The decision of President Muhammadu Buhari, on the advice of the National Council of State, to grant pardon to two former governors convicted of corruption, has not gone down well with most Nigerians. Former Plateau State governor, Joshua Dariye and his Taraba counterpart, Jolly Nyame, were among the 159 inmates convicted of various crimes, including financial crimes and treason, granted presidential pardon. State pardon has the effect of restoring the beneficiaries to society as if they never committed an offence ab initio and whatever punishment suffered, are suffering or will suffer are simply nullified.
Section 175 (1—6) of the 1999 Constitution vests in the president the powers to administer the prerogative of mercy for federal offences. State governors can also exercise this power to grant pardon to person convicted of state offences as provided for in Section 212 of the constitution. The law provides that the president exercises this discretionary power so as to correct perceived injustice, where there had been wrongful punishment or where there have been judicial excesses. In the case of Dariye and Nyame, there is no indication that they fall into this category. The presidency claimed they were considered on age and health reasons.
Prominent and not-so-prominent Nigerians have faulted the state pardon for the two governors. They hinged their argument on more or less the same issues: that it showed that the anti-corruption campaign is derailing. Ironically, this administration has continually complained about the country’s declining ranking in the Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International.
Notably, there were other times when the head of state had offered state pardon to Nigerians. Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Anthony Enahoro enjoyed the favour from the Yakubu Gowon regime. Both were convicted for treason in 1963. Former head of state, General Yakubu Gowon and Biafran leader, Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu were pardoned by President Shehu Shagari over their parts in the 1975 Dimka coup and the Biafra failed secession bid, respectively. Two journalists, Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson, were pardoned by General Ibrahim Babangida following their conviction under the infamous Decree 4 of the Buhari military regime. General Olusegun Obasanjo was pardoned by General Abdusalami Abubakar over the phantom coup plot against the Abacha regime. A look at the above pardons showed that the beneficiaries were ‘political’ prisoners and that the pardons served to promote peace and harmony in the polity, or right some wrongs.
Disturbingly, in our considered opinion, since the return of civilian rule in 1999, the granting of state pardons to certain individuals has caused a lot of public angst and raised questions about the propriety with which such powers were exercised. Most of the prominent beneficiaries have been cheats and looters of the public treasury.
Also, in the past, it was succeeding administrations that granted pardons to convicts. But in this dispensation, the same government that found them guilty as charged have been the ones rushing to pardon then, giving the impression that government was not sufficiently committed to punishing offenders: the first was President Obasanjo’s pardon of the first speaker of the House of Representatives in 1999, Salisu Buhari of the Toronto certificate forgery saga; the second is the Dariye and Nyame case under the present administration.
In 2013, former Bayelsa State governor, Chief Diepreye S. Alamieyeseigha, enjoyed the favour from his former deputy, President Goodluck Jonathan. In this set were Lt. General Oladipo Diya (rtd.) and Major-General Abdulkarim Adisa (rtd) of the Abacha coup plot, and former managing director of Bank of the North, Shettima Bulama.ADVERTISEMENT
This is the second time the Buhari administration has exercised this power of granting state pardon and each time there is the impression that the authorities did not think it through. In April 2020, it granted pardon to former governor of old Bendel State, Professor Ambrose Alli, Col. Moses Effiong, Major E.J. Olanrewaju, Babalola Ajayi and 45 others.