Angered by the failure of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government to disclose the identities of 159 convicts it pardoned more than a week after, Nigerians have begun to allege possible cover-up in the entire affair.
This is as a number of activists who spoke to THE WITNESS demanded that the president should publish the list of all those pardoned without further delay.
Recall that President Buhari on the advice of the Council of States, had on Thursday, April 14, pardoned 159 convicts, including Joshua Dariye, former governor of Plateau State and Jolly Nyame, ex-Taraba State governor.
The pardoning of the duo of former governors who were jailed for stealing N1.16 billion and N1.6 billion respectively, from their states’ coffers, had headlined the decision, with many initially paying little attention to the rest of the beneficiaries of the pardon.
However, many are beginning to raise eyebrows over the failure of the government to publish the list of those pardoned more than one week after the pardon was granted, with some suggesting that the list could include some hardened criminals and even terrorists.
“We have become a country of anything goes,” said Mr. Kola Adeyemo, a lawyer and activist.
“It’s bad enough that you can wake up one day and decide to pardon almost 200 people who were convicted of crimes, a process that often takes years given the kind of judicial system we have, but it’s simply unbelievable that after doing so, Nigerians cannot be told who they are and why they have been pardoned.”
Nigeria has continued to battle more than a decade-old insurgency in the northeast, even as a surging wave of banditry in the northwest and separatist tensions in the southeast, have since compounded the country’s security woes, causing many to wonder if the 2023 elections would even hold.
Through the efforts of security agencies, however, a number of terrorists and bandit commanders have been apprehended and jailed.
But in the wake of the pardon, some have wondered if some of the terrorists could be part of those freed.
“My take is that if the government has nothing to hide about the list, it should have published it,” said Chidi Anthony, a lawyer. “It’s possible, and I say so with every sense of responsibility, that some of those pardoned could be real criminals, if not terrorists. Otherwise, they should publish the list. Boko Haram commanders may be there.”
On his part, Mr. Sodiq Lawal, an activist wondered if the administration didn’t free criminals to be used to manipulate the elections in 2023.
“You can’t rule out anything,” he said. “We have heard that they brought criminals and terrorists to start committing genocide if they failed to win in 2015. Luckily, they got power and there was no longer a need for that. But then, the criminals could be part of those attacking trains, airports and committing all manner of atrocities now.
“It’s hard to believe that in a country facing heightened insecurity and where corruption is endemic, a government can just pardon up to 159 people without even telling us their names. Maybe they have even pardoned the likes of Evans, who knows,” Sodiq wondered.
Also condemning the government’s inability to publish the names, Hamza Mohammed, said, “For those of us who truly believed this government and what they promised, there are no more words to express our regrets.
“I mean, this is a new low for a government that came to power promising to fight insecurity and tackle corruption. It’s unfortunate.”
Meanwhile, the pardon of Dariye and Nyame, the known names on the list of 159, have continued to attract condemnations, with many insisting that it has rolled back whatever achievements the Buhari government has made in the anti-corruption fight.
“Upon assumption of the Buhari administration, many Nigerians expected a paradigm shift. Now, the entire anti-corruption war has become a joke with the pardon granted to former Plateau and Taraba states governors – Joshua Dariye convicted for theft of N1.6 billion and, Jolly Nyame also jailed for diverting billions, from their states’ coffers. The pardon granted to the duo has indeed eroded the gains achieved by Buhari administration’s war against corruption,” wrote Ibrahim Mustapha, from Pambegua, Kaduna, in a letter to The Nation.
“Of course, the pardon will embolden corruption and render war against corruption meaningless in a country where corruption has become the order of the day. Government officials will steal public funds with impunity believing they will be pardoned by government. This is the reason Nigerians are calling for the total scrapping of the anti-corruption agencies. With the pardon granted to Dariye and Nyame, Nigerians should forget about war against corruption.”
Last week, rights activists and constitutional lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, condemned the pardon, wondering where justice now lies.
Ozekhome, while faulting the action of the president, queried the basis for granting the pardon when the charge of corruption upon which they were convicted was not only a bane in the country but “struts around imperiously like a peacock”.
He said, “By granting pardon to these treasury looters, Buhari is reviving, nurturing and watering corruption with state powers.”
