Senate and Sagay’s Ribaldry, By Sufuyan Ojeifo

On Wednesday, March 29, 2017, the senate, in plenary, reacted to the verbal offensives by the chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Professor Itse Sagay (SAN), who was quoted to have said that the upper legislative chamber is “filled with people of questionable characters who put personal interest ahead of the nation.”

Sagay had also, in the same context, referred to senators as “childish and irresponsible” for rejecting the nomination of Mr Ibrahim Magu as substantive chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and asking President Muhammadu Buhari to sack Magu from office within two weeks from Tuesday, March 28, 2017, following his rejection for the second time, as a condition to screen his (Buhari’s) 27 Resident Electoral Commissioner nominees.

Had Sagay been a private citizen, he would have gone away with the blue murder of denouncement, elegantly dressed in the garb of criticism.  But to be sure, Sagay holds a key appointment in the federal government.  Against this backdrop, therefore, the senate has refused to dismiss Sagay’s outlandish comments as mere criticism or expression of opinion.

The comments, made in his capacity as chairman of PACAC, remain weighty on the scale of perception and impression.  The perceptual process of decoding Sagay’s lines with the common errors of distortion has created the negative impression that the hands of some senators must have been caught in the cookie jars of crime; otherwise, he would not have come out smoking against the institution of the senate and its occupants in the manner he did.

Sagay, arguably, targeted the collective integrity of the senate, did incalculable damage to it and provoked a legislative rage that resulted in the issuance of a summons on him to appear before its committee on ethics and privileges to distinguish among members those with questionable characters.  The senate would want Sagay to be precise in his onslaught instead of relishing his cheap and jejune attempt at class or institutional damage.

It is not in doubt that Sagay is an unabashed supporter of Magu. He decided to play to the gallery with his ribaldry against the senate to rubbish its decision on Magu and the call for his sack.  I believe that the senate would have ignored Sagay just as it has done to another human rights activist and critic, Femi Falana (SAN), were he not occupying a strategic position in this government.  On that basis, Sagay’s extremely emotional and partisan outburst becomes somewhat uncharitable.

The outburst also portrays the otherwise prudent legal luminary as bereft of discretion, which is a virtue in legal practice and public administration.  I am, however, at great pains to go away with that impression.  But if I were Sagay, I would not have become a loose cannon within a government in which I am a member.  I would have exercised self-restraint. The way his action has played out has made him a partisan supporter of an agency of a branch of government against another branch of government.

Sagay’s activism thus becomes questionable on that plank.  He cannot then reasonably proceed to seek protection in non-conformism to react, condescendingly, to senate directive to him to appear before it.  I consider his declaration that the senate summons on him is illegal as impulsive.  It is an act of legal bullying.  He has, by that act, only aggravated the already frosty relationship between the executive and legislative arms of government.

If I were Sagay, rather than shun the senate and wait for its resolution calling on the president to sack me, I would seize the big stage by quickly announcing my resignation.  I would flaunt it in the faces of senators that I am more honourable than they are.  I would declare that I have nothing personal to lose by resigning but that the nation stands to suffer greater integrity deficit by allowing some “questionable characters” to come to equity with dirty hands.

I would heap on the senate a moral burden that will be too heavy for it to bear.  This is a great opportunity for Sagay to make an eternal statement in the ecology of public administration in Nigeria.  Instead of swiftly accepting the invitation, he had declared magisterially that his invitation to appear before the senate committee is illegal by the combined reading of the provisions of sections 82 to 89 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended.

Sagay’s contention is that the sections limit the senate powers because he is far outside the category of people it can ever invite.  I disagree with the learned silk.  He is an appointee of the federal government; and, to that extent, he is an agent of a disclosed principal- president- whose actions and powers, including delegated powers, are subject to judicial, legislative and even executive reviews.  He is thus answerable to the summons of the senate.  He is arguably caught by the provisions of Section 89.

But this is not the time to prove knowledge of the law to engage in an enduring face-off with the senate.  It is unnecessary. He has nothing more to prove.  He is an accomplished legal titan.  He should therefore not make the mistake, at this intersection in his life as a septuagenarian, to sink deeper into the morass of activism by shunning an opportunity to speak truth to legislative power.  He should appear before the committee and meet minds with members on how to come to equity with clean hands.

If I were him, since I did not mention the name of any individual member, I would go there, insist on my earlier position, refrain and refuse to mention any name, even at the point of bayonet.  But good enough, this is democracy.  The senate does not have the coercive power to bring words out of the mouth.  Even in a military junta, an individual can dare dictatorship and pay the supreme sacrifice in the process.  That is the mark of courage.

Sagay should be strengthened by the courage of his conviction.  He should appear before the senate with his moral and anti-corruption armoury to constructively engage legislative power without necessarily mentioning names of senators with questionable characters.  That should be left for the anti-graft agencies to do, consequent upon thorough and conclusive investigations.

In essence, he would have honoured the senate invitation and soothed frayed nerves.  He would also have used the opportunity to guide the senate on the impropriety (in case he is correct) of such invitation to him or another person(s) in the future.  He would have, thus,  added value to the legislative process.

But if Sagay still wants to stir the hornet’s nest and decides to act true to type as an activist by going there to mention names, he would have succeeded in distinguishing the good senators from the questionable ones.  His courage would be applauded.  Those senators who are not mentioned will hold their heads high.  The only thing that can happen would be for the senators mentioned to head to court to prove that they are people of integrity.

Is this what Sagay wants?  Should he not rather allow the advisories in the official report of his committee to dictate the trajectory of the anti-corruption measures to be taken in the light of the committee’s findings?  These should be the issues for contemplation, and not the needless muscle-flexing and shouting game between him and the senate.