Seriki Adinoyi writes that the recent remission of punishment granted to former governors Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame has generated a mixture of celebration and condemnation
The atmosphere in Jos suddenly became charged when the news first filtered into the air. One wasn’t sure if it was only a rumour, as it is not unusual to peddle unfounded news at beer parlours and drinking joints.
While some were exercising caution, the streets were already taken over by jubilation; Dariye is Out! Dariye is Free! He Has Regained Freedom! Our Son is Set Free!
As the atmosphere got more and more charged, others who earlier tried to exercise caution to be sure of the story soon joined the train as they could not resist it. So the entire Jos went agog.
A source in Bokkos, headquarters of Bokkos Local Government Area from where Dariye hails, said that motorcycles operators and motorists were driving and singing and chanting victory and freedom songs around the town.
Soon, the state government broke its silence, hailing the President Mohammadu Buhari for letting Dariye off the hook. The state Commissioner of Information, Mr. Dan Manjang said that the state government was happy with the development, adding that, “Every Plateau man is happy about it and we give kudos to the President for honouring us in this manner.
“We want to also thank whoever has a hand in making this happen, because everybody makes mistakes at one point or the other; and you could make errors while in governance.
“As it is today, he (Dariye) has been given a reprieve as if nothing had happened, and that is the spirit we have to imbibe as a people, that when we make mistakes, we have to forgive because nobody is above error.”
Dariye’s successor, Senator Jonah Jang also joined in celebrating his release, describing it as “a moment of respite from the unending, unsavoury happenings bedeviling the nation.”
He said, “The news that the National Council of State has granted pardon to former Governor of Plateau State, Chief Joshua Chibi Dariye and former Governor Jolly Nyame of Taraba amongst others is a cheering one and provides Plateau and Taraba people a moment of respite from the unending, unsavoury happenings bedeviling the nation.
“Since the news filtered out that the Council of State had granted the pardon and President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the release of the former governors, there have been wild jubilations with pictures of both bearing various inscriptions trending on social networking platforms. This shows that the pardon of the former governors is indeed the wishes of the people.”
Jang expressed gratitude to the President for heeding the calls by many, including him, who in 2021 made a passionate appeal to Mr. President for the pardon and release of Dariye and Nyame to enable them contribute their quota to the development of the nation.
He said, “We welcome our leaders home and wish them success in their endeavours, and we look forward to having them return to a turf they are familiar with; politicking and providing leadership for our people. We also urge both leaders to put behind their ordeals and concentrate on the onerous task of making the nation a better place.”
Though Dariye is of the All Progressives Congress (APC), at the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) state secretariat, the news threw the busy environment into ecstasy, as the shout of “Head Boy” (Dariye’s nickname) echoed in the air.
It was gathered that the atmosphere in Taraba, where; Reverend Jolly Nyame was pardoned, was largely the same. The jailed former Taraba State Governor is now free. That was the song on every lip.
Hailing the state Council, the Speaker of Taraba State House of Assembly, Professor Joseph Kunini said that the Council has done well
He described Nyame as a worthy son of the state and that his wealth of experience will be invaluable to the state, especially as elections are by the corner and the state is confronted with a myriad of challenges including insecurity and others.
Dariye was a fprmer Governor of Plateau State from 1999 to 2007 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Though he didn’t do much for the people, in terms of developing the state, the people loved him for his kind heart towards them. He gave freely; he helped a number of individuals that needed his assistance.
He was, however, jailed on June 12, 2018 by a Federal Capital Territory High Court in Gudu, Abuja. The court found him guilty of misappropriating N1.16 billion Ecological Fund meant for the state.
Justice Adebukola Banjoko also found Dariye guilty of criminal breach of trust as regards N250 million issued to Pinnacle Communications emanating from the state’s Ecological Fund.
In all, Dariye was found guilty of 14 counts out of 23 counts preferred against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
But before Justice Banjoko gave her ruling, Paul Eroko, counsel to Dariye, pleaded for a light sentence, saying “they misled the governor, it is the banks; they said he didn’t have to present anything.”
But Rotimi Jacobs, counsel to EFCC, said Dariye did not deserve a light sentence because he “didn’t show remorse.”
Jacob asked the court not to give Dariye a light sentence in order to serve as deterrence to those holding public offices. “He is not remorseful, his case should serve as deterrence,” Jacobs said.
Dariye also personally pleaded for leniency, but all fell on deaf ears as he was sentenced to jail. The Supreme Court later affirmed the sentence, though reduced the term to 10 years.
