Furore over ‘faulty’ pardon: In whose interest?

Posted on Sunday, March 31st, 2013

Indignation, both at home and abroad, over the last Presidential pardon of some Nigerians, continues, amid other serious national issues, writes Asst. Politics Editor, EMMA MADUABUCHI

Across the country, individual and group reactions have continued to trail the recent Presidential pardon granted some former public office-holders by President Goodluck Jonathan and his Council of State, about three weeks after.

Among those pardoned were former governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, and former Managing Director (MD) of Bank of the North (now Unity Bank Plc), Shettima Bulama. Others were former Chief of General Staff (CGS), Oladipo Diya; former Chief of Supreme Military Council (SMC), Shehu Musa Yar’Adua (post-humous); Major Bello Magaji (rtd); Mohammed Lima Biu; Major General Abdulkareem Adisa (post-humous); and Major Segun Fadipe (rtd.).

News of the pardon filtered in on Tuesday, March 12, and attracted consistent criticisms of President Goodluck Jonathan and his government. Even a renewed fuel subsidy controversy and the recent bomb blast at a bus station in Kano have not been able to completely douse the criticisms, which the pardon issue generated.

It has equally continued despite what some people saw as government’s numerous attempts to douse it. For instance, there were claims that government tried to cow critics by branding them “sophisticated ignorant” without success. Government and its agents were also said to have tried hanging responsibility on the Council of State, which is only an advisory body.

Government was, however, reminded that Section 175 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) states that: (1) “The President may (a) grant any person concerned with or convicted of any offence created by an Act of the National Assembly, a pardon, either free or subject to lawful conditions; (b) grant to any person a respite, either for an indefinite or for specific period, of the execution of any punishment imposed on that person for such an offence; (c) substitute a less severe form of punishment for any punishment imposed on that person for such an offence.”

Government was equally reminded that the same Constitution continues… “(d) Remit the whole or any punishment imposed on that person for such an offence or any penalty or forfeiture otherwise due to the state on account of such an offence.

“(2) The powers of the President under subsection (1) of this section shall be exercised by him after consultation with the Council of State. (3) The President, acting in accordance with the advice of the Council of State, may exercise his powers under subsection (1) of the section in relation to persons concerned with offences against the Army, Naval or Air Force law or convicted or sentenced by a court-martial.”

On Friday, March 22, 2013, when Diya came out to express gratitude to the government for granting him pardon, it was considered to be on the instance of the government, also to douse criticisms.

Interestingly, of all pardoned, it was Alamieyeseigha that grabbed the attention. His was taken to be the most undeserving because it involved corruption taken to as far as Britain from where he jumped bail to return to Nigeria.

While opponents of the pardon were marshalling their points against it, supporters argued that state pardon was nothing new in the country, or any other country of the world. They claimed that many important personalities in the country have been recipients of state pardon, one time or another, and that there was no reason Alamieyeseigha’s case would be different.

Opposition to the pardon was given fillip when Adamawa State governor, Murtala Nyako, who attended the Council of State meeting where the decision for the pardon was said to have been made, said no such discussion or decision to grant pardon to Alamieyeseigha was taken at the meeting. Nyako said the Council deliberated on the possibility of granting state clemency to certain category of offenders both at state and federal levels, but that no specific mention of Alamieyeseigha among the persons who should enjoy the pardon.

“No such issue (pardon for errant governors) was discussed. I didn’t see the name of any governor. But we considered the issue of state pardon for people who committed certain offences.

“We observed that in cases of manslaughter, pardon for such should be handled by state governors if they are committed in such states. But if it is the case of armed robbery, the Council may decide to grant pardon or the matter could be referred to the President for his consideration,” Nyako said.

It was his words that opened the flanks of the President for all manner of criticisms. Now, many days after, the criticisms have continued unabated.

As late as Monday, March 25, 2013, former Appeal Court Judge, Justice Mustapha Akanbi, joined his voice to that of many bashers of the government’s offer of pardon, especially to the former Bayelsa governor.

