Professor Itse Sagay, a distinguished legal scholar, Professor of Law and human rights activist is the former Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Benin, a constitutional law expert and Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
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He is a lawyer, a very senior one at that. Although he practises his trade maximally, his public persona is one “condemned” to issues of public good. Prof. Itsejuwa Esanjumi Sagay is passionate about human rights and democracy. At every opportunity, he does not leave anyone in doubt as to where his allegiance is – to the people, and he is not apologetic about that – or if he had, he never betrayed it.

One of his markers is his availability.
No occasion is too condescending for him to attend, especially when the occasion is addressing the cause of the rights of the people. Wherever a discourse engages political impropriety of the ruling class, Prof. Sagay would be available to participate. Which is saying that, here is a man who has aligned himself to the cause of the mass of the people.
And that is not what he just decided to do. It has been with him since his early 20s. “I was politically aware at the age of 21.”
This awareness was instructed by his several excursions to the Federal House in the First Republic. He said he would “…stroll to the National Assembly, then in Race Course, sit and watch debates; day in and day out. I was 20 years then. I was watching debates. Awolowo, Tafawa Balewa, Okotie-Eboh, and all of them; I watched their debates. Zik was then in the Senate… And listening to that for about a year and a half, prepared me for interest in politics.
So, as soon as I was admitted to University of Ife in 1962, as a law student,
one of the first things I did when I got there was to set up Action Group wing on campus.” Ever since, he has pitched his tent with the many against the tyranny of the few ruling elite. An intellectual, Sagay studied law at the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) and graduated in 1965. He went to Cambridge University for his LL.B exams. He came back in 1970 with a Ph.D in International Law of the university and went straight to teach in his alma mater, Ife. He also taught at the University of Benin, between 1982 and 1996. While the University of Ife conferred him with the professor of Law in 1979, he became a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in 1998. He has written several books in the field of law and today, he is the Managing Partner of Itse Sagay & Co., Legal Practitioners and Consultants, based in the Surulere area of Lagos.
In this first part of his interview, the man, who bears the light for the oppressed majority, dwells more on the political misbehaviour of the ruling class down the republics. He, however, commends politicians of the First Republic. For, according to him, “when you come to their attitude to governance, in terms of service being rendered to the masses, they were exceptionally excellent, dedicated and committed. I would call it the age of innocence.” And how does he appraise the present crop of rulers? His words: “Since 1999, this country has been taken over by conscienceless gangsters. They have raped the economy. They raped the people. They have completely taken over everything and left us destitute, wretched, hungry…
” Excerpts:

To be 70 years in Nigeria, what does it entail, in a country where life expectancy is 55, I think it’s 48 or thereabout?

I am in an age group, which has virtually seen this country through all phases. It is an advantaged group in that sense. And in another sense, it’s a group that is going into depression because of that. When the first leaders of the First Republic were in power; I am talking of the era of Awolowo, Tafawa Balewa and so on, I was already a teenager. And I could follow clearly what was going on. Although one could criticise them for the way they struggled for power among themselves, especially the way the NPC tried to eliminate the Action Group, because it was a strong opposition party. We would criticise them for that. But when you come to their attitude to governance, in terms of service being rendered to the masses, they were exceptionally excellent, dedicated and committed. I would call it the age of innocence.
And these were people who had been brought up under British culture, which was then well established in the sense that when you were in office, you were not in office for yourself. You were in office to serve. Self never came in. And this was what all these people did. All they did was to provide services for the people. They competed with each other to see who could provide better service. That was the main drive so that when they were campaigning next time, they would be able to say, “Oh, look, I have raised the standard of living of my people from this level to that level, while you’re still at the other level.” That was the sort of thing we had. And they devoted every kobo to governance.

It’s not as if they were angels. They just had this patriotic instinct in them?
In fact, they didn’t even look at it as patriotism. It was what they were expected to do. For them, it was normal. They didn’t expect to be praised. They were just doing what they felt they ought to do. And they felt grateful for the opportunity they were given.

It was all about service?
It was all about service. All about integrity. All about honour. But after the military came in, everything changed…We blame the military, and they deserve to be blamed. It was after the military came in that the whole orientation changed. The orientation of self-enrichment, orientation of diverting resources for very, very dirty and illegal purposes…the military introduced it. But the civilians have magnified and increased it by geometric proportion. So, what we’re seeing now is that progressively, with time, the quality of the human beings ruling Nigeria has fallen. The First Republic (leaders) were the best.
And they were as good as any other persons in the whole world. Second Republic is not comparable at all, to the First Republic, but they were not bad to the extreme. They still had some restraint. They still had some fear. Fear of God. Fear of consequences. Then, there was the second coming of the military. In the brief Third Republic, nothing much happened. Abacha sacked them before they were able to do much harm. But this Fourth Republic has really brought into power gangsters. Since 1999, this country has been taken over by conscienceless gangsters. They have raped the economy. They have raped the people. They have completely taken over everything and left us destitute, wretched and hungry. They are totally conscienceless. They have no feeling. You could even say a person is wicked, and he knows he’s wicked. But their own level is that they’re immoral. In other word, they don’t know the difference between good or bad. Everything is normal to them; and they carry on like that.

