Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), in this exclusive interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI speaks on latest developments in the polity. Excerpts:
What is your perspective on the suspension of the CJN, Walter Onnoghen by President Muhammadu Buhari?
I have been questioned on this matter and I have said the suspension of the former CJN by President Muhammadu Buhari is both morally and legally valid. Morally, it is valid because as head of such a major institution, where you are supposed to show standard of ethics and good conduct, where such an allegation is made against you, even if you have to defend it, you must step down. You must step down because the charges will be heard in institutions which are headed by you, the CJN. There is no way it is going to be a fair process if you are still sitting there at the top and your underlings are the ones hearing the petitions that have been brought against you. So, it is not just morally right for him to remain there while the case is being heard.
On the legal issue, I have two approaches, which is that a Tribunal which is a court of law has made an order and the government is bound to carry out that order. That is exactly what has happened. The order by the Tribunal is that the CJN should step down immediately. The moment that order was issued, the CJN ceased to Chief Justice of Nigeria. He became acting because that order did not sack him but step him down from his position, pending the hearing of the case. So, with that order, the CJN is no longer in a position to exercise his power as Chief Justice pending the hearing of the petition. For me, what the President did was merely affirming an already existing situation because a court had made a pronouncement on that issue.
My second approach is that if I were the President, having advised the Chief Justice to step down, pending the hearing of the case and he refuses to do so, and I know the very grave implications of him remaining in position while all institutions under him and presiding over his own case, I as President will suspend him. How is that justified? If you look at Section 292 paragraph 1, there are four points there. It says the Chief Justice can be removed by the President on grounds of unfitness for office, either physical, mental, on grounds of misconduct and finally on grounds that he has broken the Code of Conduct. The President can remove him if he does all this. Before removing him, he has to send his name to the Senate and if the Senate adopts the proposal of the President by two-thirds of the majority, then the President can finally remove him. Now the question may be asked: why did he suspend him before sending his name to the Senate? The answer is he has not removed him. He has merely suspended him because there is serious charge against him and he ought not to be in office. He will now send the name to the Senate and it will be deliberated upon. If they confirm the President’s charge, then that is when he stands removed. If they fail to confirm it, then the CJN is restored to office. That is the second approach which has not been adopted by the president in this case. He is obeying a court order but I am saying if he were to adopt the court order, it will be in that sequence- belief that the CJN has committed a breach of the Code of Conduct, suspension from office, sending his name to the Senate and if confirmed by Senate, removal from office.
If the Code of Conduct Tribunal at the end pronounced that he is not guilty, he goes back automatically to his position as CJN. There is no question about that.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo last year said God will never forgive him if he supports Atiku Abubakar, the PDP presidential candidate. Not only has Obasanjo forgiven him but he is also championing for his emergence as the next President of Nigeria. What do you make of this?
God has decided not to forgive him and so, this present outbursts and shenanigans he has embarked upon is a like curse from God. God is exposing him and making him a subject of ridicule and scorn in Nigeria. That is the punishment he is suffering from God for breaking that promise he made that God will punish him if he ever forgives and support Atiku. I heard he is planning to embark on foreign tour for Atiku. I hope they will all come and vote on the 16th of February. These people just fool themselves; they don’t know what it’s all about. To start with, this whole Obasanjo thing is a myth. He doesn’t have any following in Nigeria. Absolutely no following! Buhari won in 2015 because he is popular. It has nothing to do with Obasanjo. This time, I am even glad Obasanjo is against Buhari because the landslide will be more than the votes he got in 2015 and it will bury Obasanjo forever politically.
What is your perspective on his recent letter where he claimed that President Buhari is behaving like a dictator and has taken Nigeria back to the Abacha era?
Let me begin by saying that the status of an ex-president is one of quiet dignity, respect, discretion, decorum, discipline and restraint. Obasanjo does not have a single one of these qualities. We have had a number of former Heads of State, namely, Gowon, Shagari, Babangida, Abubakar Salami and Jonathan. All of these former Heads of State have exercised discretion, restraint and self-discipline in relation to their successors, but not Obasanjo.
Obasanjo’s boisterous, aggressive and hectoring attitude towards succeeding Presidents, strikes me as a case of one who has never recovered from the loss of power. By his meddlesomeness, rude and uncouth attitude towards later Heads of State, it is clear that he is addicted to a substance called “power”, and is angry and resentful towards any other person exercising it.
Gowon was Obasanjo’s boss from 1966 to 1975, (nine years). Not once did Gowon utter a public criticism of Obasanjo throughout his two tenures from 1976 – 1979 and 1999 to 2007. The same thing applies to Abdul Salami Abubakar, who handed over power to Obasanjo in 1999. Not a single word of public excoriation against Obasanjo was uttered by Abdul Salami Abubakar throughout Obasanjo’s eight years in power. Abubakar demonstrated only decorum and self-respect.
Babangida had no peace when he was in power with Obasanjo ripping him open with sarcasm at close intervals. When Yar’Adua was hospitalized in Saudi Arabia, his condition did not restrain Obasnajo from launching a missile against him in his hospital bed.
Then came the epistle of St. Matthew Obasanjo to Jonathan in 2014 It was explosive, even including the allegation that Jonathan was training a squad of snipers. Now it is Buhari’s turn. The truth is that Obasanjo has never recovered from his power addiction and in his own mind, he is the President-General of Nigeria for life.
Another strange phenomenon is Obasanjo’s capacity to launch vitriolic attacks on his successors allegedly doing what he Obasanjo did repeatedly as president without a thought of his own gross misdeeds; a clear case of amnesia.First, he accuses Buhari of being a dictator like Abacha, brooking no alternative views. What of Obasanjo? Was he himself not an African Hitler?
