•We’re demoralised, says EFCC prosecutor
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission spent hundreds of millions of naira prosecuting the pardoned former governors of Plateau State, Senator Joshua Dariye; and Taraba State, Rev Jolly Nyame, Saturday PUNCH can confirm.
Several EFCC operatives, some of whom were involved in the handling of the two cases, told one of our correspondents that huge sums of money were spent on investigation and prosecution between 2007 and 2018.
Dariye’s case in particular was said to have cost a lot more as it emanated from London and the star witness, Peter Clark, who was a policeman, had to be flown from the United Kingdom on several occasions and lodged in hotels while the case dragged on.
The National Council of State had on Thursday endorsed the pardon of Dariye, Nyame and 157 other convicts following the recommendation of the Presidential Advisory Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy. The 12-member committee, inaugurated by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), in 2018 is headed by the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami.
Dariye and Nyame were jailed for stealing N1.16bn and N1.6bn, respectively.
An EFCC operative, who wished to remain anonymous because he was not authorised to speak to the press, told one of our correspondents that the detective who handled Dariye’s case, Ilyasu Kwarbai, was hit in the head with the butt of the gun by overzealous supporters of the ex-governor when the case was being handled in Jos.
The operative said, “The pardon for Dariye is demoralising. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) was the one who handled the case. He has an internal arrangement with the EFCC so his fee is not that much. However, the bulk of the money was spent on investigation. The case started from London. We had to fly there and lodge in hotels.
“Also, Peter Clark, a UK officer, was the star witness. He was the one who first arrested Dariye in 2004. We had to fly him here on several occasions to testify in Nigeria. Sometimes, when he arrived in Nigeria, the case would be adjourned for one flimsy reason or the other and he would have to travel back and then return to Nigeria.
“Clark was the one who revealed how Dariye bought a pen for £7,000 and was found with over £40,000, while his aide had about £50,000 on her. We spent hundreds of millions on this case. Kwarbai was attacked. The scar is still on his head. How will the UK take us seriously?”
Also speaking with Saturday PUNCH, Jacobs, who prosecuted both cases on behalf of the EFCC, said he was disappointed in the decision of the Buhari regime.
Jacobs said the message being conveyed was that prison was only for the poor, noting that this would embolden the younger generation to embrace fraud. He added that the pardon meant that both Dariye and Nyame could later run for elective offices.
He added, “This pardon means that they can hold offices and run for elections. It has turned the anti-corruption war into a joke. It is a setback against the fight against corruption. They are setting a bad example for the younger generation. This case went from the High Court to the Supreme Court and now the convicts are being pardoned.
“It will demoralise the judges, the investigators and the prosecutors. It sends a bad message to the youth and Nigerians as a whole.”
In an interview with Saturday PUNCH, Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, said he was at a loss for words.
“All I can say is that it is finished. It is finished,” he added with dismay.
Human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), told one of our correspondents that the war against corruption had officially come to an end and jokingly asked the Federal Government to release all guilty persons from prisons.
Falana said, “They are pardoning themselves now. The same man, who said he came to fight corruption, has been granting pardon to people who were convicted for stealing billions of naira. My reaction is that all criminals and petty thieves should be released since Section 17 of the Constitution says there shall be equal right for all citizens and Section 42 says there shall be no discrimination on the basis of class, gender or whatever.”
Speaking earlier in Lagos on Friday at the first memorial lecture and book presentation in honour of the late activist, Mr Yinka Odumakin, Falana stated, “The rulers are interested in continuity – continuity of injustice and corruption. A Nigerian was jailed for stealing noodles in Abuja, he was not granted state pardon. If you want to pardon your friends, you must extend that pardon to other people in the spirit of equity and fairness.”
Pro-transparency group, Transparency International, which has consistently ranked Nigeria low despite the anti-corruption war of the Buhari regime, said it had become obvious that the President’s anti-graft war was a scam.
In an interview with Saturday PUNCH, Auwal Rafsanjani, the Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, which is Nigeria’s chapter of the TI, said the Buhari regime had lost the moral right to continue the anti-corruption war. He said it was obvious that the pardon of the two ex-governors was connected to the 2023 elections.
He added, “The Buhari regime has shown that the fight against corruption is simply deceptive, a mere show, a means to settle political scores and pardon those in its camp. It has rubbished the work of the EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission. You need to know how much was spent on the trial of these gentlemen. Why did the government waste taxpayers’ money if they knew this was what they wanted to do?
“We are not surprised that as 2023 is coming, these two ex-governors, who are popular in their states, are being pardoned so that the ruling party can use them to win elections in their states. There are thousands of Nigerians languishing in various correctional centres. Why are they not being forgiven? Why is it that people who looted and impoverished the people are being pardoned?”
Ortom, Jang commend Buhari
Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, on Friday applauded the President and the National Council of State for granting the pardon.
Ortom’s Chief Press Secretary, Nathaniel Ikyur, said in a statement, “Governor Ortom thanked President Buhari and the National Council of State and the Federal Government over the gesture even as he admitted that some useful lessons must have been learnt from the incident.”
Also, a former governor of Plateau State, Jonah Jang, on Friday hailed the President, saying the pardon would provide the beneficiaries another opportunity to “contribute their quota to the development of our nation.”
Jang, in a statement by his Media Consultant, Clinton Garuba, said, “There has been wild jubilation with photographs 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.
Sagay defends Buhari
Meanwhile, the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof Itse Sagay (SAN), said the pardon for the two ex-governors was in order. He told Saturday PUNCH that the decision was not taken by Buhari alone but by the National Council of State, which comprised all the 36 governors, former Presidents and past and present Chief Justices of Nigeria.
The senior advocate added that he was convinced that Dariye and Nyame had learnt their lessons and had been punished enough, having spent four years in jail already.
He added, “The President didn’t do it alone but with the Council of State. I am sure it must have been a consensus. It is not such a terrible thing as people are saying. Four years in prison is tough. Some of us may not survive a month in prison.
“They have faced humiliation and loss of status, falling from Government Houses to prison. So, I don’t think there is anything wrong if they are being pardoned.”
Speaking on insinuation that the pardon was political given that Dariye and Nyame were members of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Sagay said, “No, I can disagree with this entirely. These people are not active party men anymore. When they are pardoned, for 10 years they cannot participate in politics. So, they are of no consequential advantage to the President or any party. I don’t think it’s a party matter.”
A former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, said he had yet to read the report and could not comment on the factual reasons for the pardon or those who were pardoned.
However, he said there was a framework before people could be recommended for pardon. “What the Presidential Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy does is guided by what is known as the parole rules, because the purpose of sentencing is not to punish but to redeem.
“So, if you have been of good behaviour and you have spent a considerable time of your sentence, then those are the two critical indicators that you are qualified to be recommended for parole. So, a parole board will sit, assess the situation and invite you for interviews. If you pass the interviews, the parole board will make a recommendation for a remission of your sentence.”
He said if he were to head such a committee, he would not recommend someone who had a long sentence and whose crimes were harmful to public policy.
He added, “So, I will not recommend somebody who has killed somebody brutally and somebody who has been charged and sentenced for corruption when corruption is one of the critical issues in Nigeria.
“Suppose the committee were to ask people to electronically vote if they think someone found guilty of corruption should be pardoned, the person, in my view, will fail that test because there is a very strong view in Nigeria that people who have been found guilty of corruption should face their sentence. So, if you are pardoning people, who have been found guilty of corruption, it may send the wrong message.”