Soyinka to Buhari: Pardoning Dariye, Nyame Means ‘It Is Finished’

Wole Soyinka

Wole Soyinka

•Nobel laureate: This is one egg squashed against Nigerians’ faces that they shall not forget – or wipe off – in a hurry

•Falana laments disparity in justice system, says influential politicians getting away with corruption

Goddy Egene, Wale Igbintade  in Lagos and Olusegun Samuel in Yenagoa

Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, yesterday joined the growing number of eminent Nigerians and groups that have condemned President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to grant a presidential pardon to former governors, Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame. Soyinka said the pardon showed that the Buhari administration’s anti-corruption fight was over.

Echoing the words of Jesus Christ before he breathed his last, Soyinka said regarding the president’s anti-graft effort, “It is finished,” signifying the end of his mission.

In a similar vein, the National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity) yesterday condemned the presidential pardon granted to the two former governors convicted for corruption.

Human rights activist and lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, denounced the disparity in the sentencing of rich and poor convicts in Nigeria, stressing that the justice system is often manipulated to favour influential politicians facing corruption charges.

Soyinka, in a statement, likened the state pardon given to the former governors to an egg smashed against the faces of Nigerians, saying it would take a long time to wiped it off.

The former governor of Plateau State, Dariye, and erstwhile Taraba State governor, Nyame, were serving jail terms for stealing N1.16 billion and N1.6 billion, respectively, while they were in office.

But to the surprise and disappointment of many Nigerians, the National Council of State last week approved that Dariye, Nyame, and 157 others serving jail terms be pardoned following the recommendations of the Presidential Advisory Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy, as approved by Buhari.

Mixed reactions greeted the decision, with many condemning it.

Human rights organisation, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), specifically asked Buhari to urgently withdraw the pardon.

Reacting to the pardon, in a message titled, “A Putrid Presidential Easter Egg,” Soyinka said he aligned with Bishop Matthew Kukah, in his Easter message, where the cleric lambasted Buhari.

Soyinka said, “Coming from a leader who had placed all his eggs in one basket, labelled Anti-corruption, this is one egg squashed against Nigerians’ faces that they shall not forget – or wipe off – in a hurry.

“It evokes the legend of Pandora’s box whose contents are alleged to constitute all the ills that plague the world.

“Putrid to the core, allied to power provocations in numerous variations, such as catapulting a notorious player in the martyrdom of a serving Minister of Justice to the hub of governance wheel, these define the nature of bequests that have brought the nation to this moment of near dissolution. Precedents are no consolation, no excuses.”

Soyinka added, “One states the obvious in remarking that precedents either undermine or reinforce principles, and aspiring offenders, especially in the political domain, are encouraged or inhibited by the ease or difficulty of access to the fount of mercy.

“Office holders, we presume, are constrained by the existence of that dangling Sword of Damocles – simply knowing that one day, the cloak of immunity will turn threadbare, and the awaited day of reckoning finds them answerable. Clearly, not any longer.

“You will forgive, though disagree with me, I know, for clambering onto the Easter wagon myself, to echo the words of the One whose passage through the world the Easter season commemorates: “It is finished.”

Commenting on Kukah’s homily, the Nobel Laureate said he was impelled not to miss an opportunity to add his own Easter drop “to the overflowing vessel of pietistic sentiments, if only to reassure Christians – and also Muslims in turn – that even ‘we, non-believers, do partake of that same ethical communion to which most humanities aspire.’

“Also, your Easter sermon opens up yet again those sluices of juridical hypocrisy to which we dare not cease to draw attention. Such, in the immediate, remains the plight of two young men – Mubarak Bala and the musician Yahaya Sharif – one serving a sentence of twenty-five years, the other actually sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy.

“That word ‘blasphemy’ comes into its authentic mode, in my view, whenever anyone violates a solemn oath of office. It penitentially becomes even redoubled when such violators are pampered with the prerogative of mercy.

“Permit me to call special attention to the following from your (Kukah) sermon: ‘Religious leaders…. must face the reality that here in Nigeria and elsewhere around the world, millions of people are leaving Christianity and Islam.

“’While we are busy building walls of division with the blocks of prejudice, our members are becoming atheists, but we prefer to pretend that we do not see this. We cannot pretend not to hear the footsteps of our faithful marching away into atheism and secularism. No threats can stop this, but dialogue can open our hearts.’”

Soyinka explained that he was persuaded that the recent largesse from the president had already won a few hearts and minds to the ranks, “if not of outright atheism, then at least to a healthy sceptical regard of piety spouting leadership that saw nothing wrong in attempts to extinguish the life of a young man for an honest declaration of conviction, while veterans of broken pledges were let loose to further infect a world they had betrayed.

