Prof. Itse Sagay, the chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption (PACAC), has the full support and trust of President Muhammadu Buhari in his face-off with the Senate and some members of the All Progressives Congress (APC), sources in the presidency have revealed.
The reassurance comes against the background of an onslaught on the PACAC chairman by the APC spokesperson, Alhaji Bolaji Abdullahi.
Sagay, a renowned professor of law and civil rights activist, recently described members of the National Assembly as overpaid, saying they claim bogus allowances and salaries that could instead be used to fix the country’s infrastructure.
In a separate comment, he described some persons in the leadership of the ruling APC as “the most unprincipled group of people,” adding they are “encouraging and accepting rogues.”
In response, Abdullah described Sagay as a ‘rogue elephant’.
Abdullahi’s attacks are said to be causing irritation to the Presidency, where the President Buhari is said to be concerned that the party machinery is being used to antagonize one of the respectable voices of his anti-corruption efforts.
The sources, according to Saharareporters, said the Presidency is well aware that the attack on Sagay coming from Abdullahi is the direct handiwork of Senate President Bukola Saraki, who single-handed paved the way for the emergence of Abdullahi as the APC spokesman by offering some of the party leaders the option of funding the party’s publicity.
Describing the criticisms of Sagay’s position by the Senate President as a witch-hunt, another source said that Saraki is not only trying to antagonize the professor of law, but also trying to shame him and embarrass the President by frustrating the anti-corruption drive of the Buhari administration which has him being prosecuted for alleged corrupt practices.
Another source in the presidency also said the recent backlash was connected to Sagay’s past comments on Saraki, adding that Saraki and his loyalists have not forgiven Sagay because he kicked against Saraki’s acquittal by the Code of Conduct Tribunal earlier this year. Sagay was shocked by the CCT ruling and urged the Federal Government to appeal the ruling.
Top government sources also disclosed yesterday that prior to the latest developments, there have been muffled voices within the party that party leaders allowed Abdullahi, a known Saraki acolyte, to take up such a sensitive position in the party.
Also, other top party officials and the presidency have expressed concern that the APC spokesman only becomes active when Saraki’s interest are concerned.
Said an Aso Rock source: “How many times have you heard him speak up to defend the government, or take up issues in the public space in favor of the government? But when something that affects his benefactor is on, then he suddenly remembers he is the spokesman.”
It is said that the recent outburst of the spokesman against Sagay was not a result of any wide consultation but a ploy to get President Buhari to neutralize the respected professor. “What they don’t know is that the President has deep regard for Sagay and is very much irritated by Abdullahi’s statement attacking a senior Nigerian.”
The President’s concern about some of the APC executive leaders is well-known, including the fact that he had warned in the past when the selection was being proposed. A top source said in that regard that the presidency is sending messages of reassurance to Prof. Sagay in the wake of the attack being sponsored against him by Saraki under the cover of the party.
“The President trusts Sagay’s integrity and believes he is a strong, leading voice in the fight against corruption in the country; that was why he appointed him in the first place,” one source affirmed. “The President understands that Sagay, as a notable lawyer and human rights activist, is highly respected in the civil society and in the law profession.”
Sagay has had a running battle with the Senate in the past and many contend that the Senate President has taken it upon himself the assignment of knocking Sagay’s head against the Presidency.
In March, the Senate summoned him to appear before its Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions after he was alleged to have described the Senate as one ‘filled by people of questionable character’, but the professor called their bluff.
Apart from the presidency, civil society organizations have also backed Sagay, whom many describe as principled and trustworthy.
In March, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) dismissed the Senate’s summon.
In a statement signed by its executive director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, SERAP described the Senate’s decision to summon him as “arbitrary, a travesty, mala-fide,” stressing it could not withstand constitutional scrutiny.
“Suppression of freedom of expression and public discussion is inimical to peace, order, good governance and the rule of law, and patently inconsistent with the Senate’s law-making and oversight functions,” the group warned.
Despite the plot and orchestration against Sagay and his position, Nigerian legislators are said to be among the world’s richest. A 2015 document from the National Institute of Legislative Studies indicates that a Nigerian Senator or Representative takes home as much as N20m in salary and allowances per month. There are 109 senators and 360 members of the House of Rep in the National Assembly.
The PACAC chairman has also criticized the Senate for buying, for each member, exotic cars reportedly worth about N33 million, despite the recession.
The senior advocate said that members of the Senate have been short-changing Nigerians by creating bogus and dubious allowances such as dressing and hardship allowances, in order to enrich themselves.
“This is corruption fighting back,” a presidency source said. “The members know that Sagay’s recent comments have increased the searchlight on their activities by anti-corruption agencies. Some of them are already scared because Sagay’s comments have made Nigerians to start asking questions.”
People close to Sagay say he remains unruffled by the criticisms that have trailed his comments, especially from members of the National Assembly.
President Buhari appointed Sagay in August 2015 as head of PACAC. Since his appointment, Sagay has been one of the most vocal supporters of Buhari and the administration’s anti-corruption fight.