Abuja — The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Transparency International (TI) Nigeria and a chieftain of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Delta State, Chief Sunny Onuesoke, condemned the pardon granted to former governors of Plateau and Taraba States, Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame, saying it would send wrogn signals and encourage corruption in the system.
The two politicians were imprisoned for stealing N1.16 billion and N1.6billionbn respectively were among 159 prisoners pardoned by the National Council of State.
But they were among 159 prisoners pardoned by the National Council of State last week.
However, CISLAC and TI have expressed concern that the names of those granted the state pardon are still shrouded in secrecy.
In a statement by Executive Director CISLAC, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani said: “We are worried about the effect such ill-thought political pardon will have on the anti-corruption efforts, which constitutes the major agenda and commitment of the current administration.
“We find some of names recommended by the Presidential Advisory Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy which is headed by the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the federation questionable and the mere fact that citizens cannot get the full list of the over 150 persons pardoned shows a lack of transparency on the process.”
According to the civil society groups, “This trend of shielding Politically Exposed Persons from accounting for their actions is disturbing. Recall that in 2019, the Ministry of Justice filed a nolle prosequi to strike out high profile cases. An example of this was that of Senator Danjuma Goje alongside a former Executive Chairman of Gombe State Universal Basic Education Board, Mr. Aliyu El-Nafaty in 2019.
“Coupled with corruption allegation in the judicial system, this pardon shows how bad Nigeria’s anti-corruption efforts is and it comes barely a week after the United States government released it’s ‘2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in Nigeria’ where it accused Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of focusing on low-and midlevel government officials.
“The pardon further confirms the poor rating of Nigeria on different global indexes and reports like the Corruption Perception Index and the Afro barometer corruption survey which have reported an increase in corruption in Nigeria.”, the statement stated
The civil society groups said that without doubt, the official pardon basically targeted at political settlement is indeed a major setback to the nation’s progress and achievements in the fight against corruption, while validating public perception of the administration’s reported disproportionate and lop-sided fight against corruption in the country.
“This move goes further to demoralize our anti-corruption agencies who are already facing challenges prosecuting high profile cases of corruption. Some of these cases took over ten years to conclude and with lots of resources committed. In one case for example, a witness had to be flown from the United Kingdom to Nigeria at different times with funds from taxpayers.
“Furthermore, operatives of anti-corruption agencies had to put their lives at risk even to the point of facing physical attacks while these cases were on and suddenly, we read that these individuals have been pardoned,” the groups said.
The civil society groups explained that this pardon also fails the test of fairness and equity when we consider the poor citizens who have been convicted and are in prison for less crimes. Hence, we call for an extension of such pardon to common Nigerians awaiting trial, forgotten, or abandoned in jails for trivial offences across the country.
“It is important to state that when convicted individuals who looted billions of naira are released, there is no way that the international community will take Nigeria’s anti-corruption efforts seriously, especially when attempts are being made to recover stolen assets outside the country.
“We sincerely hope the processes and objectives of such Presidential pardon will be re-examined and made transparent to avoid bad precedence, especially as the nation moves towards political transition in the 2023 general election,” they said.
On his part, Onuesoke has said the pardoning of two convicted former governors would encourage the looting of public funds in the country.
He stated the present government was elected on the belief that it would jail looters and sanitise the country, lamenting that rather than jail more looters, government is pardoning convicted ones.
“What was the yardstick used in pardoning these criminals? Why did they not include James Ibori, Lucky Igbinedion, Alaimayesigha (posthumously), etc? Why are the courts still trying other suspected looters if they would be pardoned later? It is a waste of court processes and time,” he said.
The PDP chieftain noted that Nigeria must be seen to treat all citizens fairly and equally, stressing the country will not move forward on its anti-corruption drive if it keeps treating “elite convicts more special than others.
“Many persons are languishing in prison awaiting trials for petty crimes as small as burglary. I bet some of these petty criminals didn’t even have the opportunity to be considered at all. We will not move forward in our anti-corruption drive if we keep treating elite criminals as more special than other criminals.
“There is no fight against corruption in the first place. This pardon shows the law is for the powerful, rich and connected. How can you pardon them after stealing our patrimony? This country has a long way to go,” he added.