*Vatsa’s family seeks amnesty for slain General
It was a torrent of condemnations for President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday from Nigerians and stakeholders over his decision to grant state pardon to high profile personalities convicted for corrupt practices and military coups.
But the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, yesterday clarified that the state pardon given by the Federal Government to some Nigerians was not a unilateral action of President Jonathan but a decision considered and approved by the National Council of State.
The NCS, presided over by President Jonathan, had on Tuesday granted state pardon to some prominent Nigerians.
The list of the beneficiaries included Gen. Oladipo Diya, the Chief of General Staff during the reign of military Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha; former Managing Director, Bank of the North, Mr. Shettima Bulama; former Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, the late Gen. Musa Yar’Adua and the former Minister of Works, the late Maj.-Gen Abdulkareem Adisa.
With the development, the family of the late Maj.- Gen. Mamman Vatsa, has called on President Jonathan to grant pardon to their brother and nine others the same manner he granted Diya and other coupists.
The Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, decried the development.
Speaking with National Mirror, ACF National Publicity Secretary, Anthony Sani, said: “State pardon usually presupposes transgression against the state. And Mr. President has the prerogative of mercy to pardon any person on the advice of the Council of State.
“The constitution does not limit the President to certain offences that deserve state pardon. And so it would not be legally correct to attack Mr. President for granting an ex-convict a state pardon.
“But what seems to grate the nerves of many Nigerians is the trite that granting of state pardon to people convicted for corrupt practices can stoke corruption in the polity by those who would do so and use their connections in the government to seek state pardon.
“The action is condemnable. The president is using the letter of the law instead of the spirit.”
Action tragic and bad example – Oyegun
Former governor of Edo State and National Chairman, South South Peoples Assembly, SSPA, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, said the President’s action is tragic.
“Well, there is no question about if the action is legal. The question is if the action is the right thing to do at a time the nation is fighting against corruption and indecent behaviour.
“It is a bad example. This has confirmed that you can get away with anything in this country. It is a pitiable development. I know some of the beneficiaries and wish them the best of luck. But this development is not good for the nation and it is tragic.”
Jonathan not serious about fighting corruption – Tsav
Anti-corruption crusader and former Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Abubakar Tsav, lambasted President Jonathan for the action, saying the development had shown his insincerity.
Tsav said: “The President is just trying to take Nigerians for a ride. All the state pardon is aimed at pardoning only Alamieyeseigha. The other people were to justify his action. People who are already dead, what benefits would state pardon do for them?
“If Jonathan is honest to himself, he should have pardoned people who have been convicted or being tried for over 10years.
“Our major problems today in Nigeria are corruption and insecurity. And corruption gave birth to insecurity. And if he is now pardoning a man who is involved in massive corruption, it only shows that his government is not serious about fighting corruption.
“There are some culprits still serving jail term in prison. Major Al-Mustapha has been in jail for over 15 years, if the President is sincere he should have considered granting pardon to those soldiers in prison not just handpicking the executive convicts.
“As far as I am concerned, he is doing this for political gains. Somebody who escaped justice from Britain and putting Nigeria to shame is now being granted state pardon. So, the fight against corruption means nothing.
Corruption war dead – Balarabe Musa
Former Governor of old Kaduna State and Chairman, Conference of Nigeria Political Parties, CNPP, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, declared that the war against corruption in Nigeria was dead under the Jonathan administration.
Musa called for revolution that would correct the negative state of the nation for the common good of Nigerians.
He said: “President Jonathan has joined the league of corrupt leaders in Nigeria. He has created a platform to protect thieves in this country. To me, the war against corruption in this country is dead. No more anti-corruption campaign by the Federal Government under President Jonathan.
“But I am not surprised, it happened when Gen. Muhammadu Buhari was overthrown, the government under Gen. Ibrahim Babangida granted state pardon to former governors who stole public funds.
“In Nigeria now, no limit of stealing now by public and civil servants because there is ‘Operation steal and go free’ under President Jonathan. It is unfortunate things will get worse in this country, at a point there will be no funds to run government again because of massive stealing.
