by Teinye Akobo
Critics have condemned the pardon on DSP on the simple premonition that it will encourage others to engage in acts of corruption. This argument is misleading and cannot be proven by fact.
Following the presidential pardon granted former Bayelsa State Governor, Diepreye Solomon Peter (DSP) Alamieyeseigha and others, pundits reacted, analyzing the issue arduously to a point of hysteria. While many drilled the issue mostly on sentiments, they failed to see the bigger picture. This has been the biggest failing of the opponents of the pardon. This failing does a disservice to the nation, as the learning opportunity is lost in such constitutional dialogue. Let me state that I am not a partisan commentator or an enthusiast of DSP. In this article, I will look at the issue raised by the critics, the so called setback that has been created and the implication for the future, especially for the fight against corruption.
First, Presidential pardon is a constitutional provision, a prerogative of the President and governors- in some cases, judicial officers. According to section 175 of the Nigerian Constitution “the President may 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”. Though this section is predicated by due “consultation” with the “Council of State” as prescribed by this section, it is not in itself a compelling instrument of obstruction. This also applies to state governors as stated in section 212 of the constitution, but with an “Advisory Council” as established by state law. By implication, the lack of specificity as to the council, gives governors, greater flexibility and control of the process than the President, as such state councils could literally be any group as long as it is back by state statute.
Pardon could also be seen in parole (for prisoners), plea bargain (for the accused), and amnesty (for insurgents). It is in exchange for good behavior or in anticipation of change in behavior. These are legal instruments used to either aid prosecution or reward offenders for good behavior. Pardons have been used all over the world as a political tool of unification or assimilation. This can be said of the pardon granted former Biafran warlord, Emeka Ojukwu, as well as other Biafran soldiers decades later. Pardons could also be used as conflict resolution tool through the use of amnesty for militants and being proposed for the Boko Haram sect. Contrary to the fear of critics, it is hardly ever an enabler of bad behavior no matter who grants it. No one commits a crime on a probability that he would be pardoned.
Critics have condemned the pardon on DSP on the simple premonition that it will encourage others to engage in acts of corruption. This argument is misleading and cannot be proven by fact. An example is the case of former Speaker of the House of Reps., Salisu Buhari who was granted pardon by President Obasanjo after he forged certificates. Going by the reasoning of critics, this should have caused others to act similarly, but the reverse is the case. As a matter of fact, people are even more mindful of such acts. Salisu Buhari, I should point out was later appointed Chairman of the Nigerian Education Research and Development Council by President Obasanjo.
Also adding to the debate was the US State Dept. which expressed concern over the pardon on DSP pointing out the issue of future fight on corruption. The position of the US Government can only be shocking, not to mention hypocritical. For a nation famous for granting contentious pardon to political patrons to criticize this decision is barf inducing. Will the US government buy into the premise that by granting pardon to President Nixon, the US has seen a decline in presidential decency with regards to wiretapping, perjury or obstruction of justice by subsequent presidents? By granting pardon for drugs offence to his younger brother, Roger, has President Bill Clinton encouraged such actions on a broader scale? In the very least, it is myopic and devious to champion this thought.
It is okay for citizens to be vigilante on fighting corruption, holding their leaders to account and standard, but to continually prosecute a man for a crime which he has been sentenced is ludicrous amounts to double jeopardy, and extrajudicial. We are a nation of laws and courts, trial and punishments, but in no way should the court of public opinion serve as a dispenser of injustice. Our constitution is a living document, not guided by sentiment. Though protected by morality but not rigid on morality. Critics who condemn the pardon as immoral are failing to see where indeed morality lies. It lies in a justice system that doesn’t seek to condemn but corrects; doesn’t destroy but directs; and doesn’t eliminate but elevates second chances.
With respect to the case of DSP, he has been said to have contributed immensely to the peace in the Niger Delta region resulting in increased economic gains for the country. He has offered himself to his nation for good purpose as has been reported. That is the basic requirement for such pardon. Those who have criticized the pardon on the excuse that it will encourage corruption fail to see how pardon also helps people ingratiate themselves to society. For those with short comings, who with remorse are seeking ways back- second chances, isn’t it inherently, the duty of society to allow justice give out its famous companion, mercy.
No part of the constitution is intended to be hokum. Every aspect reflects the need of the present, and the anxiety of the future. That is so for pardon. It is there to allow society help citizens to that point of redemption. One thing is sure, no matter what DSP does now or in the future, the nation will always be reminded of the sad episode that characterized his public service. He will forever contend with his weakness and his actions, but that is for his pondering. He has been tried, he served in prison, he forfeited properties, and his reputation beaten. With all these, redemption is given after penance. This pardon doesn’t return his properties, or undo his jail time already spent. It assures him and others to come that our nation is capable of forgiveness upon repentance.
We need to shift the discussion to the fundamentals of how pardons are handed. And what standards should be met in handing out such. But to castigate the President for this action is missing the point. We need to ask questions of transparency. How the decision was reached, what statutes and government instruments were deplored, are questions deserving of advancement for constitutional gains. But to ask that the pardon be revoked in other not to compromise the fight against corruption creates a conundrum for a nation that seeks to discourage corruption and encourage repentance. This should be the debate on Presidential pardon and not DSP, QED!
Teinye Akobo is in the Department of Law, Queen Mary, University of London. He tweets from @Ty_Akobo
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.