President Goodluck Jonathan reached to his constitutional powers to grant prerogative of mercy Tuesday, in Abuja, spraying controversial gifts of state pardon to about a dozen high profile felons including his former boss Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, who served as governor in Bayelsa State between 2000 and 2005.
The president served as deputy governor to Mr. Alamieyeseigha during this period.
PREMIUM TIMES exclusively reported Tuesday morning that President Jonathan had listed this intention on the agenda of the Council of States meeting which held same day at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.
Section 175 of the 1999 Constitution requires the president to seek advisory support from the council but their counsel does not bind him.
Authoritative PREMIUM TIMES sources at the meeting said the appearance of Mr. Alamieyeseigha’s name, recurring on two separate lists circulated to attendees, previous to the meeting and at the meeting Tuesday morning, drew “special, if even muted, attention to the direction of the president’s mind regarding the value of this candidate.”
This development might have also explained the absence of some people at the meeting, according to multiple sources who would not go on record on the matter. “These people simply stayed away in disgust, apparently because they didn’t want this matter to blemish their records” one of the sources said.
No sooner had the Council of State meeting ended, however, and words filtered out that the president had taken this audacious step, than a barrage of angry reactions rang through the nation’s four corners, drawing ringing condemnations and concern at the calculations behind the president’s move.
The late Maj-Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, elder brother of the late President Umaru Yar Adua, and some velvet ranking military offers implicated in the 1995 and 1997 phantom coups against the late Military Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha also benefited from the presidential gesture.
The officers are: former Chief of General Staff, Lt.-Gen. Oladipo Diya, a former Minister of Works, the late Gen. Abdulkareem Adisa, a former Minister of Communications, and Maj.-Gen. Tajudeen Olanrewaju.
Other beneficiaries include a former Managing Director of the defunct Bank of the North, Alhaji Shettima Bulama and Dr. Chiichii Ashwe.
Maj-Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua’s name on the list raised immediate concern since he had been previously granted pardon by President Olusegun Obasanjo, but knowledgeable sources about how the pardon was design suggested it was a mistake that resulted from a clash of presidential intentions and the inability to do effective checks.
“For instance the first list had Mr. Yar’Adua’s name while the second one simply had some relatively unknown chaps mostly from the north,” said our source who said the important goal was evidently to get Mr. Alamieyeseigha’s case across.
The president’s media team offered no clarity to bewildered journalists after the meeting, which appeared scripted to evade any controversy.
Presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati was travelling abroad, but Doyin Okupe, his official double did not return series of calls and text messages on why no official list of people on the pardon list was available.
As at press time for most newspapers, there was a mood of frustration in many newsrooms making many to miss the story. The News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, which initially confirmed the story, curiously sent words twenty minutes after to refute itself. Unusually also, none of the governors was mandated to brief the press.
It is still unclear if President Jonathan ran his proposal by the Presidential Advisory Committee on Prerogative of Mercy (PACPM), as he is expected by law to do. However, the closest to an affirmation on this came from a member of the Presidential Advisory on Committee on Prerogative of Mercy, Constitutional lawyer Tunji Abayomi, who said it is the privilege of the president to pardon anybody he wants.
“It is his prerogative whether exercised rightly or wrongly,” Mr Abayomi said. “That prerogative is not subject to any condition and so there is not much we can do about it.”
With the presidential amnesty, the former convicts are free to return to their normal public lives, seek elective positions and take up appointments. They are also no longer to be referred to ex-convicts.
Three former heads of government, namely President Shehu Shagari, Yakubu Gowon, and former Head of the Interim Government, Errnest Shonekan, attended Tuesday’s Council of State meeting. Several state governors were also in attendance.