Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), Chairman of the Presidential Advisory board Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), in this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, speaks on the wait for President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet and other latest developments in the polity. Excerpts:
Some Nigerians are beginning to get worried over the failure of President Muhammadu Buhari to announce his cabinet almost a month after he was inaugurated for second term, especially given the fact that it took the President six months to announce his cabinet in his first term. Are you also worried about this?
What are Nigerians worrying about? Nigerians will always have something to worry about. When was the National Assembly inaugurated? That was just few days ago. So, there is nothing to worry about. It’s better to be thorough, make your enquiries, get all the recommendations, study reports about the ministerial nominee before selecting him and forwarding names for screening and confirmation. I think we are in very, very early days. There is nothing to worry about in the formation of the cabinet.
91 political parties participated in the 2019 general elections. Now INEC is saying we may have up to 200 political parties in the 2023 general elections. How do you think that can be averted?
Well, I think INEC is to blame for all these. A body like INEC should be proactive. When they found that the whole thing was getting out of hand with 91 parties, they should have done something about it. I myself with my level of education find it very difficult to identify my party logo out of the 73 political parties that contested in the presidential election. Now, INEC is talking of 200 and they are just saying it without thinking of what to do about so that we don’t get to that level. Shouldn’t INEC now through the government propose an amendment to the provisions of the constitution for registration of political parties? That is what INEC should be talking of. They should get their lawyers to draft a document and send it to the Ministry of Justice so that the conditions for registration can be made more drastic and at the end, we won’t have more than 10 political parties.
For me, it’s all a sign of INEC’s weakness which has been a serious problem particularly in these 2019 elections as against the one in 2015 when we had a chairman of INEC who knew what he was doing. The current INEC chairman is a very weak man and doesn’t have any initiative. He is not proactive and collapses easily under problems and just articulates the problems without any solutions while waiting for somebody else to do it for him.
Not only that, you see the way European Union and National Democratic Institute and all these American and British people came and lectured us about how we should organise our elections in a very, very insulting and condescending way and everybody was laughing it up. Nobody could see that these people are putting their fingers in what doesn’t concern them and were insulting us. What they did was teaching us about our elections in such an arrogant, stupid manner and we all swallowed it. We all saw the way the INEC chairman was just saying ‘yes sir, yes sir, I take corrections. I will implement your recommendations next time’. He didn’t feel outrage at all. Only Festus Keyamo, the APC campaign spokesperson saw the danger that we are being exposed to because they were even telling lies that the pasting of election results was not transparent. That to me is pure lies and of course, PDP being a short-sighted political party jumped on it for immediate gratification rather than looking at the long-term interest of Nigeria. It’s very sad. But like I said, this is the weakest INEC I have ever seen. The most confused; an INEC that brings problem on itself by withdrawing the certificate of former governor of Imo state, Rochas Okorocha when the law clearly states that you cannot do that. After he has been declared winner, only the Tribunal can do that. But INEC did it despite knowing that it was wrong. That was the only place they showed courage but they did it in the wrong direction. So, I blame INEC for all that has happened and I think the rest of us must rally round now and begin to think of provisions to restrict recognition of parties so that at the end of the day, there can maybe 10 or 15 political parties at the most. Otherwise, we all know Nigerians. Once you give us an opportunity, we will abuse it to the most extreme. Everybody now wants to form a party; bedroom parties. We all know that they are useless parties yet we are still tolerating them. We must do something immediately to stop it before it gets out of hand.
You once said ex- Presidents are institutions that cannot be arrested. Do you think former President Olusegun Obasanjo can be investigated over some of his recent claims about Islamisation of the country?
Every rule has its exception. When I say Obasanjo is an institution that cannot be arrested, I was looking at him as a former president who though does not have legal immunity but has immunity by convention because we look at them as people who are the embodiment of the country and as such should not be humiliated. But if an ex-president goes out of his way to endanger the country by spreading alarmist stories that will create disunity, frictions, dissension, crisis and then possibly conflicts, then it may become necessary to restrain such an ex-president in any way possible even if it means physical restraints. If the case is as extreme as Obasanjo is making it now, he may erode all the protections and expose himself to some form of restraints and it may be physical.
Let me add something here. I have been observing politics in Nigeria, even participating for almost 60 years; I have never seen the level of bitterness a loser has expressed in actions, in words Obasanjo. The impression they gave before the election was that they are absolutely certain that Atiku will be declared the President one way or the other. When it didn’t happen, they were shocked so much that it has become extreme bitterness and this is what is spilling over to Obasanjo. Obasanjo has always been the kingmaker. He made Yar’Adua, he made Jonathan. Later, he said Jonathan should not contest and he contested and lost so all that myth has grown around him but now that myth has been totally blown by Buhari and so, he is extremely bitter. That is own source of bitterness and he has been humiliated by the way Buhari overwhelmingly defeated Atiku. Atiku’s own is that something he is absolutely certain of and for which he has made lots of investments in both psychological and material matters has been removed from him. So, the level of bitterness is unprecedented. He attacked the President of the Court of Appeal; he hired people abroad to say they won’t recognise the government. Some people even went to court to stop the inauguration which has never happened before. Before Buhari won in 2015, he was defeated three times but he never tried to stop anybody from being inaugurated. They are even issuing out statements that can destabilise the country. When you combine all these, we may have a situation where people behind all these may have to be restrained for peace and stability to reign.