By Awa Kalu
I remember a football team called ‘Sahara Storms of Sokoto’. It was once a force in the local football scene in Nigeria. In those days, during the usual debate that accompanies a game of football, one of the spectators asked a thought provoking question: ‘why this team be Sahara storms?”
The debate which lasted for the duration of the match included an argument as to whether a team which called itself ‘Sahara storms would not blast so much sand into the eyes of the opposing team to the extent of making a fair contest impossible. It is my humble view that most of those who are opposed to the grant of a pardon to Chief Diepriye Alamieyeseigha have generated so much heat that makes a fair debate almost impossible.
Let us quickly examine the background to the former Governor’s saga. Democracy was in the air in 1998 and Chief Alamieyeseigha, just as so many other Nigerians, indicated his interest in occupying the Government House in Yenagoa. He won the general election held in 1999 and was subsequently sworn in as Governor. He survived a pre-election dispute and a turbo charged election petition and served out his first term of four years.
D.S.P Alamieyeseigha presented himself at the polls for the renewal of his electoral mandate in 2003 and he again won handsomely. Thereafter, something went wrong and his political fortunes nosedived. He was impeached and left Government House in handcuffs having been held under house arrest for a few days prior to the impeachment see Alamieyeseigha v. Igoniwari (No.2) (2007) 7 NWLR (pt.1034) 524.
That case serves as a reminder of what transpired in the impeachment saga involving the present beneficiary of the President’s instrument of pardon. It is needless to recount the circumstances surrounding the impeachment but it is sufficient to recall that midway into his second term of office, he was evicted from the office of Governor of Bayelsa State. He was charged on several counts, tried and convicted as a result of which he was sentenced to a term of imprisonment which he dutifully served – on terms sanctioned by the trial court.
An order of forfeiture was made against property belonging to Chief Alamieyeseigha in connection with property found to be connected with unjust enrichment. What subsequently followed his arrest, trial and conviction, is probably, the most sustained opprobrium any person can possibly suffer in the public domain. It is against this background that the merits or demerits of the pardon may be examined.
By virtue of section 212 of the 1999 Constitution, a State Governor may grant any persons concerned with or convicted of any offence created by any law of a state pardon, either free, or subject to lawful conditions, Subsection 2 of that section directs that the power shall be exercised by the Governor after consultation with such advisory council of the state on prerogative of mercy as may be established by the law of the state.
I recall that in my home State (Abia), there is an elaborate law which stipulates the guidelines for the exercise of the Governor’s powers. As a matter of fact, the provisions of that law with regard to the membership of the State Advisory Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy evinces a clear intention on the face of the law that the power is not to be exercised capriciously, frivolously or for reasons that are not subordinated to the public interest.
The law for example, requires a medical Doctor to be a member of the committee. From my experience as Chairman of that committee over a long period, the Doctor’s inclusion in the membership of the committee had telling consequences in respect of several applications for clemency, pardon or other forms of reprieve (used loosely) anchored on medical considerations. On innumerable occasions, the committee sought the views of the applicant’s relations and overall community to determine whether the convict’s kith and kin were willing to reabsorb and to reintegrate him within the fabric of the family and community at large.
Even an applicant’s prison records were resorted to for a determination of his/her suitability for the exercise in his favour of any of the prescriptions in section 212 of the Constitution. I do not recall any instance when the Governor turned down or overruled the committee’s positive recommendation inviting him to incline towards applying his ‘milk of human kindness’ for the supposed good of the applicant convict.