Members of the Council of State who granted the controversial state pardon to former Bayelsa State Governor, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, and six others on Tuesday, were caught unawares.
Sources told Codewit that the request for clemency, which has continued to attract condemnations nationwide, took several members of the Council of State unawares as they were not availed of the memo requesting the pardon for Alamieyeseigha, to whom President Goodluck Jonathan was deputy during his tenure in Bayelsa State, until they were seated at the meeting.
Besides the former governor, others granted pardon included a former Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, the late Maj. Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, who was pardoned posthumously; a former Chief of General Staff, Lt. Gen. Oladipo Diya; a former Minister of Communications, Maj. Gen. Tajudeen Olanrewaju; and a former Minister of Works, the late Maj. Gen. Abdulkareem Adisa, who was also granted a posthumous pardon.
The late Yar’Adua, Diya, Olanrewaju and Adisa were convicted by a special military tribunal for their involvement in a contrived coup during the regime of a former head of state, the late Gen. Sani Abacha.
Others pardoned are a former managing director of the defunct Bank of the North, Alhaji Shettima Bulama, and Dr. Chiichii Ashwe.
Amidst the spirited defence by the presidency on the decision, more prominent Nigerians and groups, including former Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, under whose watch Alamieyeseigha was prosecuted for graft-related offences, condemned the state pardon, especially for the former governor and the clandestine manner in which the Federal Government carried out the exercise.
Ribadu described as “a sad development” the state pardon granted Alamieyeseigha and Bulama, who was also jailed for corruption.
Indeed, it was in a bid by the council to grant clemency to Alamieyeseigha and others in a surreptitious manner that led to Adamawa State Governor, Murtala Nyako, lying to reporters covering the State House, that the council did not discuss pardon for any past political office holder.
He stressed after the meeting that the only discussion pertaining clemency was with respect to criminal cases involving manslaughter and armed robbery.
Others, who reacted to the pardon granted Alamieyeseigha, said it showed that the president was not serious about his commitment to fight corruption.
On the other hand, family members of some of the beneficiaries welcomed the pardon and lauded the president for his initiative.
Investigations by Codewit revealed that the Council of State members were not sent the memos on the issue to be discussed at the Tuesday meeting in advance but were availed copies when they got to the council chamber.
One of those who participated in the council deliberations confided that if some of them had seen the memo in advance, they would have advised the president on the implication of the action and counselled him against it.
He explained that the presentation of the matter was done in a manner that left no room for discussion and by the time they saw the list, there was little they could do to dissuade the president.
The source said what was on the council memo was a long list of names for state pardon, adding that those on the list, which was compiled by the Committee on Prerogative of Mercy that is located in the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation, were convicted for manslaughter, armed robbery and other criminal cases; but none of them was a political office holder.
However, he said at the end of the list in the memo, item five on the memo went on to state that the Committee on Prerogative of Mercy also stated: “The committee also received requests for Your Excellency attention, pleas for pardon from individuals or their legal representatives.”
He explained that it was under item five of the memo that the names of Alamieyeseigha and other ex-office holders were listed.
In defence of the action, however, the presidency yesterday said that the state pardon given by the Federal Government to some Nigerians who had been convicted of various crimes was not a unilateral action of Jonathan but a decision considered and approved by the Council of State, which is constitutionally empowered by the 1999 Constitution to do so.
Defending the pardon in the face of scurrilous attacks from individuals and groups, the presidency said Jonathan should not be criticised for the resolution because it was not his sole decision.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr Doyin Okupe, said the Council of State comprises the president, vice-president, all former presidents, former chief justices of the federation, the leadership of the National Assembly and all state governors who do not take impulsive decisions.
While explaining that those pardoned were approved after thorough deliberations by the council members and that there were many other names that were not approved during the Tuesday meeting, Okupe added that the decision to grant the state pardon should not be unduly politicised by anyone.
He explained that the idea of a pardon shows that it is not for the innocent but for those who might have been found guilty of some offences and had either finished serving their sentences or were in the process of serving those sentences.
Irrespective of Okupe’s defence, the trio of the Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, his counterparts in the Ministry of Housing, Lands and Urban Development, Ms Ama Pepple, as well as Interior, Mr. Abba Moro, who briefed State House correspondents on the outcome of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, parried a question on the pardon.
On their way out of the press gallery, as if anticipating that journalists would insist on getting an answer to the question, Maku directed the person who asked the question to see the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN).