According to the former chairman of Independent Corrupt Practices and other offences Tribunal (ICPC), it looked more like a decision taken solely by the President. He said the decision appeared to have been taken before the merits were canvassed and examined.

Akanbi also faulted the move on the point that there were not many retired judges at the meeting, where the decision was taken, adding that not all former heads of state were in attendance at the meeting.

He said he did not know the yardstick upon which the President and Council of State used in granting pardon to the individuals, since state pardons were not usually done on the whims of a President.

For him, the issue of granting pardon has always been a decision taken on its merits against de-merits. “So, whatever happens, it is a decision taken by the President only in his own wisdom.”

At the same period, former Lagos State Police Commissioner, Abubakar Tsav, described the state pardon granted Alamieyeseigha as preferential treatment, adding: “The state pardon granted Alamieyeseigha by President Jonathan is a charade to cover his former boss and encourage corruption in the country.”

Even some Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members (the President’s party) have been found to criticise the offer of state pardon to Alamieyeseigha. That was the case when King Shuluwa, a chieftain of the party, said that pardon went a long way in underlying what he called the insincerity of the Jonathan administration in fighting corruption in the country.

Instructively, Jonathan’s Presidency and a cross-section of the PDP have not taken the criticisms lying low.

In reaction to the heap of criticisms, Presidential spokesperson, Reuben Abati, described it as “sophisticated ignorance”.

He argued that the conviction of an individual did not mean that such a person should be locked out of society. He argued further that decision to grant pardon to any individual or group of individuals is a constitutional issue, and which is the ultimate decision of the Council of State, who he claimed uses utmost wisdom in reaching their decisions.

However, there are Nigerians who, in support of the action, claimed that amnesty to the elite Nigerians was nothing new. Wole Soyinka, who understood it as an act of impunity and symbol of corrupt mentality, spoke on Wednesday, March 20, during a programme in Lagos.

“What is going on right now gives the picture of a government that is floundering and justifying the unjustifiable. It amounts to encouragement of corruption. The felon is wanted by the United States Government. We have a case of an officer of the law – a governor – who went to another country and broke the law of the nation. He jumped bail.”

He chose to join the ‘ignorant’ league of as Abati had described those disenchanted with the pardon. He said: “I believe that such a person does not deserve a state pardon. So, I have joined the league of the ignorant persons condemning the act. I criticise and deplore President Jonathan for granting pardon to the former governor.”

Even till Thursday, March 21, 2013, a South South political pressure group was still bitter with the decision and faulted the government on it.

In a statement signed by its president, Austin Ibok, the group claimed that the action of the President made many Nigerians disenchanted with the way Jonathan was running the country. The group, South South Progressive Youth Organisation (SPYO), alleged that the whole pardon business was by the President just to favour Alamieyeseigha.

The group from the President’s geo-political zone said the inclusion of such names as Yar’Adua and other soldiers was a deliberate ploy to give the pardon unmerited credibility.

“The recent pardon granted Diepreye Alamieyeseigha is actually the main reason for the entire exercise,” he said.

As if that was not enough, same day, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the Nigerian body of lawyers, faulted the pardon. Describing it as bad signal in the country’s fight against corruption, the body of lawyers said the criticisms against the pardon of Alamieyeseigha was because it was more of a moral issue than a legal one.

Speaking during the launch of its website, its president, Okey Wali (SAN), said: “Unless you know what the Council of State put into consideration in granting Alamieyeseigha and others the state pardon, you cannot say much on it; but to me as a lawyer, it was a bad signal to the fight against corruption.”

He insisted that there were other better ways to show solidarity with one’s former boss than what he described as “utterly reprehensible action”.

A social commentator, Kayode Ogundamisi, said, “If GEJ deems Diepreye Alamieyeseigha worthy of a Presidential pardon, then why is James Ibori in a UK prison?”