That account for the kind of impunity we now see?
Yes. They’re not conscious of the fact that what they’re doing is wrong. I mean, if you take, for example…this is not even stealing now, it’s abuse of power, when the National Assembly voted allowances for themselves over what was applicable in law by the Revenue Mobilisation and Allocation Committee. And it ended up with senators taking away over N15 million a month.

It’s even more because, in a quarter, it’s about N49 million.
You can imagine that! And House of Reps people are getting something not so far below that, with local government councilors who are earning about N200, 000. And then, at the end of the month, they just share the allocation and retire to their homes. That is why I do not feel sorry when people would say, state government spend local governments money. It is better spent by the state governments. Local governments should not get any money, because all they do is to sit down, share it and go home. So, now we have human beings who are devoid of any virtue; who can’t tell between good and bad. Who are totally devoted to not just self-aggrandisement, but to self-enrichment, to pauperising Nigerians, to looting the treasury, to abusing power without the feeling that they’re doing anything wrong. Of course, there are few exceptions. One doesn’t really need to say that.

People have said Obasanjo did well. Would Obasanjo be one of those gangsters?
Obasanjo is not in the group of people that I have said are the exception. Not at all.

What do you mean, sir?
If you look at Obasanjo’s era, the amount of misappropriation of money, diversion of funds, of abuse of power, of total contempt for the population…the closest person to him in that regard would be Abacha. Yes.

Why?
Abacha is the only one ahead of him in that regard. Look at the PTD funds. What about UBEC funds, Siemens scam, Haliburton scam, BPE, IPP…they are endless. There’s no end to it. There’s no end to it; and he ruled this country like an emperor. He trampled on the rule of law. He absolutely had no feeling. I am sure there may be one or two things he did, but they have been overwhelmed by the terrible things he did to this country. The exception I talked about are people like Tinubu and Fashola in Lagos State. People like Amaechi in Rivers State, Oshiomhole in Edo State, and these few who are coming in the (South) West…

What about the Akwa Ibom man?
No, no, no. the Akwa Ibom man is a dictator. Oh, God! Did he win elections?

Akpabio?
Yes…

Did he not win elections?
In my view, the elections there were fraudulent and were rigged.

Which elections are you talking about?
This last one. 2011. His re-election. There are no doubts about that.

Prof, a lot of people would disagree with you on this point.
You can disagree with me.

They might even say you have something personal against him.
I know he’d say so. He’d say so. But you should recall that just before the elections, when the ACN candidate tried to go and campaign in Ikot Ekpene, his hometown; all hell broke loose. They killed a lot of those campaigners. That resulted in the conflagration in Uyo, the arrest of the candidate of ACN and so many things happened. I have done an analysis of those results. I cannot say that Akpabio won. But what I know is that he rigged. The elections were rigged.

Nigerians know you to be a very factual person; are you saying this on the basis of facts at your disposal or on the general sentiments that people wove around that time over what happened in Akwa Ibom?
What I did…I did an analysis on the results of the elections published by INEC, which I downloaded from the website. If you look at the result in the South-South; it is not Akpabio alone, there is no honest result from the South-South and South-East. They were all rigged. Fantastic figures. Let me give you an example…no, two examples...
In Imo State, Goodluck Jonathan scored over 800,000 votes. When it now came to the governorship election itself, the present governor scored just over 300,000 votes. Are you saying that the people of Imo love a man in Abuja far more than a man who is their own? So, you can see what I mean. And you know, the Imo State election was heavily monitored. So, they didn’t allow them to do anything funny. If you go to Delta State, it is the same thing. Uduaghan got over 400,000 whereas Jonathan scored over a million votes. And out of the 400,000 Uduaghan was said to have scored, the tribunal had just removed 90,000 or so votes, leaving the gap between him and Ogboru to about 11,000. Yes, if we talk of the 2011 election, it was better than the 2007 elections. It was better than the 2003 elections. But not as good as the other lections before it.

Despite Professor Jega?
Yes, despite Professor Jega. So, Akpabio, therefore, doesn’t come within the group of people I am saying. Your achievements shouldn’t be on the structure that you put down alone. It must be on your democratic conduct. When a person gives himself the power to detain people…the House passed a law giving him power to detain people in Akwa Ibom, contrary to the Constitution. I wrote an article on it for which his people were not happy.

The law was not passed by Akpabio, but by the House.
Ha, ha, ha. You can say that again. Who is the boss? Who’s the boss?

Whatever happens to the doctrine of separation of powers?
In the Nigerian context, the boss is very clear. The governor dictates what the House does.

Are you saying separation of powers doesn’t obtain here?
It doesn’t exist in many state houses of assembly.