The Supreme Court had in February 2020 also upheld the conviction and the 12-year jail term given to Nyame, for misappropriation of funds while he was governor of Taraba State.
A five-member panel of the apex court, in a unanimous decision led by Justice Mary Odili, said it found no reason to set aside concurrent judgements of both the trial court and the Court of Appeal, which found Mr Nyame guilty of misappropriation of funds.
Delivering the lead judgement, Justice Amina Augie, held that the appeal filed by the former governor to challenge his conviction and sentence, lacked merit.
The apex court, however, held that the appellate court was wrong to have imposed fine against Nyame.
Justice Augie, therefore, affirmed the imposed jail term but freed the convicted Mr. Nyame from paying fine for the crime he committed against the state, while he was a governor.
But by the amnesty granted the two former governors by the Council of state last week, they are as good as one that had never committed any crime against the state. They cannot be described as ex-convicts; it simply translates to ‘no offence’. What a great relief, especially coming at the Easter season when Christians commemorate the supreme price Christ paid to redeem mankind from the wages of sin- death. By this, Christ obtained pardon for mankind. The gesture from the National Council of State is indeed timely.
This gesture is not the first of its kind, Former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, who incidentally is also from Plateau like Dariye, had enjoyed similar gesture from the Council of State during the administration of Alhaji Shehu Shagari.
Gowon had gone on exile after Colonel Joe Garba led coup that enthroned General Murtala Mohammed. He went on exile in the United Kingdom until Shagari granted him amnesty.
State pardon can be very sweet and soothing, but who qualifies for it? Why should a person who has cheated on the state be given a clean slate?
But that is why it is described as a pardon; no one ever really qualifies for a pardon; it is given at the discretion of the giver. So the question of qualification does not arise.
Some notable lawyers have argued that all criminals in prison should enjoy similar pardon.
Three Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), Chief Mike Ozekhome, Mr. Femi Falana and Mr. Jibrin Okutepa, have faulted the state pardon, and called on President Muhammadu Buhari to pardon other thieves in prison.
Ozekhome, in faulting the action of the president queried the basis for granting the pardon when the charge of corruption upon which they were convicted is not only a bane in the country but “struts around imperiously like a peacock.” The senior lawyer was of the opinion that the decision to free the two governors who are still serving their jail terms was not in the interest of the people and capable of dampening the confidence of the citizenry in the national moral fabric, and in the fight against corruption.
He said: “By granting pardon to these treasury looters, Buhari is reviving, nurturing and watering corruption with state powers.”
“So, when the Council of State recently authorized the pardon of 159 convicts, including Senator Joshua Dariye of Plateau State and ex-Governor Jolly Nyame of Taraba State, who were both imprisoned for stealing N1.16 billion and N1.6 billion, respectively, many Nigerians justifiably showed anger, because these two political leaders had been duly tried and convicted for stealing money belonging to their respective states”, he said.
The senior lawyer maintained that the purpose of criminal prosecution is to secure justice, not only for the accused, but also for the victims of crimes and the state; and to some extent get reparation and restitution for the victims, while deterring others from going the same route.
“Where lies the justice for the impoverished people of Plateau and Taraba States who will now watch their tormentors stroll out with red carpet treatment?
“The government budgets huge sums of money for the prosecution of such accused persons from the tax players’ sweat; and if after the rigorous period of trial and subsequent conviction, the guilty are simply let off the hook in such a brazen manner, the little remaining lean hope the citizens have in the system is further diminished”, he added.
While stating that both the president and the Council of State goofed and abused their undoubted constitutional powers and privileges, Ozekhome explained that a constitutional issue as volatile as this could have been better managed if the minders of the president had told him the embarrassment this could cause the government in the estimation of the comity of nations.
Similarly, Falana, speaking during the one year remembrance programme for the late Publicity Secretary of the Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Yinka Odumakin, described the release of the former governors as discriminatory.
He stressed that it was wrong to grant state pardon to the two of them who were convicted for stealing state funds.
Falana said under the 1999 constitution, there is equality for all citizens, adding that the state pardon has to be extended to all thieves and criminals serving jail terms in various prisons.
He said, “My reaction is that all criminals, all thieves and criminals in our prisons should be released.
“Because Section 17 of the Constitution says there shall be equality, equal rights for all citizens and section 42 said there shall be no discrimination on the basis of class, gender, whatever, so you can’t take out two people and leave the rest there. It’s illegal.”