Lawyer and activist, Bamidele Aturu, said: “Presidential pardon for criminals is official jailbreak.”

Social entrepreneur, Gbenga Sesan, said in his tweets: “A nation fighting corruption, and where the Commander-in-Chief has been accused of toying with such, shouldn’t pardon corrupt kinsmen. The timing of this use of (albeit) constitutional power makes it both insensitive and politically dangerous, (and) might heat up the polity.”

Also, the Environmental Rights Action (ERA) and the Forum for Justice and Human Rights Defence (FFJHRD) did not wait for long before joining the group of opposition to the president’s pardon spree which many swore, like SPYO, was targeted at setting Alamieyeseigha free of any encumbrances that might not allow him contest election in the nearest future, 2015 probably.

The Bayelsa State Project Officer of ERA Alaogoa Morris, and the national coordinator, FJHRD, Oghenejabor Ikimi, in condemning the Presidency, described the gesture as a national embarrassment and criminal.

Morris said: “I am truly against the pardon because it sends a very wrong signal to the world, and all Nigerians must share in this huge embarrassment. It tells a lot about our collective morality and confirms that politicians have very little value for morality.”

Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) was also not left out as the union voiced its resentment to the pardon and asked the Federal Government to rescind the state pardon granted two persons in particular, Alamieyeseigha and Bulama.

NLC through its president, Abdulwaheed Omar, argued that the pardon to the two men convicted for misappropriation of public funds would send a wrong signal about the nation’s commitment to the eradication of corruption in the polity.

Omar said while Alamieyeseigha and Bulama, like other citizens, had a right to a state pardon, the offences committed by them were too weighty for such a pardon.

“While we appreciate that the Council of State does have a constitutional responsibility to pardon citizens who have obviously been convicted or punished in the past for offences, it is totally unacceptable that those who committed economic crimes in such magnitude that affected public interest be granted state pardon,” Omar said.

He wanted to know what message the National Council of State thought it was sending across to Nigerians and the international community by granting pardon to people who committed unprecedented crime of corruption.

As if those reactions were not enough, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL), through its executive chairman, Debo Adeniran, said the pardon to Alamieyeseigha was another proof that the present administration was corrupt.

The group said: “President Goodluck Jonathan is proving every Nigerian right by the hour that he is not only rudderless, but corrupt to the teeth… It is unthinkable that a Presidential pardon could be handed a common thief like Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, who bled his state’s coffers white during his tenure as the governor because such pardon is only given for political offence not criminal.”

Trade Union Congress (TUC), another labour centre, was not left out in the Presidential bashing. Its president-general, Peter Esele, said the decision was a setback to the nation’s campaign against corruption. According to him, granting state pardon to convicted felons, who committed acts against the state, was not in the interest of the Jonathan administration and the country. Esele said the President had a responsibility to disclose the information which he relied upon to grant Presidential pardon to the affected persons.

Lawyers and Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN), Mike Ahamba, and Yusuf Ali, also condemned the pardon. The two legal icons noted that the action was not proper, and expressed reservations at its timing. According to Ahamba, the decision to pardon the former governor has cast doubts over the seriousness of the anti-corruption campaign.

Ali, on his part, said the pardon granted Alamieyeseigha contradicted the spirit of the Federal Government’s war against corruption.

Renowned rights activist, Femi Falana, described the pardon, for the former Bayelsa governor and others as unconstitutional. Falana, insisted that the Council of State lacks the power to pardon persons convicted for criminal charges in the country, as was earlier argued by Doyin Okupe, the Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs.

Falana was one of many who reminded government that the Council of State only has advisory role to play, insisting that it was the President that is empowered by Section 175 of the Constitution to grant pardon to those he deems fit, and therefore the Council could not have taken the decision as claimed by the Presidency.

Emphasising on the issue of impunity as was claimed by Soyinka, Falana added: “In the light of the foregoing, the pardon extended to some of the convicts should not be viewed by Nigerians in isolation but in the context of the atmosphere of impunity in the land.”

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