It is sad, disheartening, demoralising, discouraging and unfortunate that we live in a country and have a government that is insensitive to the suffering of its citizens. The federal government demonstrated insensitivity recently when former Governors Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame of Plateau and Taraba States respectively were pardoned and released from jail on the flimsy grounds of ill health and advanced age.
In fact, Joshua Dariye was so “sick” that he picked up the Senate ticket of the Labour Party barely two weeks after he was released. To release criminals whom the justice system has proven to be corrupt, unscrupulous, and have stolen humongous sums from the commonwealth indicates moral depravity by the State.
Governors Nyame and Dariye were pardoned by the National Council of States based on the President’s Prerogative of Mercy. Both governors were gaoled for fraud, money laundering, criminal breach of trust and misappropriation of public funds. They were each sentenced in 2015 to twelve years but served only four.
President Buhari assured the nation that the pardon is not for political ends since others were also pardoned. While being merciful is a laudable act, we cannot run away from the fact that the pardon granted to the two governors undermines Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign. It is also demoralising to the EFCC which works very hard and against all odds to expose the activities of these criminals and bring them to justice.
During the Dariye years, Plateau State was in a state of religious crisis and security unrest. There was mass inter-religious killings and Plateau, one of the most peaceful states in Nigeria, populated by the humblest, peace-loving people, became torn apart along religious lines. Yet amidst all these, Dariye stole huge sums of money from State coffers.
He diverted funds that could have been used to save lives and prevent conflict. His hands are not only corrupt, but they are also stained with the blood of his kinsmen. In such a case, what mercy can we say he has shown to his own people that could justify the president’s pardon? Nyame, on his part, is an ordained reverend who betrayed not only his people but his religion and his God as well.
Are these really the sorts of people the president should pardon? Is it safe to release such people back into society? There are prisoners serving sentences for petty theft but have not been pardoned; some have not even been tried and have been left to languish in custody for years. We can only believe it is because they do not have the “right” connections in government. The subtext is that in Nigeria, punishment is only for “poor” people.
The question we ask here is: should pardons be granted on health grounds given a prison system where dozens die of ill health, age and malnutrition everyday due to poor living conditions? And indeed, what are the conditions for granting pardon in Nigeria? Ideally pardons should be granted only in cases where the legal system fails to deliver a morally or politically acceptable result.
Lamentably, Sections 175 and 212 of the Nigerian Constitution in which sovereign pardon is codified fail to provide guidelines on standards for exercising this power. For this reason, the President can grant pardons without the proper checks in place to curb or guide the practice.
Therefore the president or the Governing Council needs to rationalise any pardons given. Secondly, the relevant sections of the Constitution should be reviewed to contain clear guidelines and standards for exercising the Power of Pardon or the Prerogative of Mercy. Although the Prerogative of Mercy is exercised at the discretion of the president, the operating principle is that there must be fairness; it should neither be partisan nor offensive to the national ethos.
We all remember that when Buhari was campaigning for president, his abiding election mantra was that he was going to declare war on corruption. He swore that no public official found guilty of corruption would escape the strong arm of the law. Yet here we are today with two governors being pardoned and even offered the opportunity to steal and loot from the people again.
Far from punishing the duo, it is as though Buhari is saying “well done” and giving them a pat on the back. Where our leaders are concerned, there is neither shame nor remorse, only insensitivity and the arrogance to do as they please with impunity.
We can therefore conclude that Buhari simply used anti-corruption as a political or election mantra. He is himself corrupt, not for stealing or misappropriation of funds, but for condoning those who do. The justice system is unfair and the president is promoting that narrative.
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