Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) and a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in this interview, speaks on the recent ruling of the Supreme Court on the Bayelsa governorship election. TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI brings the excerpts:
Sir, what is your take on the recent Supreme Court ruling on the Bayelsa governorship election which has led to the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Douye Diri being sworn in as the governor of the state even though he lost the election to APC’s David Lyon?
That is very wrong. What they should have done is to nullify the election and let the APC nominate another person. This whole of idea of the Supreme Court becoming electors of people who are defeated over those who are victorious is perverse and very wrong. That was what I complained about in the Zamfara case. It is unfortunate and to that extent, I totally disagree with it because it is unjust. The PDP man lost. You can give him a second chance because the APC candidate did not get valid nomination. They are not to award victory to a man who people did not vote for. You can’t replace the votes of the electorates with your votes as the judiciary. That I can never reconcile myself to and I hope it is not the noise and acrimony the PDP made on the Imo election that is causing all these to happen”
Some analysts have said the Supreme Court justices may set Nigeria on fire over some pronouncements they have made in recent times. Do you also share that view?
Well, I won’t say things like that because it is rather extreme. But it can do damage to the rule of law and belief in the courts as the ultimate resolver of major problems. As I have always said, it is my belief that when there is any issue in a case, the first question a judge should ask is ‘where does the justice of the case lies’? Especially at the Supreme Court level, you don’t need to start worrying about what you have decided upon being reversed. So, you can afford to do justice. What I have found unfortunately and contrary to what used to be the case when people like late Justices Kayode Eso, Chukwudifu Oputa, Obaseki, Nnamani were in the Supreme Court in the 80s and 90s is that the present Supreme Court has not made justice its number one objectives. Let me take two recent examples to support my claim. Look at Zamfara for example. Election was held and the people of the state massively voted for APC. Now, the Supreme Court found out that the nomination process of APC was faulty; but instead of ordering a nullification of the whole process of election, they eliminated the votes of the vast majority of Zamfara people and turned itself into the electorates and in effect, installed a government of PDP, a party that has been heavily defeated in Zamfara state with Supreme Court votes. That defeats the whole aim of democracy because power has been removed entirely from the electorates and the Supreme Court is exercising, not only electoral powers but in a manner contrary to the decision of the electorates.
Can that also be likened to what just happened in Bayelsa?
That is exactly what has happened in Bayelsa. In fact, the Bayelsa case is even worse. They said because the deputy governorship candidate has discrepancies in the names on his certificates. Fine! If that was the case, why don’t you remove him? Why punish the governor-elect for the sins of the deputy governor-elect? Why declare the whole election null and void which you could have said but that the party that lost heavily, that scored just 143,172 votes against APC that scored 352,552 votes is now the winner. You now eliminate the votes of the electorates and then plant a government there based on your legal and technical reasoning. Five of you (Supreme Court justices) have now become the electorates of Bayelsa state. So, to that extent, they are damaging the reputation of the Supreme Court because any court that is unable to do justice will lose its reputation and the whole essence of its existence.
It has been reported that the Supreme Court has scheduled Tuesday February 18 for a review of the cases (Imo and Bayelsa). Do you think any of these judgments can be upturned?
Honestly, if you follow the principles I have stated, you will not have any sleepless nights over whatever you have decided because you have done justice. You can go and sleep once justice has been done and forget whatever anybody says. So, I don’t know what is going to happen now at the Supreme Court. The Imo case is different from Bayelsa and Zamfara because they did not purport to eliminate majority votes and then become the electorates to put in the minority. What they said was that the full votes of Imo state were not counted; that votes coming from 388 polling units were canceled and that there was no legitimate reason for this. They then decided to release those votes and adding them, it gave majority votes to APC. That is the restoration of the electorates’ decision. For me, that is different from the case of Zamfara and Bayelsa where candidates that were not voted for by the electorates were declared the winner. So, whatever the Supreme Court decides to do on Tuesday, that is their business.
In the case of the Bayelsa election, don’tyou think the leadership of APC also deserves blame for not doing its homework in vetting the credentials of its candidates before submitting to INEC?
First and foremost, I think the party leadership is at fault. They did not do any verification. If you cannot do it for National Assembly members, why don’t you do it for governors and their deputies which is just a small number of people? It shows they were lazy. It is either they were lazy or they just chose to close their eyes to all the deficiencies in his qualifications. They choose to be careless, thinking they will just bulldoze their way through. To me, the APC leadership failed to learn from the Zamfara and Rivers election. Oshiomhole has to carry the blame as the leader of the party. He should have put in a structure that will do proper verification in all these cases. He failed to do it and so his thoroughness as a leader has been called to question. You can’t just be leader who makes political speeches and then make grand statements and we are all carried away. As the national chairman of a ruling party, you must be able to sit down and do the nitty-gritty of what leadership entails. One of them is to do a proper check on the qualification of people who are applying under your party to be nominated for political offices. So, the number one game on the Bayelsa issue goes to APC leadership. I put the blame squarely on them but I am still saying that in spite of that, what the Supreme Court did was unjust. Their decision was against justice. It was carrying technical, legal reasoning to a disastrous extreme. That is my position on the matter.