“No pardon has been extended in the direction of endangered, youthful integrity. Of course, it is easy to track the trajectory of events.

“Nettled by increasingly scabrous comments, such as those of his predecessor in office, Olusegun Obasanjo, who declared that this incumbent has run out of ideas, that he has nothing left to offer the nation, Muhammad Buhari decided to embark on the Easter train and donate an Easter egg of truly presidential proportions to his subjects.”

Falana Condemns Disparity in Justice System, Says Influential Politicians Getting Away with Corruption

Speaking yesterday at the Inaugural Public Lecture of Department of Public and International Law, Faculty of Law, Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo, Oyo State, Falana stated that some personalities in the society seemed to be “untouchable, since they have the money, they can influence and manipulate the justice system in their favour.”

In his paper titled, “Sentencing Rich and Poor Convicts In Nigeria: An Unbalanced Scale,” Falana identified the dysfunctional justice system operated by Nigerian courts as the main problem with the justice system.

He said, “Owing to the class character of the society, the courts and law enforcement agencies tend to favour rich convicts against poor convicts. This problem has caused the public to lose hope and trust in the country’s judicial system.”

The lawyer stated that drastic “steps must be taken to address the issue of disparity in sentencing, to ensure justice, fairness, and equality before the law, for all convicts.”

According to Falana, some influential Nigerians commit crimes and get away with it, owing to corruption and the abysmally compromised system.

He stated, “Some persons convicted and sentenced and jailed were never found in any correctional centre while unemployed young people serve prison terms in lieu of rich convicts.”

He also said, “Judges could even be coerced into favouring those rich offenders against their own will. But there is often no one to speak for the poor, who often have no voice of their own. On the few occasions that the rich are convicted, they are usually granted pardon by the president and state governors.

“Corruption: this is also one of the major issues affecting the fair administration of justice in Nigeria. Oftentimes, rich defendants engage in dilatory tactics, which frustrate and compel the state to enter into plea bargain with them.

“Judges award lighter sentences to convicted rich defendants or resort to technicalities to free them. Otherwise, how could someone that embezzled pension funds worth billions of Naira be sentenced to only six months imprisonment, but another who stole a cheap telephone handset be sentenced to 10 years imprisonment?

“Injustice: there is also obvious injustice against the poor. More attention is being paid to cases involving the rich, as opposed to the poor.

“I will highlight a few cases to illustrate my point. First, is the case of Tafa Balogun, the former Inspector General of Police. After his arrest and arraignment by EFCC for corruptly enriching himself to the tune of N17 billion, Tafa Balogun went to court challenging the powers of the EFCC to prosecute him. He later withdrew the case from court and the EFCC’s case against him was eventually decided when he was sentenced to six months imprisonment.

“It was clearly a case of plea bargaining, as the withdrawal of his case from court led to the negotiation by which his punishment was reduced to six months imprisonment after forfeiting some of his loots to the government.

“Another incident of plea bargaining was the case of former Governor of Bayelsa State, Dieprieye Alamiesiegha. He, too, was arrested and taken to court by the EFCC, who, after entering into negotiation with the accused, reduced the charges against him to six. He was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment while he refunded some amount of money into the government coffers.

“Similar thing happened in the case of Lucky Igbinedon, the former Governor of Edo State, who was fined the sum of N3.5 million after he had entered into a plea bargain with EFCC to reduce the 191-count charge against him to just a single count. Though Igbinedion walked away a free man in Nigeria, he was effectively barred by the United States Government on January 12, 2013 from entering its territory henceforth.

“In the case of John Yusuf, who embezzled N27.2 billion pension fund of retired police officers, he was sentenced to two years imprisonment or a fine of N750,000.00 that being the maximum punishment provided for in Section 309 of the Penal Code under which he was charged!

“Mrs. Cecilia Ibru, the former Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Oceanic Bank Plc. Mrs. Ibru was arraigned before the court by the EFCC on a 25-count charge of different charges of corruption while in office. After negotiation with the anti-corruption body, the charges against her were reduced to three.

“As a result of the plea bargaining between the EFCC and Mrs. Ibru, the accused decided to plead guilty to the reduced charges of mismanagement and abuse of office. Thereafter, Kola Awodein, (SAN), who appeared for the EFCC, subsequently informed the court that the commission had reached an agreement with Mrs. Ibru and the said agreement had been filed in court.”

Speaking further, the Senior Advocate of Nigeria added, “On Friday, the 8th day of October, 2010, the trial judge, Justice Dan Abutu of the Federal High Court, Lagos, delivered judegment in the matter. He sentenced the accused to six months imprisonment on each of the three counts and directed that the sentences should run concurrently. This means the convict was to spend only six months in prison.

