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Looting Public Funds Equals Presidential Pardon?

On the 14th of April, 2022, the Council of States released 159 inmates from the Nigerian correctional centre. Among the inmates released was Joshua Chibi Dariye, the former governor of Plateau state from 1999 to 2007, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison by a High Court of the FCT in 2018. He faced trial for stealing N1.126 billion of public funds.

In addition, he was released from the correctional centre alongside Jolly Nyame, the former governor of Taraba State. He was also convicted by a judge of the Federal Capital Territory High Court Gudu on the 30th of May 2018 and sentenced to 14 years in prison. Nyame appealed to the Court of Appeal and got his jail term reduced to 12 years. He further appealed to the Supreme Court of Nigeria, challenging the jurisdiction of the FCT High Court Gudu to have entertained the case and the reduction of the 12 years sentence and the 100 Million fine imposed on him by the Court of Appeal. At the Supreme Court, the appeal against the imposition of a fine succeeded, but the Supreme Court affirmed the 12 years prison term

The Public Relations Officer, FCT command, Chukwuedo Humphrey, said their release letter was sent to the command by the Presidential Prerogative of Mercy Committee on Monday, and they have no right to hold them further as soon as they got the letter of clemency from the presidency. If we do, it will be against their fundamental human rights.

The power to exercise such pardon by the council of state headed by the president is justified under the provision of the constitution Section 175 CFRN 1999;

 (1) The president may ;

(a) 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;

(b) grant to any person a respite, either for an indefinite or for a specified period, of the execution of any punishment imposed on that person for such an offence;

(c) substitute a less severe form of punishment for any punishment imposed on that person for such an offence; or

(d) remit the whole or any part of any punishment imposed on that person for such an offence or of any penalty or forfeiture otherwise due to the State on account of such an offence.

(2) The powers of the President under subsection (1) of this section shall be exercised by him after consultation with the Council of State.

(3) The President, acting in accordance with the advice of the Council of State, may exercise his powers under subsection (1) of this section in relation to persons concerned with offences against the army, naval or air-force law or convicted or sentenced by a court-martial.

The fact that these former governors were released from prison and the guards were even taking pictures with them felt like a “ceremonious affair” and a hero’s homecoming after looting public funds that caused a public uproar. Though the constitution has given the council of states the power to pardon offenders, should these former governors be entitled to a pardon after looting the state’s treasury? This is morally perverse in every way.  

Justice is a 3-way traffic; justice for the accused person, justice for the state, and justice for society.

Has the people of Plateau and Taraba states gotten justice in this case? The courts in Nigeria were unanimous in their verdicts that these former governors were corrupt and had corruptly enriched themselves while serving as governors.

The grant of pardon is discretionary, but this discretion must be exercised judiciously and in the best interest of society. These former governors had betrayed the trust their people reposed in them by stealing money meant for the development of their states while serving as chief executives of their states.

The gorilla in the room is obvious and begets whether section 175 of the constitution is an abuse of power by enabling political thieves. Unfortunately, the answer is “Yes.”

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