Nigeria: Outrage after presidential fixer pardon

NIGERIA has pardoned the former political benefactor of the nation’s president, a politician convicted of stealing millions of dollars while serving as a state governor who once fled arrest in the UK dressed as a women.

The decision from a closed-door meeting of the council of state to pardon former Bayelsa state governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha met with outrage across Nigeria, an oil-rich nation considered by analysts and activists to have one of the world’s most corrupt governments.

While the administration of president Goodluck Jonathan repeatedly says it is fighting corruption that strangles Nigeria, the leader has shared stages before with convicts. Meanwhile, the country’s largely opaque budgets and loose regulatory controls continue to allow for hundreds of millions of dollars to be stolen annually.

“It is the final nail that tells the story of fighting corruption in Nigeria today,” said Nuhu Ribadu, a former police officer and corruption fighter who led the Alamieyeseigha case. “I’m really sad. I’m sad for my country.”

Alamieyeseigha served as governor of Bayelsa, in the heart of Nigeria’s oil-producing southern delta, from the nation becoming a democracy in 1999 through to 2005.

He was arrested in London after more than $1 million (£670,000) in cash was found in his home there.

Alamieyeseigha escaped British authorities – Nigerian officials say he disguised himself as a woman – and fled to Nigeria, where he had immunity from prosecution while in office.

He was then impeached and charged in Nigeria with illegally operating foreign accounts in London, Cyprus, Denmark and the United States. Investigators said he acquired property in Britain and Nigeria worth more than $10m.

The disgraced governor later pleaded guilty. Alamieyeseigha’s impeachment took Mr Jonathan, who served as his deputy, into power. Mr Jonathan as recently as a few weeks ago referred to Alamieyeseigha as “my boss” during an event in Lagos.

Late on Tuesday, the council of state, comprised of current and former leaders, as well as retired chief justices, approved Alamieyeseigha’s pardon, Doyin Okupe, an adviser to Mr Jonathan, confirmed yesterday.

Mr Okupe described the pardon as a group decision, though ultimately under Nigeria’s constitution, only Mr Jonathan has the power to grant it as president. The decision allows Alamieyeseigha to again serve in public office.

“It is like a parent, it is not every decision a parent takes that is palatable or acceptable to the children. But in due course, we always find out the parents were right,” Mr Okupe told Channels Television. “He was hounded and tried and jailed … What is eminently wrong in giving a remorseful sinner pardon?”