The state pardon granted former governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Diepreye Alamieye-seigha and some former military officers found guilty of coup plotting was done in the interest of the country, the presidency declared yesterday, adding that it had no apologies on the issue.
However, while friends, associates and Ijaw stakeholders welcomed the pardon granted the former governor who was convicted for corruption, others in the civil rights community said the action had finally opened the Goodluck Jonathan's indifference to the fight against corruption.
Alamieyeseigha was convicted following a guilty plea he made on corruption charges brought by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. Another pardoned convict found guilty of corruption was erstwhile Managing Director of Bank of the North, Shettima Bulama.
Others pardoned on Tuesday by Council of State were Gen. Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, Gen. Oladipo Diya, Major Bello Magaji, Mohammed Lima Biu, Major Gen. Abdulkarim Adisa and Major Segun Fadipe.
While the former military officers' pardon was generally welcomed and even described as belated, the pardon given Alamieyeseigha was generally flayed as a betrayal of the fight against corruption and in bad taste.
Among those that flayed the pardon were Mr. Shehu Sani, who was incarcerated with Yar'Adua by Sani Abacha for coup plotting; former presidential candidate, Olu Falae; former Second Republic governor of old Kaduna State, Alhaji Yusuf Ali; Alhaji Balarabe Musa, Zero Corruption Coalition and Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project.
Alamieyeseigha's pardon was, however, applauded by Senator Ehigie Uzamere and many Ijaw elders from the former governor's home base in Bayelsa.
Giving reasons for the pardon in a television appearance on Channels Television yesterday morning, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, said the pardon was taken after a robust process that was finally approved by the National Council of States.
He said the council comprising some of the country's most distinguished personalities could not have been mistaken in its action.
Okupe, who first confirmed the pardon, said the decision was for the best interest of the country.
He said: "The Council of State, an organ of the government which was created by the Nigerian constitution, is made of very eminent Nigerians.
"Its membership includes the serving president, all former presidents, all former Chief Justices of the Federation, the leadership of the National Assembly, which include the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and all serving governors in the country.
"If they take a decision, it is for the interest of the country. Their decision might not be palatable or acceptable to everybody but that is the leadership of the country and their decision is in the interest of the nation.
"It is a democracy. People are entitled to their views, but government will also act in the interest of the people.
"That is an action that has been taken by the National Council of States and I have no apology for that.
"A man was deposed. He was hounded, tried and jailed. What is wrong with giving pardon to a remorseful sinner?"
His assertion nonetheless, several in the civil rights community continued to criticise the decision.
Sani said: "The pardon given to late Gen. Shehu Musa Yar'Adua as a result of his unlawful and wrongful conviction by the military regime of late Gen. Sani Abacha, of which I was among those wrongly convicted, is long overdue.
"The pardon given to Diya and others is also long overdue. But it is clear that it is a smoke-screen to give credibility to the pardoning of Alamieyeseigha and an attempt to launder him and reintroduce him into the political spectrum of Nigeria.
"It is very unfortunate that this government has been found to be aiding and abetting corruption and profoundly rewarding people that have disgraced themselves and Jonathan has simply deceived the country by mixing those who were unduly incarcerated for their political views with criminals that have enriched themselves while in office.
"If he was desirous of such a pardon, what Jonathan should have simply done was to say that Nigerians should pardon Alamieyeseigha and that he has reformed himself instead of trying to insult our intelligence."
Olu Falae reacts
Presidential candidate of the All Peoples Party, APP, and the Alliance for Democracy, AD, in 1999, Falae, picked holes in the pardon granted Alamieye-seigha and Bulama, but threw his weight behind the one granted Diya, Adisa and others.
Falae said: "I totally support the pardon granted to Diya and Adisa because I myself was jailed for two years by the same tyrannical Abacha regime. So, those pardons are absolutely welcome.
"But in a democratic civilian regime, those who were tried and jailed for stealing public funds should not have been pardoned. Pardon for what?
"If they are not guilty, they should appeal and the court would set them free and that is wisdom. The signal being sent to the public is that stealing is okay, for as long as you have political connection, you will be granted pardon."
It's in bad light --Balarabe Musa
On his part, Second Republic governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa said the president's action has portrayed the country in a bad light.
In a telephone chat with Vanguard, Musa said: "It has shown the president and his government in a bad image because they are claiming to be fighting against corruption.