He continued, “So, when the Council of State recently authorized the pardon of 159 convicts, including Senator Joshua Dariye of Plateau State and ex-Governor Jolly Nyame of Taraba State, who were both imprisoned for stealing N1.16 billion and N1.6 billion respectively, many Nigerians justifiably showed anger, because these two political leaders had been duly tried and convicted for stealing money belonging to their respective states.
“Where lies the justice for the impoverished people of Plateau and Taraba States who will now watch their tormentors stroll out with red carpet treatment?
“The government budgets huge sums of money for the prosecution of such accused persons from the tax players’ sweat; and if after the rigorous period of trial and subsequent conviction, the guilty are simply let off the hook in such a brazen manner, the little remaining lean hope the citizens have in the system is further diminished.”
Also speaking on the pardon, Nyesom Wike, governor of Rivers State, demanded the immediate disbandment of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), insisting the state pardon granted to the former governors has made both anti-corruption outfits irrelevant.
Wike had described the pardon as totally against President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade.
“There is no gainsaying the country is not having it right, and there should be a desperate effort to save the nation, and by which I’m out to right the wrongs,” Wike said when he paid courtesy visit to Kano State governor, Abdullahi Ganduje on Monday.
Also, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, while reacting to the pardon on Friday last week, said Buhari’s administration should free all prisoners, who have been jailed for stealing and related offences.
Falana who spoke as a guest lecturer at an event organised to celebrate one year remembrance of the late Yinka Odumakin and the launch of the Yinka Odumakin Foundation at Sheraton Lagos Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos, insisted that it was stated in section 17 of the 1999 constitution that citizens were entitled to equal rights and opportunities and so the state pardon has to be extended to all prisoners serving terms for stealing.
Amid the outrage, the Presidency in a statement on Wednesday claimed that Dariye and Nyame benefited from the exercise because they are currently battling with life-threatening illnesses.
The explanation, however, did not convince many Nigerians, especially civil society groups.
On Thursday, chairman, Centre for Anti-corruption and Open Leadership, Debo Adeniran, said Dariye and Nyame did not deserve to be pardoned.
“I maintain my stand on the matter to the extent that there is no life-threatening disease that cannot be treated behind the walls,” he told Punch.
“Even if it is a communicable disease, they should be put in an isolation centre or be allowed access to their doctors. The excuse is lame. They don’t deserve to benefit from prerogative of mercy.”
The executive director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Auwal Rafsanjani, also questioned why others with worst health conditions in various prisons were not pardoned, adding that the present regime had sacrificed the war against corruption for 2023 elections.
“We have many Nigerians languishing in prisons across the country and they have not been forgiven. Why is that it is only politically exposed persons?
“It is all about 2023 elections. The various anti-graft agencies put a lot to prosecute and convict them; they have demoralised them with this particular action,” he said.
Meanwhile, a coalition of CSOs, under the aegis of Conference of Northern States Civil Society Networks, has threatened to mobilise against the present regime if it fails to reverse the pardon.
The 19 CSOs, in a statement signed by the chairman and secretary of CNSCSN, Ibrahim Waiya and Ibrahim Yusuf, described the action as a disservice to the fight against corruption, adding that it is capable of killing the morale of workers of the nation’s anti-graft agencies.
The statement read in part, “We, members of this great conference, and as anti-corruption ambassadors, hereby condemn this action in totality and request President Buhari to, as matter of urgency, reverse his decision on the state pardon granted to some convicts in the interest of Nigerian citizens.”
Similarly, the Resource Centre for Human Rights & Civic Education (CHRICED), on Thursday, said the pardon will undermine the nation’s anti-corruption fight and encourage more political leaders to steal.
CHRICED’s executive director, Dr Zikirullahi Ibrahim, stated this while briefing journalists on the state of the nation, in Abuja noted that the action of the Buhari in this regard, was tainted by political motives as the two ex-governors are card-carrying members of the ruling All Progressives Congress
“Just when the fight against corruption appears to be finally spreading among Nigerians and development partners, President Buhari announced pitiable, politically-informed state pardons for two recalcitrant former governors,” he said.
“It is on record that the two former governors never cooperated with the government throughout the investigation and prosecution. On the contrary, they did everything possible to frustrate the investigation and prosecution. It is to the credit of the hardworking staff and leadership of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that the country eventually secured a conviction for these two felons. It is, therefore, disappointing and condemnable that President Buhari decided to reward unrepentant offenders with a state pardon.”