“Former governor of Delta State, James Ibori will finish his jail term in UK and definitely he will receive his state pardon in Nigeria.”
Victory for corruption, say Adebanjo, Fasehun, Odumakin
Also, the President of the Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC, Dr. Frederick Fasehun, said he was not surprised by the action.
Fasehun said: “I am not surprised by the development. It shows Nigerian leaders are insincere to Nigerians. When they promised to fight corruption, they used another hand to encourage corruption. They are fighting corruption with corruption.
“It is partisan politics. The children of the powers that be shall not suffer the consequences of their action.
“This action shows that Nigerians are stumbling from corruption to another until corruption destroys us.”
The spokesman of Save Nigeria Group, SNG, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said that the pardon granted Alamieyeseigha and other convicted of corruption was morally reprehensible.
“The disingenuous attempt to lump the pardoning of crooks with phantom coup convicts is a veneer for our collapsed moral walls under an unethical presidency.
“The pardon is a victory for corruption,” Odumakin said.
A Yoruba leader, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, also condemned the development, saying: “When you begin to pardon someone convicted for corruption, it is not a deterrent to others. I can understand Diya and other military officers who were tried on trumped-up charges of coup. But in the case of those convicted for corruption, there was no evidence that it was trumped-up.
“So granting state pardon to those convicted of corruption doesn’t show zero tolerance for corruption.”
Senior lawyers berate Jonathan
Also, some Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, yesterday criticised the Federal Government for its decision to grant amnesty to Alamieyeseigha.
Mrs. Funke Adekoya (SAN) said: “I have nothing against state pardon, but they need to be merited. A situation where people have been given state pardon for participating in a coup is not the same as a situation where people have been convicted for criminal offences like misappropriation of public funds.
“So, I am not happy that the government put the two as if they belong together.
“I can understand if the government in its wisdom through the Council of State decides to look upon those people who were said to have participated in coup with mercy since the alleged offence, treason is an offence against the state.
“My worry is when you pardon someone whose offence is misappropriation of public funds. When you say you are fighting the war against corruption and then you pardon someone who has this antecedent, it sends a wrong signal both at home and to the international community that corruption is legitimate.”
Mr. Kemi Pinheiro (SAN) also said: “Without doubt, the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria empowers the President to grant pardon. By virtue of 1999 Constitution, the decision is, however, not strange to our constitution.
“It is also a practice that is familiar with American constitution.In fact, the American constitution makes provision for such pardon. America’s history has several records of presidential pardon although criticisms had trailed many of those decisions.
“However, I am unable to see what justifiable reasons that may have prompted the decision to grant such pardon to former Bayelsa State Governor. Unfortunately, the exercise is not justifiable in court.
“Frankly speaking, we need to re-appraise our values and the President ought to lead the way in that regard.”
Mr. Abiodun Owonikoko (SAN) said: “The decision of the President shocked a lot of Nigerians who still believe in his fight against corruption.
“Although the President is legally empowered to grant pardon but it is not everything that is lawful that is expedient. Why granting pardon to somebody who has been duly convicted in a proper court of law?
“This seems like making an open statement in support of corruption. Every statement that a President makes is tantamount to sending signals not only to the populace but also to the international community. This is because the President carries the moral compass of the nation.
“This development will make it appear as if we are not serious about fighting corruption. It is like undermining our criminal justice system and this is very shameful.”
Speaking in similar vein, Mr. Fred Agbaje said: “A government that prides itself to be fighting corruption is granting pardon to those that have looted the treasury. It is a signal to everybody that those being prosecuted by the EFCC if convicted will also be pardoned.”
Agbaje accused President Jonathan of longing to grant state pardon to his mentor –Alamieyeseigha – “and only added the names of Diya and Yar‘Adua to deceive Nigerians.” Labour cries foul
The General Secretary of Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, Mr. Isaac Aberare, said the union was greatly disappointed by the pardon extended to the former governor.
