A Nigerian legal scholar and supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday launched an attack on those scolding the president for offering federal appointments to dead persons.
Itse Sagay Chairman, a law professor, who now serves as the chairman of Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, said the fallout that greeted the appointments was unnecessary and those expressing outrage are “senseless” and “stupid.”
But a pro-democracy activist fired back at Mr. Sagay in a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES Tuesday morning, raising concerns that the law professor’s age might be taking a serious toll on his ability to the alacrity that comes with modern governance.
Mr. Sagay spoke with Daily Independent on Monday, three days after the presidency released the grossly erroneous list to the anger of Nigerians.
The appointments comprised 209 board chairmen and 1,258 board members.
Several commentators rebuked Mr. Buhari specifically for his alleged incompetence, tardiness and even corruption in releasing the list, which was later found to have included up to nine dead persons.
Some reports said the list also contained names of ex-convicts and appointments into a private firm’s board and a government agency whose board members are required to be elected by law.
The presidency explained over the weekend that the list was initially compiled in 2015, but a series of delays beyond its control left it untreated by the president for over two years.
Even this defence was immediately punctured by critics who spotted the appointment of Herman Hembe, a former Nigerian lawmaker who was only sacked by the Supreme Court in September 2017.
Some of those on the list, like Francis Opozo who was named as chairman of the Nigerian Press Council, died as far back as 2016.
In another twist, the Minister for Youth and Sports Development, Solomon Dalung, apologised for Mr. Buhari’s naming of persons into the board of Nigerian Football Federation against the agency’s governing statute, describing it as an oversight that had since been corrected.
The presidency acknowledged several persons on the list were dead, but played it down as nothing serious since they would easily be replaced.
Meanwhile, Mr. Sagay saw the controversy from the same lenses in his interview with Daily Independent.
“The way I see these comments coming in over the list, it is like Nigerians are looking for something to quarrel about,” Mr. Sagay said. “A list containing so many names under preparations for that length of time should not surprise anyone that some of them had died as at the time the announcement was made two years later.
“To see that list and begin to quarrel about it seems to me a level of senselessness that I cannot imagine,” he added. “I regard their attitude as collective stupidity and evidence of idleness of mind.”
Mr. Sagay further slammed Nigerians as “Lilliputians” who dwell too much on trivial matters.
“Mr. Sagay clearly doesn’t appreciate the implications of the controversial list,” said Ariyo-Dare Atoye, the executive director of Adopt A Goal for Development Initiative.
He said the inclusion of dead persons shows that the list was not vetted and could have contained names of enemies of the state, or worse.
The pro-democracy campaigner said many of those on the list are unlikely to achieve much in their respective roles before they resign to run for office.
“We know that Segun Oni is on the list as the chairman of Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, but he’s also eyeing the governorship in Ekiti State,” Mr. Atoye said. “This means that he might resign within the next three months.”
The activist said the consequences of the delay are far-reaching and should be glaring to anyone.
“It’s sad that someone like Mr. Sagay is no longer the same person we used to know in the past,” Mr. Atoye said.
“Otherwise, he would have been far more cautious about what he says in this matter. Like most Nigerians lately, I could only pray that the professor changed his way in this new year.
“That he would be more keen on preserving his image as people’s advocate than ruining himself in an attempt to give his principal the impression that he’s a loyal appointee,” he added.