The Nigerian presidency defends its decision to pardon a convicted corrupt leader.
An embattled presidency, Thursday, issued a frenetic defense of President Goodluck Jonathan’s grant of state pardon to former Bayelsa State Governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha; asserting the president’s right to act and refuting criticisms about the propriety of the decision.
Presidential Spokesperson, Doyin Okupe, denied the amnesty will spur public officials to loot the state treasury, as critics have warned, and dismissed similar arguments that the pardon was to prepare Mr. Alamieyeseigha, convicted for huge fraud eight year ago, for elections in 2015.
At any measure, Mr. Okupe said, the former governor would have qualified to seek elective office by 2015, when it would have been 10 years since he was convicted, as stipulated by the constitution.
“Alamieyeiseigha was jailed in 2006, he has already spent eight years after his conviction; the Nigerian Constitution allows you to stand for any post ten years after you must have served your jail term. So whether President Goodluck Jonathan granted him pardon or not, by 2015 he will be fully qualified and eligible to run for election,” Mr. Okupe said.
But it will only be nine, and not 10 years by 2015, since the former governor left jail, invalidating Mr. Okupe’s claim.
Mr. Alamieyeseigha’s pardon, approved by the Jonathan-led Council of States on Tuesday, has ignited a firestorm for a president who lately, faced stinging backlash and public disapproval for strings of policy missteps.
Mr. Alamieyeseigha was cleared alongside seven others, one of them- Shettima Bulama- also an ex-fraud convict. But many Nigerians view the president’s decision as chiefly directed at Mr. Alamieyeseigha, a known political benefactor of the president.
Pardon doesn’t stop corruption
At a press conference on Thursday, the government’s first official briefing since Tuesday, Mr. Okupe said critics were wrong by claiming the presidential pardon showed the administration was abdicating an already shaky anti-graft effort.
That line of argument takes the criticism “too far”, he said, reading from a prepared text.
“It is out of place to suggest that the pardon is tantamount to abandoning the fight against corruption in Nigeria. This is too far from the truth,” he said.
Adopting a more conciliatory tone than an earlier television appearance, where he thumped about the president not owing apologies for the decision, Mr. Okupe appealed to Nigerians to be “open minded” on the issue, and to recognize that “the purpose of punishment,” as stated by English judge, Lord Denning, “is not to destroy the offender but rather to reform him and deter others”.
He subtly highlighted the administration’s argument that after all, the former Bayelsa State Governor’s prosecution was politically motivated.
“Gentlemen of the Press will recall that former Governor DSP Alamieyeseigha was removed from office in a manner that was suggested by many as not being entirely above board,” he said.
Nevertheless, he added, the former governor served his time, lost his position, “forfeited the property illegally acquired and has demonstrated enough soberness after he served his sentence.”
“It has often been said that there is always a season for everything under the sun, a season to punish and a season to forgive. Distinguished gentlemen of the press, fellow Nigerians, this is the season to forgive and to heal. May God forgive us all and bless our country Nigeria,” Mr. Okupe said.
Since the decision on Tuesday, the remarks by government officials have seemed hardly potent enough at reversing the fury that greeted the decision.
Civil society groups warned on Thursday they will oppose the president’s decision, although it is not clear how much they could achieve with the president’s powers for pardon clearly stated.
Citing a dossier of state pardons by American presidents, Mr. Okupe said Nigerians should recognize Mr. Alamieyeseigha’s role in keeping the peace in the restive Niger Delta, which is vital for steady oil sales and a running national economy.
“But in truth Alamieyeisegha since he left prison has been working strenuously and silently to assist the President stabilize the amnesty in the Niger Delta Region. Alamieyeisegha is a foremost leader of the Ijaw Nation, and his political and stabilizing influence in that region have impacted positively on the overall economy of the nation, bringing crude oil exports from the abysmally low level of 700,00 bpd, to over 2.4 million bpd!
“Therefore, it is obvious that, Alamieyeisegha has been a major player since his release from prison in ensuring that the blood that runs through the Nigerian economic artery is not cut off,” he said.