Alamieyeseigha: The lure of sin and the politics of forgiveness
By CHIOMA GABRIEL
‘To err is human, to forgive divine’
The last is yet to be heard of the presidential pardon granted some Nigerians for sins committed in the past years.
Since the National Council of States , presided over by President Jonathan, penultimate Tuesday granted state pardon to some prominent Nigerians, including the former Bayelsa governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha , sleep has eluded Nigerians. The deluge of criticisms were coming from all over the world. Nigeria is on the spot and the populace is crying foul.
Constitutionally, the president has powers to grant state pardon to individuals who betrayed the destiny of the nation.
All over the world, pardons are granted when individuals who committed crimes have demonstrated that they have fulfilled their debt to society, or are otherwise considered to be deserving. Pardons are sometimes offered to persons who are wrongfully convicted or who claim they have been wrongfully convicted.
In the United States , a common reason used in granting pardons is to mitigate disproportionate sentencing, especially between participants in the same criminal act or those convicted in the same jurisdiction. Some US governors are against using pardons in this manner because they believe it usurps the discretion of the sentencing judge.
Pardon is a general concept that encompasses several related procedures: pardoning, commutation, remission and reprieves. Commutation or remission is the lessening of a penalty without forgiveness for the crime; the beneficiary is still considered guilty of the offense and it is the prerogative of a country’s president.
But in the case of Alamieyeseigha according to respected lawyer, Femi Falana,SAN, “ while some of the persons involved in the exercise may be deserving of pardon, it is pertinent to point out, without any fear of contradiction, that the Council of State lacks the power to grant pardon to any person convicted of a criminal offence in Nigeria. Being an advisory body the Council of State cannot usurp the powers of the President to exercise the prerogative of mercy on convicted persons. To that extent, the decision of the Council of States to pardon certain members of the ruling class is illegal and unconstitutional.”
Section 175 of the Constitution empowers the president to:
• 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;
• 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.
•Substitute a less severe form of punishment for any punishment imposed on that person for such an offence; or
• 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.
•The powers of the President under subsection(1) of this section shall be exercised by him after consultation with the Council of State.
•The President, acting in accordance with the advice of the Council of State may exercise his powers under subsection(1) of this section in relation to persons concerned with offences against the army, naval or air force law or convicted or sentenced by a court martial.
Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was arrested in London in 2005 over alleged money laundering . At the time of his arrest, British Metropolitan police found about £1m in cash in his London home. Later they found a total of £1.8m ($3.2m) in cash and bank accounts. He was also found to own real estate in London worth an alleged £10 million. His state’s monthly federal allocation for the six years was in the order of £32 million but he jumped bail in December 2005 from the United Kingdom by allegedly disguising himself as a woman.
Back home in Nigeria on July 26, 2007, Alamieyeseigha pleaded guilty before a Nigerian court to six charges of corrupt enrichment levelled against him and was sentenced to two years in prison on each charge but because the sentences were set to run concurrently and the time was counted from the point of his arrest two years before the sentences, his actual sentence was relatively short. Many of his assets were ordered to be forfeited to the Bayelsa state government. But the former governor said he only pleaded guilty due to his age and would have fought the charges had he been younger.
On July 27, 2007, just hours after being taken to prison, he was released due to time already served.
In December 2009, the federal government hired a British law firm to help dispose of four expensive properties acquired by Alamieyeseigha in London. The former governor had bought one of these properties for £1,750,000.00 in July 2003, paying in cash and had used same as his London residence, and as the registered office of Solomon and Peters Inc.
On June 28, 2012, the United States (US) Department of Justice (DoJ) reportedly, announced that it had executed an asset forfeiture order on $401,931 in a Massachusetts brokerage fund, traceable to Alamieyeseigha. US prosecutors filed court papers in April 2011 targeting the Massachusetts brokerage fund and a $600,000 Maryland home, which they alleged were the proceeds of corruption. A motion for default judgement and civil forfeiture was granted by a Massachusetts federal district judge in early June 2012.
The outrage over the presidential pardon granted the former Bayelsa governors stemmed from the fact that the act of pardon rubbished the anti-corruption posture of the federal governrnent.
According to records, over $500 billion (N75 trillion) had been lost to corruption in Nigeria since 1960 . This was the submission of former Minister of External Affairs, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi during a one day national discourse on corruption held in Minna, Niger State, on Thursday 14th March, 2013.
He also attributed the rising insecurity in some parts of the north, the militancy in the south- south and the kidnapping for ransom in the south-east to the high level of corruption that has rocked the nation for many years.
Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, the former Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, equally estimated that Nigeria lost some US $380 billion to corruption between independence in 1960 and the end of military rule in 1999.
Ribadu explained he had come up with his figure of $380bn stolen or wasted since independence “easily” through records kept by the Nigerian central bank and the ministry of finance.
Alamieyeseigha’s controversial pardon has sparked a diplomatic row between Nigeria and the United States, with the Americans threatening to punish Nigeria over the action.
Nigeria has in turn accused the United States of interfering in her affairs.
Through its official twitter handle @USEmbassyAbuja penultimate Friday, the US had condemned the President’s action, saying, “the USG (United States Government) is deeply disappointed over the recent pardons of corrupt officials by GON (Government of Nigeria),” adding, “we see this as a setback in the fight against corruption.”
Obviously, the American government is not taking the matter lightly and might apply sanction as appropriate.
The U.S. is the world’s top donor. In 2012, it spent about $226 million on health and governance programmes in Nigeria. And about $600million has been requested for 2013, according to U.S. government data.
However, it must be noted that the US is not a stranger to presidential pardons. Approximately 20,000 pardons and clemencies were issued by U.S. presidents in the 20th century alone. George Washington pardoned, commuted or rescinded the convictions of 16 people during his term.
Democratic President John F. Kennedy pardoned, commuted or rescinded the convictions of 575 people and Jimmy Carter pardoned, commuted or rescinded the convictions of 566 people.
Republican President Ronald Reagan pardoned, commuted or rescinded the convictions of 406 people during his term while his successor, Republican President George H. W. Bush pardoned, commuted or rescinded the convictions of 77 people .
In the years of Democratic President William J. Clinton, he pardoned, commuted or rescinded the convictions of 459 people .
So far, Democratic President Barack Obama has pardoned 16 people.
In the United Kingdom where Alamieyeseigha’s was arrested in 2005, the power to grant pardons and reprieves is known as the Royal prerogative of mercy. It was traditionally in the absolute power of the monarch to pardon an individual for a crime, whether or not he had been convicted, and thereby commute any penalty; the power was then delegated both to the judiciary and the Sovereign’s ministers. Since the creation of legal rights of appeal, the Royal prerogative of mercy is no longer being exercised by the person of the sovereign, or by the judiciary, but only by the Government.
Alamieyeseigha had succumbed to the lure of sin and got a state pardon but there is a heavy political undertone underlining this pardon. Facts exist that proved that Nigerian leaders granted state pardon in the past had always indicated interest in one political office or the other soon after. An outstanding case was ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo who, after being pardoned by Abdulsalam Abubakar’s government , forged ahead to contest and win elections and ruled Nigeria for eight years.
With the restoration of his fundamental and civic rights,one should not be surprised to find DSP Alamieyeseigha’s campaign banners on the streets very soon or given a political appointment.
Indeed, his pardon was perceived to be hasty and suspicious and could be for anything but the interest of the nation and the entire world .