Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), in this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, speaks on the political developments in Ebonyi state leadership crisis in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) as well as issues surrounding the 2023 presidential election. Excerpts:
Sir, what is your take on the Federal High Court judgement that sacked Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State and his Deputy, Eric Igwe, following their defection from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC)?
That judgment has been established by the Supreme Court in Amaechi’s case. The constitution specifically stated that when an elected member of the national assembly changes from one party to another, he will lose his seat and will have to recontest it, unless there is a split in his party and a faction of it decides to join another party. That is the provision of the constitution. No reference was made to governors. So, what this judge has done is to extend to governors a provision which is specifically addressed to national assembly . In my view, there is a little bit of judicial legislation going on here because governors were not mentioned in the constitution even though I don’t know why that was so. However, the principle that if you are elected on the platform of one party, you shouldn’t change to another party without resigning is a good one. I don’t know why governors were not mentioned but federal lawmakers and state house of assembly members were mentioned. I think it was an unfortunate omission that the governors were not included. But I agree with the judge that the same principle applies, both as a principle of law and morality that it is party that is elected and not the candidate. It is a Supreme Court decision and he is also trying to say that the principle in the constitution that if you are elected on the platform of one party, you shouldn’t change to another party without resigning, which is applicable to national assembly members should also be applicable to governors who are both elected people. I agree with the judge on the ruling.
But I definitely know there will be an appeal on that ground that there is no specific mention of that in the constitution. The judge only did it by implication. It is permissible in law to do it; when the law takes off from one point, you can extend it to another point by implication. I think that is why he is relying on Supreme Court judgment in Amaechi’s case where it was held that it is the parties that are elected. If you go back to that principle alone, then it was the PDP that was elected. That Amaechi’s judgment was a governorship case too just like this one on Ebonyi and it is a very strong point to stand on. So, from the look of things, Umahi may have problem in the Court of Appeal because the PDP lawyers will argue that this decision that is being appealed against was based on a Supreme Court decision and so, neither the High Court nor the Court of Appeal can change it. So, I think there is a fairly good chance that this judgment will be sustained.
The PDP has already nominated a governorship candidate and asked Umahi and his deputy to vacate their seats. What is your take on this?
He won’t comply by resigning now. What happened is that in situations like this, the governor has 21 days in which to appeal. Once he appeals within the 21 days, then he can stay in office throughout the course of the appeal.
There has been controversy in the APC over the alleged removal of Governor Mai Mala Buni as Acting national chairman of APC. What do you think this portends for the future of the party?
I believe Buni’s removal is a very healthy development for the APC. Now, we can look forward to a proper convention for the election of the new party leadership. After that, we can have a proper convention for the primaries. Buni is a man is who has too many axes to grind and instead of working for the interest of the party which asked him to do a six months job but he turned it into a permanent job. He had too many unknown agenda which he was slowly carrying out. So, it was clear to all that he was no longer operating on behalf of the party but for his own selfish interests. His removal to me is a very good news and I believe we can now make progress as a party.
The APC is likely to zone the presidential ticket to the South and the three leading figures are Asiwaju Tinubu, Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo and Rotimi Amaechi. Who is your favourite among the three?
These men are my party people. I don’t want any indication that I supported anyone of them against the other. Let me put it this way, if anyone of these three men, Asiwaju Tinubu, Osinbajo or Amaechi is nominated as the presidential candidate of APC, I will be happy. They are all very good candidates and I have no preference among the three. Let them compete at the primaries and let the best among them fly the APC ticket.
What do you think will be the fate of Kogi state governor, Yahaya Bello who has said he will not give up on his presidential ambition?
Let Yahaya Bello compare himself to the others and he will know that he doesn’t even qualify to be in the presidential league at all. The race is totally beyond him. When you compare it to a boxing match, Yahaya Bello is like a boxer in the lightweight category wants to punch with a heavyweight boxer. Even the boxing officials will not allow that to happen because it is a mismatch. So, the 2023 presidential election is out of Yahaya Bello’s league and I don’t think he was serious all this while.
My take is that Atiku is speaking for himself. What he is saying is for his own benefit. Anything he prescribes, he puts himself first. Otherwise, if a person wants to be fair and wants the unity of this country and wants to recognise that each part of the country should exercise power and be a full member of the federation, he won’t say zoning should be disregarded. His statement was borne out of selfish reasons because he wants to contest again in 2023. It just shows really that he cannot be a good leader. He is not saying it out of principles but because of selfishness. The problem of this country is that the leadership has been mainly one that operates in their own interest rather than that of the country. We are tired of that. Why can’t he be an elder statesman like myself. I won’t call myself a statesman but at least, I am an elder. Why can’t he join the group of elder statesmen and be proffering objective advice to the country? He should cancel himself out of the equation and think of the country. He should be proposing things that will help this country and make us stronger and progress as a nation.
He should express views which will be respected because not only of his status or age, but because he is not saying it out of personal interest since he is no longer participating. I think he will do a lot more good if he joins that group of elder statesmen instead of running again. This will be his third attempt. He ran under Action Congress (AC), he also ran under PDP. In between, he has contested under APC in 2014 and other several parties. There is a time to say ‘I’ve had enough’. I’ve reached an age where I will advise younger ones. This is the time to quit and be an objective adviser or a father figure for this nation’. Atiku shouldn’t be proposing wrong policies for selfish ends. My advice to him is that he should retire from politics and be