President Muhammadu Buhari, last Thursday, granted a controversial pardon to 159 convicted persons including two former state governors who were convicted and jailed for stealing public funds.
The pardon was announced after the National Council of State ratified it at its meeting on Thursday.
The two former governors – Joshua Dariye of Plateau State and Jolly Nyame of Taraba State – who are on the list of the pardoned convicts, are still serving jail terms of 10 and 12 years, respectively, after their conviction and sentencing were affirmed by the Supreme Court.
The pardon granted to the former governors has been widely criticised as sabotaging the anti-corruption war by a government that came to power on the mantra of fighting corruption.
PREMIUM TIMES in a hard-hitting editorial on Wednesday described it as “a rank injudicious exercise of statecraft”.
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 as ex-convicts.
The pardon granted to the 159 persons followed the recommendation of the 12-member Presidential Advisory Committee on Prerogative of Mercy (PACPM).
The PACPM was constituted by President Buhari in August 2018 and is headed by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami.
It was set up to advise the president on granting pardon/clemency to deserving inmates and ex-convicts in line with the provisions of section 175 of the Nigerian constitution.
Below are the names of the members of the committee that recommended the controversial pardon:
*Abubakar Malami (chairman) – Attorney-General of the Federation
*Jim-Jaja Ibiwari (Secretary to the committee) Director of Special Duties in the Ministry of Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs is the Secretary of the Committee.
*Anthonia A. Ekpa – Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs
*Leticia Ayoola-Daniels – Representative of the Ministry of Justice,; and
*Raphael Ibinuhi – the representative of the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS).
*Shehu Gwarzo – a commissioner of police, representing the Nigeria Police Force
*Albert Uko – representing the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN)
*Professor Auwalu Yadudu – representing Jamaat Nasri Islam (JNI)
*Yetunde Haastrup of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)
*Lady Obodoukwu – eminent Nigerian
*Lucy Ajayi – eminent Nigerian
*Joshua Mbu – eminent Nigerian
*B.A. Ogunbambi – eminent Nigerian
In carrying out their assignment, Mr Malami said the committee adopted the use of interviews, observations, consultation and relevant documents called for and received from each of the Correctional Centres in Nigeria.
Outrage over Presidential Pardon
The controversial presidential pardon granted to former Governors Nyame and Dariye has sparked outrage, with anti-graft agencies, EFCC and ICPC, saying their “morale and commitment” to work have been affected. Officials of the two institutions accused President Buhari of sabotaging efforts to curb corruption in Nigeria.
The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), the Nigerian chapter of Transparency International (TI), lamented that the pardon has “rubbished the work of the EFCC” and validated criticism of the Buhari government’s anti-corruption campaign as nothing but “a means to settle political scores and pardon those in its camp.”
The effect of this “singular ill-advised act of abuse of power” is that “it will embolden political thieves and unrepentant pilferers of our national commonwealth,” CISLAC said in a statement.
Various civil society organisations said the pardon amount to a waste of huge funds expended on investigating and prosecuting the convicts.
They also bemoaned the pardon as a slap on the face of the country’s anti-corruption campaigners and a major setback to the progress in the fight against corruption.
“Presidential pardon for corruption is inconsistent with the rule of law, and the public interest, as it undermines the principle of equality before the law,” the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) said in a statement.
Angered by what he said confirmed the Buhari administration’s apparent nepotism, a human rights lawyer and activist, Mike Ozekhome, argued that there is no basis to pardon individuals in a country where “corruption struts around imperiously like a peacock.”
He 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!”
History of pardoning corrupt politicians
President Buhari is not the first Nigerian leader to issue a controversial pardon to politicians or officials convicted of corruption.
During the military era, former head of state, Ibrahim Babangida, was criticised for setting an ugly precedent by “pardoning corrupt officials convicted by his predecessors and returning their seized properties.”
In 2013, civil society groups and activists were incensed after erstwhile President Goodluck Jonathan pardoned his former boss and political benefactor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. Mr Alamieyeseigha had jumped bail after his arrest in London for money laundering in 2005. He was convicted of embezzling state funds in Nigeria in 2007.
Buhari’s Anti Corruption war
Mr Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress, rode to power on the promise to combat corruption, asserting repeatedly that “if Nigeria does not kill corruption, then corruption will kill Nigeria.”
Critics have pointed out that the situation has deteriorated on his watch.
Recent reports by Transparency International and the U.S. State Department appear to lend weight to critics’ charges. According to TI’s 2021 Corruption Perception Index (CPI), Nigeria ranks 154 out of 180 (the lower the more corrupt) countries and is the second most corrupt country in West Africa.
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