When I first heard rumours that D. S. P. Alamieyeseigha, the disgraced former governor of Bayelsa State, was about to receive, or had actually received a pardon from President Goodluck Jonathan, I initially refused to believe it. Within minutes of confirming the report to be true, I posted the following comment on my facebook page and my twitter handle: “With Alamieyeseigha’s pardon, GEJ reconfirms his non-aversion to corruption; and puts personal and ethnic considerations above the fight against corruption.” Several days later, as I have reflected over and over on the president’s action, the implications of the pardon continue to rankle!
It is worthwhile reminding ourselves of the background and circumstances of Alamieyeseigha’s trial, conviction and impeachment. Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyesegha was the swaggering governor of Bayelsa State from May 29, 1999 to December 9, 2005. In his time, he loved the appellation “Governor-General of the Ijaw Kingdom”! A former Air Force officer, there were speculations linking his exit from the service to allegations of examination malpractices during a service course. As governor, Alamieyesegha’s state benefitted from huge oil derivation windfalls which he seemed to have no clear plans for, except, of course, illegal self-enrichment and theft. In September 2005, he was detained in London, UK on charges of money laundering. At the time of his arrest, the London Metropolitan Police found £1 million in cash in his London home; and later a total of £1.8 million in cash and bank accounts. He was also discovered to own UK real estate worth £10 million. Subsequently, Alamieyesegha jumped bail in December 2005 allegedly disguised as a woman!
He was impeached and removed from office as governor of Bayelsa State on December 9, 2005 and on July 26, 2007, he pleaded guilty to six charges of corruption and money laundering, and was sentenced to two years in prison. He also forfeited assets to the Bayelsa State government. In June 2012, the US Department of Justice executed an asset forfeiture order on $401,931 of funds belonging to Alamieyesegha and there are other proceedings still pending against him. In the UK, his status is of a wanted person, having fled from trial. This is the person President Goodluck Jonathan has just thought it fit to grant a full and unconditional pardon!
President Jonathan was deputy to then Governor Alamieyesegha. He became Bayelsa governor as beneficiary of Alamieyesegha’s impeachment and has subsequently had the good fortune of becoming, in quick succession, vice-president and president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He reportedly owes his entry into politics and high office to Alamieyesegha and, of course, bears an ethnic affiliation to the erstwhile Ijaw “governor-general”! And, of course, there is a new President Jonathan in town who is consumed by the prospect of re-election in 2015 and has seemingly transformed into a “lion” who will devour anything that stands in the way of that eventuality! On the other hand, if returning Alamieyesegha into active politics will enhance his 2015 campaign, Jonathan is evidently prepared to facilitate such return. In short, Alamieyesegha’s pardon is predicated upon base considerations – little-minded political calculations, ethnic and personal affinity and a subjection of the state to narrow interests!
Several of Jonathan’s aides have defended the pardon on legal or constitutional grounds and accused opponents of “sophisticated ignorance”! But this is not a legal or constitutional matter. Jonathan clearly has the power to grant pardons. It is not a political matter either, and one of the banes of our democracy and society is how we subject our laws and institutions to petty political manipulations. This is a moral issue … and an issue of leadership; and, quite unfortunately, President Jonathan has with this pardon failed a significant moral and leadership test. In the current circumstances of Nigeria, in which corruption threatens to subvert and destroy the nation, any action that seems to further legitimise public theft and grand larceny is a gross failure of leadership and morality. And that is what our president has done in this matter.
This decision was also very poor strategy. As mentioned above, Alamieyesegha’s case was a global matter – he was arrested in the UK; he jumped bail and remains technically a subject of legal proceedings in that country; and there are proceedings against him in the US as well. By his action, President Jonathan sends an unmistakable signal to these nations that he condones corruption and is not committed to the anti-corruption effort. In this globalised world, that signal may yet be an albatross to Jonathan as he seeks to retain his office in two years time. As I mentioned above, this matter coincides with the emergence of a “new” Goodluck Jonathan – the one whose friends and allies are Tony Anenih, Bamanga Tukur and others; the one whose PDP will use underhand measures to try to deny the emerging APC its name; the one that will sponsor a PDP Governors’ Forum to undermine a Nigerian Governors’ Forum which he couldn’t control; and (on a positive note), the one who is less-inclined to appeasing Boko Haram and its sponsors!
The pardon of Alamieyesegha (and Bulama) is a gross mistake! President Jonathan undermines his moral authority and leadership credentials by taking that action. My heart wishes he would countenance a reversal of that action, but my head tells me he won’t!