He said he might be forced to ask lawyers whose clients are still in prison to go to court and challenge the discriminatory treatment. Falana suggested that the 1999 constitution should be referred to as decree 24 on 1999 as “it was not duly signed.”
Also, the Chairman, Human and Environmental Development Agenda, Mr Olanrewaju Suraju, said pardoning politically exposed persons convicted for abusing people’s trust and mismanaging public resources would amount to an endorsement of corruption by a government claiming to be fighting corruption.
He added, “The prerogative of mercy and pardon is not an avenue for members of the committee to commercialize their responsibilities and mandate for protection of political family. The public should demand and await the full list of the beneficiaries for critical review and even challenge such an action. This platform shouldn’t be used as a means of subverting the power of the judiciary.”
In the same vein, the Executive Director, Egalitarian Mission for Africa, Chief Kayode Ajulo, said the Council of State was empowered by the constitution to do such, but he queried the criteria for the pardon and wondered why only VIP convicts benefitted from the privilege.
He noted, “The names released so far have shown that those pardoned are those in the upper echelon of the society, whereas, thousands of helpless and unknown Nigerians are languishing in our correctional centres for donkey’s years without any succour to their plight.”
The Coordinator, Transparency Accountability Group, Ayo Ologun, said, “I consider it a perpetuation of the ruling class and an encouragement to corrupt practices and acts of corporate stealing for the ex-governors jailed for corruption to be granted state pardon.’’
But that’s where mercy comes in; it is squarely the prerogative of the one that has the powers to forgive and pardon. Even the robber that hung besides Jesus on the cross received mercy when he least qualified.
Even God said says “I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy….”
Also, the same states that were cheated by the ex-governors welcomed their pardon with high jubilations. Then, there must be something about them.
Though he didn’t do much as a governor, wherever Dariye entered, he brought life and cheers as people would always look up to him for assistance, and he never disappointed them. He hates to see people suffer lack.
It is noteworthy to say that he had been a generous man even before he became a Governor, and had continued to give, even after leaving the office.
So, he enjoys the prayers of the people that he had helped in one way or the other; old and young. It is therefore believed that the prayers of the people have worked in his favour.
His pardon was therefore greeted with mixed feelings from some quarters. He stole from the state; he gave what he stole to the people that were supposedly stolen from; they collected and prayed for him. He was prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the people prayed for his release, he was pardoned and released to them, and they jubilated. So, who is to blame?
It is, however, believed that his release will change political permutations in Plateau. Politicians see beyond the excitement of others and the implications it has for the Dariye family, as they feel more that Dariye’s return to the state will acutely grate on the prospects of politics ahead of the 2023 elections.
For instance, the governorship of the state has been zoned to Plateau Central, where Dariye hails from. As a big fish in that zone, his weight will be felt in no small measure at determining who emerges as aspirants from the zone.
A gubernatorial aspirant on the platform of the PDP, Barrister Caleb Mutfwang, in his reaction simply said, “It’s good. I’m happy for him. I’m excited about his pardon. At last, he has got it. I believe the experience during the period the incarceration lasted will make him a great statesman.”
Other politicians said he is coming to fill a vacuum, and this means a lot for the actualisation of the Plateau Project.
Others see their pardon as a political move, saying it is a plot for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), to win Taraba State in the next elections, and retain power in Plateau state. They believe that Buhari lobbied other members of the Council of State to secure their release for political gains.
Whatever may be the motive behind the pardon, Dariye and Nyame should enjoy and maximize the gesture extended to them.
When granted state pardon, General Gowon used the gesture to better the lives of the people; he started Nigeria Prays, a programme that has impacted on the spiritual lives of Nigerians and transformed lives.
Gowon has been a statesman that has extended goodwill to succeeding administrations; he has tried to be apolitical, and his counsel is enjoyed by all governments in place. He is a peacemaker. That’s what is expected of the ex-Governors and indeed the other 156 others that have enjoyed this gesture of pardon from the Council of State. The question should not be whether or not they deserve the pardon, rather it should be what they will with the freedom they now have.
State pardon can be very sweet and soothing, but who qualifies for it? Why should a person who has cheated on the state be given a clean slate? But that is why it is described as a pardon; no one ever really qualifies for a pardon; it is given at the discretion of the giver. So the question of qualification does not arise. Some notable lawyers have argued that all criminals in prison should enjoy similar pardon