“The convict, however, forfeited N191 billion worth of properties and assets to the government, according to the judgement of the court. Among the properties so forfeited were those in Nigeria, United States of America and Dubai in United Arab Emirates, together with shares in more than 100 companies, most of them listed on Nigerian Stock Exchange.

“The judge ordered Mrs. Ibru to be taken to Reddington Hospital, Victoria Island, Lagos by the prison authorities within two hours after they receive the copy of the judgement and she is to remain in the hospital until she is certified fit to stay in prison custody.

“The case of FRN v. Sarah Ochepke & 2 Ors , where the Defendant along with two other accused persons were by an Amended Charge dated 9th of February, 2018 arraigned before the Federal High Court, Jos, on three counts charge of conspiracy, to accept cash payment of the sum of N450,000,000 from one Annet Olije Gyen, Head of operations, Jos branch of Fidelity Bank Plc, and did accept and retain the said amount of N450,000,000.00, which sum exceeded the amount authorised by law to be paid to an individual(s).

“The court sentenced the defendants Sarah Ochepke (being the former Minister of Water Resources), Raymond Dabo, and Leo Jitung, to three months imprisonment each, with an option to pay a fine of N1 million each. The offence contravenes the provisions of Section 16(1) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act 2013 (as amended), carries a minimum term of three years imprisonment or a N10 million fine. The judge, however, exercised his discretion and sentenced them to three months imprisonment each or an option N1 million naira each.”

Continuing, Falana said, “The case of FRN v. Abdulrasheed Maina is one of the few that made a little difference: Maina who was charged with criminal offences, punishable under sections 11(2) (a), 15(3), and 16(2) (c) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act, and also acted in breach of the Advance Fee Fraud Act, was in November, 2021, convicted and sentenced to eight years imprisonment, after being found guilty on all the 12-count charge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) preferred against him and his company, Common Input Property and Investment Limited.

 “The court ordered Maina and his firm to forfeit about N2.1 billion that was traced to their bank accounts, as well as another sum of $223, 396, 30, to the federal government, after which he directed that the company should be wound up. It also ordered the forfeiture of Maina’s two choice properties at Life camp and Jabi districts of Abuja, to the government, likewise the auction of a bulletproof car and a BMW 5 Series exotic car that was found in premises of the convict.

“On March 18, 2022, an Abuja Upper Area Court in the Gwagwalada area council sentenced a 19-year-old student, Hillary Yunana, to four-month imprisonment for stealing spaghetti and noodles from a shop. The convict, a resident of Bassa village, along Airport Road, Abuja, was charged with burglary and theft.

“The judge, Sani Umar, jailed Yunana after he pleaded guilty to the offence. Umar, however, gave the convict an option to pay N10,000 for each of the charges, or serve a jail term of two months for each of them. He said the sentence would run concurrently and warned Yunana to desist from committing crimes in the future. The judge said the sentence would serve as a deterrent to anyone who wanted to toe the depraved path in the future.

“On March 31, 2022, the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, discharged and acquitted the former Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr Andrew Yakubu, of the money laundering charge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) preferred against him.

“The court, in a judgement that was delivered by Justice Ahmed Mohammed, held that the anti-graft agency failed to prove its case against the erstwhile NNPC boss. The court ordered that monies the EFCC seized from Yakubu, who was GMD of the NNPC between 2012 and 2014, should be returned to him.

“The EFCC had on the strength of a tip-off by a whistle-blower, raided Yakubu’s guest house situated at Sabon Tasha, Kaduna State in 2017 and discovered the sum of $9.7million and £74,000 which he hid in a fireproof safe inside the house.”

 Falana explained further, “Between 2005 and 2006, a panel of enquiry instituted by the federal government found that 197 defendants who were tried, convicted and jailed for drug trafficking were not found in any correctional centre in the country.

“At the end of their trials, members of a syndicate made of prosecution and defence lawyers, court clerks and warders collected heavy bribes from the convicts and allowed them to escape imprisonment.

“It was found that the convicts returned to the nefarious business. I took up the matter with the authorities of the NDLEA, who assured me that the convicts would be arrested and made to serve the prison terms. But that was the end of the story.

“On July 10, 2015, the then Chief Judge of Anambra State, the Honourable Justice Umeadi, visited all prisons in the state for the purpose of jail delivery to decongest the prisons.  His Lordship disclosed that some prison inmates have no records in the prisons. The scandal was well reported at the material time.

“Since inmates are committed to prisons by warrants issued by Judges and Magistrates, the authorities of the correctional centre are challenged to explain who authorised the ‘imprisonment’ of inmates without records.

