Cardinal Onaiyekan argues that the infamous pardon has serious political and social fall-out that government cannot afford to ignore.
The infamous presidential pardon granted former Bayelsa State Governor, Depreiye Alamieyeseigha, a political patron of President Goodluck Jonathan may never go down well with most Nigerians as more high profile figures have joined in condemning the pardon.
The latest condemnation was issued by a prominent leader of the Catholic Church in Nigeria, the Cardinal John Oniayekan, in his Easter message.
The Cardinal , troubled by the pardon – like many Nigerians - dedicated his Easter message to condemning the pardon and commenting on a raging argument over whether amnesty should be granted to members of the Boko Haram terrorist sect.
Nigeria’s President Jonathan drew local and international anger after he granted state pardon to his former boss, Mr. Alamieyeseigha. The former governor, wanted in the United Kingdom for money laundering and convicted in Nigeria for embezzling state funds while he was Governor, was pardoned alongside another convict and former head of the Bank of the North, Shettima Bulama.
Mr. Bulama, like Mr. Alamieyeisegha, was investigated and later prosecuted for corruption by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC for crimes committed as head of the Bank of the North.
While many Nigerians have described it as the worst setback to the fight against corruption in Nigeria, the controversial pardon granted Messrs Alamieyeseigha and Bulama sparked diplomatic row between Nigeria and the United States, with the Americans threatening to punish Nigeria over Mr. Jonathan’s action.
The president also drew public anger for the pardon of a former army major, Bello Magaji, a homosexual rapist who the Supreme Court of Nigeria jailed for five years for serially sodomising four teenage boys.
The Cardinal said both the pardon and the argument for an amnesty for Boko Haram are “cases where moral issues are at stake, where people are condemned or liable to be condemned for breaking the law and going against moral norms.”
He argued that Messrs. Alamieyeisegha and Bulama, and others ‘unjustly’ pardoned, ought to have shown some form of public repentance “which should be clear to everyone.”
“Furthermore, a sincere effort must be made to pay back as much as possible of what has been stolen. That money belongs to the Nigerian people and it must be given back to them (as a precondition for the pardon), “he added.
The cleric advised the government not to forget that the issue of massive corruption in high places is of major concern to Nigerians who are fast losing confidence in the sincerity of government to turn the tide.
“Pardon for high profile corruption cases will certainly reduce further whatever is left of the confidence of the people. This has serious political and social fall-out that government cannot afford to ignore,” he said. “We must tell the truth that anger is mounting in the land, especially among the youth whose patience is running out. The clock of social tension is dangerously ticking towards explosion. The nation is in danger. What is needed are clear and visible gestures of reassurance that a real change and genuine transformation for the better has started.”
Boko Haram amnesty condition
The Cardinal argued that that the fundamental requirement for forgiveness – amnesty – are admittance of wrongdoing and willingness to amend damages by the wrong actions.
“Before the Boko Haram can be seriously considered for amnesty, they must meet the two conditions for forgiveness, namely repentance and amendment,” he said. “Before they are eligible for any amnesty, they must at least admit that they were wrong to be killing innocent people, whatever may have been their grievances. If this is not done, they could well continue to feel that they did the right thing and perhaps, it is the rest of us who ought to beg them for pardon.”
He said Boko Haram may claim to have grievances that have fuelled the war which have killed at least 1,500 Nigerians.
“The fact is that they have killed innocent people. How does the state forgive murderers? How can the government grant amnesty to people who have killed innocent citizens, some in their places of worship?” he asked.
The Cardinal said the issue of poverty and unemployment, which is cited as an excuse for the Boko Haram insurgency, and the growing danger of community polarization gradually tearing the nation apart, needs to be addressed as key ingredients of an amnesty for the deadly sect.
“And this boils down to the critical issue of good governance at all levels: Federal, State and Local government,” he said.
The full text of Mr. Onaiyekan’s reflections can be obtained [Click here]
This story has been corrected to reflect the actual title of Cardinal John Onaiyekan.