President Muhammadu Buhari has defended granting pardons to the former governors of Plateau and Taraba states, Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame respectively, who were jailed for stealing public funds.
The two former governors and 157 other convicts were recently pardoned by the President through the Council of State.
Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, who clarified the recent note presented to the Council of State after the Presidential Advisory Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy (PACPM) report, on Wednesday said it was a culmination of a process begun by the convicts and others concerned in line with the constitution.
According to him, Buhari would have appeared insensitive if he had not pardoned the convicts.
PACPM was constituted on August 28, 2018, to assist the President in the discharge of his responsibility of granting pardon/clemency.
The committee filed its first report in March 2020 and reconvened in September 2021 to attend to pending applications.
Shehu said Section 175 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) empowers the President to exercise his constitutional powers to grant a pardon.
The cases, Shehu noted, followed the established process of applying for pardon or clemency, first to the Correctional Service, which must certify claims made.
The 159 convicts who were pardoned include Dariye, Nyame, John Joshua Uloh, Umar Bamalli, Sa’adu Ayinla Alanamu, Charles Ihenatu, and Akinwumi Ajayi.
According to Shehu, the PACPM, led by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, followed up the recommendations with a visit to selected persons across the country.
The presidential spokesman said the visit appraised and identified “potential cases of convicts and ex-convicts before nominating them for presidential pardon/clemency and reduced sentences”.
The presidency explained that during the exercise, 412 inmates were interviewed and 162 were presented to the Council of State by the President.
He, however, said it was natural for the cases of the ex-governors to generate public criticism, noting that “the President would have come across as insensitive were he to have ignored compelling cases recommended for pardon because someone is a former governor”.
He denied that the convicts were pardoned to use them for politics and to strengthen the chances of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in their respective states ahead of the 2023 general elections.
Meanwhile, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) had said it was suing President Buhari’s administration for pardoning the former governors.
SERAP earlier on Sunday called on Buhari to urgently withdraw the pardon recently granted to former governors.
The anti-corruption group Tuesday posted on its official Twitter handle, “Presidential pardon: We’re suing the Buhari administration over the unlawful pardon for former governors Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame, who are serving jail terms for corruption.”
The Council of State last Thursday granted a state pardon to Dariye and Nyame, along with 157 others.
Dariye and Nyame were imprisoned for stealing public funds to the tune of N1.16 billion and N1.6 billion respectively.
Both were governors of their respective states from 1999 to 2007.
Dariye was sentenced to 14 years in prison but his prison term was later reduced to 10 years by the Court of Appeal in Abuja. His conviction was affirmed by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court in February 2020 upheld the conviction and 12-year jail term given to Nyame, for misappropriation of funds while he was governor of Taraba State.
In its earlier letter dated April 16, SERAP said: “Impunity for corruption will continue as long as influential politicians escape justice for their crimes. The constitutional power of prerogative of mercy ought not to be an instrument of impunity.
“The pardon power ought to be exercised in a manner that is consistent with the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended], particularly the provisions on oath of office by public officers, and section 15 which requires your government to abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power.”
Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN) and many other Nigerians have also been very critical of the presidential pardons granted to the thieving former governors.
Speaking as a guest lecturer at an event organised to celebrate one year of remembrance of the late Yinka Odumakin and the launch of the Yinka Odumakin Foundation at Sheraton Lagos Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos last week, Falana accused Buhari of failing to keep to his word.
“They are pardoning themselves right now. The same man who said he came to fight corruption has been granting pardons to people who were convicted of stealing billions of naira.
“My reaction is that all thieves and other criminals in our prisons should be released.
“Under section 17 of their constitution, it says there shall be equal rights for all citizens and section 42 says there shall be no discrimination on the basis of class, gender, whatever, so you cannot take out two people and leave the rest there. In particular, the government has been prohibited from conferring advantages on any group of citizens to the exclusion of others in the same category,” he had said.