Then, isn’t that a clear and present danger to our democracy?
Our democracy is very immature. It’s very immature. It’s not developing well. Things are going wrong. You can see, for example, what is happening in Bayelsa…Nobody is saying Sylva performed. In fact, what I heard generally is that his performance was dismal. But for Christ’s sake, allow him in the process. Let him be voted out at the primary stage or during the election. Do not use jungle boots and stamp out freedom and the rule of law just because you want to get a man out and put your man in. That’s what we’re saying. So, the people ruling us now are far from what we deserve.
As one famous writer said, the beautiful ones are not yet born. They were born in the First Republic. But since then, only a few beautiful ones that I have mentioned like Mimiko, Fashola, Tinubu, Oshiomhole, Amaechi and Aliyu of Niger State have been born. He (Aliyu of Niger State) looks like a very sincere man to me from the distance because I cannot really judge what he is doing on the ground. My hope is this: that with these few governors who are performing well, people from other states who visit Lagos, Port Harcourt and so on, would go back and question their governors. They should be able to ask them, what do you think you’re doing with the money that you’re getting? Look at your counterpart who earns less than you; see what he has achieved. We would get you out of power in the next election, because you’re a non-performing person. Maybe with that, that element of competition will come back.
I may be wrong, but I think there is an observable docility among Nigerian electorate, because if you know your environment isn’t right, you know the kind of money coming in, and your situation is still what it was five-10 years ago and you’re not doing something, then the people in power will continue with their impunity.
You see, what the people are not doing is that they’re not going into the streets to demonstrate. They’re not introducing the Arab spirit into our lives.

Why can’t we have that?
You know the Nigerian; you will make him wretched, push him to the wall, but instead of pushing back, he wants to melt into the wall. That has been our problem.

Somebody has argued that our problem is not leadership, but followership. That the leaders act the way they like because they know for a fact that Nigerians won’t challenge their impunity. Do you agree?
I agree to the extent that people, who are taking the brunt of this assault from these unworthy leaders, are taking it and still saying, God dey. They will go to church to pray and fast, forgetting that if you don’t help God, God cannot help you. Yes, in a way, the followership is also partly to blame.
In other words, we mistake stupidity for resilience, because there is report that says Nigerians are resilient. Look at it this way, somebody is pursuing you, instead of fighting back when you get to the wall, you rather want to break through it.
Yes. Honestly, I agree with you. We’re getting the leaders we deserve. But I still pray that these few good ones who have showed themselves, who have sacrificed so hard for their people would begin to be a sort of beacon that the rest of the country would follow.
I mean, look at Fashola today; this was a handsome, robust man who came to power in 2007. He has aged. Nobody needs to tell you that this man doesn’t rest. He’s thinking of the people of Lagos all the time. He is working all the time. He is sacrificing his physical, mental health…everything day and night. If you go to Port Harcourt, because I have had the privilege of going there; the governor took me round. What I saw there is unbelievable. That this is the same Port Harcourt that Odili saddled for eight years? And the place became totally decrepit, dilapidated and uninhabitable? Come and see the things being done there now–in education, in health, in farms, roads. Now, there’s a lot of inconvenience because he is doing so many things at the same time. In three years’ time, Port Harcourt would be a paradise. So, there are good people, but they’re only too few. That’s the problem.

The depression you talked about, did it arise as a result of you looking at the state of Nigeria and seeing what is happening…
Yes. That is it. At that time, I was young; 16, 17, 18, 19…that age. I was following what was happening. We were all very interested in politics. We believed in some parties, but we appreciated what the others were doing. What I observed now, getting older and reading what they did was that they were so competitive. They were competing with each other. You put a stadium down, the other man would follow. There was Liberty Stadium, then Ahmadu Bello Stadium followed. You start free education, every other person will counter. So, we were growing by leaps and bounds. The IMF was beginning to put us ahead of Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and so on in projection. So, it was a bubbly time for us. And we were really looking forward to a great future. Then suddenly, darkness descended on Nigeria. There was a blackout. And today, what worries me is that each succeeding generation of politician is worse than the last. That’s the problem–worse than the last.

Not even the young ones among them are…
(Cuts in) The young ones are the most greedy and most irresponsible. All they think is money. What they think is grabbing. They have no love for the population. They have no interest in anything, except self. The young ones are worse. The older ones are a bit tempered in their approach. The young ones are the major problems.

Let’s go back. You grew up seeing these things. When did you become politically aware as a boy?
I was politically aware at the age of 21. Even before then. I will tell you the story. When I left secondary school, I came to Lagos. I was living in a place called Military Street, directly behind the National Assembly then, in Race Course. And we were closing at 2 p.m. in the offices. I will get home, have lunch and stroll to the House, sit and watch debates; day in and day out. I was 20 years then. I was watching debates. Awolowo, Tafawa Balewa, Okotie-Eboh, and all of them; I watched their debates. Zik was then in the Senate. I watched all their debates. I was very impressed with their standard. The standard was as good as what obtained in London and anywhere else. Highly intelligent, well-researched debates and clear ideological orientations. It was very clear. And listening to that for about a year and a half, prepared my interest in politics. So, as soon as I was admitted to University of Ife in 1962, as a law student, one of the first things I did when I got there was to set up Action Group wing on campus. At the time, Chief Awolowo was already in detention. He was the one I really admired.

