by Babatunde Rosanwo
“Creating and strengthening the institutions, procedures and norms of political accountability; ensuring equal, effective and accessible justice; fighting corruption and criminality; and developing the regulatory institutions of modern financial, taxation, credit and banking systems—all these lie at the heart of the emerging struggle to make democracy deliver and prevent a reverse wave of democratic disillusionment and breakdown.” – Amichai Magen
It is no longer news that the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan recently granted retired General Diya and his co-plotters of the 1997 coup, presidential pardon. The 8-man list includes brother of the late President Musa Yaradua, but not one name on the list has drawn up so much reaction like that of former ex-convict and ex-governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.
In principle, the President is constitutionally empowered to grant pardon to anyone based on his judgement However, the implications of such must be put into context.
Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was sworn in as the governor of Bayelsa State alongside his deputy, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in May 1999. As the governor of Bayelsa, his official salary was approximately $1000 per month yet he lived a life far above his official income. In September 2005 while on a visit to London, he was arrested by the London Metropolitan Police who found about £1m cash in his home and subsequent investigation revealed he had a total of £1.8m in cash and bank accounts in the United Kingdom alone. It was later discovered that in July 2003, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha bought and paid cash for a property in London worth £1.75m. Other real estate linked to him was put at a total cost of £10m.
Alamieyeseigha was subsequently released on bail, but he absconded to reappear in Nigeria with unsubstantiated news that he disguised himself as a woman to escape from London. He won’t be the only Nigerian public official to have jumped bail in London – former governor of Plateau state and now a sitting senator in Nigeria, Joshua Dariye jumped bail in London in 2004.
On the Nigeria front, President Obasanjo set into motion a process which was characterized by no regard for the rule of law and due process and spearheaded by the then zealous head of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nuhu Ribadu. The Bayelsa State House of Assembly members were summarily hounded and driven to Abuja for unknown reasons. They returned back to Yenegoa under heavy security and soon afterwards, impeached Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.
Nigeria is in practice a federal state with separation of powers; the drive to build institutions must therefore be inculcated in all instances. While President Obasanjo on his own accord chose to induce the Bayelsa State House of Assembly with federal might into impeaching Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, the whole process lost significance with the people of Bayelsa who felt humiliated. This does not necessarily mean that the people of Bayelsa support corruption, but justice without due process will always be misinterpreted as a miscarriage of justice with political motives.
The choice to impeach Diepreye Alamieyeseigha should have been left to the people of Bayelsa and their legislators not the presidency. A similar unconstitutional act was also repeated in Ekiti State. The motive was to remove the immunity clause which prevented Nigerian security officials from arresting the governor as stipulated by the constitution of the land. Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was arrested in 2005, remained in detention until 2007 when he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison to run concurrently on a six count charge. He was released within 24 hours of his sentencing having served 2 years in detention while his trial was on. Perhaps the overzealousness of President Obasanjo and Nuhu Ribadu to make a statement to Nigerians and the world that it was no longer business as usual distracted them from beaming more light on other Bayelsa State public office holders who must have been in the know of the fraudulent activities perpetuated by the governor.
In the background to the drama that unfolded between 2005 and 2007 was the then deputy governor of Bayelsa state – Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. He was projected as a man who had nothing to do with the actions of his governor, and he rarely made comments about Diepreye Alamieyeseigha’s predicament.
These string of events would eventually pave way for Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to ride the fast track up the political ladder – first as the governor of Bayelsa state and then on to become the vice president of Nigeria, acting president and eventually the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. If anyone should have known Diepreye Alamieyeseigha more than the rest of the nation between 1999 and 2005, it should be his deputy.
Recently, President Jonathan publicly declared that Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was his political benefactor. While this is not in doubt, the implications of a sitting president openly associating with an ex-convict calls for concern. The president was clearly sympathetic to the predicament of his ex-boss who looted the state treasury and was disgraced out of office. It is not also news that Diepreye Alamieyeseigha is very popular in Bayelsa and the Niger Delta region in general – places where even the president may not necessarily have enough personal or political clout beyond the office which he holds and through which he can leverage several political demands.
President Jonathan’s decision to grant Diepreye Alamieyeseigha a presidential pardon is most likely borne out of their cordial personal relationship that dates back to 1999 while they both served in Bayelsa.
This triggers a series of questions:
- Do the President’s recent actions continue to exonerate him from the fraudulent actions of Diepreye Alamieyeseigha while they both served in the state house from 1999 to 2005?
- Could the President have waited till his last day in office to grant this pardon if there was no immediate benefit for Diepreye Alamieyeseigha in the upcoming months?
- Is President Jonathan claiming to be oblivious of the fact that Diepreye Alamieyeseigha looted public funds?
- Is President Jonathan aware that Mr. Alamieyeseigha is a fugitive of the law and still remains wanted in the U.K?
President Jonathan has not erred by law but his actions reveal the kind of sentiments he applies to ruling Nigeria; he has placed friendship and personal interest above that of the nation. What could be the reason for such a daring move beyond their both being from Bayelsa State and serving side by side?
If anyone understands the president’s obligation to his former boss and possible complicity in the misappropriation of Bayelsa state funds, the presidential pardon will be of no surprise; birds of the same feather flock together. For better for worse, this is a union made in Bayelsa. So complicated is the web of fraud Diepreye Alamieyeseigha has spun, it has taken more than 6 years to track all of his loot. As recent as June 2012, the United State Department of Justice executed an asset forfeiture order on $401,931 including a $600,000 Maryland home linked to Mr. Alamieyeseigha.
That the President has the unquestionable right to pardon anyone and that he chose this one person to extend that hand of grace to, does not negate the fact that now former ex-convict Alamieyeseigha stole Bayelsa state public funds and in the eyes of the world and vigilant Nigerians, remains a fugitive.
There are norms associated with decision making which are applied in different contexts; in this case, the logical/expected norm would have been to suppress personal affiliation in the interest of the state. The larger picture here is not the pardon of Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, neither is it simply about the incompetence of the president; rather it is a subtle reminder of who the president is as an individual.
Men will do what they are bent on doing, law and tradition to the contrary notwithstanding, says David Nelken. The pardon does not excuse the obvious -Diepreye Alamieyeseigha has been walking on the corridors of power since Jonathan became acting president and now sits in Aso rock. The president’s association with men of questionable character and ex-convicts is a sad one, unfortunately he is beyond name and shame and the ballot must therefore be the decider.