During the opening of a two-day national dialogue on corruption organised by the Presidential Advisory Committee (PACAC), in collaboration with the Office of the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, on Thursday, March 2, 2017, the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee, Itse Sagay, declared that: ”Nothing has changed in Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) since May 29, 2015”.
“It still reeks of corruption,” he added.
Sagay also declared that the recent public demonstrations against the present administration were sponsored by agents of looters, those, who lost elections and those, whose appointments were not renewed.
“Let me briefly reflect on the recent public demonstration against the present administration, under the pretext of demonstrating against hardship brought up on us by the very mentors and sponsors of the so-called demonstrators. These groups consisting of rented characters, and those, who have lost elections or whose federal appointments were not renewed, went about pretending that they don’t know those responsible for our catastrophic impoverishment,” he claimed.
Below is Sagay’s full speech For The Record.
Opening Remarks at the National Dialogue on Causes of Corruption: The Limitless Ramifications of Corruption by Prof. Itse Sagay, SAN, Chairman of Presidential Advisory Committee (PACAC)
2nd March, 2017
We are gathered here for the next two days, to engage in a national dialogue on corruption, our national tragedy. My good friend, Professor Akin Oyebode, once described Nigerian corruption in the following terms:
“In the case of Nigeria, corruption has attained such proportions that it can now be said to threaten the very existence and survival of the nation. Humongous sums of ill-gotten wealth have found their way to safe havens and vaults located in various countries of the world such that there is a lot of merit in the view that corruption should be considered a crime against humanity, with all the consequences arising thereat. Accordingly, the hydra-headed phenomenon warrants collaboration among all States in order to bring it to heel.”
I once stated at a gathering like this in 2010, that when two or three Nigerians are selected to carry out a project, the first thing they do is to share the bulk of the funds for the project, leaving a paltry sum to carry out the project. The guest speaker on that occasion disagreed violently with me, making me to wonder why he was so personal, so concerned about it. The mystery unraveled a few weeks later when he was appointed Chairman of a major parastatal in which there were numerous projects starting up.
Corruption is omnipresent in Nigeria. High and low office holders, public and private sector, the executive, legislative and judicial sectors, Customs, Immigration, Police, the civil service, everywhere.
What is extremely disturbing is the fact that peoples’ attitude to corruption has hardened. There is no longer any fear of consequences. Bribe is demanded brazenly with a sense of entitlement. So too has insensitivity to misuse, abuse and waste of our common patrimony, even in these lean times.
2. Extreme Recklessness of Public Servants:
The recklessness with which public officers spend public funds is insensitive to the point of insanity. Yes, I mean that. The level of insensitivity has become pathological.
Only a few months ago Nigeria was on fire because members of the National Assembly bought cars costing over thirty million naira each with our money, in order to carry out so called oversight duties, during this period of financial drought and famine. We called them well deserved names, like cruel, inhuman, malevolent, etc.
My dear friends, you will not believe that with all we are going through, the NDDC (Niger Delta Development Commission), which is the other name for uncompleted projects, has just bought over 70 cars. Of those about 8 of them are Super Lexus Jeeps costing 78 million naira each and about 10 are Land Cruisers costing 63 million naira each. This money was taken from funds for infrastructure, water, housing, hospitals, school, etc., without conscience; recklessly without a thought for the wretched people of the Niger Delta. These huge sums where plundered from their allocations, from the Federal Government. And yet, the Managing Director was ironically reported in the Nation Newspaper of 6th February, 2017, (pp. 1-2) that the NDDC lacks funds to execute projects and was in debt to the tune of 1.2 trillion naira. Hear this lament.
“The Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Mr. Nsima Ekere, has lamented the N1.2 trillion debt burden facing the new management of the commission.
To the MD, the over $40 billion received by the region in the past 10 years was frittered away.
He said the NDDC must now find a way around the huge debt owed by the past board while carrying out to free funds for urgent development projects and programmes,” he said.
On the fund that has accrued to the commission in the past, he said: “There is little evidence to show for the sums spent.”
3. Brazen Impunity of Government Agencies and Officials:
Yet, despite all this and total failure of mission, the NDDC is still buying cars costing N78 million per unit for its officials. What sort of crocodile tears was the MD shedding? Eating the resources and future of the Niger Delta and shedding tears for the same Niger Delta?
Let me give you dear compatriots, another example of bold and brazen corruption, thumbing its nose at this administration and at all of us Nigerians. This is happening at the Customs and Excise Department, which has completely ignored the fight against corruption; operating as if it is not in Nigeria.
In December 2016, a Cousin of mine whose family had resided in the USA for 26 years, was coming back home to settle. The family was not supposed to pay customs duties for household goods which they brought back for use in Nigeria. Nevertheless, bribe was demanded at every stage of the obstacle race called custom clearance – involving long table, short table and other ingenious instruments of extortion. Here is my relation’s record of some of those brazen and illegal demands in cash.
Customs Clearance at Tin Can at PTMC
(1) N20,000.00 as P.R.O. to address paperwork for “personal effects” approval from CAC.
(2) N1.2 million for approval of personal effects (which is, by law, non-dutiable).
(3) After physical examination of container, we had to wait about three hours for PRO and CIU to agree on profit (sharing? Is it a business venture?) Before the physical examination report left CIU desk. This profit sharing fee was fixed at N50,000.
(4) There was a N10,000.00 payment for moving the status examination from scanner to physical examination, knowing fully well PTMC had no scanner. So, why put the status as scanner in the first place? (It’s to be able to create the opportunity where it has to be charged to physical examination for that N10,000.00 data entry fee.