“Awaiting trial inmates constitute not less than 75 per cent of the prison population in the country. Majority of the inmates, including convicts, are poor people. The few rich people and members of the ruling class that are jailed are usually granted pardon by the president and state governors in exercise of their powers under section 175 of the Constitution.

“Based on the recommendation of President Muhammadu Buhari, the Council of State has just approved the pardon of a number of convicted persons, including two former state governors that were jailed for laundering billions of naira.

“Since the constitution provides for equality of all citizens before the law, all other persons convicted for stealing, fraud and money laundering ought to be pardoned and freed. There can be no moral or legal justification for jailing poor people who steal spaghetti and noodles to feed their family members while those who loot the treasury are granted clemency or pardon.

“In conclusion, permit me to call on the poor who constitute the majority of poor victims of institutionalised criminal justice system to unite and fight for socioeconomic justice and equality before the law.

“In particular, indigent accused persons are advised to brief lawyers in the Legal Aid Council and the Office of the Public Defender in every state of the federation to provide them with legal practitioner whenever they are arrested, detained or charged with any criminal offence.

“It is the responsibility of the state to assign lawyers, free of charge, to citizens who earn less than the national minimum wage of N30,000.00.”

“The law is not neutral in a class society. It is made and enacted by rich legislators to serve the interests of the rich. The judges interpret the law to favour the rich and powerful people in the society.

“The big lawyers hired to defend the rich exploit loopholes and technicalities in the law to free their rich clients. Hence, the poor man who stole noodle in Abuja to feed himself, was jailed by an Upper Area Court. Even though he had no more to feed himself, the judge sentenced him to six months imprisonment or N20,000 fine.

“But the former top public officer who laundered $9.8 million and £74,000, has been set free by the Federal High Court. The judge blamed the EFCC for not proving the case beyond reasonable doubt!”

Pyrates Confraternity Condemns Pardon to Nyame, Dariye

The National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity) declared that Nyame and Dariye were undeserving of the presidential pardon.

The group said the pardon had made mockery of the anti-graft law, stressing that it is manifestly undeserving, blatantly discriminatory and distasteful.

Furthermore, it said the Council of State let the nation down by not rejecting the recommendation of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Prerogative of Mercy to the former governors, adding that the pardon has effectively killed the anti-graft war.

The NAS Capoon, Mr. Abiola Owoaje, in a statement titled, “Presidential Pardon for Corrupt Ex-governors: Buhari’s death knell for the anti-graft war,” and made available to THISDAY in Yenagoa, said the intention of presidential pardon ought not to be for the likes of Nyame and Dariye.

The statement said, “The National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity) is extremely disappointed by the unfortunate decision of the Council of State. We are saddened that the Council, which courageously, reportedly, turned down a state pardon for former Bank PHB Managing Director, Francis Atuche, also serving jail term for corruption, could not display the same courage and reject the request to pardon Nyame and Dariye.

“Whatever the rationale behind acquiescing to the recommendation of the committee to pardon the two corrupt former governors before serving out their prison terms, the nation has been let down by this eminent body.”

The statement also said the pardon had lent justifiable credence to speculations that its intention was to shore up the battered image of the ruling party and give it a bounce ahead of the 2023 elections.

Owoaje pointed out that the presidential pardon was inconsistent with Sections 15(5), 17(a) and 42 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended. He added that it “also miserably falls below standards, measures and rules in the United Nations Convention against corruption.”

He admitted that corruption in the country predated the Buhari administration, adding, however, “his numerous assurances that he would fight and defeat corruption was one of the key reasons Nigerians elected him in 2015 and re-elected him in 2019.

“Seven years down the line, Nigerians are still bearing with the oft repeated refrain that ‘we must kill corruption before it kills us’ as the only tangible reference to demonstrate the president’s acclaimed commitment to tackle corruption.

 “Well-meaning Nigerians had hoped that President Buhari would be able to summon the courage and salvage his administration’s tepid anti-graft war. Sadly, the presidential pardon has made mockery of the war against corruption. Unequivocally, the grim implication of the presidential pardon, aside the demoralising effect it would have on anti-graft officials, is the fact that it has effectively sabotaged the war against graft.

“It certainly would embolden our well- heeled citizens to engage in corruption with the belief that they can be granted pardon by their friends in government. We have previously recommended to the government steps to take to tackle corruption but the administration’s latest action has shown that it is not willing to lift a finger to fight corruption. In granting state pardon to corrupt individuals, President Buhari has conferred on himself the status of the Chief Undertaker that sounded the death knell for his administrations’ anti-graft war.”

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