The NUPENG scribe added that it was a confirmation that the government had only been paying lip service to the fight against corruption.
The National Industrial Relations Officer of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers Senior Staff Association, PENGASSAN, and River State Chairman of the Trade Union Congress, TUC, Mr. Hyginuis Onuegbu, said the pardon was totally uncalled for.
Onuegbu explained that soon, other individuals that had been convicted for stealing and engaging in corrupt practices would soon begin to demand for their own pardon.
The Rivers State TUC chairman added that the pardon should be withdrawn immediately as the former Bayelsa governor was not the only convicted criminal deserving of it.
Human rights activist and President of Global Peace Movement International, Dr. Mike Uyi, said Nigerians at home and abroad would mobilise against the pardon granted the former governor.
He said the pardon was a great insult to the sensibility of decent Nigerians, and “it is an indication that the government may be losing focus and commitment in its quest to make the country better.”
Vice-President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and General Secretary of National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE, Mr. Joe Ajaero, said Nigerians should not be surprised to see organised labour demonstrating on the streets against the pardon.
Jonathan has institutionised corruption – CACOL
The Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, CACOL, in a statement made available to National Mirror by its Executive Chairman, Debo Adeniran, averred that with the pardon “President Jonathan is proving every Nigerian right by the hour that he is not only rudderless, but corrupt to the teeth.
“It is tantamount to misuse of power and discretion to grant Diepreye, a man who caused this country moral embarrassment in the outside world, presidential pardon.”
The Executive Director, Access to Justice, Mr. Joseph Otteh, described the pardon granted the former governor of Bayelsa State as a tragic error, adding that it was unfortunate that President Jonathan was setting a wrong precedence.
He said: “The pardon granted to coup plotters is quite understandable going by what transpired during the military administration of the late Sani Abacha.
“But granting pardon to the former Bayelsa State governor is an affirmation that those looting the treasury have nothing to fear. This is extremely unacceptable.”
Also, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, said the pardon granted Alamieyeseigha amounted to arbitrary exercise of power.
In a statement signed by SERAP Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, the organisation said: “This shows without doubt that this government lacks the necessary political will to tackle high-level official corruption and sends a wrong message that corruption pays and those who loot and stash the country’s wealth and resources in foreign banks will enjoy absolute impunity.”
Presidency defends action
Defending the pardon, Okupe said the Council of State, which comprises the President, Vice- president, all former presidents, former Chief Justices of the Federation, the leadership of the National Assembly and all state governors, is constitutionally empowered by the 1999 Constitution to grant state pardon.
The presidential spokesman emphasized that the Council of State does not take decisions on impulse but rather after due considerations of vital issues connected with taking such decisions.
He explained that the eight Nigerians who were granted pardon were approved after thorough deliberations by the statesmen and that there were many other names that were not approved by the Council of State during its meeting.
Vatsa’s family demands pardon
Meanwhile, the family of the late Vatsa and nine others implicated in the 1986 coup de tat against the Military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida and executed after found guilty by the Military Tribunal then, also demand pardon for the deceased general and others.
In a chat with National Mirror in Minna, the nephew of the late Vatsa, Mr. Jonathan Vasta, said based on the pardon the President requested for those that had committed various offences in the nation during the military era, the family urged him to extend the same gesture to their late brother and nine others, since they were killed over similar offences.
Vatsa was said to have been killed unjustly by the ‘Kangaro’ military tribunal put in place by Babangida in 1986.
The first son of the late Vatsa in Kaduna, Haruna, said his late mother struggled until death for his father to be pardoned but failed.
He said: “It was the struggle that my mother started while she was alive. She wanted it accomplished, but could not because of death. “Therefore, with the recent pardon the President granted other military officers that committed the same offence my father was accused of, the family feel if they can be pardoned now, it should be extended to all of them.”
Reports by: Ayodele Ojo, Obiora Ifoh, Kayode Ketefe, Wale Igbintade, Temitope Ogunbanke, Aza Msue, Priscilla Dennis, Meshack Idehen and Kenny Odunukan.