In detention or in prison?
In detention. He was in detention for a long time; for almost a year before he was finally tried. They placed him in a house detention in Ikoyi. Then after that, they transferred him to Lekki. So many places. First to Ikenne, then later to Lekki. That was the first time I heard of Lekki; and it wasn’t the Lekki we live now. This was Lekki of swamp and so on, where the wife, poor woman, was going to fetch water outside and going to cook and so on. It was a rough life for them. So when I got into the university, I then asked my colleagues, “Where is the Action Group students’ wing here?” They said there was none. I said, “No, we must form one. We must support this man, who has been so highly principled, so determined to salvage this country. We must give him moral support.” So we formed the Action Group students’ wing. I was elected secretary. After one year, when Akintola came to power by force, he now started attracting some of our people. Our chairman defected to the Akintola party; I became the chairman of the branch. We campaigned in elections for the Action Group. There were vans, police escorts and we campaigned throughout the Western Region.
In fact, I learnt to speak Yoruba in Western campaigns, because I had to speak Yoruba in Iwo, Osogbo, Ile-Ife and the entire place. So, I had to learn how to say, E dibo fun ope (vote for the palm tree–symbol of the Action Congress). I had to learn all those things. We were doing those campaigns every weekend, regularly. That was the federal elections, which was 1964. The election was characterised by confusion – Zik didn’t want to call Balewa to form government, Adetokunbo put a lot of pressure on Zik and the military put a lot of pressure too.
That was how I started. Then, of course, later on, I went to the Law School. It was when I was there that the coup took place.
When that happened, Chief Awolowo was released and he became vice chairman and Minister of Finance in the military government. At that stage, I went abroad for my post-graduate studies. University of Ife sponsored my postgraduate course. When I came back, I had to teach there. By then, politics had been banned. Then in 1978, the ban was lifted. I joined the UPN. The UPN decided that those of us in the university should be the think-tank. Professor Sam Aluko was made the chairman of the think-tank. We were all working, producing papers and sending them to the party for their planning activities for campaigns. That was the role I played in the Second Republic. And then, of course, you know the way it ended again in a coup. When they rigged out Awolowo, he said, “I will no longer take part in any election and that democracy will not grace Nigeria for the next 50 years.” And, of course, that government fell within three months. We were back in military regime. During Babangida’s era, I didn’t show any interest in politics.

Why?
Well, I didn’t think he was sincere. Somehow, from day one, I never trusted him. He was not very clever. He only exploited the unpopularity of Buhari, who on reflection we’ve now seen meant well for Nigeria. So, I didn’t take part in his transition politics. Even now in this Fourth Republic, I haven’t join, but I have sympathy for the ACN. Yes, because I am measuring what they’re doing in their states. There’s a level of sincerity. A level of commitment to their people. If you look at…that young man in Ekiti State, Fayemi, look at Aregbesola; you can see this whole thing that I am saying about Fashola. They’re so absolutely dedicated. All they want is result. If you put the PDP man there…that’s why I always attack PDP everywhere, what he will be saying is, “How do we divide this cake?”
There’s so much indiscipline in PDP. There’s no love for our people. They want to share our resources. When they quarrel is when somebody is not satisfied with his share. And you’d notice one thing; when a PDP man is dissatisfied and he jumps to another party, when that party sponsors him and he wins, he jumps back to PDP. So they’re not people who have honour. They have no integrity. For me, PDP is a party that has misruled Nigeria to the ground. It is very unfortunate. I just hope some of these powerful oppositions will come to power at the federal level and begin to raise us up from the dust that the PDP has reduced us to.

But the problem is that the so-called opposition parties are not doing what opposition parties or opposition movements should be doing. They, too, seem not to have any bearing. They seem not to have any focus as to engendering any formidable front to dislodge the rule of the PDP.
I agree. I think the ACN is presenting a very formidable front to the extent that these people are frightened. If you look, PDP is threatened. Look at the Kogi election; the ACN man was second. That is progress. If you look at Benue, ACN was second. The ACN has representatives in most states in the country now. What they need to do now is to cooperate with CPC and ANPP and begin to present joint candidates. They don’t need to merge. They can say, “in this area, the ANPP is strongest, let’s join hands with them. Let us not field candidates there.” They need to do that for the PDP to be defeated and removed from the centre, so that we can heave a sigh of relief; so that some fresh air will come into this country. PDP is strangulating us as a country and undermining our development. We’re just regressing. Since the PDP came to power, Nigeria has been regressing.

Before Jonathan gained his first time, he had tremendous support from Nigerians, who thought this is a fresh face. People had expected that by virtue of his background, very well educated and all that, he was going to bring freshness into governance. But months into his proper first time, we’ve heard people saying all kinds of things that would tally into disappointment. Are you disappointed in Jonathan?
Very disappointed. I am extremely disappointed.

What is the hub of your disappointment?
If you look at all the various parameters, there’s none really, in which he has come out successful. Look at power; we hear in the air, oh, Nigeria is now producing 4,000 megawatts. But in your house, you don’t see it. All on paper and on television. In any case, what does 4,000 megawatts amount to in a country of 150 million people, when South Africa with just a fraction of our population has at least 50,000? There’s no improvement in the sector.
Then, we’ve been talking about Ore-Benin road for over 10 years; it has remained like that. And we have a government that has been voting huge sums of money for that same road and for various other infrastructure. We don’t see it. We have a government, right now, that cannot fund existing universities, only for it to sponsor nine new universities. It is like a man who has 15 children. He doesn’t have money to feed them, but now decided to adopt another 15. What’s going to happen? We are going to have shadow universities, in which those coming out would be thoroughly worthless, unemployable, incapable of doing any higher degree in any reputable institution abroad.
Let me tell you one thing just to show you how far down we’ve gone. I got a second class upper in law in Ife. I was taken straight in Cambridge for my postgraduate. Straightaway to do what is equivalent to the Masters, and after that Ph.D. I have another colleague, Dr. Dolapo Oguntuga (he was 70 last Tuesday). He got second class upper in Agriculture in Ife. He was admitted straight in Cambridge to do a Ph.D and he did it in three years. I got to Cambridge before him. He came in January, the following year.
Then three years later in December 1969, he left me. I stayed there till July before I finished. I have one Soyinka (not Prof Wole) and Filani; they all got first degrees and were all admitted straight for Ph.D. Try that now. Which university in this world would admit a Nigerian who has a Nigerian first degree into any postgraduate programme? You’d go there, enroll in their undergraduate course for about a year or two for them to check and test you before you’re admitted. But then, our reputation was so high. And we didn’t let them down. All of us came back with a Ph.D. All of us. There was no failure. Not one. That was why Ife was able to train over 80 people; we all came back with Ph.D and manned the university.
So, we’ve lost a lot. That’s why you see that I am so depressed. And we’ve lost a lot because of these latter-day politicians, who have no interest in this country, except their deep pockets, which they are loading with our resources.

