Presidential Pardon for Corrupt Ex-Governors: Buhari’s Death Knell for the Anti-Graft War

Apr 19, 2022 | Press Releases

On Thursday April 14, 2022, Nigerians received the shocking news of the presidential pardon President Muhammadu Buhari granted to former governors and convicted felons, Jolly Nyame of Taraba State and Joshua Dariye of Plateau States. Both men, prominent figures in the ruling party, All Progressive Congress (APC), were serving jail terms upheld by the Supreme Court for stealing N1.6bn and N1.16bn respectively from their states’ coffers.

The National Council of State in exercise of its powers as stipulated by the Third Schedule Part 1B of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) had, reportedly, advised the President, who is also its Chairman, on the recommendation of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Prerogative of Mercy to pardon Nyame and Dariye, on compassionate grounds and ill-health..

The National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity) is disappointed by the decision of the Council of State. We are saddened that the Council which courageously, as reported, turned down a state pardon for former Bank PHB, Managing Director, Francis Atuche also serving jail term for corruption, could not display the same courage and reject the request to pardon Nyame and Dariye.

By acquiescing to the recommendation of the committee to pardon the two corrupt former governors before serving out their prison terms, the nation has been let down by this eminent body. Legal luminary, Imo Udofia was clear on the intentions of the power of pardon as an important component of executive powers, when he stated inter alia that it “allows the President to intervene and grant pardon, as a way of “dispensing the mercy of government” in exceptional cases where the legal system fails to deliver a morally or politically acceptable result. It exists to protect citizens against possible miscarriage of justice, occasioned by wrongful conviction or excessive punishment.”

Unfortunately this is not the case with the pardon granted to Nyame and Dariye. Thereby lending justifiable credence to speculations that their pardon in an election year is to shore up the battered image of the ruling party and give it a bounce ahead of the 2023 elections. 

Their pardon is inconsistent with Section 15 (5) of the Nigerian Constitution which vested power in the Federal Government to abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power. President Buhari as head of the government cannot abdicate this constitutional responsibility by granting pardon to members of his political class, thereby weakening the anti-corruption war. 

It violates Section 17(a) which states that “every citizen shall have equality of rights, obligations and opportunities before the law” and section 42 which guarantee right to freedom from discrimination. By granting pardon to convicted felons serving their time for stealing from the people, the President has discriminated against numerous poor thieves across Nigerian Correctional Centres, some older than Nyame and Dariye and many with far worse health conditions than the duo. It also miserably falls below standards, measures and rules in the United Nations Convention against corruption adopted by member states to “strengthen their legal and regulatory regimes to fight corruption”.

Admittedly, corruption in Nigeria predates the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. However his numerous assurances that he would fight and defeat corruption was one of the key reasons Nigerians elected him in 2015 and re-elected him in 2019. Seven years down the line, Nigerians are still bearing with the oft repeated refrain that “we must kill corruption before it kills us” as the only tangible reference to demonstrate the President’s acclaimed commitment to tackle corruption. The erstwhile purposefully sounding words seem to continually be wholled out by increasing hubris.

In a national interview aired on the government owned Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) in June 2021, President Buhari speaking on pervasive corruption in the country claimed that he has been in the fore-front of the fight against corruption and expressed regret that “democracy has provided the excuse for corrupt persons to still find relevance within political settings.” His latest action of pardoning Nyame and Dariye contradicts his words. The pardon granted to them is unfortunate proof that the anti-graft war of the current administration is hypocritical and that this government lacks the will to fight corruption.

A non-partisan human rights and development organisation, Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA), estimates that Nigeria has been losing $15 to $18 billion annually as a result of illicit financial flow (IFF). Experts say this number would go up as corruption escalates in the country. The Economist in a cover story on Nigeria in 2016 titled “The $20- billion hole in Africa’s largest Economy”, published in the Middle East and Africa Edition stated that most Nigerians live in poverty. “Millions”, the newspaper wrote would be spared if officials stopped pilfering from the public purse. Between 2016 and now more Nigerians have been driven into poverty because of endemic official corruption. In fact the World Bank in a report titled “A Better Future for All Nigerians: 2022 Nigeria’s Poverty Assessment” says that the number of poor Nigerians will hit 95.1 million in 2022.

Under President Buhari, Nigeria’s anti-graft war has been uninspiring. Across the country, corruption has assumed a monstrous dimension, going on unchecked on a grand scale. Nigeria dropped five places in the 2021 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) released by Transparency International in the first quarter of 2022. From the 149th position in the 2020 Index, Nigeria is currently ranked 154 out of 180 countries. According to the CPI, Nigeria scored 24 out of 100 points emerging the second most corrupt country in West Africa after Guinea! BudgIT, a civic-tech organisation leading advocacy and accountability in Nigeria’s public finance, uncovered 460 duplicated projects estimated at N378.9 billion inserted into the 2022 Federal Budget. BudgIT accused MDAs and the National Assembly of mind-boggling corruption and called for redress, but no action has been taken. 

Another damning verdict on how corruption has eaten deep into the fabric of our national life was delivered by the report from the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation which indicated that haemorrhage of funds under the Buhari administration has been colossal. Part of the 2019 report by the office revealed that 178,459 arms and ammunition are missing from the Police armoury across the country. To date, aside from the House of Representatives’ vow to investigate the matter, no other serious inquest has taken place. When this shocking statistics is viewed through the prism of the unparalleled insecurity across Nigeria, it puts in sharp perspective the grievously damaging effect of corruption in Nigeria.

The United States’  Department of State in its 2021 annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practises on Nigeria under Section 4: “Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government” released on Tuesday April 12, 2022: notes that “although the law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, the government did not consistently implement the law, and government employees, including elected officials frequently engaged in corrupt practises with impunity”.

Well meaning Nigerians had hoped that President Buhari would be able to summon the courage and salvage his administration tepid anti-graft war. Sadly the Presidential pardon has made mockery of the war against corruption. Unequivocally, the grim implication of the presidential pardon, aside the demoralising effect it would have on anti-graft officials, is the fact that it has effectively sabotaged the war against graft. It certainly would embolden our well-heeled citizens to engage in corruption with the belief that they can be granted pardon by their friends in government. We have previously recommended to the government steps to take to tackle corruption but the administration’s latest action has shown that it is not willing to truly fight corruption. President Buhari’s state pardon to convicted felons and erstwhile governors, sounds  death knell for his administrations’ anti-graft war.

Abiola Owoaje

NAS Capoon

Abuja

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