Abuja, Yenagoa, Lagos — The Presidency yesterday ended its long silence over the state pardon granted Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, saying the decision was taken to re-integrate ex-convicts who have shown penitence into the society.
A Presidential spokesman Doyin Okupe, in a statement in Abuja, said the pardon granted to eight Nigerians including the former Bayelsa State governor was approved by the Council of State on Tuesday.
There was no official announcement of the pardon until yesterday morning when Okupe appeared on Channels TV.
Others who were pardoned include the late General Shehu Yar'Adua, former Bank of the North managing director Mohammed Bulama, retired General Oladipo Diya, Major Bello Magaji, the late General Abdulkareem Adisa and Muhammad Biu.
Criticism against President Goodluck Jonathan followed the decision on Tuesday, with senior lawyers and politicians saying the pardon to Alamieyeseigha amounted to encouraging corruption.
In his statement in response to the trailing criticism, Okupe defended the President, saying the decision was not his alone but a collective one by the Council of State.
"The state pardon given by the Federal Government to some Nigerians who had been convicted of various crimes was not a unilateral action of President Goodluck Jonathan but a decision considered and approved by the Council of State which is constitutionally empowered by the 1999 constitution to do so," he said.
He said the council, which comprises the President, Vice President, all former presidents, former chief justices of the Nigeria, the leadership of the National Assembly and all state governors, does "not take decisions on impulse but rather after due considerations of vital issues connected with taking such decisions."
He said the eight Nigerians who were granted pardon were approved after "thorough deliberations by the statesmen and that there were many other names that were not approved by the council".
Alamieyeseigha, who served as governor of Bayelsa State with Jonathan as his deputy from 1999 to 2005, was impeached and later convicted for corruption. With the state pardon, he is now freed of the constitutional ban from holding public office in the future.
Defending the pardon granted to the former governor, Okupe said "the very idea of a pardon shows that it was meant not for the innocent but for those who might have been found guilty of some offences and have either finished serving their sentences or in the process of serving those sentences."
He added: "The framers of the Nigerian constitution envisaged the need for some ex-convicts to be re integrated back into society especially if they have shown penitence and willingness to contribute positively to societal growth."
'Wrong, shocking, disappointing'
In his reaction yesterday, former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Malam Nuhu Ribadu, said the pardon to Alamieyeseigha was a setback to the fight on corruption.
Ribadu was the EFCC chairman when the commission was believed to have engineered Alamieyeseigha's impeachment in 2005 and then prosecuted him for large-scale corruption. The former governor pleaded guilty to some of the charges in 2007 in a plea bargain that saw him forfeiting property worth billions.
Speaking to the BBC Hausa radio yesterday, Ribadu said he was saddened, shocked and disappointed when he heard of the pardon granted to Alamieyeseigha.
He said the action was capable of discouraging the fight on graft, and will send the wrong signal to the EFCC and other anti-corruption agencies that they are simply wasting their time.
Also reacting, senior lawyer Femi Falana (SAN) said the state pardon extended to some of the convicts showed the reign of impunity in the country.
In a statement in Lagos yesterday, Falana said those who are opposed to the pardon should be prepared to join the struggle for the establishment of a new legal system which would not recognise sacred cows among convicts.
"But under the current political dispensation the exercise of the prerogative of mercy in favour of some convicted members of the political class is an admission of error on the part of the federal government. In other words, the Presidency has said it loud and clear that these Very Important Personalities should not have been jailed in the first place!," he said.
He said while some of the persons involved in the exercise may be deserving of pardon, the Council of State lacks the power to grant pardon to any person convicted of a criminal offence.
"Being an advisory body the Council of State cannot usurp the powers of the President to exercise the prerogative of mercy on convicted persons. To that extent the decision of the Council of State to pardon certain members of the ruling class is illegal and unconstitutional," Falana said.
For his part, former Police Affairs Minister Broderick Bozimo said the pardon to Alamieyeseigha was overdue.
Speaking to news men in Yenagoa, Bozimo said the former governor deserved the pardon having contributed to the development of the Ijaw nation.
"We used to hail him as the governor general of the Ijaw Nation. He is held in very high esteem among the Ijaw nation. It's a healthy thing. People are human. You must make mistakes," he said.
Former gubernatorial candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in Bayelsa State, Price Okuboesi Jack, also described the pardon for Alamieyeseigha as "a good and wonderful thing for Bayelsa State."
But the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) called on President Jonathan to rescind the pardon granted to Alamieyeseigha and Bulama or face legal action.
SERAP's Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, in a statement, said the pardon granted the two "amounts to an arbitrary exercise of powers, which can only continue to weaken the rule of law, deny justice to the victims of corruption, and entrench a culture of impunity of the country's leaders."
The group 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."
Kayode Ekundayo, Nuruddeen M. Abdallah, Andrew Agbese, Fidelis Mac-Leva, Abdulkadir Badsha Mukhtar, Musa Abdullahi Krishi and Chris Eze