By Kola King
The recent presidential pardon granted to former Plateau State governor Senator Joshua Dariye and Reverend Jolly Nyame of Taraba State by the Council of State, based on the recommendations from the Presidential Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy appears to have finally nailed the coffin of the anti-corruption war. The state pardon anchored on compassionate grounds and on ill-health has called into question the sincerity of the Buhari administration in fighting corruption. If anything, it has brought to the fore the lack of political will to fight corruption.
Still, it is a widely acknowledged fact that corruption has hobbled the nation and almost brought it to its knees. Little wonder Nigeria is gradually being turned into a metaverse of corruption. Through this action, the Buhari administration has seemingly poured cold war into the smouldering fire of anti-graft war. This action calls for introspection on the issues of morality and legality. In some respects, the government’s action was backed by the law, but then it falls short of public morality.
In all, 157 persons were granted state pardon on the grounds of health and age. Clearly, the anti-graft war has been upended by that state’s pardon of the two former governors who were convicted and jailed for mismanaging and misappropriation of state funds. It is worth remembering that Joshua Dariye was convicted by an Abuja High Court which sentenced him to 14 years imprisonment for fraud and misappropriation of funds of 1.16 billion naira. His jail term was later reduced to ten years by the Appeal Court and upheld by the Supreme Court. Part of the charges against Dariye was that he tinkered with Ecological Funds and converted them into his private pocket. On his part, Jolly Nyame was jailed for 12 years for fraud totaling 1.6 billion naira.
Now by the state pardon, both former governors have been forgiven their sins, as it were. Their reputation which had earlier been soiled by the tar of corruption has been cleaned up by the State pardon. The crimes for which they were being punished have been wiped off the slate for good. In all this, the investigation and prosecution of the two former governors reportedly took up to ten years with millions of public funds spent in the bargain. However, their subsequent conviction was the high watermark of the work of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Thus for many Nigerians, the state pardon smacks of deliberate sabotage of the anti-graft war.
Agreed the constitution grants the president powers to pardon offenders under the prerogative of mercy act, in consultation with the Council of State, still, these broad powers should be used with absolute discretion in order not to create the impression that only the rich and powerful deserve to be pardoned for malfeasance. Naturally, there has been a backlash and many have kicked against the state pardon granted the two former governors. Some have called for the release of prisoners held for petty crimes but still languishing in jail. Also, Mike Ozekhome, (SAN) has questioned the legality of the state pardon, arguing that the offences committed were state offences, hence only their respective state governors had the power to pardon them.
Back in 2015 when General Muhammadu Buhari was seeking the ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC) he had declared that “If Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria” and the majority of Nigerians had bought into his vision believing that if given the mandate he will fight corruption to a standstill. Besides, the anti-corruption war formed a major plank of Buhari’s campaign promises. Part of the campaign promises was to fight corruption, fix the economy, and prosecute the war on terror to a logical conclusion. Thereafter General Buhari won the election and many expected fireworks from him as it relates to fighting corruption. His inaugural speech in which he said “I am for everybody and I’m for nobody” resonated with Nigerians who were full of hope that the new president would not be held hostage by powerful and corrupt forces.
To give teeth to his commitment to the anti-graft war, the president had sent the name of Mr Ibrahim Magu, who had been in an acting capacity, for confirmation by the Senate as Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and thrice it was rejected by the Senate. More intriguing was the fact that the Department of State Security Service (DSS) had submitted tendentious reports on Magu to the Senate, thereby undermining the president’s nominee. Yet the president did not raise eyebrows or any objection to the tendentious report written on his nominee. Thus for the over five years he spent as the helmsman of the EFCC Ibrahim Magu served in an acting capacity. Perhaps this was a calculated attempt to tone down his zeal and commitment toward the task at hand. In a way, this had created a red flag in the minds of political observers who felt something was amiss about the Magu debacle.
Still, Magu was undeterred by all this and he soldiered on with single-minded commitment and determination to fight corruption to a standstill. In his battle against corruption, he stepped on big toes and took on sacred cows. Without a doubt, the EFCC was the poster boy of the Buhari administration, and Magu throughout his tenure displayed rare zeal and commitment toward fighting the scourge of corruption. The high watermark of his achievement was the successful prosecution of Politically Exposed Persons that is Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame both of them former state governors.
Indeed at the beginning, the president had lamented that the anti-graft war was not being supported by the judiciary and he had appealed to the bench seeking their cooperation to enable the administration prosecute the anti-corruption war and bring corrupt persons to justice. Reflecting on his heydays in the military, the president had lamented that he lacked the powers of a military dictator to railroad corrupt persons to prison.
Over time, the cold calculus of politics seems to have blurred the president’s vision and compromised his stand on the anti-graft war. He appeared to have capitulated and it was only a matter of time for the war to lose steam. This began to manifest in the run-up to the 2019 general elections as all manner of questionable characters were welcomed into the APC on the strength of their electoral value and ability to secure a second term for the president. At a point, then chairman of the ruling party, Adams Oshiomhole had declared that the sins of politicians would be forgiven as soon as they ported to the ruling party.
With the president’s stance towards corruption now diluted, increasingly Ibrahim Magu came under sustained attack. Afterward, the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, Abubakar Malami, the supervising minister of EFCC, had accused Magu of insubordination. Also, Magu was accused of corruption and abuse of office by the AGF. There were squabbles over asset disposal and prosecution and a lack of accountability on seized assets. Magu’s days were numbered. Soon after, in a gangland operation, Magu was arrested for corruption charges by operatives of the DSS in the streets of Abuja. Following his arrest, Magu was remanded in custody. Apparently, Magu had fallen out of favour. Next, he was suspended from duty.
Thereafter a panel headed by former President of the Court of Appeal Ayo Salami was set up by the government to look into various allegations leveled against Ibrahim Magu. The Justice Ayo Salami Panel investigating allegations of infractions against the suspended EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Magu, was given absolute freedom by President Muhammadu Buhari to probe and recommend whatever can lead to a complete overhaul of the commission. However, Magu maintained throughout the proceedings of the panel that his hands were clean and that he was being persecuted for his uncompromising stance on corruption. Of course, the majority of Nigerians saw the setting up of the panel as a witch-hunt.
As would be expected the Justice Ayo Salami Panel later submitted its report to the government but the findings of the Panel were never made public. Instead, Magu was shunted aside and later redeployed to the Police Force while a new Chairman was appointed for the EFCC. After all was said and done, the Justice Ayo Salami Panel ended up as another diversionary exercise by the government.
Taken together the state pardon granted the two former governors and Magu’s earlier travail in the hands of a government that had promised to fight corruption is a clear repudiation of a major plank of the Buhari administration. The issue is that the government’s action will further erode morale and act as a dampener on the EFCC and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) officials in their battle against corruption.
As far as observers are concerned, politics seems to have dictated the action of the government more so as we approach an election year and considering that the two former governors command grassroots support in their respective states, hence could be deployed to good effect in the coming elections. Whichever way you slice it, the state pardon granted Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame is a major blow to the anti-graft war.
Finally, the essence of crime and punishment is that “if you do the crime, you do the time.” Those who commit crimes, especially politically exposed persons should suffer the consequences of their own actions. Fundamentally, it is only fair that if you commit a crime you must serve the amount of time you are sentenced by the court to incarceration. Treating corruption with kid gloves will further worsen the existing situation of things. Regrettably, the promise to fight corruption has been sacrificed on the alter of expediency. Yet a promise was made but the promise was broken.