By Awa Kalu
Afterall, an African adage of ancient progeny enjoins that when you hit a child with your right hand, you use the left to draw him/her nearer for comfort. In addition, modern inclination is no longer towards a ‘tit for tat’ or the proverbial ‘eye for an eye’ in criminal justice administration for which reason, for instance, the death penalty is fading away in many jurisdictions.
In respect of financial crimes, several jurisdictions are no longer over anxious about custodial sentences but reach for the convict’s financial jugular which requires that he be stripped of the assets derived from unjust enrichment, or other corrupt practices.
An examination of the section of the Constitution which relates to the President’s exercise of the ‘prerogative of mercy’ shows clearly that the constitution considers it of high premium. It would pay great dividends to reproduce the provisions of section 175 of the constitution (which deals with Prerogative of mercy) verbation.
In section 175(1) it is provided that ‘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’.
More telling is the provision in subsection (2) indicating that the ‘powers of the President under subsection (1) of this section shall be exercised by him after consultation with the Council of State’. Thus, the constitutional safeguard aimed at preventing an abuse of the prerogative of mercy is the interposition of the Council of State in the exercise of that power.
For the avoidance of doubt, the Council of State is established for the Federation by section 153(1)(b) of the constitution and its composition is spelt out in part 1 of the third schedule where it is specified that the council shall comprise the following persons (a) the President who shall be the Chairman; (b) the Vice-President, who shall be the Deputy Chairman; (c) all former Presidents of the Federation and all former Heads of the Government of the Federation; (d) all former Chief Justices of Nigeria; (e) the President of the Senate; (f) the Speaker of the House of Representatives; (g) all Governors of the States of the Federation; and (h) the Attorney-General of the Federation.
It is my humbly held view that a decision taken after consultation with a body so populated with men and women of ‘timber and caliber’ ought to be accorded due weight. The combined wisdom of the members of the council of state ought to be taken for granted and for that reason, the venom that has been poured on our President for granting pardon to D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha is in itself suggestive of other grievances not occasioned by the pardon.
There has been too much conjecture about motives ranging from nepotism to ‘kparakpoism’ and even political calculations. It has even been suggested in some quarters that the President has cleared the way for the beneficiary of the pardon to contest for Senate in the 2015 general elections.
‘Na wa o’. Even if that is a possibility, can the people of Bayelsa State within the radius of the relevant senatorial district, not be given the benefit of the doubt by being credited with the ability to choose who can lead them? Can we not expunge speculation from fact? I dare say that the fact that D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha was convicted for corruption related offences does not make him an unpardonable criminal.
It does not suggest, as has been argued in some quarters, that soon-to-be-corrupt public officials will join in the bandwagon of beneficiaries of the now derided pardon. Occasionally, I wonder whether those who presently clamour for a withdrawal or reversal of Alamieyeseigha’s pardon imagine for a moment that that singular act would deter all others who are tempted by filthy lucre.
Corruption is now so deeply rooted that the current debate about one man ought to achieve a wider spectrum in order to make it possible for the nation to discover a more potent medication for a terminal illness which is corruption. For me, we ought to get back to the drawing board and re-examine ourselves, our economy, our politics, our attitude to wealth, our overall wellbeing as a nation and everything else about this nation.
The wailing about an act of pardon is a great disservice to the right of our political leaders to rule us with appropriate compassion. If the leaders who make up the Council of State deliberated over the grant of pardon and decided in its favour, it is reasonable to suppose, until the contrary is shown, that there were good grounds for it. Let us tarry a while and reflect on why our arteries of corruption are hardening.