So you’re a sad man at 70?
Extremely sad.

So do you sometimes find yourself crying as a result of this?
I cry internally. I cry internally for Nigeria, because I do not see any clear way out now as long as these people continue to rule us. We need a totally new orientation; a totally new breed. I have nostalgia about the First Republic. I have great nostalgia for it. And I am even thinking of looking for somebody who will do a Ph.D thesis on the achievements of the First Republic politicians. I am ready to sponsor it. I will, because I have a lot of nostalgia. That era needs to be documented because that was a great part of Nigeria’s history, which has gone to the dogs.

How was life like growing up as a young boy? How many were you in the family?
We were many. There were 11 of us.

From how many wives?
Three wives, but my father was not a polygamist.

Yet, he had three wives…
Yes, he had three wives, but he didn’t have all three at the same time. He married them one after the other. He would marry one, there would be one or two problems, she would leave, and he would marry another, and so on. That sort of thing. That’s how it happened.

Not that one died and she was replaced?
No, no, no. It was just mutual disagreement and, then, that one would leave and he would marry another. So, we were 11.

How many boys?
Three boys and eight girls.

You are number what, sir?
I am number one. I’m the first-born.

Plenty wahala…
Oh, yes. A lot of wahala. It has not been easy in that regard. It has not been easy, because too much is expected of you.

What burden did your position as number one place on you?
Well, it also means that you have to be responsible for the upbringing of some of them, including their education and placement in various places. And after they had graduated, you have to also assist in getting them jobs and so on.

How many of them did you train?
In the strict sense of training, my father trained everybody, except the one next to me. That one was in (the University of Ife as a student, so I had to pay her school fees.

You were already there as a lecturer?
Yes. I was already there as a lecturer when she came in. So, the task fell on me. But my father either trained all the others or they got scholarships. They were pretty brilliant people. But I helped in many other ways, like placement in universities, placement in jobs, mentoring, and things like that.

What kind of profession was your father into?
He was in education.

A teacher?
Yes. In fact, he taught me in secondary school, Government College, Ughelli. And I was the most relieved person when he was transferred to Ibadan.

He was too hard on you?
Oh, very hard.

You must have been full of pranks?
No, I wasn’t full of pranks. He was just hard on me. He was very hard. Because I was number one in the family, everybody expected me to be the best, but I was far from being the best in terms of academics. So, my father was very disappointed and he was very hard on me.

Were you too playful?
Yes, I was.

Were you playing football or something?
No. I think I loved reading novels. That was my main problem.

That’s rather strange. I would have thought that should have been an advantage…
It helped me in English, but it didn’t help me in Physics and Chemistry.

What kind of novels were you reading? Romance? Detective? James Hadley Chase?
No, no, no. Those are rubbish. I wasn’t into books like Chase’s. I was reading books from our library; things like Charles Dickens’ books. Classics. That’s the sort of family background I had.

You said you were relieved when your father was transferred form your school?
Oh yes.

What were the things he did when you were in school that made life such a “hell” for you?
Some senior prefects didn’t like me because he was very strict. He might have disciplined some people, and people would naturally want to take it out on me. I became a victim of that. I suffered in the hands of almost every senior boy who felt my father was hard on them. Oh yes, my father was a strict disciplinarian. So, they took it out on me. Some didn’t even wait for anything to happen before dealing with me. They would say “don’t think because your father is here, you own this school. We are going to straighten you out.” That sort of thing. And I had to behave myself, because I didn’t want him to say I had embarrassed him in any way. So, I was glad when he left the school. His last job was as principal of Edo College, Benin.

So, there was bullying during your days too?
Not physical bullying; just words and threats. Physical bullying was not allowed at all. But you could be threatened. A senior boy could threaten you, but can’t do anything beyond that, because if he touched you, he was out of the school. Bullying wasn’t allowed. We had white principals then, and they just didn’t tolerate that.

But are you really sure you didn’t play pranks in school?
(Laughs…) I can’t rule out that. It’s possible because we did all sorts of things.

Like molesting the girls?
There were no girls; it was an all-boys school. We did things like going into the forest to look for fruits, when you were not allowed to do that. Or wake up at 2 a.m. and start reading when it was strictly forbidden. You know, we did all sorts of things like that. But I am not sure I was on to any serious pranks.

