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Itse Sagay, take it easy

Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) Professor Itse Sagay, SAN, was widely quoted by the newspapers as having declared on Wednesday that…

Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) Professor Itse Sagay, SAN, was widely quoted by the newspapers as having declared on Wednesday that the judiciary is not on board in the fight against corruption. He spoke in Abuja at a conference on promoting international co-operation in combating illicit financial flows and enhancing assets recovery in Abuja. This was the third time since April that Sagay made hostile comments against a major branch of the Federal Government with respect to the anti-corruption fight.

It will be recalled that in April, Sagay, whose committee is supposed to advise the president with respect to the prosecution of the anti-graft campaign, exchanged hot words with the Senate over its refusal to confirm Acting EFCC Chairman Ibrahim Magu and it’s inviting Customs Comptroller General Colonel Hameed Ali to appear before it. Sagay’s verbal assault on senators was so harsh that it earned him a reprimand from the ruling All Progressives Congress [APC], which accused him of widening the rift between the presidency and the National Assembly.  APC’s national publicity secretary Bolaji Abdullahi said at the time that the party “urges all government appointees to stop making statements that may further worsen the relationship between the two arms of government and derail the party’s effort to make peace. Specifically, the party urges Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN) to exercise restraint and desist from making utterances that may be misconstrued as an attack on the institution of the national assembly.”

He did not heed this advice. Last month, Professor Sagay accused the Senate of sabotaging the anti-corruption war. He said the Senators are botching all plans to end corruption and accused them of planning to return Nigeria to the state it was during Jonathan’s era. Sagay said, “The National Assembly has constituted itself into an opposition to the anti-corruption struggle. It has mounted a war against the anti-corruption struggle. It has decided to obstruct it at every stage.”

While these sentiments may be shared by many Nigerians, an officer who is supposed to advice the president on strategies and tactics in prosecuting the anti-graft war must choose his words carefully with respect to institutions that must play a major role if the effort is to succeed. His utterances however, rather than helping to bring these key institutions on board, had the opposite effect of pitching them against the Executive arm. 

In opening another unhelpful front by castigating the judiciary, Sagay’s grouse was with the recall by National Judicial Council of seven top judges whose houses were raided last year by Department of State Services [DSS] agents as well as others who were accused by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission [EFCC] of alleged offences. There were two categories of the recalled judges; those who were not charged to court after eight months and one who was charged to court but acquitted of the charges. With respect to the first group, we say it was the fault of DSS and EFCC that they failed to charge the indicted judges to court for so long. Officials cannot be on suspension indefinitely if the accusing authorities have not assembled enough evidence to charge them to court. With respect to Justice Ademola though, we agree that NJC should have waited for the government to exhaust the appeal process.

But with respect to the larger issues involved, such as why so many high profile accused persons are acquitted by the courts, the jury is still out as to whether it is judicial corruption or sloppy evidence gathering by the prosecutors that is to blame. EFCC in particular expends a lot of energy in getting suspects convicted in the court of public opinion, apparently at the expense of diligent prosecution in court. We advise Prof Itse Sagay to offer helpful advice to government in private rather than picking up unnecessary fights with major branches of government.

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