Officials of Nigeria’s anti-graft agencies, EFCC and ICPC, say their morale and commitment to work have been affected by the controversial presidential pardon of Jolly Nyame, former governor of Taraba State, and Joshua Dariye, former governor of Plateau State. Both men had been convicted and jailed for stealing state funds.
The officials of the two institutions, in separate interviews with PREMIUM TIMES, lamented the pardon and accused President Muhammadu Buhari of sabotaging the anti-corruption fight.
The officials asked not to be named for fear of victimisation.
“We used to say our problem in our work against corruption is the judiciary but we see a lack of political will by the president,” one EFCC official said.
Messrs Nyame and Dariye were pardoned by Mr Buhari despite still serving their jail terms.
Mr Dariye, 64, and Mr Nyame, 66, were convicted for mismanaging and stealing public funds while they were governors of their states.
Former Governor of Plateau State, Sen. Joshua Dariye, during his arraignment at the FCT High Court Gudu,in Abuja on Tuesday (12/6/18). The Court sentence him to 14 year imprisonment for fraud and misappropriation of funds. 03249/12/6/2018/Hogan Bassey/NAN
FILE PHOTO: Former Governor of Plateau State, Sen. Joshua Dariye
But on Thursday, at the National Council of State’s meeting held at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, Mr Buhari granted pardon to the two former governors, as well as 157 others, on the grounds of health and age.
By granting them pardon, insiders told PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Buhari — who rode to power on the campaign of fighting corruption — has dampened the morale of the officials of the anti-graft agencies.
“We used to say our problem in our work against corruption is the judiciary but we see a lack of political will by the president”.
One official said the anti-graft officers would now merely attend work to earn their salaries without passion.
“People will be taunting us now that a president can pardon a big thief whom we seriously try to prosecute,” the official said.
The official lamented that the prosecutions of the two former governors took up to 10 years and their eventual convictions were a high point of their work.
“Staff are angrier because the two former governors were tried for over a decade and got convicted. They are saying that the corrupt public servants even made appeals but their conviction was affirmed by Nigeria’s apex court,” the official said,
Jolly Nyame was sentenced to 14 years in prison for fraud
The official added that some members of staff are querying their moral ground to go pursue other cases of corruption.
Another official said he doubts Mr Buhari reviewed the implication of his actions on operatives of the anti-graft agencies.
“People risked their lives and friendships to investigate the ex-governors. They refused to be compromised. Now it appears all the efforts were in vain,” the anti-corruption investigator said.
Meanwhile, some non-governmental organisations such as the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), and Transparency International (TI) also condemned the pardon granted to the corrupt politicians convicted by the Nigerian courts.
The civil society organisations are worried about what they called “the effect such ill-thought political pardon will have on the anti-corruption efforts, which constitutes the major agenda and commitment of the current administration”.
“We sincerely hope the processes and objectives of such Presidential pardon will be re-examined and made transparent to avoid bad precedence, especially as the nation moves towards a political transition in the 2023 general elections,” a statement signed by CISLAC’s Executive Director, Auwal Musa, read in parts.
Mike Ozekhome, a human rights lawyer and activist, said the official pardon is a major setback to Nigeria’s fight against corruption. Mr Ozekhome argued that pardoning the corrupt politicians has only validated the public perception of Mr Buhari’s administration’s lop-sided corruption fight.
“This move goes further to demoralize our anti-corruption agencies who are already facing challenges prosecuting high profile cases of corruption,” Mr Ozekhome said in a statement. “Some of these cases took over ten years to conclude and with lots of resources committed.”
He also said: “In one case, for example, a witness had to be flown from the United Kingdom to Nigeria at different times with funds from taxpayers. Furthermore, operatives of anti-corruption agencies had to put their lives at risk even to the point of facing physical attacks while these cases were on and suddenly, we read that these individuals have been pardoned.”
In its statement, on Sunday, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) urged President Muhammadu Buhari to use his “good offices to urgently review and withdraw the pardon granted to former governors of Plateau State, Senator Joshua Dariye, and Taraba State, Rev Jolly Nyame who are serving jail terms for corruption.”
“Presidential pardon for corruption cases is inconsistent with the rule of law, and the public interest, as it undermines the principle of equality before the law. It will undermine public confidence in your government’s fight against corruption, and the justice system,” the group wrote, quoting a letter it said it wrote to President Buhari.