Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) in this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, speaks on the efforts by the Federal Government to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and other related issues. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of the speech made by President Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday night detailing the plans by his administration to combat the COVID-19 outbreak in the country?
It was a very comprehensive speech even though it lasted for just 19 minutes. The President in the speech touched all the important points and in my view, he took all the right decisions because if you look at it critically, it is Lagos and Abuja that are the epicentres of this virus attack. We really need to close down, let everybody stay home so that for those who have the virus, it would have gone through their system and by the time everybody comes out, those who didn’t have it will not be infected while those who have it would have gone through the system and they will come out clean.
So, the level of infection will be either extremely low or totally eliminated. I think altogether the President took a very laudable decision. Provisions are made for the vulnerable and various interests such as the Tradermoni and Conditional Cash Transfer where two months will be paid at once. He also gave exemptions to medical personnel, journalists and other essential workers because they comprise part of the critical professions and operatives. For example, if journalists don’t move around to report the news, we won’t know what is going on. Nigerians need to be informed, doctors need to keep working to save lives and help treat those affected by this plague. All the people who are exempted, including security agencies are absolutely necessary. So, I think the speech encapsulates everything and I don’t have any reservations about it. The President should be applauded for this.
Some lawyers, including Ebun – Olu Adegboruwa, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria have faulted the order by the President locking down Lagos, Ogun and FCT without recourse to the National Assembly. What is your take on that?
Some people prefer to be legally right in the grave than to risk being legally incorrect and alive. So, he now gets up and begins to look for thinks to pick here and there to show learning to the rest of us as and to the whole world when we are dealing with a very serious existential threat. People like Adegboruwa have these Lilliputian points to make just to show off. Honestly, I don’t really want to bother myself because the President is taking on a life and death matter. If i do my research, I know I will be able to completely expose Ebun- Olu Adegboruwa. His points are totally incorrect because there is hardly any law, either in the constitution or at any other level that does not have exemptions. Like somebody said, if the President is acting under the emergency powers, he needs to send it to the National Assembly. He doesn’t need to do that. The provisions of Section 305 states clearly that the President can declare emergency.
If the National Assembly are operating normally, within two days they should confirm it. If they are on recess, then within 10 days they should confirm it. That’s what the constitution says. So, it is even premature to say that it is illegal under Section 305. This anxiety to show off at the expense of the safety and security of the country is totally improper. If you say you are a Senior Advocate, I think you should be responsible.
It has been reported that the House of Reps have taken delivery of exotic cars and even distributed some during this period that the nation is going through a hard time. What is your perspective on that?
Nigerian politicians will never change. If it is true, then I am not surprised. I once granted an interview where I said on the issue of sharing money, luxury, wastage of resources and enjoyment of life, there is no difference between APC and PDP. They are always united when it comes to sharing money, collecting resources and pocketing money meant for the country; there is no difference between them. They are a very tight brotherhood. So, I am not surprised or disappointed hearing that they are taking possession of cars during this period.
I believe things will never change until there is a change of order in which real prudence is imposed. It will never come voluntarily; it has to be imposed on them. What I envisaged in future is that we are now going to have part-time parliamentarians who will only come and get allowance for few months that they come in a year and the vehicles they are going to use will not be their own.
There will be buses in the National Assembly which they will use if they are going on assignments. When they finish, they return the vehicles and go back home. That will be the final solution. These lawmakers, those who are going to succeed them and those who are going to succeed those who succeed them are going to behave in the same way because the agenda is share the money, luxuriate, gather material things, self-interest first and let the country die. That is the attitude of politicians.
What lessons do you think we can learn from this COVID-19 pandemic?
I want to say this. This plague that we are experiencing is something that transcends not only international borders but also transcends politics, gender or religion. Yet, some people who cannot grow out of politics on any issue, who will not be a matured man, who will never get to the level of a rational person is still playing politics with it and attacking the government over the measures it has taken instead of simply trying to contribute. To me, that is a pity because in my view, this government has done very well. The way we have tackled the pandemic so far has been good. I agree that our health infrastructures are totally inadequate but luckily, given the low level of infection we have so far, the resources we have has been able to take care of them. I believe we should be better prepared for the future. We should not stop after this plague has been defeated. We should build well on our resources and plan well for the future. Right now in terms of world view, everything we have now is inadequate but it is manageable based on the level of infection that we have.
Not only that, the institutions we have on the ground, the one set up by the Lagos State Government and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has been excellent. The Director-General, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, nobody needs to tell you that he is a world class scientist who knows what he is doing. We are lucky because the plague is being contained.
Now that we are locked down in Lagos, I believe that in two weeks, we will have drastic change in our institutions. But I agree that after this has passed, we should now sit down and plan for the future because something worse will come in future and we should not be taken by surprise.