government to do good things and bring welfare to the people of this country by removing a very valuable member of this government. Let me put it this way.

I look at the whole picture. If you remove Adeosun from this government, it will adversely affect the government and, therefore, adversely affect the welfare and well-being being enjoyed by this country because of her work. So, I’m not going to allow a little quirk about NYSC to affect that greater value that she is rendering to this country.

I am saying that if I were the President, I will not bat an eyelid over that. But that does not mean I am downplaying the importance of the NYSC. No. But I am not going to allow it upset the functioning of the government. Every rule has an exception. There is no rule that is absolute. There are many people in this  country today who didn’t do NYSC and they’re working one way or the other because they have a good reason for not serving.

Another burning issue is whether Senator Bukola Saraki should relinquish his position as Senate president having defected from APC to PDP…

As a matter of honour.

Not as a matter of law?

No, no, he’s not compelled by law to do so. He needs to be removed by two-thirds majority. But as a matter of honour. He got there because he was in APC even though he got there by subterfuge, which is typical of him. He got there in a cheeky, fraudulent manner. Nevertheless, for him to be removed, they need a vote of two-thirds, not of the Senate, but of those present and voting at a meeting. So, it doesn’t have to be everybody. It’s those who happen to be there. Once they meet the quorum of one-third, and he is there, he can be removed by two-thirds of that one-third.

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What is your message to Nigerians ahead of 2019 elections?

Nigerians don’t appear to appreciate that they’re very lucky to have the present government; that they have a government that is totally committed to the welfare of this country.

I think probably since the First Republic and perhaps during the Murtala Mohammed regime and of course, the first coming of Buhari, we’ve never had a government of this type where everybody is charged to sacrifice at little or no expense to the government for this country; where there is zero tolerance for corruption; zero tolerance for self-help; where you have a group of highly committed Nigerians, who are experts in their fields trying to raise us from the pit into which the PDP has pushed us.

If we don’t allow this government to continue – I call it the government on the rescue – for four years at least, beyond 2019, then this country is doomed. We’re very lucky to have the team we have now.

And it is in our own interest to support them to achieve the goals they have set for this country. I always say that if I were Buhari, I probably would have thrown in the towel out of anger. I’m short tempered when I see the way Nigerians are not showing appreciation for the good that is being done.

Let us eliminate those, who benefited from corruption, and they’re many – the elite, people in our own class, they were the ones sharing the money. There was easy money. We need them to get back what we have lost and to build on that to begin to gradually move away from this status of underdevelopment.

If you see all the projects – when did you go to the East last?  Enugu-Onitsha, the East-West Road, railways, the airports are being upgraded, so much is being done. Abuja has its own city rail. Then there’s a train from Abuja to Kaduna. There’s one from Lagos to Ibadan, virtually completed.

They’re going to build one from Port Harcourt through the East to Maiduguri. There is so much going on under this government and they’re borrowing money for a change, and every kobo of it is accounted for. They’re borrowing and putting it in projects that will yield money eventually because we’re going to pay when we enter these trains.

All these roads – some will be tolled, and the money will be gradually repatriated to the lenders. And the people of Nigeria will enjoy a high standard of living that we’ve never been used to.

They’re trying to inculcate a culture of integrity and honour, where Nigerians will work hard for what they earn, not to go and steal, grab and loot as has been the case so far. So, if we miss this government, if there’s any mistake and it doesn’t come back in 2019, I say good luck to Nigerians.

Culled from Thenation

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