During one of these illegal payments, my nephew feeling embarrassed at openly giving money to these parasites, tried to fold the money in a piece of paper. The shameless extortionist shouted, “What are you hiding? Is it not mere cash? Let me have it like that. There is nothing to conceal”.
Even as I report these individual acts of financial misconduct in specific MDAS, the usual daily deluge of uncovered looting continues without break. On Saturday, 11th February, the Nation was stunned, (if that is still possible) with the discovery of $9.2 million in cash, stashed away by a former Group Managing Director of the NNPC in a wretched innocent looking village house. Diezani Madueke resurrected again with a 16 story building in Banana Island, Lagos, estimated at over $37 million.
Again, it was reported in the Punch Newspaper of 13 February that someone had deposited a loot of N42 billion ($136, 676,600 million) in a bank under a fake name. On the same day, another N7B and $15 million were recovered from two other persons. Altogether, $151 million and N8 billion, not related to the NNPC GMD’s $9.2 million, were recovered at about the same time from fake bank accounts. And the orgy of monumental looting continues.
The ICPC has also been busy exposing rampant corruption. Nearly all the papers published on February 14, reveal that the about N8.7 billion was recovered from a bank and 124 vehicles were recovered from abusers of the SURE-P Programme.
We have to ask ourselves what the problem really is. We are definitely overwhelmed by an epidemic of kleptomania. But do we also have a collective psychiatric problem? Why would a person loot what he cannot spend in 10 life times whilst exposing the rest of the population to misery, hunger, poverty, wretchedness and even death? One of our panels must consider whether mental disorder is part of the impulse driving us into gross infamy.
All this is very discouraging because corruption has become hydra headed. As we cut off one head, two grow in its pace.
4. The Judiciary Disregarding the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015:
In spite of Section 396 of the ACJA, which provides inter alia that:
(i) Cases must be heard from day to day;
(ii) And that where this is impracticable adjournments must not exceed 14 days;
(iii) Furthermore, that where the defence raises a preliminary objection to the charge or information, such objection shall be considered along with the substantive issues and a Ruling thereon made at the time of delivery of judgment.
In spite of these clear provisions, some judges are still granting adjournments running into months and worse still, will adjourn their cases to give a ruling on a preliminary objection, instead of giving the ruling at the same time as the judgment on the substantive criminal matter.
What is more, contrary to Section 306, which provides that an application for stay of proceedings in respect of a criminal matter before the Court shall not be entertained, some courts still adjourn in order to await the outcome of an interlocutory appeal.
All this is illegal and strictly constitute acts of misconduct on the part of the Judge. The outcome of all this is that we have over hundred high profile cases not going nowhere.
One of the most tragic phenomenon, currently creating a major setback for speedy criminal trials is this new invention of Senior Advocates of Nigeria defending looters and other financial criminals. They deliberately set out to cross-examine prosecution witness for weeks in the hope of dragging on the trial indefinitely. One prosecution witness was in recent times cross-examined for over a month whilst the Judge sat there helplessly, clearly having lost control of his own court. All he needed to do was to give such filibustering counsel a time limit, say two hours and the nonsense would have stopped. But the Judge, having totally lost control of his Court, simply looked on helplessly as the filibustering counsel went on week after week.
In this regard, I propose that all defence counsel should pledge to cooperate with the Court in effecting speedy trials before bail is granted to their clients and such bail should revoked, if the counsel goes back on his word.
It is not a coincidence that the fastest trials that we have recorded in Nigeria were those in which bail was not granted to the high profile accused persons.
We must now think creatively, to speed up corruption trials in Nigeria.
In the light of this deliberate sabotage of corruption trials, PACAC has decided to set up its own monitoring corps of young lawyers. These will monitor every corruption case, and will report any breach of the administration of criminal justice act to us and we shall then pass these on to the National Judicial Commission for appropriate action.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, for the next two days you have the floor not only to discuss and dissect every aspect of the crime of corruption, its meaning, causes, sectorial occurrence, etc, you must also come up with solutions for the resolution of this national scourge. Let your suggestions be simple and practical to enable all the relevant agencies apply them towards the eradication of this threat to Nigerian survival; this veritable crime against humanity.
In conclusion, let me briefly reflect on the recent public demonstration against the present administration, under the pretext of demonstrating against hardship brought up on us by the very mentors and sponsors of the so-called demonstrators. These groups consisting of rented characters, and those who have lost elections or whose federal appointments were not renewed, went about pretending that they don’t know those responsible for our catastrophic impoverishment. These characters belong to two groups.
Those who are agents of the looters, 2010 to 2015, and want to divert the attention of the ordinary Nigerians from the true culprits of our recession and misery, by transferring it to a hardworking, selfless administration which met sand rather than cash in our treasuries. The second group are the naïve, unthinking ones who cannot make the slightest connection between cause and effect.
Is Buhari to conjour wealth from the air? Is he God, who can say: let there be funds, and there are funds? Why did the demonstrators of 6th February not start from Otuoke? Have they forgotten that the Niger Delta Avengers have destroyed our oil producing capacity so much so that we were producing less than a million barrels a day at a period when the price had plunged from $110 per barrel, as it was in the Jonathan era, to just over $30. So, why all this pretense about calling for good governance, (which is infact what we have today) when they looked on with love and adoration, whilst the national wealth was being plundered away and shared by their sponsors and mentors in the previous government. Why is it that Nigerians hate the truth? If we cannot even be honest enough to admit that the last government’s corruption, wastefulness and misgovernance are the cause of our present hardship, how can we join hands with the present government in salvaging our economy and promoting our social development?
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, let me stop here and let the dialogue begin. We have a lot to reflect on in the next two days.
Professor Itse Sagay, SAN.