By the provision of section 175 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the President has the power to grant pardon to convicted criminals either in part or in full unconditional or on conditions, on the advice of the Council of State. This power is technically known as power of prerogative of mercy. This power has been put in use by the successive governments of both the military and the civilian administrations in Nigeria. The governors of the states by section 212 also have same power in respect of the offences committed in the state or convicted in the state courts.
In 1962, Chief Obafemi awolowo was tried and convicted for an offence of treasonable felony against the Nigerian State alongside other persons such as Chief Lateef Jakande. In 1966, Awolowo applied for state pardon and was granted by General Aguiyi-Ironsi on 12th July 1966, that is two days before he was assassinated.
Alhaji Shehu Usman Shagari also granted state pardon to General Yakubu Gowon and Col. Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. Yakubu Gowon was stripped of his military rank by regime of Obasanjo in 1976 for his alleged involvement in the coup led by Lt. Col Bukar Sukar Dimka that led to the assassination of General Murtala Mohammed. While Ojukwu on the other hand was dismissed unceremoniously from the Nigerian army for leading the secession attempt. Both of them escaped before their pardons; Gowon to London while Ojukwu to Ivory Coast.
On 14th July 1998, General Obasanjo and his friend Shehu Musa ‘yar Adu’a were granted pardon. Obasanjo was convicted of the offence of coup plotting against the regime of General Sani Abacha.
President Obasanjo granted pardon to the sacked Speaker Salisu Buhari who was forced to resign for certificate forgery and later tried and convicted for the offence.
The most infamous of all the presidential pardons were that of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in favour of his former boss Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseihga. Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseihga was pardoned alongside, Chief Ibori and Shettima Bulama, a former MD of Bank of the North. This was condemned by the public. Most cases pardoned before the Jonathan’s pardon were political cases not involving theft of national treasury. So the condemnation was not loud. Historically, Jonathan was the first President to have pardoned a convict convicted of stealing billions of naira from the national treasury. Most of the previous pardons were political cases.
President Muhammadu Buhari too, pardoned 159 convicts among which are the former governors of Taraba and Plateau states Jolly Nyame and Joshua Dariye. This was received with massive condemnation from the public. This may not be unconnected with the fact that, this government campaigned on the promise to tackle the massive corruption holding the country to ransom and insecurity. The public is right especially that beside the loss of funds caused by actual commission of the offences, large sums of money were used for the prosecution of the cases.
However, prerogative of mercy has always been a tool used by many democratic governments including the US. Jimmy Carter pardoned 566 convicts excluding over 200,000 convicted for Vietnam draft invasion who were pardoned also, Renal Reagan 406, George H.W. Bush 77, Bill Clinton 459, George W. Bush 200, Barrack Obama 1927 and Donald Trump 237.
Most of these pardons involved high profile cases involving corruption and other serious offences. Buhari only used the law at his disposal to grant this infamous pardon that is capable of eroding the little faith few people still have in the fight against corruption which the government sings every day. Although in records, even in the US all presidents exercised this powers, this government is the least expected of stooping low to this extent. It is in my opinion insensitive for a government that rode to power through campaign of tackling corruption and in security to engage in the exercise of pardoning convicted criminals including high ranking criminals that were convicted amidst thousands of unsuccessful prosecutions. If any country should pardoned criminals and convicts, Nigeria with a difficult justice system that makes conviction difficult is the least expected to exercise this powers.
To secure a conviction in Nigerian courts requires extraordinary efforts, time, resources and energy, I still find it difficult that the Buhari I know would willingly set people like Dariye and Nyame free. But they said, “nothing Musa no go see for gate”.