The presidential pardon granted a former governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, was based on sound and infallible logic, writes Ifidon Unuigbe
One issue that has generated considerable attention in the polity in the last few weeks was the presidential pardon granted former governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.
Aside Alamieyeseigha, others included on the pardon list were former Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, the late Maj. Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua; former Bank of the North Managing Director, Mohammed Bulama; former Chief of General Staff, Lt. Gen. Oladipo Diya; former Minister of Works, the late Maj. Gen. Abdulkareem Adisa, Major Bello Magaji and Muhammad Biu.
The late Yar’Adua, Diya and the late Adisa were convicted for their alleged involvement in the phantom coup against the then Head of State, the late General Sani Abacha in 1995. While Yar’Adua died in prison in December 1997, Adisa died following an accident several years after he was released from detention.
However, of all the beneficiaries of the state pardon, that of Alamieyeseigha attracted public opprobrium for the president. Those against the decision of the president predicated their position on the simple argument that it could further encourage corruption.
But critics who condemned the pardon as immoral have failed to see where indeed, the morality lies. It lies in a justice system that doesn’t seek to condemn but corrects; doesn’t destroy but directs; and doesn’t eliminate but elevates second chances.
Reading some of the comments against Alamieyeseigha’s pardon, it is clear that they have been played on the falsehood of the events surrounding his impeachment and subsequent plea bargain. It is equally clear that the case has become a collateral damage in the fight for 2015 as well as the growing national consciousness against corruption.
All over the world, pardons are granted when individuals who committed crimes have demonstrated that they have fulfilled their debt to society, are otherwise considered deserving. Thus, pardons are sometimes offered to persons who are wrongfully convicted or those who were convicted and have turned a new leaf.
Interestingly, no one has argued against the constitutional right of the president to grant pardon to persons convicted of any crime.
Many analysts have argued that because there are no scientific methods of determining who will benefit from presidential pardon, most of such acts of mercy are inherently controversial. Presidents, being humans, often bring their own emotional and filial considerations in the exercise of this prerogative.
First, it is typical to shout high when we are not involved a situation, but turn a blind eye when we are involved. Alamieyeseigha has been credited with plucking President Goodluck Jonathan from total political obscurity and making him his deputy throughout the duration of his governorship. From that happenstance, fate took over and the rest, as they say, is now history. If you were in the president’s shoes, what would you have done?
Second, the constitution grants him the powers and he is expected to exercise them after consultation with the Council of State. It is clear from reports on the pardon that the president took the matter to the NCS. The body is made up of former presidents, former vice presidents, former Chief Justices of the federation, the president of the senate, speaker of the House of Representatives and all the state governors.
There have been no reports of dissenting opinions within the council on the matter of the pardon. Given the calibre of leaders who make up the body, it is doubtful if they would have supported a pardon for Alamieyeseigha had the president been unable to justify his memorandum on the matter. Some of the members of that council are people who owe President Jonathan no favours.
It is clear that those who provided for the body in our constitution wanted a forum where the president can tap from the wisdom of past and present leaders to guide him in the exercise of sensitive constitutional powers like the prerogative of mercy. Consulting the council of state was the best the president could do. He did not need a referendum to exercise his powers. Already, a former head of state, General Yakubu Gowon has already come out to defend the decision of the council on Alamieyeseugha.
Every society thrives when people have faith in the judgment of the leaders. If past Nigerian heads of state and chief justices agreed with the present leaders that Alamieyeseigha deserved pardon, there must be merit to the action. It has been argued that the pardon is morally wrong because of the man’s sins. This is neither here nor there. Pardon was not meant for saints (for they do not commit sins) but sinners.
In other societies (including ours), they have pardoned murderers, fraudsters and traitors. The key ingredients for pardon in most societies are that the sinner admits his sins, pays for them, shows remorse and is willing to contribute positively to the society. All these are present in this case.
The strongest argument by those opposed to the pardon has been that it negates and sends a wrong signal on the fight against corruption. Without doubt, corruption is the single most important factor debilitating the growth of the nation. Had it not been for the corruption of the Nigerian state, our country would have been among the top 20 economies in the world. We would have joined our peers like Iran to build stealth aircraft rather than import toothpicks. However, the fight against corruption cannot be conducted outside of our laws as a democratic society.
In Alamieyeseigha’s case, we have flouted the due process of the laws so many times (more on this later). This pardon cannot impede the fight against corruption for the simple reason that the law was allowed to run its course, the man was convicted, served the punishment and even forfeited the proceeds of the crime.
If we are able to achieve this with even five per cent of corrupt public officials in Nigeria, this country will be a decent society. The deterrent against corruption will be created and the treasury will be richer for it. We will be known as a society where the high and the mighty pay for their crimes and not rub our noses with impunity.
