President Goodluck Jonathan came under heavy criticism yesterday over his granting of state pardon to convicted former Governor of Bayelsa State Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.
Jonathan presented a request for approval of the pardon to the Council of State which held a meeting at the State House in Abuja yesterday.
Although there was no official announcement on the outcome of the meeting, a member of the council who attended confirmed to Daily Trust last night that the pardon was granted to Alamieyeseigha and six others.
The others were the late General Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, former Bank of the North managing director Mohammed Bulama, retired General Oladipo Diya, the late General Abdulkareem Adisa, Major Bello Magaji and Muhammad Biu.
Daily Trust learnt that Jonathan told the council members that the Bayelsa Traditional Rulers Council on Monday submitted a request to him for a state pardon to Alamieyeseigha.
Alamieyeseigha, who served as governor of Bayelsa State with Jonathan as his deputy from 1999 to 2005, was impeached and later convicted for corruption. With the state pardon, he is now freed of the constitutional ban from holding public office in the future.
Yar'Adua, Diya and Adisa were convicted of plotting a coup against then Head of State General Sani Abacha in 1995. Yar'Adua died in prison in December 1997, while Adisa died several years after he was released from detention.
Under section 175 of the constitution, a state pardon is granted by the president after consultation with the Council of State.
It says: "(1) The President may -(a) grant any person concerned with or convicted of any offence created by an Act of the National Assembly a pardon, either free or subject to lawful conditions; (b) grant to any person a respite, either for an indefinite or for a specified period, of the execution of any punishment imposed on that person for such an offence; (c) substitute a less severe form of punishment for any punishment imposed on that person for such an offence; or (d) remit the whole or any part of any punishment imposed on that person for such an offence or of any penalty or forfeiture otherwise due to the State on account of such an offence.
"(2) The powers of the President under subsection (1) of this section shall be exercised by him after consultation with the Council of State."
Senior lawyers, politicians and activists yesterday condemned the grant of pardon to Alamieyeseigha, saying it was an indication that Jonathan was not serious about the fight against corruption. They said also the inclusion of six others in the pardon list was a mere smokescreen.
Former Kaduna State Governor Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa said the pardon has shown that 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, Comrade Shehu Sani, said he was in support of the pardon for Yar'Adua and the others but that it appeared they were on the list as a smokescreen to re-launch 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 last night, said the pardon for 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 his own reaction, Barrister Yahaya Mahmud (SAN), said Jonathan has the constitutional power to pardon anybody in consultation with the council of state, as provided by section 175 of the constitution.
Constitutional lawyer Fred Agbaje said the pardon would promote integration and unity among diverse groups.
In its reaction, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) last night said the presidential pardon for Alamieyeseigha was "laughable and tribalistic."
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."
There was confusion earlier yesterday as to whether the pardon was granted. News filtered early in the day that the council of state was meeting to ratify a memo by Jonathan in which he was seeking to grant a pardon for Alamieyeseigha.
At about 7.50pm, the Federal Government-owned News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) sent out a news alert, saying the Federal Government had granted "state pardon" to Alamieyeseigha and the six others.
But 17 minutes after, NAN issued another alert saying: "Kindly disregard earlier SMS on state pardon for Alamieyeseigha and six others. Thanks."
A member of the Council of State, who confirmed that the pardon was granted, said the council also discussed and approved two new nominees for two Federal executive bodies.
The council meeting was attended by former leaders Yakubu Gowon, Shehu Shagari and Ernest Shonekan, as well as many state governors. But former President Olusegun Obasanjo, former President Ibrahim Babangida and former head of state Muhammadu Buhari did not attend the meeting.