The United States has expressed disappointment over the state pardon granted former governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa State and the former managing director of Bank of the North, Alhaji Shettima Bulama.
Alamieyeseigha was impeached and later convicted for money laundering and other corruption offences in 2007, while Bulama was convicted for defrauding the defunct Bank of the North.
Apparently referring to the pardon granted the two men who were convicted for corruption, the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria in a statement Friday said it was deeply disappointed over the pardon. "We see this as a setback in the fight against corruption," embassy spokeswoman Deb MacLean said, adding that the U.S has no further immediate comment.
The federal government had on Tuesday announced state pardon for Alamieyeseigha, Bulama and five others after a National Council of State meeting in Abuja.
The others were late Maj. Gen. Shehu Musa Yar'Adua; former Chief of General Staff, Lt. Gen. Oladipo Diya; former Minister of Works, late Maj. Gen. Abdulkareem Adisa; ex-Major Bello Magaji and Alhaji Mohammed Lima Biyu.
The inclusion of Alamieyeseigha and Bulama on the list had elicited intense criticism within and outside Nigeria. Only on Thursday, the global anti-corruption organization Transparency International called on President Goodluck Jonathan to rescind the pardon granted to Alamieyeseigha.
According to the vice-chair of Transparency International, Akere Muna, "This decision undermines anti-corruption efforts in Nigeria and encourages impunity. If the government is serious about uprooting public corruption, sanctions against those who betray the public trust should be strengthened, not relaxed.
"President Jonathan should show that he is committed to fighting corruption and endorse the efforts of law enforcement agencies to end impunity for corrupt officials."
But defending the decision to pardon Alamieyeseigha, the presidency on Thursday said apart from the remorse he had shown, the former governor had 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 largely seen as not being entirely above board, said the former governor had been adequately punished for his misdemeanour and demonstrated enough sobriety after he served his sentence.
The pardon granted late Shehu Yar'Adua, Diya and Adisa have also become controversial with fresh facts showing that the Council of State might have acted in error.
The former military men were pardoned for their offences by former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar in the twilight of his regime in March, 1999.
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, Diya and Adisa inclusive.
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.
But the Presidency defended its action, saying that there was a difference between clemency granted Adisa and Diya in 1999 and the recently granted state pardon.