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The media, post amnesty and the 1999 constitution

By Akpo Mudiaga Odje

Let it be impressed upon your minds, let it be instilled into your children, that the liberty of the press is the palladium of all  the civil, political and religious rights”-Junius. It is a great privilege to be called upon to address this esteemed gathering of members of the proficient Fourth Estate of the Realm.

In this time that tries men’s soul, according to the great Zik of Africa, we must all lend our voices to the burning issues in the polity as at today, first amongst which is the Niger Delta Question. The pre and post Amnesty programmes pose grave challenges to the media, both print and electronic in the reportage of the events as well as their critical examination of the concatenation of facts and matters arising there from.

Indeed a former President of the United States once opined that “He would rather have a press without a Government than a Government without the press.”

These are some of the issues I intend to comprehensively address in this discourse.  Fear not though, because I  use the word comprehensive, because I promise not to be as comprehensive as the great legendary philosopher Karl Marx  who when called upon to review a book titled “Poverty of Philosophy” ended up writing another book in his review titled “The Philosophy of Poverty (1847)”. It is to our discourse we now turn.

Amnesty And Its Constitutional Challenges
Recently, His Excellency, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, in a widely circulated and reported newsflash, signed a proclamation, purporting to grant amnesty to the genuine freedom fighters of the Niger Delta and asked for a change of strategy in our quest to liberate the region from the ceaseless onslaughts of the devastating consequences of oil exploration and exploitation going on in the area for almost six decades now.

The amnesty over since has lapsed on 4th October, 2009.   This paper attempts to examine the constitutionality or otherwise of Mr. President’s blanket amnesty vis-à-vis the provisions of the 1999 Constitution as well as critically examining the root causes and possible solution to the Niger Delta question.
Right of Mr. President to grant pardon.

The power of Mr. President to grant pardon flows from the clear and concise provisions of Section 175 of the 1999 Constitution.  That Section provides thus:  “175(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. (3) 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.”

A similar provision mutatis mutandi is set out in Section 212 of the Constitution relating to powers of a Governor to grant pardon. As can be gleaned from the above Sections and subsections, the Constitution only empowers the President to grant pardon after conviction and not before conviction.

Accordingly, the words the draftsman used in crafting this Section declares: “to grant any person concerned with or convicted of any offence created by an Act of the National Assembly a pardon…..”


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