So, how did you settle for Law?
Let me start by saying that watching proceedings at the parliament at Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos. Watching politicians of that glorious era doing what they knew best in parliament, fascinated me so much it made me to fall in love with Law. Oh yes, proceedings at the parliament influenced my decision to read Law. Initially, I was going to read Medicine.
But when I saw that, I said, “No, this is a more relevant profession for me”, because I can contribute to the national debates and not be held up in the hospital doing operations. And Law was what my father wanted. He never wanted Medicine. But I said no, I wanted Medicine. I rejected his choice. But after two years of watching those debates, I told him, “I accept your choice. I am going to read Law.”

Are you sure your decision to change to Law wasn’t because you found the sciences somewhat tough?
I wasn’t bad in sciences. At the end of the day, when school certificate exams were coming, I had to settle down and read the Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Mathematics. And I had credits in all of them. I was actually attending Federal School of Sciences in Onikan (Lagos), very close to my house in Military Street, for one year. It’s no longer there. But after attending House sessions in the parliament and listening to the robust debates, I stopped attending the classes. I told myself, “No, you’re doing the wrong thing.”
I, then, enrolled for A-Levels in Economics, History and Government. That was what happened. I read at home and got three A-Levels with which I went to the university. I went to the University of Ife, then, University of Cambridge for my postgraduate studies.

In your time, the doctrine of sanctity of marriage, the dos and don’ts were held sacrosanct. Or were you as free as we are today?
Unfortunately, I married very late.

What age did you get married?
At 36.

Why did you have to wait that long?
I really don’t know. And I regret it. Maybe it was because of the work I was doing, I don’t know. But I was doing a lot of research at the time. In fact, before I married, I was almost becoming a professor; until my father got fed up and said, “No, no, no, enough is enough”. My mother and, indeed, everybody around me had to put pressure on me before I could get married. The pressure on me was serious. Luckily, I met somebody who I felt like marrying, and we got married. Till date, that person has remained my sole confidant and closest friend.

So, how did it happen?
(Laughs…) I don’t know what you mean.

How did you meet her?
Our families introduced us.

They match-made you two? Arrangee marriage?
Just introduction. They just introduced us and immediately I saw her, I liked her. Thereafter, there was no looking back.

What is the virtue in families matchmaking their children?
Well, it has its advantages, because you’re not bound. It’s just an introduction. Something like: “Have you seen this person? Do you like her?” Express your view and be free to take your decision. So, if the person is not attractive to you, not in terms of physical beauty but as a personality, then, you may say “sorry, I am not interested”.

Don’t you think because your parents are there, breathing on your neck, as it were, wanting you to go with a particular girl, and, out of deference to them, you pander to their sentiment, don’t you think you could end up making a wrong choice? A choice that could make you miserable for the rest of your life?
Even with their choice, I had a very strong opinion. And I wasn’t young. I was 36. I wasn’t young at all. So, nobody could browbeat me into marrying anyone I didn’t like. It was just that I met this person and she was exactly what I wanted.

Where did the two of you meet?
In Benin.

Where exactly in Benin?
Oh, in my father’s house. She was a family friend. But I didn’t know her until I came down for a visit.

There weren’t other girls before then?
Yes, there were.

How many girls before then?
(Laughter) No, I can’t say that. All I know is that at that stage, I ceased all other associations.

You said when you met her, she was exactly what you wanted. What were those qualities you were looking for in a wife?
Well, somebody who had respect for the husband. Somebody who would provide good companionship in terms of discussions on current issues. My wife, even at that age, was already buying newspapers and reading. So, when we sat to talk before we were married, we were talking at par, when we came into discussing current matters, she stood her own. Of course, she was also interested in politics. So, we discussed politics a lot. She is just the sort of person you can never be bored with.

You hold very strong political opinion. But how come you’ve never vied for elective office?
Well, I was interested (in elective office) in the Second Republic. The party I wanted was the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). I had my membership card. I was in UPN. We were in the think-tank. And if I needed to contest, I needed to go to Warri because I am from Warri/Sapele side. So, I went to see the godfather. The godfather was Chief Alfred Rewane. If Rewane said yes, you’re going in. It was as simple as that.
He was that powerful. So, I went to see him. I told him I was interested in either contesting election or being a commissioner in the UPN government. But he said, “Sorry, I already have other candidates. I have no place to fix you right now.” I accepted that. I didn’t want any other party. I accepted and went back to the Think-Tank Committee. I wanted to participate, but the opportunity was not there in the party I wanted.

Some people have observed that people like you fought so hard to enthrone democracy but when it came to the point of taking power, you just went to sleep. Don’t you feel a sense of guilt that if people like you had done the right thing way back in 1998/99, maybe, we wouldn’t be in this mess now?
That’s not correct. I never went to sleep. Not at all. If you look at the way these elections were done, if you look at the way parties were formed after each military regime, there were people who were already anointed.
There were people who chose those to be in power in this Third Republic–people like Ibrahim Babagida, Abdulsalami Abubakar and other powerful military figures. Those were the ones behind it. And they had a lot of following. That’s why you find that those who later became the AD (Alliance for Democracy) had to leave the PDP (Peoples Democratic Party). They even went to the ANPP (All Nigerian Peoples Party) where they met the same sorts of people. They left and formed the AD. So, it was a minority (who decided who should be in government).
In a sense, those who were in power in the country and controlled all the levers of power usually brought up those who supported them as military when they were in power. In fact, in this case, they even brought one of themselves–Obasanjo–back to make sure the military’s hold on power was sustained. And if you look at the PDP, they are all military. All the soldiers are there. You won’t find them in any other party. This is the thing. It’s not that those of us who fought against military dictatorship were not interested. We were manoeuvred out; there is no question about it.

