Former Bayelsa State Governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha
•Presidency explains why Alamieyeseigha was pardoned
The state pardon granted last Tuesday to former Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, the late Maj. Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua; former Chief of General Staff, Lt. Gen. Oladipo Diya; and former Minister of Works, the late Maj. Gen. Abdulkareem Adisa, among others has stirred a fresh controversy.
Fresh facts, which came to light Thursday, showed that the Council of State might have acted in error by granting the late Yar’Adua, Diya and Adisa the pardon following the discovery that the former military brass were pardoned for their offences by former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, in the twilight of his regime in March, 1999.
Others who were granted pardon on Tuesday included the former Bayelsa State Governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, former managing director of Bank of the North, Alhaji Shettima Bulama; ex-Major Bello Magaji and Alhaji Mohammed Lima Biyu.
This is just as the presidency, which has been under severe criticism for the pardon granted by the Council of State, yesterday justified the inclusion of Alamieyeseigha on the list of beneficiaries.
Abubakar, in a gazette dated March 4, 1999, had granted “clemency” to nine military officers and soldiers convicted for their involvement in a phantom coup during the regime of the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha.
Among those granted clemency by the Abubakar regime were Diya, Adisa, former Minister of Communications, Maj. Gen. Tajudeen Olanrewaju and Maj. A. A. Fadipe. But they were ordered to forfeit their assets to the Federal Government.
Similarly, Abubakar had granted a posthumous pardon to Yar’Adua at the same time that he granted a pardon to former President Olusegun Obasanjo when he released the latter from prison where he had been incarcerated by Abacha for the 1995 phantom coup d’etat.
It was the pardon granted Obasanjo by Abubakar that enabled the former president to contest the 1999 presidential election, which he won.
Some other military officers were also granted pardon on March 4, 1999 and ordered to be released immediately from prison where they were serving their jail terms after being convicted by a special military tribunal.
Sources had told THISDAY in a report published by this newspaper on March 5, 1999 that pardon and clemency had different interpretations in the military, as Diya and others who were granted “clemency” could not use their ranks whereas those pardoned could do so.
However, disagreeing with the military interpretation given by the military brass 14 years ago, human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), said both pardon and clemency conveyed the same meaning under the Nigerian constitution.
“When they are granted clemency, it is mercy by the state; it is the remission of their offence. They (government) have wiped out their offences and that means they never committed any offence,” he told THISDAY last night.
He explained that Section 161 of the 1979 Constitution, amended by Constitution (Suspension and Modification) Decree of 1993 under which Abubakar exercised his powers is the same as Section 175 of the extant 1999 Constitution, which confers on the president the powers to grant a pardon.
Relating this to the pardon granted Yar’Adua, Diya and Adisa on Tuesday, Falana said: “The implication of what has happened is that the government did not take into consideration this legal instrument that was issued in March 1999.”
In his opinion, the trio had effectively been granted a state pardon twice, first by the military regime headed by Abubakar, and now the Council of State.
But defending the decision to pardon Alamieyeseigha, the presidency yesterday said apart from the remorse he had shown, the former governor has been quietly playing a key role in stabilising the volatile Niger Delta region.
Addressing a news conference in Abuja, the Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs to the President, Dr. Doyin Okupe, also appealed to Nigerians and members of the civil societies to keep an open mind on the pardon granted the former Bayelsa governor.
Okupe, who reminded Nigerians that Alamieyeseigha was removed from office in a manner that was suggested by many as not being entirely above board, said the former governor has been adequately punished for his misdemeanour and demonstrated enough sobriety after he served his sentence.
“I want to state categorically here, that state or presidential pardon is not intended for nobility or saints. In general, a state pardon is for those who have committed crimes and breached the laws of the land and may or may not have been tried or convicted regardless of their social status.
“He lost his position, forfeited the property illegally acquired and has demonstrated enough soberness after he served his sentence. 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.
“People have stated that President Jonathan said publicly that Alamieyeseigha was his political benefactor. This is a display of extreme humility and honesty on the part of Mr. President, in this day that virtually all political benefactors usually turn into enemy number one and are therefore hounded to the ground by the incumbents.
“It was God and providence that lifted President Jonathan over and above his former political boss. But in truth, Alamieyeseigha since he left prison has been working strenuously and silently to assist the president stabilise the amnesty programme in the Niger Delta region.
“Alamieyeseigha is a foremost leader of the Ijaw Nation, and his political and stabilising influence in that region have impacted positively on the overall economy of the nation, bringing crude oil exports from the abysmally low level of 700,000 bpd to over 2.4 million bpd.
“Therefore, it is obvious that Alamieyeseigha 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 explained.
Okupe further declared that it is a misnomer to assume that if it were in an advanced society, Alamieyeseigha would not have been granted state pardon and cited several instances to buttress his claim.
“The above tradition must have informed President Bill Clinton when he pardoned Fife Syminghton III, former Republican Governor of Arizona who was convicted of Bank fraud.
“President Bill Clinton similarly ignited a firestorm of controversy when he pardoned Marc Rich, who was charged, in 1983, with cheating the United States Government of nearly $50 million and doing business with Iran during the hostage crisis. Rich was never tried as he fled to Switzerland to avoid prosecution.
“President George H. W. Bush perplexed a majority of American citizens when he pardoned six people from the administration of his immediate Republican predecessor Ronald Reagan, in whose administration he was also the vice-president.
“The six Americans were under investigation for their involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, which was a national scandal, involving selling of arms to Iran and using the proceeds to fund Nicaragua counter-revolutionaries,” Okupe said.
He added that these are the bastions of leadership of the international community, which “our enlightened citizenry are always too eager to use as benchmarks of good governance and democratic propriety.”