A presidential seal on corruption

Posted: April 3, 2013 in Dairy of a Freeman, Help Line, HMMMM, Naija Scene, State House
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At last, President Goodluck Jonathan has given a clear, if inadvertent, indication of the intention of his administration in the war against corruption. His pardon of convicted former Governor of Bayelsa state, D.S.P. Alamieyesiegha (Alams for short), against all rationality has finally exposed the president’s insincerity in battling Nigeria’s biggest problem-corruption.

If this was intended as coup de tat, it is a gross miscalculation which may end up a coup de grace on what is left of the president’s dwindling reputation because this blatant assault on our national sensibilities would have dire consequence on the nation’s image. A disbelieving world is already reacting with disgust and umbrage; Microsoft chairman, Bill Gates has cancelled his proposed visit to Nigeria in protest, and the United States is likely to cut aid to our country because of what is clearly the biggest blunder of the Jonathan Presidency. The western countries may sanction Nigeria for this politically naive decision.

The last time Nigeria was sanctioned by the international community was during the Abacha dictatorship when the nation became a pariah state. It is a tragedy that our democratically elected government is now taking the country on the same path of global isolation because of its revisionist policies.

Human memory may be short but many observers will recall that recently President Jonathan firmly restated his commitment to battle corruption after he was criticised for treating the country’s chief enemy with kid gloves. That is why his volte-face is sending shock waves across the world.

In the past, the President demonstrated an unusual capacity to ride over storms, he may find this one too hot to handle. This singular gaffe may ultimately become his albatross in his deft manoeuvre for his 2015 re-election ambition.

Already his party, the PDP realising the wider implications of this unpopular action has tried to feign ignorance of the decision before it was taken. This is like hiding behind one finger.

The PDP may be biting more than it can chew; it is presently embroiled in a major internal crisis over the 2015 ambitions of some of its heavy weights. It is also standing on a moral quick stand over the president’s action on Alams. It has many corruption scandals to contend with; as well as a number of unfinished businesses like the power project, infrastructural deficit, poor budget implementation, the debt burden etc. For Mr. President to grant clemency to a man whose anti-corruption trial generated global interest just a few years ago, is to put a presidential seal on corruption, and aggravate the battered image of his government and party. How his spin doctors will manage this remains to be seen.

Alams was pardoned alongside top military officers, Generals Shehu Musa Yar’dua, Tajuden Olanrewaju, Oladipo Diya, late Abdukarim Adisa etc. who were implicated in Gen. Sanni Abacha’s phantom coup. The President did this to give a semblance of humanity and genuine compassion to the entire exercise. But as Mr Jonathan has found out, the world cannot be fooled. You don’t mix the goats with the sheep in this way without getting an adverse reaction.

The widespread condemnation of the Abacha junta over the kangaroo trial of the alleged coupist and their subsequent conviction, forced the late Head of State to commute the death sentences of some of them to life imprisonment. The injustice in this exercise was apparent, even to its perpetrators. That was why the eccentric General caved in to worldwide pressure, and was unable to carry out the executions of those he put on death row before he died suddenly.

Therefore, the clemency granted to these military officers, whose commissions were abruptly terminated by their trail, was well deserved. But the lumping of the case of a man like Alams with those of these officers is to dent the entire exercise. It tends to diminish the merit of the pardon of these men. Their only consolation is the restoration of their benefits which this exercise confers. History may be less harsh in judging them as their case was a clear miscarriage of justice.

Most disturbing was the manner in which the whole episode of this Presidential pardon was packaged; it smacks of mischief. Pleas for clemency are made by applicants or by recommendations to the Committee for the Prerogative of Mercy, which is located in the office of the Attorney- General and Minister of Justice. The President then presents the recommendation to the National Council of States, NCS for deliberation.

In this case, it is doubtful if Mr Jonathan followed this protocol in the most appropriate way. However, the President can grant clemency to deserving persons at his own discretion. But not in an untoward manner, as this Alams case has turned out to be.
The NCS comprises former Heads of State, former chief Justices of the Federation, State governors, the leadership of the National Assembly and the Attorney-General of the Federation.

According to media reports, the Alams clemency issue was dealt with in a surreptitious manner. Some key members of the NCS, Gen Muhammedu Buhari, former Presidents Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida reportedly didn’t attend the meeting where the contentious decision was taken, having gotten wind of the move to pardon the ex-Bayelsa Governor. So, this Alams matter bears the exclusive signature of President Jonathan; he alone must take responsibility.
Chris Okotie, a Pastor-politician wrote form Lagos.

okotie@revchrisokotie.com, follow on twitter @Revchrisokotie, 08078421451 (sms only)

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