Perhaps the most blatant display of Unclad fascism and violation of the Constitution, by Obasanjo, was his removal or attempted removal of State Governors which Prof. Ben Nwabueze describes, as coups d’ etat! The method used by Obasanjo was simple and brutal. The EFCC (under Ribadu) moves into the State of the targeted Governor in full force. It arrests all the State legislators and takes them away for detention in Lagos or Abuja. Whilst in detention they are offered incentives to sign already prepared notices of impeachment of the victim Governor. Once sufficient signatures are obtained, the Legislators are ferried under armed guard back into their State capital and taken straight to the House of Assembly, already secured by heavily armed police or military personnel. Once inside the Chambers of the House, they follow a tightly prepared script, involving a compromised Chief Judge who pursuant to a resolution of the captured legislators, appoints a pre-selected panel of partymen with the single mandate of finding the Governor guilty of misconduct. Without giving the Governor any hearing, the panel finds him guilty as charged, and the hostage legislators are rushed in again to accept the report. In 5 minutes, it’s all over, the Governor is removed and by a strange coincidence, the EFCC is there on standby to arrest the ex-Governor and take him away to detention.
This is exactly what happened in Bayelsa, and in Plateau States, except that Dariye slipped quietly away whilst the EFCC was playing its power games to remove him. In Anambra State, Obasanjo actually used an Assistant Inspector-General of Police to arrest the Governor (Dr. Ngige) and compel him under duress to sign a letter of resignation. In Oyo State, the strong man of Ibadan, Lamidi Adedibu, was the one used in the purported removal of the Governor Ladoja in a beer parlour. The removal of Governor Fayose of Ekiti State followed the same script, except that the ambitions of the Speaker, of the State House of Assembly and that of the Deputy Governor, to be the Acting Governor, clashed and resulted in a distortion involving equally compromised and shameless members of the Judiciary.
Remember Alamieyeseigha, Governor of Bayelsa? Obasanjo got him arrested in London a few days after a surgical operation. Blood was dripping down from his wound as the British Police arrested him at London Heathrow Airport at Obasanjo’s request.
Some pathetic details of what happened to Governor Alamieyeseigha needs to be exposed. When Governor Alamieyeseigha managed to escape from London back to his State Bayelsa, Obasanjo ordered the EFCC then under Mr. Ribadu to move in on members of the House of Assembly in Bayelsa and arrest all of them. Following the collective arrest, they were all relocated to a prison in Abuja where they were threatened with dire consequences if they did not sign an impeachment resolution prepared by the EFCC on Obasanjo’s instructions.
Whilst all this was going on, Obasanjo closed down radio Bayelsa and ordered the banks in which the Bayelsa government had accounts to freeze those accounts. This paralyzed the Bayelsa government, and led to starvation of public servants.
After this, the Assembly men were brought back to Yenagoa were they proceeded to complete the process of impeachment under duress.
Immediately after the brazen illegal impeachment and removal of Alamieyeseigha, he was arrested by soldiers who had already taken over the whole of Bayelsa for trial and imprisonment.
In Plateau State, Obasanjo using the military force of the EFCC and Ribadu got Governor Dariye of Plateau State removed by 5 members of the House of Assembly, in a house composed of about 28 Legislators.
The declaration of States of Emergency by the Obasanjo Federal Government in Plateau and Ekiti States, were prime illustrations of Obasanjo’s gross subversion of Nigeria’s federal system. Not only did Obasanjo fail to comply with the conditions precedent for the declaration of a State of Emergency, even if the declarations were valid, the exercise of power under the declaration was grossly ultra vires the Federal Government, unconstitutional and illegal.
A state of emergency can only be declared if as stated in section 305 (3); (a) the Federation is at war, or (b) in imminent danger of invasion, or involvement in a State of War, or (c) there is actual breakdown of law and order and public safety in the Federation or any part thereof to such an extent as to require extra ordinary measures to restore peace and security, or (d) a clear and present danger of (c) above, or (e) there is a disaster or natural calamity affecting a community or part of it, or (f) threat to the existence of the Federation, or (g) request by a State Governor for such a declaration over his or her state, as a result of a situation similar to (c) and (e) above.
The infringements of the Constitution in the two declarations of emergency, are legion. In the first place, the factual situation that must exist as a condition precedent, did not exist. There was no breakdown of public order and public safety at any time in Plateau or Ekiti States, “to such an extent as to require extraordinary measures to restore peace and security”. Infact the whole tenor of section 11 of the Constitution, (which is the section containing all the powers exercisable during an emergency) shows that an emergency declaration is intended to be a cooperative endeavour between the Federal Government and a state Government whose organs, Governors, House of Assembly and Judiciary, are fully functioning. Section 11(2) provides that nothing in that section should preclude a House of Assembly from making laws in respect of the maintenance and securing of public safety and public order, etc, in an emergency, just like the National Assembly. Section 11(4) prohibits the National Assembly from performing the work of a State House of Assembly, as long as the House can hold a meeting and transact business. The same section prohibits the National Assembly from removing a Governor from office at any time. Nowhere is power conferred on anyone to suspend a Governor or House of Assembly.
Thus, the removal of Fayose (Ekiti) and Dariye (Plateau) by declaration of a State of Emergency was blatantly illegal and unconstitutional. President Jonathan complied with the Constitution when he declared a State of Emergency in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States in 2013. The positions of the Governors and State Houses of Assembly were not affected. But Obasanjo, the great Dictator swept away Governors and State Houses of Assembly when he declared his States of Emergency; Law or no Law, Constitution or no Constitution. Obasanjo was higher than both Law and Constitution.