Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, PACAC, Professor Itsejuwa Esanjumi Sagay, SAN, in this interview, speaks on the nation’s high cost of governance, why we must reverse the 70:30 budget allocation in favour of capital expenditure and the way forward for the country among others.
On cost of governance
The cost of governance is extremely high. The PACAC mentioned it to President Buhari that something has to be done about it. We have the concurrent expenditure going to about 70 percent, and the capital expenditure which is supposed to be for infrastructural development going as low as 30 percent. We can never develop as a country going by such lopsided, up-side-down ratio. It should be 30 percent concurrent, and 70 percent capital. That is the way to develop. We have to go further. Maybe the number of people employed by the federal government is too high, we should cut down on salaries, and the National Assembly, particularly, should cut down on their allowances because what they are earning right now is unconscionable. They admitted to N15 million a month in a country where the minimum wage is N30,000 per month. These are the issues we seriously need to talk about. But the issue is that it shouldn’t be done in a confrontational manner. The President, the heads of National Assembly and the Chief Justice of Nigeria should get together from time to time and agree on how they can cut down on recurrent expenditure.
On the governance cost-cutting measures announced by the Federal Government, last week including review of the salary of lawmakers, governors, political office holders, and estacode of ministers, etcIf you look at it, the average civil servant is not earning too much. They are like university staff, they are earning adequately. Where we have problem is corruption. The way they siphon money meant for development, money they collect from contractors and other crafty ways civil servants siphon money and how they corrupt politicians that take over as their ministers. These are the areas we need to address. Their official earnings are not too much but the money they are getting surreptitiously does not belong to them. It belongs to the state. So, money is not being expended on what it was voted for. So, that is what is running us down.
On critics’ allegation that PACAC is not sincere with President Buhari about corruption within his administration
I don’t know what they mean by that. If they can identify such people in the Buhari-led administration, why do they have to wait for my committee? Why are they tongue-tied? Who is silencing them? If they know any corrupt official in Buhari’s government let them say it. Why wait for my committee? Are they not citizens? I was outspoken before I was appointed to this position. I express my views on major national matters as I still do. So nobody is stopping them. Let them identify the people. Seems they know so much let them speak out.
Former Deputy Publicity Secretary of the All Progressive Congress, APC, Timi Frank, recently fingered the office of the Vice President as being corrupt…
Timi is a bloody irresponsible loud mouth. He is a person who should not be countenanced in any decent society.
But he claimed he has facts…
His sanity is very much in question.
Do you think your committee has done enough in proffering solutions corruption?
We have done tremendously. We have done a lot. Don’t forget that PACAC is a think-tank, and we are not an anti-corruption agency. We do not investigate, we do not interrogate, we do not prosecute, and we only empower those who are doing that to make them more efficient, and also advice in areas where the battle against corruption would be more efficient. We train anti-corruption agencies on how to prosecute. We even train judges on how to handle corruption cases. We also provided manuals on prosecution, sentencing, and plea bargaining. We have submitted various bills to the National Assembly. One of them is bill to establish a special crime court mainly for corruption. We also submitted a bill that has gone very far now on proceeds of crime act. We were the ones who advised the government on the Whistle Blowers Act. This has brought in so much money for the country from whistle-blowing. So, we have been very busy as we have done a lot of work. It will take about nine months to read what we have done in the last five years.
Look at the whole issue of non-prosecution of asset recovery, that is recovering asset without necessarily prosecuting the person who fraudulently acquired them. You know the law considers them innocent until they are found guilty, and apart from that, you have to prove beyond reasonable doubt; and you are aware that they have senior advocates who drag these cases for months and even years. So what we have done is to go for the assets. When I say we, I mean the anti-graft agencies. And the law favours us in that regard. So the onus is on the people who own the assets to come and prove their ownership. I can tell you that in 99.9% cases they don’t show up and N1.2 billion was frozen and nobody came out to claim such money. Recently, $ 40 million worth of Jewelleries belonging to Mrs. Diezani was seized by the the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. The non-prosecution we introduced to the anti-corruption agencies has worked very well. The anti-graft agencies have got over a trillion naira through the medium.
Why has PACAC not come up with name-and-shame those that have squandered the wealth of the nation?
There is a lot of debate about whether it would not be a breach of persons who were not actually convicted to name and shame them. But you are right because the proposal is already being made to that effect because conviction in Nigeria is difficult. You know the EFCC has got two former governors behind bars and the non-high profile persons who were convicted since 2015 are around 700 to 800 persons. But people don’t talk about them, they are waiting for the big politicians. But I can tell for free that more are in the pipeline.
Do you think these anti-graft agencies are truly on their toes?
Absolutely. I mentioned earlier of non-prosecution asset recovery. That one has worked very effectively and we have improved their capacity to prosecute through manual and trainings. We also introduced them to how to draw criminal charges among others. The impact is already being felt and it will continue to get better with time.
On the way forward for the country
Nigerians just have to be patient. Corruption is pervasive. You and I know that from the messenger to the governor, corruption is actually everywhere. What we are dealing with now are politically exposed persons. In other words the big wigs. The next thing we are trying to do is to establish an anti-corruption culture to let it sink down so that everybody will see it as part of their culture.
And for this, we may give incentives to people who do things that are worth emulating, like somebody who sees dollars in a taxi and returns it to the owner. There is need to lionise people like that for others to emulate. It is impossible to prosecute the whole country because the level of corruption in Nigeria is deep and every sector is involved. I, as a lawyer, know that to file a case, the clerks, the mini registrars have a cut. To get a judgement, the secretary has to get her own share of illegal money and everybody is complying because you want your judgement so that you can appeal, if necessary. So we still have to sit down and work out the strategy that will reach all these people. Right now we are trying to suffocate the corrupt political big wigs.