By Muyiwa Adetiba
On the day that Saudi Arabia announced the beheading of seven men for stealing, Nigeria announced a presidential pardon that included two people who were convicted for stealing.
‘Different strokes for different folks’ you say, and if you are a typical Nigerian, you shrug your shoulders, and move on to the pressing issues of personal survival. Yes, it might be different strokes, but before you shrug your shoulder and move on, maybe you should pause awhile and consider the implications of what your country has just done. Has she indirectly endorsed something here that all of us should impugn?
While I do not support beheading anybody for any reason whatsoever, we should not, by our actions, be seen to condone the very crime that has brought us nothing but odium and shame in international circles.
It struck me later, that my first reaction to the news of a presidential pardon for Alamieyeseigha aka Alams, was not of shock. It was not even of surprise. It just made me sad; very sad. Sad at the depth we are willing to descend in order to play our dirty political games; because part of the defence for the pardon was that the conviction itself was a political one.
I concede to that only in the sense that Alams was not the only Governor at that time who had taken from the treasury. General Obasanjo, the man who hounded Alams must have known that. Just as he must have known that people in his cabinet also played with the till. Therefore, only he can tell why he was so ferocious against Alams.
This not withstanding, the fact remains the fact which is that Alams confessed to larceny. It is sad enough that he did not spend time in kirikiri for contributing to the sorry plight of the Ijaw people. It is unpardonable that he would receive a presidential pardon so soon. What this means is that he could become a senator or even the President of Nigeria tomorrow.
You might argue that the other governors aspiring to similar positions are not better. But they are not, as yet, caught. And this pardon, coming at a time when there is so much public outcry against corruption, leaves a bad taste in the mouth. It sends a message out that those who don’t have god fathers (or god sons) are the ones who get punished for theft.
It also means that James Ibori whose circumstance (crime, and conviction etc ) is similar to that of Alams, can get a presidential pardon tomorrow. Ibori might yet rule this ‘anything goes’ country.The news of the pardon of Alams must be a cheery one to Ibori in his new UK home; cheery enough to keep hope and political structures alive.
What is not so cheery however, and what should bother all of us, is the way our leaders continue to use and abuse the enormous power at their disposal. Obasanjo cut corners and put himself above the extant laws of the land in order to bring Alams to justice. The rule of law would have been slower but would have served the same purpose in the end and the country would have been better for it. He used this enormous power to define what justice and the rule of law should be. We all saw its use in the removal of Ngige in AnambraState, the installation of Olurin in EkitiState including, but not limited to the events that led to the installation of Jonathan himself in Aso Rock.
He had earlier been the victim of this power, this monster, created and nurtured by successive heads of state when Abacha imprisoned him for life for participating in a phantom coup. He might yet become a victim again if his political ‘god son’ decides to put him in his place for talking too much. This monster was unleashed on Babangida, another adroit user of power, to silence his presidential bid. It was unleashed on Ribadu when he fell out of favour.
We could go on and on …. Yet no leader has ever learnt that the only way to tame this monster which can easily turn around to devour an erstwhile master, is to subject the Nation to values and the rule of law. With values, strong structures and a rule of law in place, no man would be able to use the machinery of State to hound political enemies or reward political friends. The likes of Alams and Ibori would then not be singled out of many thieving governors for persecution. Alams and Bulama would also not be singled out for pardon.
It will do our President well to remember that it does not matter if he spends two terms or two and a half terms, he will, like many of us, become an ex-this ex-that sooner than later. This monster, which is getting more ferocious with each occupier of Aso Rock, might still consume him unless it is tamed through a proper separation of power, institution of the rule of law and support of value systems that do not allow one man’s whims to carry the day.
It might reduce his powers as a sitting President; but it could save his life in future. More importantly, it could make him a truly transformational leader.