One of the points of regrets that gave you depression is our directionless, visionless style of governance. What are the other points of regrets, looking back at all of your 70 years on earth so far?
Frankly, that’s the main regret that I have.

Okay, at a personal level?
When I look at my life, I just ask myself: “Have I contributed enough towards improving the society in which God placed me? The answer is yes. But, I have also lost a lot in this process. In the last 20 years, I have lost a lot.

Like what?
Oh, my God, no government wants to touch me! None. Not with a long pole!

Why?
Because they say I am a radical. So, when anything comes up and my name is mentioned, they say, “No, no, no, don’t touch that man”. I would give you an example, but I won’t mention the name of the person. Obasanjo approached a very senior retired judicial official, when we lost Chief Bola Ige, to say: “Can you help me nominate somebody to replace him?” That person said, “That’s no problem; I already have somebody in mind”. He mentioned my name. He said Obasanjo just told him, “Well, I don’t really know this man; let me make enquiry.”
After two months or so, the man went back to Obasanjo and said, “I suggested a name to you, have you not made enquiries?” Obasanjo said: “Yes, I had made enquiries and they said he’s cantankerous.” And the senior judicial officer said, “Yes, he’s not only cantankerous, in fact, if you breach the law while he’s Attorney General, he would even prosecute you, even as president! That’s the kind of man you should appoint. He has no time for power and politics. He would do what he thinks is right.”
The man said that Obasanjo looked at him straight in the face, and, with a mischievous smile, told him: “You can see that the advice I was given was right.” That was the end of the matter. So, you have to make a choice. Be yourself, be forthright, principled, upright and blunt. Or pretend, be sycophantic, lick boots, be malleable and controllable, and you would go far. That’s the kind of system we run in Nigeria. But I have no regrets at all. I made the choice that I would rather be myself and stay out.
So, I have no regrets at all, because, now, people listen to me. Recently, I spent a week in Abuja. The way I was received even by various people whom I even thought were establishment people was wonderful. They were very happy to see me. They welcomed and prayed for me, and said, “Please, continue what you have been doing.” I said: “What? If these establishment men are talking to me like this, maybe I am really doing something worthwhile.” So, it’s good for me as it is. I am fulfilled. I am happy.

Are you also fulfilled as a family man?
Yes. I have a good wife.

How many children do you have?
I have two–a boy and a girl.

Why didn’t you have more? Is it by choice?
This is one area I don’t like to talk about.

Why?
I lost my first child, a girl. I lost her. She was just 25 when I lost her.

So sorry, sir.
Thank you.

What happened?
She was sick. That’s the kind of tragedy you don’t recover from. Don’t mind anyone telling you anything about Job (in the Bible) and so on. It’s all rubbish. You don’t recover from the sorrow of losing a child. Never. I know I will never recover. The pain does not go. It’s there 24 hours a day. I cry every day because of that. I can never recover. But I accept it as torture I have to carry for the rest of my life. There’s no question about that.

She was already a graduate then?
She was about graduating. She was sick for some time, so she couldn’t go to write her exams. She had to take leave of absence because of the sickness. She was reading Law at UNILAG (University of Lagos). Today, she would have been here with me.

What year was this, sir?
That was in 2004.

Is any of the remaining two following in your footsteps?
Yes. The boy is going to read law.

That should be some consolation.
It’s no consolation! You know, one person is no replacement for the other. This one had grown up. She was like my companion. She was my adviser. When I want to do anything, I call her and my wife, and say: “Look, this is what I am going to do.” They were the ones advising me. We were always together. When she was young, people used to say she was my handbag. I took her everywhere. We were very close.

Wasn’t the mum jealous?
I really can’t say, but she said occasionally that “if this girl were not my daughter, there would have been trouble in this house”.

Has legal practice been good to you? Has it fetched you good money?
It has kept me going. I thank God. I don’t believe in being rich. I believe in reasonable comfort. And I am reasonably comfortable. I have my own house. The building where I have my Law office belongs to me. I can pay my staff. I can feed my family. That’s all I want; and I am very happy. In fact, I think too much money can be a problem.

How?
Managing too much money can be a problem. People’s eyes would be on you. Then, it would be another source of which children would fight and kill themselves after you pass away. I am quite happy as I am. I have enough at all times. I have never really got to a stage where I said, “I am broke; I have no money.” It hasn’t happened.

That means you won’t be happy, these days, seeing people acquiring and acquiring?
I feel sorry for them, because if you acquire and acquire, you are depriving a lot of people who have nothing; people who are earning something like N200 a day. You are depriving them of those resources. Those resources are useless to you. You can’t live in two houses at the same time. How many cars can a man drive? I think I have too many cars.

How many do you have?
No, I won’t tell you. They are many. I had enough cars, then, on my 70th birthday, a former student of mine bought a car for me. He’s a wonderful man.
God bless him. I mean, what does a man really need?

