Open letter to Professor Itse Sagay (SAN) -By Niran Adedokun

Filed under: Letters |

Professor Itse Sagay, Chairman of Presidential Advisory Committee on Corruption

 

Dear Prof,

I feel very privileged to be able to address this letter to you. As one of the leading lights in the teaching and practice of law in Nigeria, the opportunity to speak to you, a teacher of teachers and an accomplished legal luminary, is what someone, a relative non-starter in the area in which you are an authority in, should cherish forever. I do not take this lightly.

Aside from your role in the training of some of the foremost lawyers that this country has ever seen, one can also not make light of your contribution to the promotion of democracy and democratic governance in Nigeria. At the risk of your life in the days of the military era, I recall your selfless identification with the common people and your impatience with totalitarianism.

So, when you were named Chairman of President Muhammadu Buhari’s Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, one felt a compelling sense of gratification. First, that your years of service to fatherland, finally, were being recognised and secondly, that you would be able to deploy your wealth of experience and intellectual acumen to assist this government in preparing Nigeria for a future devoid of the shameless sense of compromise that had gripped its soul.

I always argue that the war against corruption is not one to be won with brawn or anger alone. If that war must be won sustainably, it is one in which the nation, while it vents its anger on perpetrators through the force of the law, must also design an intellectual framework which digs into the sociological foundations of corruption and prescribes solutions that confront problems in the immediate but ultimately de-incentivise corruption.

When you were appointed, I did not see anyone who was in a better stead to assist President Buhari set the fight against corruption on the roll, being very sure that such wars are usually long drawn.

The administration, clearly unconversant with the depth and multiple dimensions of the corruption monster, needed someone who could guide it towards institutionalising a national sense of decency. You seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

Having attained the highest pinnacle in the legal profession for instance, one could almost vouch that you were going to encourage government to embark on a number of judicial and legislative reforms that should put steam on the initiative.

For example, you do not have to be a Professor of Law to know that Nigeria, possibly, has the weakest investigation and prosecutorial processes in the civilised world.

Investigating officers in Nigeria have shown now and again that they almost always never conclude investigations of crimes before filing charges in court, which is why they make floppy appearances in court.

Even as we speak in Nigeria, a lot of cases, especially at the magisterial level, are prosecuted by policemen, who have very little or no knowledge of the law and when qualified prosecutors take care of cases, diligent prosecution is hampered by weak evidence which results from poor investigation. There is also the problem of the appropriateness of the charges brought against defendants as well as the sometimes outrageous number of counts.

This much was ventilated by former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mariam Mukhtar, while speaking at a special session organised by the Supreme Court of Nigeria to mark the commencement of the 2013/2014 Legal Year. Mukhtar said:“It is common knowledge that our security agencies usually rush to the courts with suspects, before looking for evidence to prosecute them.”

Immediate past CJN, Mahmud Mohammed, drove the point home better when, while receiving some officials of the Central Bank of Nigeria in November 2015 said: “Judiciary is like a builder and works with materials that are brought to it…materials necessary for construction must measure up to standard in order to be applied by the courts…each count requires a witness or more…in some cases, up to 200 counts are brought against an accused person which is a waste of court’s time and makes mockery of the constitution and the laws.”

Given the various stations that you have been in your over seven decades and the positions of responsibility that you have held at different moments in these years, one cannot be in any doubt that you are familiar with these procedural failings and the fact that the fight against corruption can actually not gain traction without deliberate reforms in these areas.

One would also expect that any serious intent to reduce corruption in Nigeria will take the reduction of the pressure on Nigerians to satisfy the basic requirements of life seriously.

For instance, having had the benefit of education at a period in our national history when access was without stress, one would expect you to realise, Sir, that the desire to give the best to their children tempts a lot of Nigerians into dipping their hands into filth and that your committee would look at advising the government to make education more qualitative and accessible to the people.

In addition, would it not help Nigeria to have a law forbidding those holding public offices from sending their children to school abroad and accessing health services out of the country, unless such cannot be handled in the country?

While your committee does not have the executive power to institute any of these suggestions, its analysis of corruption in Nigeria should have revealed that poverty and the fear of tomorrow are at the root of a lot of the sleaze around here and that winning the war would require a coalition of forces.

And this is where your strategy as chair of the committee bothers. In the close to two years that you have been appointed, it cannot be said that much has been achieved and the reasons are clear.

You have taken this fight against corruption as a “we against them”; one in which every other Nigerian, except President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, your good self and probably members of your committee are the only honest set of Nigerians.

In this period, you have taken on your learned Silk colleagues, speaking like most of them are common agents who facilitate crimes. You have had a session of battle with judges, calling them names that should never have been heard from a senior officer of the law of your status. You have had a running battle with the National Assembly. The Senate in particular has become your regular sparring partner such that Nigerians are no longer surprised at how low the exchange between you and the legislators goes. And then, most recently, you have picked on the All Progressives Congress, the party that brought President Buhari to power.

Do not misunderstand me, Sir, I do not suggest that individuals cannot be guilty of the things that you accuse them of, but your incessant outbursts against them have taken so much toll on the reputation of the institutions they represent to the extent that Nigerians now scoff at any step taken by them, no matter how noble.

Aside from the fact that institutions play a major role in the sustenance of democracy, they are, without one exception, also critical to the accomplishment of the President’s avowal to end corruption. Unfortunately, rather than help him foster a good relationship that would see all parties working together, you have contributed to building a gulf that is bound to impede the fight.

Unfortunately, Dear Sir, time is running out. If you do not want to look back at the end of the first term of this administration and find your group with a record of no accomplishment, I suggest you adopt a more contemplative disposition. Put on your intellectual cap and work at building a consensus against corruption in Nigeria. Seek rapprochement with anyone whose input is important to the change that we desire. You must realise that your perpetual public rage is impotent in the circumstance. Corruption is one of those situations in which all hands, including those of the corrupt, need to be on deck.

I assure you of my best wishes in the days ahead.

Thank you!

 

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