Facts emerged on Wednesday that permutations ahead of 2015 were responsible for the presidential pardon granted a former Governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, along with four others.
Investigations showed that President Goodluck Jonathan had recently come under pressure by ex-militants, who have increasingly become critical of his style of leadership.
It was learnt that Jonathan was concerned that any restiveness in Niger Delta could rob him of the much- needed home support ahead of the 2015 presidential poll.
A competent source in the Presidency told The PUNCH that the President was banking on the intervention of Alamieyeseigha, in reaching out to the ex-militants, who believed that he(Jonathan) had not sufficiently addressed the problems in the Niger Delta.
Our source added that Jonathan was equally aware of Alamieyeseigha’s desire to return to the political arena with a possible shot at the Senate in 2015.
Close associates of the President were said to have drawn his attention to the fact that he could use his presidential powers to pardon the former governor thus solving twin problems – his 2015 challenge and the “political debts” he owed the former governor.
His attention was also called to the fact that this would not be the first time such powers came in handy in dealing with potentially challenging situations.
Apart from Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who was pardoned by the Gen. Yakubu Gowon regime, the administration of Shehu Shagari pardoned Gowon and Dim Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, who returned and immediately joined politics.
As recent as 1999, the Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar regime pardoned Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who was convicted and given a long prison sentence by the Sani Abacha junta for treason.
The pardon paved the way for Obasanjo to contest and win the 1999 presidential election.
A source, who confided in one of Punch correspondents, said, “Everything is political. Alamieyeseigha has a senatorial ambition; the ex-militants are angry with the President. The President wants the man to intervene and speak with the ex-militants as 2015 approaches.”
However, a Special Assistant (Media) to the President, Mr. Bolaji Adebiyi, told one of our correspondents, “The idea of a presidential pardon was not novel; it is not happening for the first time; it is not perculiar to Nigeria and there is a process.
“People apply for pardon; they apply to the President who considers it and he follows the process.
“He takes it further to the National Council of State which in this case has given its advice, which will be gazzetted.
“It is not new; so opposition political parties should not seek to politicise the normal process of government.
“If the opposition politicians are in doubt, their attention is called to the fact that one of those in council was Gen. Gowon, who himself was pardoned by Shehu Shagari.
“There was also Gen. Obasanjo, who had to be granted pardon before he could contest election in 1999.
“Even Obasanjo himself had to pardon a former Speaker, Alhaji Salishu Buhari, who was convicted of forgery .”
Meanwhile, a former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, has said the pardon granted Alamieyeseigha and ex-Managing Director of Bank of the North, Alhaji Mohammed Bulama, is capable of stopping the war against corruption.
Ribadu, in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents in Abuja, said the pardon was very discouraging.
He said, “I believe that corruption still remains the biggest problem confronting Nigeria. We should not do anything that will take us back. The action by government is capable of stopping the entire war against corruption.”
The former EFCC chairman recalled that Alamieyeseigha and Bulama’s corruption cases were investigated and prosecuted when he was the EFCC chairman.
He added, “These (Alamieyeseigha and Bulama) are two corruption cases that I personally investigated, prosecuted and got the convictions. They were the first convictions we got in this country for corruption, not in the military tribunals, but by regular courts.”
Ribadu said that by its action, the government had granted amnesty to people who were convicted of corruption.
“For them to have been pardoned, it like now more or less giving them amnesty. It is a sad development. It is very unfortunate. It is capable of affecting, negatively, the fight against corruption in our country.”
The former EFCC chairman said that the action would embolden those who are corrupt.
He said, “It (government action) is sending a message that if you are found to be corrupt ultimately nothing will ever happen to you. You will be clean. You will be pardoned. It will embolden those who are corrupt.
“There are people who have been convicted; I do not know whether they will be pardoned or not. I do not know what will happen to those who are being prosecuted today.”
Ribadu also said that the pardon granted Alamieyeseigha and Bulama would send a negative message to the judiciary and law enforcement agencies.
“ The message that is sent to the courts and the law enforcement agencies is a very negative one. It is a very discouraging act. Like most Nigerians, I am very disappointed by this development.”
He stated that Alamieyeseigha still had cases in the United Kingdom, adding the pardon would not affect the cases.
“He still has cases there. I do not think this pardon will be extended to the UK,” Ribadu explained.
Expressing his disappointment, he recalled that a former Delta State Governor, Chief James Ibori, whose case was treated shabbily in Nigeria had been convicted in the UK.
Ribadu also took a swipe at a presidential aide, Dr. Doyin Okupe, who justitified the pardon granted the former Bayelsa State governor.
Faulting Okupe, Ribadu said such comments were not only unfortunate, but unfair to Nigerians, who had suffered and are still suffering because of corruption.
“There are more 150 million Nigerians who are suffering because of the terrible effect of corruption. Saying he (Alamieyeseigha ) has suffered enough is very unfortunate,” he said.
Okupe had earlier on Monday, said the pardon was not a unilateral action of the President.
He said in a statement that the decision was considered and approved by the NCS, a body constitutionally empowered by the 1999 Constitution to do so.
According to him, the council comprises the President, Vice-president, all former presidents, former Chief Justices of the Nigeria, the leadership of the National Assembly and all state governors who do not take decisions on impulse.
While explaining that the eight Nigerians who were granted pardon were approved after thorough deliberations by the council members , Okupe added that granting of a state pardon should not be unduly politicised.
Okupe said the very idea of a pardon showed 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 that the framers of the constitution envisaged the need for some ex-convicts to be reintegrated into the society, especially if they have shown penitence and willingness to contribute positively to societal growth.
Also, on a Channels Television programme, Sunrise Daily, on Wednesday, Okupe said the President did no wrong in pardoning his former boss.
He said, “The relationship between President Jonathan and Alamieyeseigha is not something that is hidden. The granting of pardon was not by President Jonathan per see but by the highest constituted authority in Nigeria; is not something I need to defend. They don’t need me to defend them; I defend actions and activities of the President where they are necessary.
“That is an action that has been taken by the National Council of States and I have no apology for that. “We must begin to respect and honour our institutions. I don’t need to defend the action that has been taken.”
When asked whether he did not feel that a presidential pardon for Alamieyeseigha would cast a shadow of doubt on the present administration’s anti-graft war, Okupe wondered what else Nigerians expected from the former governor after he was removed for office and was convicted.
He asked, “Is it because he is Alamieyeseigha? Is it because he is a Niger Deltan? Is it because he is a former governor of Bayelsa State? Is it because he is a friend of the President? I mean what are we talking about?
“A man has been found guilty; he has been jailed. A Yoruba adage says you ask a thief to run and he runs, you ask a thief to drop what he is holding and he drops it, what are you chasing him for again?”