President Muhammadu Buhari has granted presidential pardon to 2,600 inmates nationwide.
Out of the said number, President Buhari granted amnesty to five ex-convicts among whom are Late Professor Ambrose Ali, Late Chief Anthony Enahoro, Ex Lt. Col Moses Effiong, Major E. J Olanrewaju and Mr Ajay I Olusola Babalola.
Speaking at a news conference in Abuja, Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, explained that after the release of the first phase of inmates, the committee on Presidential amnesty will continue to meet regularly to consider those who deserve the benefit.
Also speaking at the occasion, the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, said the United Nations had called all nation’s of the world to reduce the number of inmates in custodial centres in view of social distancing attitude.
While describing the flag off of the 2020 presidential pardon as historic, Mr Malami said the process of selecting benefiaries started in 2018.
He also urged the community to open their hearts and receive the beneficiaries without stigmatisation.
The US government has explained why it reacted to the presidential pardon granted to certain individuals by President Goodluck Jonathan.
During an interview with Channels TV, the US Information Officer; Deborah MacLean said the US was disappointed that Nigeria had not followed through with its fight against corruption, on the matter.
Stating that ‘actions speak louder than voice’, the US official stated that the Jonathan administration’s clamour that the fight against corruption was part of its achievement with the transformation agenda is all just talk and no action.
She also notes that the action has sent mixed signals to the rest of the world.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had summoned the spokeswoman of the United States of America Embassy, Ms MacLean to protest a statement credited to Deb MacLean on the Embassy’s Twitter account stating that it is ‘‘deeply disappointed’’ over the pardon granted to former Governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.
The foreign Ministry pointed out that this was not the first time the Nigerian government or elsewhere would grant state pardon to individuals who have committed one crime or the other and that the pardon granted is entirely consistent with the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution.
The other pardoned ex-convicts include: Oladipo Diya, Major Bello Magaji, Mohammed Lima Biu, Major General Abdulkareem Adisa (Post Humous), Major Segun Fadipe and former head of the Bank of the North, Shettima Bulama.
Reacting to criticism that greeted the state pardon granted to the former governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, by the National Council of State, the presidency on Thursday said apart from him being remorseful, the former governor has been silently playing a key role in stabilizing the volatile Niger Delta region.
Addressing a news conference in Abuja, the Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs to President Goodluck Jonathan, Doyin Okupe, also appealed to Nigerians and members of Civil Society Groups for open mindedness on the pardon granted Mr Alamieyeseigha.
Mr Okupe, who reminded Nigerians that Mr Alamieyeseigha was removed from office in a manner that was not being entirely above board, he said the former governor has been adequately punished for his misdemeanour and demonstrated enough soberness after he served his sentence.
“It is out of place to suggest that the pardon is tantamount to abandoning the fight against corruption in Nigeria. This is too far from the truth,” he said.
The president’s spokesman argued that after all, the former Bayelsa State Governor’s prosecution was politically motivated.
“Gentlemen of the Press will recall that former Governor DSP Alamieyeseigha was removed from office in a manner that was suggested by many as not being entirely above board,” he said.
Mr Okupe said the former governor served his time, lost his position, “forfeited the property illegally acquired and has demonstrated enough soberness after he served his sentence.”
“It has often been said that there is always a season for everything under the sun, a season to punish and a season to forgive. Distinguished gentlemen of the press, fellow Nigerians, this is the season to forgive and to heal. May God forgive us all and bless our country Nigeria,” Mr. Okupe said.
Citing a dossier of state pardons by American presidents, Mr. Okupe said Nigerians should recognize Mr. Alamieyeseigha’s role in keeping the peace in the restive Niger Delta, which is vital for steady oil sales and a running national economy.
“But in truth Alamieyeisegha since he left prison has been working strenuously and silently to assist the President stabilize the amnesty in the Niger Delta Region. Alamieyeisegha is a foremost leader of the Ijaw Nation, and his political and stabilizing influence in that region have impacted positively on the overall economy of the nation, bringing crude oil exports from the abysmally low level of 700,00 bpd, to over 2.4 million bpd!
“Therefore, it is obvious that, Alamieyeisegha has been a major player since his release from prison in ensuring that the blood that runs through the Nigerian economic artery is not cut off,” he said.
Transparency International, the global anti-corruption organisation, on Thursday called on President Goodluck Jonathan to rescind the pardon granted to former Bayelsa State governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, who was convicted for money laundering and other serious corruption offences in 2007. “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,” said Akere Muna, vice-chair of Transparency International.
By reason of the presidential pardon, Mr Alamieyeseigha will now be able to stand for public office again.
The anti-corruption organisation advised President Jonathan to show that he is committed to fighting corruption and endorse the efforts of law enforcement agencies to end impunity for corrupt officials.
Nigeria was ranked 139 out of 174 countries in the 2012 Corruptions Perceptions Index.
Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has prosecuted and convicted a number of high-profile corrupt individuals since its inception in 2003, but most of them have escaped effective sanctions.
Granting pardon to the former governor of Bayelsa state, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha is an indication that President Goodluck Jonathan is not serious about the fight against corruption. This condemnation is coming from some lawyers, politicians and activists.
The former Kaduna state governor, Balarabe Musa believes the pardon has shown that President Jonathan has abandoned the fight against corruption.
“What is the justification for the pardon? Are they too old to stay in the prison where they belong? This is unfortunate particularly at this period when the government is talking about the fight against corruption,” he said.
“This simply means that President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has abandoned his anti-corruption crusade. It has a political manoeuvring.”
President of the Civil Rights Congress, Shehu Sani, said he was in support of the pardon for Shehu Musa Yar’Adua and the others but that it appeared they were on the list as a smokescreen to re-launch Mr Alamieyeseigha into politics.
“I’m in support of pardon for Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Oladipo Diya and co but I know they were simply used as a smokescreen. They were given pardon in order to give credibility to the pardon but the exercise was done because of Alamieyeseigha,” he said.
Lawyer Festus Keyamo, in a statement on Tuesday night, said the pardon for Mr Alamieyeseigha “typifies the height of insensitivity of this government to the feelings of Nigerians about the war against corruption.”
He added: “This pardon by the President teaches no bitter lesson to thieving and corrupt public officers. It encourages corruption at the highest and the lowest levels of public office and the decision itself is corruption per excellence.”
Another lawyer, Bamidele Aturu, said if the pardon is truly granted, it “will signal the end of the existing phony war against corruption.”
Former president of the Nigerian Bar Association Rotimi Akeredolu said the pardon does not rule out the fact that Alamieyeseigha has committed a crime which would still hold against him.
But lawyer Mike Ozekhome said the pardon “cleansed” the ex-convict of any “sin.”
He said, “The stigma of being an ex-convict has just been totally washed away and such a person can contest elections. He is taken in the eye of the law that he has never committed any offence.
“Anyone who will blame President Jonathan for giving Presidential pardon to his former boss, who brought him out of the classroom, such will be living in a dream world of unreality. It is only natural that the President will want to pardon his former boss who has always been there for him.”
In its reaction, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) Tuesday night said the presidential pardon for Mr Alamieyeseigha was “laughable and tribalistic.”
The CPC spokesman, Rotimi Fashakin said the decision was akin to granting posthumous pardon to the likes of notorious armed robber Lawrence Anini.
“There is a better way to show solidarity with one’s boss than this utterly reprehensible action…. This is another proof that the Jonathan regime is not averse to corruption,” Fashakin said.
Secretary General of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), Willy Ezugwu, said, “This is saddening…. This has also confirmed that the president is hobnobbing with corruption and that Nigerians should not put their hope on him to move the nation forward.”