Nyame and Dariye
Days after the Council of State recommended presidential pardon for two former governors convicted of corruption and 157 other convicts, civil society organisations and lawyers have continued to react to the decision.
They told Sunday PUNCH in separate interviews that the pardon was a disincentive to the anti-corruption fight and that it would encourage people to steal. They also berated the President for the action, saying it was a political move, especially as the two former governors, jailed for stealing N2.7bn, are members of the ruling All Progressives Congress.
Peoples Democratic Party presidential aspirant and Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike argued that the corruption fight of the Federal Government is shrouded in ‘’despicable politics that puts Nigeria up for ridicule before the international community.’’
Wike made the observation on Saturday when he visited Niger State as part of his ongoing consultation with PDP delegates, according to a statement issued by his media aide, Kelvin Ebiri and made available to newsmen in Port Harcourt.
The governor said it was difficult to explain the rationale of the FG in handpicking supposed corrupt persons, making them go through court processes up to Supreme Court and then turn around to release them in the guise of a pardon.
He recalled that the President, retired Major General Muhammadu Buhari’s promise to Nigerians was to fight corruption forthrightly, but the pattern was tilted against those who are opposed to his policy and programmes.
“To tell you the truth, this APC government has deceived us a lot. This is a government that said they’re fighting corruption. They handpicked people and jailed them after they had gone through all court processes up to the Supreme Court.
“Then they turned around to release from prison those people that they said were corrupt. What country is this; what government is this?
“Doing it for political reasons because the elections are coming and they want Dariye to help their party in Plateau State. They want Nyame to help them in Taraba State. Why don’t they give pardon to James Ibori, for example,’’ the statement read.
The Executive Director, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, Adetokunbo Mumuni, said a government that said it was fighting corruption could not at the same time be seen to be doing what would more or less absolve people jailed of corruption.
He said, “Although, the power to pardon belongs to the President, whatever you do as a President, you must be mindful of what people would say and the impression it creates. Those who recommended them for pardon cannot all be regarded as people of integrity and the President that approved such a pardon cannot be said to be fighting corruption.”
Similarly, the Executive Chairman, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, Mr Debo Adeniran, said the pardon was a celebration of corruption in the country and the biggest disincentive to the fight against graft.
He added, “A lot of work went into the investigation and it dragged on for years before they were sentenced. We felt those jail terms were not even enough.
‘’The spirit of a lot of the detectives and witnesses who worked on the cases would be dampened and they would now be in the same space with convicted criminals, which puts their lives at risk. Investigating a crook is hazardous.This government has lost any credibility it has left in the fight against corruption. The international community would be laughing at us.”
The Chairman, Human and Environmental Development Agenda, Mr Olanrewaju Suraju, said pardoning politically exposed persons convicted for abusing people’s trust and mismanaging public resources would amount to an endorsement of corruption by a government claiming to be fighting corruption.
He added, “The prerogative of mercy and pardon is not an avenue for members of the committee to commercialise their responsibilities and mandate for protection of political family. The public should demand and await the full list of the beneficiaries for critical review and even challenge such an action. This platform shouldn’t be used as a means of subverting the power of the judiciary.”
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Seyi Sowemimo, also said the pardon would send a wrong signal and dampen people’s morale.
He added, “I really don’t know what has informed those decisions, maybe there are extraordinary circumstances why those people were selected, but certainly, whatever the consideration was, most people may never have access to those reasons and would legitimately conclude that this is some sort of preferential treatment.”
In the same vein, the Executive Director, Egalitarian Mission for Africa, Chief Kayode Ajulo, said the Council of State was empowered by the constitution to do such, but he queried the criteria for the pardon and wondered why only VIP convicts benefitted from the privilege.
He noted, “The names released so far have shown that those pardoned are those in the upper echelon of the society, whereas, thousands of helpless and unknown Nigerians are languishing in our correctional centres for donkey’s years without any succour to their plight.”
The Coordinator, Transparency Accountability Group, Ayo Ologun, said, “I consider it a perpetuation of the ruling class and an encouragement to corrupt practices and acts of corporate stealing for the ex-governors jailed for corruption to be granted state pardon.’’
Also, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Dr Emeka Obegolu, said the constitution empowers the President and the National Council of State to pardon convicts and that they must have seen sufficient reasons to grant the recommendation, which many people might not be privy to.
He added, “I believe a former state governor who has passed through such a reformative process for about eight years must have been reformed. In the United States where we borrowed our democracy, President Donald Trump pardoned his political associates who were convicted before he left office.
‘’So, it is a political tool and we should not demonise the Nigerian authorities for pardoning people who have spent considerable periods in detention. We should however worry about the rate of conviction bordering on corruption offences.”
However, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, said the Presidential Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy would have its rules and framework before it could recommend people for pardon, chief among which is that an inmate would have spent a considerable time of their sentence and had been of good behavior.
He noted that the purpose of sentencing was not to punish but to redeem.
He added, “So, a parole board would invite the inmates for interviews and if they pass, they would make a recommendation for a remission of the sentence. But if I were to head such a committee, I wouldn’t recommend someone with a long sentence and whose crimes were harmful to public policy.
‘’I will not recommend somebody who has killed someone brutally and somebody charged and sentenced for corruption when corruption is one of the critical issues in Nigeria. So, if you are pardoning people who have been found guilty of corruption, it may send the wrong message.”
Also, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, stated that the ‘ill-advised abuse of power will further embolden political thieves and unrepentant pilferers of our national commonwealth’.
The senior lawyer in a statement titled: ’Legal and Moral Implications of Granting Pardon to Ex-Convicts and Serving Prisoners,’ said, “It shows that once you are a friend of the President or a member of his political party, or his acolyte and supporter, you can get away with any crime. In other words, in Nigeria, corruption surely pays!
“With this action, the fight against corruption appears forlorn and a mirage. What is the essence of spending scarce resources in the name of fighting corruption if at the end of the day the convicts will be pardoned and stroll into their palatial homes in splendour in this ugly manner?’’
Sagay defends Buhari
Meanwhile, the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof Itse Sagay (SAN), said the pardon for the two ex-governors was in order.
According to him, the decision was not taken by Buhari alone but by the National Council of State, which comprised all the 36 governors, former Presidents and past and present Chief Justices of Nigeria.
The senior advocate added that he was convinced that Dariye and Nyame had learnt their lessons and had been punished enough, having spent four years in jail already.
He added, “The President didn’t do it alone but with the Council of State. I am sure it must have been a consensus. It is not such a terrible thing as people are saying. Four years in prison is tough. Some of us may not survive a month in prison.
“They have faced humiliation and loss of status, falling from Government Houses to prison. So, I don’t think there is anything wrong if they are being pardoned.”
Speaking on insinuation that the pardon was political given that Dariye and Nyame were members of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Sagay said, “No, I can disagree with this entirely. These people are not active party men anymore. When they are pardoned, for 10 years they cannot participate in politics. So, they are of no consequential advantage to the President or any party. I don’t think it’s a party matter.”