2 April 2013

Nigeria: Issues in Alamieyeseigha's Pardon

Olukayode Ajulo argues that the pardon granted former Bayelsa State Governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, cannot be justified under whatever guise

The grant of state pardon to the former governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, is no doubt, a topical issue in Nigeria today. I am particularly mindful of the fact that President Goodluck Jonathan is constitutionally entitled to so grant the state pardon in deserving cases as this is a right which is so vested in him as the holder of the office.

Sections 175 and 212 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) are particularly clear on this. In this context, Section 175(1) (a) states that the President may grant any person concerned with or convicted of any offence crated by an Act of the National Assembly a pardon, either free or subject to lawful conditions. This power is exercisable after consultation with the Council of State.

While one does not question the power of the president to so do as earlier pointed out above as the president is eminently possessed of the right, so many issues, however, have arisen that deserve to be examined and questions to be asked when we look at the pardon so granted.

In the first place, it is within public knowledge in Nigeria today, the facts and circumstances leading to the conviction of the erstwhile governor of Bayelsa State and governor-general of Ijaw Nation. The entire world is aware that here is a man who was convicted and sentenced appropriately by the court for money laundering while he was the governor of the oil-rich Bayelsa State.

This was at a time when there was high prevalence of corruption, which is still rampant in the country. The conviction was hailed by all as a step in the right direction.

It must be stated clearly that this is not about the personality of Alamieyeseigha and if I must be sincere, he is well known to me and I am aware from my vintage position that DPS Alamieyeseigha is not only one of the confidants and promoters of President Jonathan's presidency but he is a man who has significantly helped in the peace process of the troubled Niger Delta zone, particularly during the process that led to the granting of amnesty to the militants.

Recently, the trial of those involved in the pension scam is a representation of the issue involved. The sentence and fine imposed on the convicts attracted outpour of condemnation from the public as the criticism was that the sentence handed down was too ridiculous considering the crime for which they were charged with and convicted of.

In fact, there is now a committee set up to investigate the judge who handed down the sentence should there be any compromise in the decision.

It is against this backdrop that the grant of state pardon to Alamieyeseigha must be called to question. We are aware of the commitment of the president and the government to fight corruption in the country but does this pardon granted speak or agree with this avowed commitment?

Today, Alamieyeseigha remains a fugitive in the UK as it is a known fact that he escaped into Nigeria dressed like a woman while he was facing charges of money laundering outside the country with the hope of taking protection under the immunity clause provision of the constitution, this was despite attempt by his lawyers, including Femi Falana (SAN), to defend him.

This action of his was one which greatly affected the image and integrity of Nigeria as a country. The thinking is clear: if a serving governor can disguise and escape justice as a woman, what then is left of others in the country? It was an action that further dented the not too good image of Nigeria.

It is in this light that the grant of state pardon does no justice even to Nigeria as a country not to talk of the stance of the country in fighting corruption. It does no justice to the country because he abused and dented the image of the country by his actions and called to question, the integrity of all Nigerians in the eye of the outside world and it does no justice to the anti-corruption campaign because this pardon shows clearly that the government's commitment is not actually genuine.

Same position can be maintained for ex-Governor Joshua Dariye of Plateau State who remains a wanted man in UK but now a senator of Federal Republic of Nigeria and the other so called politically-exposed-persons now holding exalted positions today in the country while still standing trial in various courts at home and abroad.

In the same vein, the pardon so granted is just too selective that it is not fair to others deserving to be pardoned who are in the same position as Alamieyeseigha or whose actions had not brought as much shame and ignominy as the actions of Alamieyeseigha, Dariye and others have brought the nation.

Presently, I am sad and battling how best to face my faculty members, friends, associates and clients in the UK in explaining the rationale of the Nigerian government, granting a state pardon to a man who is still a fugitive in the UK, and while at this, I can but offer, all-expenses paid trip to UK to Alamieyeseigha and Dariye put to test the efficacy of their positions and new found reprieve in the Queen's land.

I fervently pray, wish and hope against hope that the two lords of the manor accept my humble offer in good faith as the journey to disinfect the country of corruption begins in earnest.

*Ajulo, a lawyer and rights activist, resides in Abuja

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