Prof. Itse Sagay, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), is the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC). In this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, the legal luminary speaks on Nigeria’s journey in the last 59 years after Independence on October 1, 1960. He also spoke on how the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has greatly dealt with corruption in the country. Excerpts:
Nigeria celebrated 59 years of Independence as a sovereign nation on Tuesday. As one of the Nigerians who witnessed our independence on October 1st 1960, how do you think we have fared as a nation?
Well, we certainly have not lived up to our potentials. As I always tell people, our politicians and public officers have engaged in too much self-service at the expense of serving the nation, unlike the first set of politicians and statesmen we had, like Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe (Zik), Ahmadu Bello and others.
They felt that the greatest honour bestowed on them was to allow them take on governance and serve the people. They shunned all form of materialistic lifestyles and if you research into their lives, you will find out that someone like Awolowo never stayed in Government House. He had a small bungalow in Oke Ado from where he operated as Premier of the Western region.
Zik was a little bit lavish but relatively modest compared to the politicians of today. Ahmadu Bello didn’t have any house. He stayed in Government House and when he died, he had no house anywhere. That was the same thing with Tafawa Balewa. When he died, he left nothing for his family. So, those people just sacrificed themselves for the country.
From all you have said now, is there hope for the country going forward?
The only hopeful sign is that this present government is committed to right the wrongs. There is a genuine effort to revive the country.
From their various social investment programmes and the way we came out of economic recession that we suffered immediately this present government took over in 2015. Now the government is building up our reserves and you can see a lot of activities going on.
The railway system, which was non-existent and had practically died before this government came, has been brought back to life. They have completed Itakpe-Warri, they have completed Abuja–Kaduna. And now, they are now building from Lagos to Kano. Already, there is a plan for Calabar to Lagos.
As chairman of PACAC, can you say there has been improvement in the fight against corruption?
In the area of corruption, all the fraud in the past has greatly reduced. For example, there is no more fuel subsidy fraud. It has gone. Previously, it was costing us about N400 billion a year. That has disappeared under this government. We have recovered over a trillion naira in the last four years from looted funds of the government, which has now been put into the social investment programme.
We have also recovered over $700 million and more are being recovered. I think the federal government is going to get another $300 million Abacha loot from the United States of American government. Unlike the past, recovered funds are now being put into the budget and used transparently.
Previously, as soon as the money was recovered, it was shared among government people and it disappeared again. So, we have some hope ahead of us. We have seriously degenerated but hope is coming. If we can sustain what the present government is doing for another 10 years, I think Nigeria will be in good shape.