The Pidgin English is full of euphemisms that allow Nigerians to simply shrug off certain serious matters and press on with their day-to-day shuffering and shmiling (apologies to Fela). The presidential pardon granted last week to one-time governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, qualifies as one of those serious matters. Soon, after the national and international outcry displayed may have died down, the matter will recede to the realms of public amnesia that the government often relies on to pull such stunt. “Nigerians have short memory, don’t worry, Oga,” President Goodluck Jonathan’s advisers may have reminded him.
Presidential pardon is a prerogative granted the president by the Nigerian Constitution. How and when to use it are entirely at his discretion, provided it receives the concurrence of the nation’s Council of State. Such concurrence is usually not denied. This is not the first time the prerogative will be exercised, neither will it be the last. It is a worldwide practice that has come to be recognised as a tool used to redeem, reward and woo an individual or a group, at times with a political undertone.
As outrageous as granting Alamieyeseigha a state pardon may seem, President Jonathan deserves sympathy, not ridicule. He was a man caught between loyalty to a national cause and allegiance to a friend and benefactor, as he once described his former boss. He chose to act in favour of his friend. We may never know how much of a dilemma the decision was to the president, but we do know that his concept of a nation is not so different from that of any average Nigerian on the streets of Kano or Port Harcourt. To these Nigerians, loyalty is still narrowly defined, first to their tribes before the nation. And so it is and has been to many Nigerians, the level of education notwithstanding. The president’s decision simply reconfirms this unfortunate misalignment.
This tendency for the average Nigerian to see himself first through the lens of a linguistic or tribal “nation” predates Nigeria’s history as a country. The facts of both amalgamation and independence have not changed that reality. It is reinforced by the fact that a Nigerian still sees himself as a stranger in any other part of this country, except his state of origin. As a result, he fears to embrace a truly national identity. The leaders themselves compound the problem – they often return to their roots. The way things stand, only a fool or hypocrite would jeopardise the chance of a good welcome back home by acting against the interest and wishes of the people to whom he would finally return.
It is this lack of vision to see Nigeria as a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts that hampers the country’s growth and development. It’s been one bizarre decision after another, each one completely erasing the gains that have hitherto been accrued in the march towards nation-building. The decision to grant Alamieyesiegha a presidential pardon came at a time when the efforts to fight corruption were supposed to be at full throttle. Now these efforts are undermined and those making them feeling belittled. This action reminds one of the “53 suit cases saga” that occurred in 1984, in the midst of a great national endeavour (the War Against Indiscipline); and the June 12, 1993 election annulment that upended a national aspiration that continues to linger in the national psyche.
Parochial decisions emanate from minds that have been conditioned by experience to believe that the benefits of a political office flow in a reverse order – first, to the officeholder, then to his place of origin, and lastly to the nation. The notion that a man must use his office to help his people is still very strong and it is not about to weaken. Indeed, the struggle for the control of power at the centre revolves around this notion. This is very true and is the reason I believe that any other politician from any other part of the country, faced with a similar situation as the president, will come out with exactly the same decision.
It is just the reality of today’s Nigeria. Can one ever expect Nigeria to play at the same moral level as countries in the western hemisphere? Yes. Not just now, it will take time and it will need help, both from within and outside. Apologists of the Federal Government say that Alamieyesiegha has not only “suffered” enough but also that he has contributed significantly to the maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the Niger Delta. Perhaps so. Let Nigeria and its friends give Jonathan the benefits of the doubt. The investments in the Niger Delta are more than this little token of redemption towards one wayward individual and it is worth it.
Alamieyesiegha, in view of his travail, has really never left his people in the Niger Delta where he belongs; and as the PDP finally welcomes him back to its fold to help in shaping the future of his people, let the rest of Nigeria try to forgive him. Hard, though, but e get as e be, meaning acceptance!
EGHE ISIAKA GUOBADIA
Guobadia, economist, banker, who was special assistant to former finance minister Chu Okongwu, now works in New York.
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