State Pardon For Looters – By Barr. Fidelis Anayo Akonobi

Many reasons have been touted by the Federal Government of Nigeria for its decision on Tuesday 12th March, 2013 to grant pardon to some ex-convicts notable among them are the former Governor of Bayelsa State Mr. DSP Alamieyeseigha and the former Managing Director of Bank of the North Mr. Shettima Bulama. These persons were at different times convicted of offences bordering on fraud, corruption and looting of public treasury. But it is evident that the more officials of the Federal Government strove to force the decision down the throat of Nigerians the more superficial and unpopular the decision appears. Scathing remarks have been made by a cross-section of Nigerians in condemnation of that decision led by anti – corruption civil society groups. The United States of America has also expressed disappointment that those found guilty and convicted of corruption could be pardoned by the President Good luck Jonathan’s administration.

Presidential spokesmen Dr. Doyin Okupe and Dr. Rueben Abati have exerted themselves to defend the indefensible. They said that the President acted within the ambit of the provisions of Section 175 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria bordering on the prerogative of mercy. Under this provision, the President is empowered to in respect of offenders grant pardon, remission or respite and such powers shall be exercised by him after consultation with the Council of State. President Jonathan’s spokesmen had argued that past Presidents of this country had invoked this power and pardoned persons like Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the Late Ikemba of Nnewi, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. According to Dr. Okupe, Alamieyeseigha deserved the pardon as he is a foremost leader of Ijaw Nation and his political and stabilizing influence in that region has impacted on the overall economy of the nation bringing crude oil exports from the abysmally low level of 700, 000 bpd to over 2.4 million bpd.

Be that as it may, I am very convinced that the widespread disapproval and criticism of Alamieyeseigha and Shettima Bulama’s pardon is as a result of the nature of the offences they committed – their corruption status; after all six other persons were pardoned concomitantly with them by the President including General Oladipo Diya, Late General Musa Yar’Adua and Late General Abdulkareem Adisa but theirs have generated no controversy. Fair minded Nigerians would not criticize President Jonathan for exercising this power in favour of Alamieyeseigha simply because Alamieyeseigha was his former boss or that both men came from Bayelsa State. In my mind, the condemnation of this pardon goes beyond these parochial considerations.

Admittedly, the President is entitled to exercise his prerogative on offenders as provided for in Section 175 of the 1999 Constitution but such powers ought to be exercised with caution taking into consideration the prevalence of the offence committed, the timing and the general mood of the nation. If such persons who looted public treasury and enriched themselves to the detriment of the suffering masses could be pardoned by President Jonathan, then where lies the credence of his much publicized fight against corruption. Sometimes I ponder when one claims that he does not eat rat but employs his teeth to share it among his children. This pardon has betrayed President Jonathan’s body language with respect to corruption. It is an eloquent testimony that his avowed commitment to fighting corruption in Nigeria is a ruse – a battle not meant to be won.

There is widespread disillusionment with the Jonathan administration over the spate and magnitude of corruption and looting of public treasury in Nigeria. Corruption has greatly impoverished Nigeria – a country so blessed by God that it has no business being poor. The recent police pension fund fraud scandal, the oil subsidy fraud and bribery scandal and so many other corruption scandals in Nigeria ought to be of utmost concern to the President and not granting questionable pardons in favour of persons with corruption status. As the Chairman of Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) Ekpo Nta, once put it, “there is no political will to fight corruption in Nigeria” People found guilty of corruption are not punished or get light sentences after prosecution because of their position or status in the society. Even the ones that confessed to such crimes and convicted were granted state pardon. The underlying principle of criminal justice is to punish an offender to serve as a deterrent to others who may contemplate committing such offence.

In the course of prosecution of the so called war against corruption in Nigeria, the Federal Government had at very times solicited and received the assistance of the international community and international agencies. This assistance would come so long as government continues to demonstrate sincerity of purpose but if government takes decisions or steps which are antithetical to the war against corruption such as the curious Alamieyeseigha and Shettima Bulama’s pardon, the international community is not expected to fold their hands and only watch. The Obama administration in the United States of America criticized the pardon and stated that it was disappointed by the action of the President Jonathan’s administration. The Federal Government of Nigeria retorted by accusing US of meddling in the internal affairs of Nigeria. President Jonathan should not allow this altercation to degenerate into a diplomatic row between Nigeria and the US.

That some Nigerians such as Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu were once beneficiaries of such pardon is not enough justification for this pardon. Political offenders cannot by any stroke of imagination be equated with looters of public treasuries and thieves who stole public funds to the detriment of the economy and the masses. In the same vein, most Nigerians are not enthused by the fanciful and bogus claim that Alamieyeseigha has contributed to the stabilization of the oil producing Niger Delta region. For his contribution he has now been settled with a state pardon. While it may be admitted that the amnesty programme initiated by Late President Yar’Adua administration and inherited by President Jonathan’s administration is still on course, the Federal Government has not come out with any concrete proof of what Alamieyeseigha has done to boost its effort on stabilizing their region.

Corruption is Nigeria’s most terrible vice and therefore even if Alamieyeseigha and Shettima Bulama had applied for pardon, one would have expected President Jonathan and his Council of State to have refused their applications. The pardon is bereft of moral content, reprehensible and an affront to the sensibilities and psyce of Nigerians. Such pardon is not only inimical to the President Jonathan administration’s so called war against corruption but it provides the basis for Nigerians to look on the entire war with jaundiced eyes. It is expected that with the widespread condemnation of that decision, President Jonathan should take steps to reverse the pardon especially as it concerns those with corruption status. In future it is recommended that exercise of the power to pardon under section 175 of Constitution should be exercised with caution especially with a view to foster unity and peace in the country or to assuage obvious miscarriage of justice.

 

Barrister Fidelis Anayo Akonobi

Barrister & Solicitor:

The Supreme Court Of Nigeria

 

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