"We have known that they are not sincere in their fight against corruption. How can they pardon persons convicted of corruption and claim they are fighting corruption? With what the president has done, it has shown that he is supporting corruption."
On his own part, Alhaji Yusuf Ali warned the authorities to stop playing ostrich and politics with issues fundamental to the country's progress.
He said: "Corruption has eaten deep into every aspect of Nigeria's system. So granting pardon to them even though they have the constitutional powers to do so, is bad and ill-timed.
"In granting the pardon, the Presidency ought to have taken the holistic view in terms of the nature of the offences."
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, yesterday, called on President Jonathan to "rescind, without further delay, the alleged state pardon granted Alamieyeseigha, and Bulama, as the said pardon is a fundamental breach of the country's constitution and international anti-corruption obligations."
The organisation threatened "national and international legal actions to challenge this fragrant abdication of legal and moral responsibility to combat corruption, which can only ensure that high ranking corrupt officials profit from their crime."
In a statement by SERAP Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, yesterday, the organisation said: "This shows, without doubt, that this government lacks the necessary political will to tackle high-level official corruption and sends a wrong message that corruption pays and those who loot and stash the country's wealth and resources in foreign banks will enjoy absolute impunity."
"This culture of impunity is responsible for the pervasive and systemic corruption and the associated violations of the basic economic and social rights of millions of Nigerians.
Zero Corruption Coalition, ZCC, in a statement by its National Secretary, Babatunde Oluajo, said: "Granting of state pardon to Alamieyeseigha represents a most dangerous precedent, and a setback for the fight against corruption in Nigeria as it marks the adoption of corruption as an official state policy."
According to the coalition, while other countries are punishing Nigerians for abuse of public trust and looting public treasury in our country, "the Jonathan administration finds it convenient to be cozy with public treasury looters while at the same time wants to be taken seriously on fighting corruption by other countries."
It stated further that,: "By the state pardon granted Alamieyeseigha not only has the Jonathan administration encouraged corruption and abuse of power but has itself become guilty of abuse of power by deploying presidential powers to pardon someone he has publicly acknowledged as a benefactor."
It therefore called on Nigerians not to rely on the ruling elite that they can represent the interest of the ordinary Nigerian but rather their class interest.
On the other hand the action was vociferously welcomed by associates and friends of the former governor.
Senator Uzamere (ACN, Edo South) said:
"To me it is a welcome development and for those who have commented negatively about DSP Alamieyeseigha, I think they may not have their facts straightened. What did Alamieyeseigha do that the rest did not do?"
"Secondly, I sympathise with Afenifere and CPC. We have seen where people who were involved in treasonable felony in this country and were jailed and Gowon came and released them from Calabar prison and made him Federal Commissioner of Finance and vice-chairman of FEC. The world did not end."
"Alamieyeseigha has not done anything and what happened to Alamieyeseigha was purely political and it was because Alamieyeseigha supported Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and that was the reason. Alamieyeseigha was singled out because he did not have godfathers which other governors had."
"Therefore, I welcome the development from the Council of State and I thank the president, President Goodluck Jonathan for this wisdom and may God bless him and may God uplift him because he has done us proud.
Senator Uzamere, however, welcomed the pardon granted Gen Yar'Adua, saying "in the process of opposing Abacha, he was killed.
"Are you saying that such a person does not deserve to be given a state pardon? Somebody that fought for the democracy we are enjoying today?"
In his reaction, the former Police Affairs Minister, Alaowei Broderick Bozimo said, "I read it in the papers today and I think it was a good thing because Alamieyeseigha has contributed tremendously to the development of Ijaw nation.
"It is a healthy development. We all know Alamieyeseigha as brave and he has gone through hell. We must take him back. We are all Christians. Have we forgotten the prodigal son and the terrible things King David did? In Psalm 51 he says, 'have mercy upon me o' Lord according to our tender mercies.' So, this is what happened."
Also speaking, one of the founding fathers of Bayelsa State, Barrister Joseph Asseh said, "my reaction is that it was a good thing done by the federal government or by those responsible. They are in better position to know what happened and why state pardon must be granted.
"As an Ijaw man, I want to tell you we are all happy about it. What happened in the past was a lesson to everybody. The country must move forward and there are leaders that are still working very hard to see that this country move forward, to see that there is unity in the country. And as far as I know, the unity of Ijaw nation is very important and we cannot do without people like Alamieyeseigha. He has a role to play."