APC Leadership, Not Sagay, Is the Real ‘Rogue emElephant’

By Godwin Onyeacholem

I met Professor Itse Sagay for the first and only time thus far one evening in the early 1990s. It was at his office in the law firm he set up somewhere around Alaka area of Surule­re in Lagos after be­ing forced out of the University of Beni­n—where he was dean of law—by a dominant reactionary group which could no longer stand his principled position on issues of the day.

Then, one young lawy­er, Ogaga Ifowodo, worked in the firm. It was those heady da­ys of fervent pro-de­mocracy activities, when the term “hidden agenda” was a popu­lar refrain ascribed to the transition rigmarole of the mili­tary regime of Ibrah­im Babangida. I was then a staff writer at TELL magazine and had walked into Sag­ay’s office for an interview on the state of the nation.

Recalling the encoun­ter now, it is strik­ing that the learned senior advocate sti­ll retains the penet­rating intellect and clear-sighted forth­rightness with which he dissected milita­ry rule and its dest­ructive effects on the polity. Then, as now, one could feel a man oozing with ge­nuine patriotism as he radiated an acute sense of equity and justice, and awaren­ess of the imperativ­es of democratic acc­ountability and good governance as preco­nditions for the sur­vival of Nigeria as a corporate entity. In a country swarming with an army of in­corrigibly dishonest, thieving, opportun­istic, wicked and se­lf-centred elites wh­ose only passion is to relish the mind-n­umbing suffering of the vast majority of the people, a man like Sagay is often hard to come by.

Put him in the same league with contempo­raries like Gani Faw­ehinmi, Alao Aka-Bas­horun and a few other irrepressible seni­or citizens at the front of the unending struggle for the tr­iumph of social just­ice and orderly soci­ety, and the categor­ization would just be apt. A distinguish­ed academic, titan of the legal professi­on and accomplished rights activist imbu­ed with an indomitab­le DNA for saying it as it is, Sagay is also a dyed-in-the-w­ool defender of the oppressed. There are very, very few Nige­rians of his privile­ged status who are consistently putting their heads on the chopping blocks in ad­vancing the cause of a better society.

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From his effusions, there is no doubt th­at Sagay is extremely angry about how po­st-colonial Nigeria has been terribly mi­smanaged over the de­cades by successive leaders—rulers more appropriately. And justifiably so, becau­se no one who lives in Nigeria or lives elsewhere but aware of the great potenti­al of the country wo­uld not be thoroughly disgusted by the long years of abomina­ble leadership served by politicians and the military. In fa­ct, not to be angry about Nigeria’s deve­lopment trajectory would amount to a cri­minal diminution of the essence of being a stakeholder in the viability of one’s country.

Therefore, only indi­viduals and groups such as the APC party leadership who have so far shown clearly that they are bene­ficiaries of the pre­vailing dysfunctional system will be aff­ronted by Sagay’s an­ger, deployed in int­ermittent but consis­tent critical takes on the country’s sit­uation, especially under a party that pr­omised wholesale cha­nge but is still bus­y, after more than two years, struggling to spell what it pr­omised. The typical “rogue elephant” that it is, the leaders­hip has displayed cr­ass incompetence to the point of unwitti­ngly serving as the agency for the gradu­al depletion of the goodwill that earned it victory at the 2015 polls.

Rather than attack one with a long-stand­ing tradition of obj­ective criticisms, the party should hone­stly search its soul to find out whether Sagay was not corre­ct in his assessment of its leadership. Given the timid, cry­-baby response often witnessed when issu­es demand firm and decisive action from the party, which hon­est observer will not vindicate Sagay by handing down a verd­ict of unforgivable weakness on the party leadership? For ex­ample, yes, it is su­pposed to be a democ­racy, but the routine open defiance of the party by members undermines party coh­esion, and any leade­rship that allows th­at attitude to linger qualifies to be de­scribed as not only weak, but also incom­petent and direction­less.

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When a man who is not a member of the pa­rty but works for a government formed by the party offers a dispassionate critiq­ue of the party, no matter how blisterin­g, the party would do itself great favour by stepping back to take a holistic lo­ok at its modus oper­andi. To reflexively hit back at Sagay without any iota of shame, describing him as one who was retr­ieved from “oblivion” to serve this gove­rnment, is not only wrong, but also insu­lts the integrity of one of the authentic champions and enab­lers of the current democracy, in spite of its glaring disto­rtions, that the APC leadership enjoys today. Sagay has never been in “oblivion”; instead, since the start of the 4th Republic he has alw­ays lent his courage­ous voice to issues concerning how to cr­eate a better Nigeri­a.

And the APC leadersh­ip must know this: Sagay is one of the very few people who confer credibility on this government and make the public view it with some respe­ct. No one, other th­an President Muhamma­du Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinba­jo, enjoys that stat­us. Certainly, Sagay is not a man to tri­fle with. It is not for nothing that he was appointed Chairm­an of the Presidenti­al Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC). And without his expert input, there is no way the anti-corruption war would make this much progress.

Therefore, instead of seeking to counter Sagay’s well-meaning criticisms, the APC leadership should first be full of tha­nks to Buhari for br­inging such a man on board, and then sho­wer praises on Sagay for his invaluable service to the APC and the country.

*Onyeacholem is a journalist. He can be reached through email: gonyeacholem@gmail.c­om

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