However, several phone calls to Adoke, who is also a member of the Council of State, were not answered, neither did he respond to a text message asking for the basis upon which the beneficiaries of the prerogative of mercy were selected.
Criticising the pardon for Alamieyeseigha and Bulama, Ribadu yesterday described the decision as a “sad development.”
Speaking with THISDAY on the issue, Ribadu said: “They are all my cases,” in an apparent reference to the fact that the duo was arrested, prosecuted and convictions secured by the EFCC during his tenure as chairman.
He said their trials were among the cases that sent a clear message to both Nigerians and the international community that Nigeria was determined to tackle corruption irrespective of the calibre of people involved.
The former EFCC boss said granting state pardon to people prosecuted and convicted for corruption was a sore point in the nation's anti-corruption crusade.
Members of the National Assembly also reacted cautiously to the pardon while others condemned it outright.
Two senators on the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Senators Ganiyu Olanrewaju Solomon (Lagos West) and Sola Adeyeye (Osun Central), said the decision had exposed Jonathan’s unpreparedness to fight corruption.
According to Solomon, it is ridiculous that Alamieyeseigha who was put on trial in London in 2005 for corruption has now been pardoned in Nigeria, noting that the decision has elicited jokes that notorious robbers like the late Oyenusi should be posthumously pardoned while the nation tenders an apology for their punishment.
Adeyeye, on his part, said by the president's latest action, he had openly made a mockery of his transformation agenda and had made a bold statement that the fight against corruption would never take place under his leadership.
Members of the House of Representatives were more cautious in their response, as many of the lawmakers declined to express their views.
Some of those who seem opposed to it were concerned that their open condemnation of the pardon might have some repercussions for their political careers.
However, Hon. Bimbo Daramola (ACN/Ekiti) said he did not support the pardon granted to personalities who had been convicted for corruption and looting of the public treasury.
The President General of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Comrade Peter Esele, in a phone conversation, said the Federal Government's decision had shown that it was not sincere about fighting corruption.
He added that it would send the wrong signal to the international community on the country's stance on fighting corruption.
The ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) also said it would not comment on the criteria for the pardon granted Alamieyeseigha and others because the party was not consulted before it was given.
Speaking with reporters in Abuja, the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh, said: “I can tell you truthfully and honestly that the NWC has not discussed this issue. As other Nigerians, we read the decision of the Federal Government and we have not been informed of the decision. For now the party has no comment on this matter.”
The reaction from the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) was different as its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Rotimi Fashakin condemned the decision.
He said by the action, Jonathan had confirmed how unserious his administration has been in fighting corruption.
Fashakin’s counterpart in the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Chief Emma Eneukwu, said the decision showed the “ineptitude of the PDP government’s fight against corruption considering the peculiar public perception about Alamieyeseigha’s case.”
Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), in his reaction, said the Council of State lacked the power to pardon any person convicted of a criminal offence in Nigeria as it is an advisory body that cannot usurp the powers of the president on the prerogative of mercy.
Falana explained that the pardon for Alamieyeseigha and others “should not be viewed by Nigerians in isolation but in the context of the atmosphere of impunity in the land.”
Also, former Attorney-General of Lagos State, Prof. Yemi Osibajo (SAN), said while he was not averse to a pardon being granted anyone, the basis of such action must be justifiable.
Former President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), expressed reservation over the pardon, saying: “While pardons are notionally permissible, it’s not clear why this was granted in the cases stated and I have a further concern on the role that the Council of State may have in relation to these pardons in view of the statutory role of the prerogative of mercy.”
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) also described the state pardon as a setback to combating corruption in Nigeria.
Spokesman of the forum, Mr. Anthony Sani, in a phone interview that the pardon was a clear indication that Jonathan is not serious about fighting corruption.
Meanwhile, the family of the late Adisa was elated over the state pardon granted the deceased.
The matriarch of the Adisa family, Hajia Rahmatallahi Adisa, in an interview, expressed joy at the decision but regretted that the pardon was coming posthumously.
The family of another coup convict, Maj. Gen. Mamman Vatsa, a former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) who was executed for allegedly plotting to overthrow the regime of the then military president, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, appealed to Jonathan to extend the pardon to him and others implicated in the 1986 coup.
The late Vatsa's nephew, Mr. Jonathan Vatsa, who made the appeal in Minna yesterday, said the gesture would help to heal the wounds borne by the affected families.