If it were possible to turn back the hand of time, is there anything you would want to do differently?
I would marry earlier than I did this time. I would have married at least ten years earlier than I did, so that by the time I got to 50, my children would be grown up. That was a mistake I made. It’s a major point of regret. If I had my life to live all over again, I would marry in my early 20s.

But you would love to remain a lawyer?
Oh yes. I am enjoying it.

Perhaps, come through the same parents?
Yes.

Remain the same radical and cantankerous man that people say you are?
Yes. I would remain exactly that way.

A situation that would not fetch you the billions?
I don’t need billions. It would even confuse me. As Ovie Whiskey once said, he said if he saw one million naira, he would faint! Likewise, if a see a billion naira, I would faint. I am quite happy with my level of comfort.

What would you have wanted God to change about you?
I have told you one thing that happened in my life that should never have happened. You don’t lose a child. To lose a child is a terrible thing. In fact, I pray for my worst enemy not to lose a child, because you don’t recover. My happiness was complete–three children, a good wife, a good job, ability to speak my mind freely in a society, respect from people I don’t expect respect from, because they hear what I say and feel that’s what is in their hearts. It was a perfect life until that happened.

Ability to speak your mind freely could also bring danger to you. Don’t you have any secret fears that somebody might just gun you down or something?
Yes. I have been told that.

Is it a fear you live with every day?
I won’t say I live with it every day. But I am security conscious. And I leave the rest to God.

How did you survive during the struggle for the revalidation of the June 12, 1993 presidential poll? That is, talking about the Sani Abacha years…?
I had problems but they were nowhere near what people like Beko (Ransome-Kuti), Femi (Falana) and (the late) Gani (Fawehinmi) went through. But I had my own problems because I was still talking.
I was supporting all these people. For instance, when Gani was taken to court in Abuja, I would fly there with (Olu) Onagoruwa to go and defend him and get his bail. We visited them at Kuje (prisons) and all that. I didn’t know they (security agencies) were taking note of this. The only thing I suffered directly was being stopped from traveling abroad. I wanted to travel, but they seized my passport. They took my luggage and told me to be reporting at Awolowo Road (Ikoyi, Lagos) for interrogations.
I did that for about six months. They accused me of a lot of things; that I was planning with Beko and some foreign governments to overthrow the government of Abacha. I said what were the dates. They showed me. I told them, on this date I was on a United Nations consultancy programme visiting various parts of Africa. They checked my passport and found that it was true. So, after those interrogations, they finally returned my passport.
That experience with the SSS has taught me why they are so dreaded. They would take you to the innermost recesses of that their Awolowo Road building so that you won’t know where you are. By the time you turn round and round and round, you are lost. And nobody else knows where you are. Then, they start asking you terrible questions: how many brothers and sisters do you have? What are their names? What are their addresses? Goodness God! Why should I give you details about them so you can go and harass them?

You were frightened?
Yes. The questions they asked you, wanting to know the addresses of my brothers, my sisters and relations, frightened me. They frightened me because I said to myself, if I gave them the true addresses of these people, they might harass them. So, I just gave them wrong information. They, then, asked me: “Do you know Beko?” I said, “Of course, I know Beko”. “Do you know Gani?” I said yes. “So, what is your relationship with them?” I said they were my friends. They said, “Do you plan with them…?”
I said: “We don’t plan anything. We are just my friends. They are forthright Nigerians who want the good of this country.”
You see, the way they ask you, if you’re not courageous, you would deny your brother; that you ever knew him. They so intimidate you that you have to think quickly and calculate fast. If I say I know this man, what would happen? But then, how can I say I don’t know Beko? So, I couldn’t really deny those people. Even if I did, they would have known that I was lying.
We were living within a stone’s throw from each other. I was in Anthony Village, they were in Anthony Village, too. Beko was on the right, Gani’s office was just in front. So, there was no way I could have said I didn’t know them. It was then they said, two of you planned to do this and that. I said no. That was the closest I got to being harassed under the Abacha regime.
I was prevented from travelling. I was interrogated over a period of six months. Eventually, they returned my passport to me. But I can’t be compared to the real heroes of our democracy–Femi, Beko, Gani, and what one or two others went through. Those were the real heroes. And, of course, the NADECO (National Democratic Coalition) people. Those were the real heroes.

Coming back to your person, what was the best advice you ever got?
Best advice? Oh my God! I can’t remember, but I have been advised so many times.

What is your favourite advice to people?
The favourite advice I give is: “Leave this world (better) than you met it. Contribute to the world. Contribute to your society. Do not come to eat in order to live.” Some people live to eat. I tell people, “Don’t come to live to eat. Come to dedicate your life in such a way that when you leave, you will have made a difference; a positive difference to your society.” That is the advice I give most people, because I find that this is a rare commodity.
People are only interested in getting on. At the end of the day, this human flesh would die and you would go away. All that you have eaten, all your cars, all your houses, all your billions, you would leave them behind. What of the legacy? What of the reputation? What name would you leave behind? And if you’re religious, what are you going to tell your God when you get there? I think people should think of all these things.
Rather than just thinking of what they can get out of life, they should be concerned about what they can give to society.

If you have the privilege of writing your epitaph, what would it be?
Here is a man who strove throughout his life to leave the world a better place than he met it.

Culled from Sunnewspaper.