If anything, Alamieyeseigha’s case has already served the purpose of the fight against corruption. The man has paid for his sins. He cannot be asked to pay more than is necessary by denying him the right to mercy if the authorities so decide. What is needed now is for the law enforcement agencies to go after those who looted and are still looting our treasury with impunity. A lot of people will be happy for them to be convicted and later pardoned, provided we recover the loot and deploy it for the welfare of our people.
What a lot of the commentators on the Alamieyeseigha case have forgotten is the fact, that the former governor had the opportunity to frustrate his trial for which he was convicted but did not. Instead, he chose the plea bargain option where he gave his state part of his wealth as a sacrifice.
If Alamieyeseigha had decided to go for full trial, who would have come up to testify against him? Why have corruption cases against some state governors in courts not made appreciable progress since they were arraigned in 2007 and 2008? The simple reason is that nobody is willing to come out to testify against them.
Besides, if Alamieyeseigha were not patriotic to save the time of the court, he would have filed series of frivolous applications to stall the trial, and today, the matter would still be in court.
Moreover, what many analysts do not understand is that pardon is there to allow society help citizens to that point of redemption. One thing is sure, no matter what Alamieyeseigha does now or in the future, the nation will always be reminded of the sad episode that characterised his public service. He will forever contend with his weakness and his actions, but that is for his pondering.
He has been tried, he served in prison, he forfeited properties, and his reputation beaten. With all these, redemption is given after penance. This pardon would not return his properties, or undo the jail time already served. But it has assured him and others to come that our nation is capable of forgiveness upon repentance.
Alamieyeseigha’s pardon actually follows our national spirit of rehabilitating political leaders who have enormous potentials of service to the fatherland. In the 60s, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was pardoned of his conviction for treason. He joined the federal government as vice chairman of the Federal Executive Council.
As the de facto deputy to General Yakubu Gowon and the finance minister, he saw Nigeria through a civil war without incurring a debt. Compare that record to the debts we incurred in peacetime funding consumption. In the 80s, the federal government pardoned Odumegwu Ojukwu, the leader of secessionist Biafra who fought a war that cost two million lives. Ojukwu returned from exile and became a key player in healing the wounds of the war and building a more inclusive society.
Had we not pardoned Ojukwu and he died in exile, he would have become a martyr and rallying cry for MASSOB today.
In the late 90s, we pardoned Olusegun Obasanjo who was convicted of treason. He was brought out of prison to become our democratic president in 1999. There can be no crimes more heinous than the treason committed by these men but very few will fail to agree that pardoning them served this nation more than not doing so.
Most importantly, Alamieyeseigha has served Nigeria. When the country’s oil production dropped to 700,000 barrels per day from 2.4 million barrels as a result of the activities of Niger Delta militants, then President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua thought the best way out was to offer amnesty. The militants did not trust the government and never believed there was sincerity in that offer. Yar’Adua needed someone trusted by the militants to convince them to accept the offer. The only person with that level of standing in the Niger Delta at the time was Alamieyeseigha.
Once he was released, he visited every camp of the militants in the region at great risk to his then fragile health and life to convince them of the government’s sincerity. The militants believed him and signed up to the amnesty, which brought peace to the region and saved the Nigerian economy from imminent collapse. If a man convicted of an offence played such a key role in saving his nation from disaster, does he not deserve the mercy of that nation?
His role in the amnesty illustrates his potential. What Nigerians should do is encourage Alamieyeseigha to do more with a caveat to sin no more. That is the basic requirement for such pardon. It is even on record that the late President Yar’Adua was so impressed with the commitment of Alamieyeseigha to the return of peace in the Niger Delta that he considered him for pardon before he died. President Jonathan was aware of this.
Therefore, those who are criticising the pardon on the excuse that it would encourage corruption failed to see how pardon also helps people ingratiate themselves with the society. For those with shortcomings, who with remorse are seeking ways back, isn’t it inherently the duty of society to allow justice give out its famous companion, mercy.
We need to shift the discussion to the fundamentals of how pardons are handed. And what standards should be met in handing out such. But to castigate the president for this action is missing the point. We need to ask questions of transparency. How the decision was reached, what statutes and government instruments were deplored, are questions deserving of advancement for constitutional gains.
But to ask that the pardon be revoked in order not to compromise the fight against corruption creates a conundrum for a nation that seeks to discourage corruption and encourage repentance. This should be the debate on the presidential pardon and not Alamieyeseigha.
For President Jonathan, there is nothing new in the criticism trailing the pardon granted Alamieyeseigha. In the US and other developed parts of the world where things are done properly, pardons have also always remained controversial.
*Unuigbe is a political analyst based in Benin City, Edo State