The pardon given by President Muhammadu Buhari to two former state governors who were convicted of looting public treasury is in bad taste, and makes high level mockery of government’s anti-corruption campaign.
In tackling corruption globally, presidents are supposed to inspire confidence in good citizenry by stifling bad eggs from reproducing their kinds. But that way of thinking seems to have lost its purchase in the Nigerian highest office. And in case anyone is still in doubt of this administration’s soft spot for treasury looting, there it is in the recent presidential pardon for convicted thieving ex-governors.
Presidential pardon, in principle, is the constitutional prerogative of the president. But its blanket extension to opportunistic thieves and kleptocrats belies the morality of that provision.
Clearly, it rubbishes the majesty of democracy, high office of the president and leaves the anticorruption campaign in tattered ruins. Nigerians should unite to salvage the country from the jaws of kleptocracy by roundly demanding a reversal of the obnoxious pardon and demand an amendment to the provision now susceptible to abuse.
In the last couple of years, the so-called war against corruption has taken the back foot and for obvious reasons – the lack of political will to apprehend treasury looters and discourage aspirants.
First, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) that are saddled with prosecution, are either overwhelmed by numerous cases or have been decimated to a hunting charade of scoundrels in the opposition camp.
Second, the campaign, whatever it is worth, is not on the same wavelength with the judiciary. Trials either take forever, or prosecutors and the judicial process connive to bungle a good case. Therefore, out of the long list of ex-governors alleged to have corruption baggage, only two have been convicted in the life of this administration. The rest are milling round the corridors of power and now vying for the highest office of the country!
Instead of being aghast by the paper eagle-head that the EFCC especially has become, the presidency scored an unforgiving own goal in deciding, along with the National Council of State (NCS), to pardon the same two ex-governors that have so far been convicted by this government – Joshua Dariye of Plateau and Jolly Nyame of Taraba State.
Presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, has stated that the two, and 155 other convicts, were considered through “a rigorous process, regulated and guided by the law, which was not, in any way designed to achieve a political purpose.”
On the contrary, of symbolic profundity in the act is the president’s self-styled and parochial disinterestedness in anti-corruption fight. Recall that Buhari got another chance to contest for the highest office in 2015 by sloganeering ‘Mr. Integrity’ and drawing attention to the need to kill corruption before it kills Nigeria. And Nigerians voted him in as a rebuke of the floundering incumbent Goodluck Jonathan that had in 2013 similarly granted presidential pardon to Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, who was in 2007 convicted of embezzling state funds. But under Buhari, the linkage between campaign promises with real leadership has been tenuous.
Corruption has seemingly gained more patronage than it ever did since 1999. It is in his tenure that a chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), boasted unabashedly that corrupt politicians only need to cross carpet to the APC to become saints and forgiven! And they have been trooping in en masse.
Under this administration, like the one it succeeded, corruption has remained a well-oiled machine and a reason to be agitated. In 2020, the House of Representatives launched an investigation after N100 billion reportedly went missing from the accounts of the North-East Development Commission (NEDC), which was established by Buhari in 2017 to lead the reconstruction and development of the region.
Former Secretary to the Government of the Federation Babachir Lawal is currently on trial for allegedly stealing N500 million being “cumulative proceeds of grass cutting contracts to companies he had interests in.” Most recently, more than 80 per cent of crude oil is unaccounted for, just as over N6 trillion has been sunk into anti-terrorism fight without credible result to show in the last seven years.
The Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perception Index (CPI), further dropped Nigeria by five points, and ranked her 154 out of 180 countries and the second most corrupt country in West Africa.
But the moral perversity and abuse of power via presidential perfidy, otherwise called pardon, should bother Nigerians the most. By design, the presidential pardon is a solemn power of the executive to intervene in clear cases of miscarriage of justice. It is intended to set free sinners whose sins border on violations in policies and principles, which often fall under the crime of perjury. It is not meant to grant political favours nor pacify treasury looters and political rogues that have stolen to deprive their own people of good education, health, good infrastructure and better life, just because kleptomania got the better of them in office.
Dariye was convicted in 2018 and sentenced to 14 years (later reduced to 10 years) in prison for “systematic looting” and “diverting public funds to the tune of N1.126 billion” after being found guilty on 15 out of the 23 charges. Nyame was similarly found guilty on 27 of the 41 charges of “money laundering, criminal breach of trust, and misappropriation of funds” to the tune of N1.64 billion and sentenced to 14 years (later reduced to 12 years) in prison in May 2018. As lawyers have argued, these are crimes against the state that fall outside the prerogative of mercy bestowed on the NSC, and it should not have been granted by the president.
Notably, a large number of the 159 considered for pardon are junior military officers that have been in jail for about 30 years for their involvement in the Gideon Orkar-led military coup d’état of April 22, 1990. There is good justification for their pardon. The exceptions are opportunistic thieves that this administration wants to set free to go and enjoy the loot. And that is a new feat in dishonourable deeds. Both the art of stealing from the commonwealth and setting the convicts free are in breach of public trust and oath of office.
Nigerians of thoughts have spoken against the executive rascality. Nigerians demand better judgment at tackling corruption and handling high profile cases. The intent of sanctions is for deterrence and justice. Justice for those that have been wronged by the wrongheaded actions of a privileged few – which are the Nigerian masses in the case of corruption. And deterrence of others, who should learn a lesson from the fate that awaits them should they choose to toe the disgraceful path.
With sanctions aborted in the pardon of Dariye and Nyame, the government has further weaponised sharp practices and the criminal enterprise of corruption. Or, of what use is EFCC or ICPC officers’ hard work at investigating high profile thieves and prosecuting the same, if the executive would soon rise in solidarity with the accused? Besides condemnation, the general public and electorate should mount pressure on their laid-back representatives to begin speedy amendment of the constitutional provision on presidential pardon, to be exercised to guarantee equity, justice and good conscience at all times.
The right advice majority of Nigerians would want the National Council of State (NCS), which has as members the sitting president, past presidents, the vice president, Senate president, speaker of the House of Representatives, serving and past chief justices of the country, the attorney general of the federation, all serving governors and ministers, to entertain or put forward is the urgent task to salvage the country from nationwide insecurity and economic implosion. Not incentivising executive rascality at the expense of millions of lives that are betrayed. If they are not corruption acolytes, the president and the Council members should redeem their error and rescind the pardon for the sake of posterity. To do otherwise is to render all anti-corruption efforts a charade, under a government that has given up on probity and now suffering from Barabbas syndrome.