For some days now, the argument about the morality of the presidential pardon granted to DSP Alamieyeseigha has dotted the pages of our newspapers and elicited heated altercations with many Nigerians. Ordinarily, as a Catholic Priest, I am supposed to be on the side of the supporters of this “pro-bono” action of Jonathan’s since it has to do with forgiveness, which in my role as priest, I am supposed to champion. My patriotic allegiance is demanding otherwise. I have struggled with my personal feelings to justify the action of the President but my heart says otherwise. I discovered that my uneasiness with this “forgiveness” was not generated because there was a dearth of human kindness in my heart but the moral poverty that surrounds this “holy action”. As I listen to the reasons being proffered by the government for the justification of this action, the more anger is being stoked in me. Finally, when I heard the SENIOR SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT ON PUBLIC AFFAIRS, DR DOYIN OKUPE gave the Press Conference where he enunciated the reasons to justify the action; I knew that I must speak out in response to Doyin Okupe’s explanations and justifications.
An initial response of the government which was shown in the “I do not give a damn” posturing of no-apology stance demonstrated by Doyin Okupe when he likened the public misgivings to the action to a parent–child misunderstanding stating, "It is like a parent, it is not every decision a parent takes that is palatable or acceptable to the child. But in due course, we always find out the parents were right”, smacks of insensitivity. If I may ask, who is the parent and who are the children? This government cannot continue to insult the citizenry. Let it be clear that the relationship of the President to the electorates in a democracy is never paternalistic. Democracy is always a government of the people, for the people and by the people and will always remain so.
In the Press Conference that followed afterwards, the Spokesman defined forgiveness and inter-alia said, “…Prerogative of Mercy by definition is not a justifiable affair. It has to do with discretion and the necessity to redress bitterness and thereby offer healing and forgiveness especially in the presence of evidence of remorse and potential to add value to the country.” Of course, this is true but only that the healing is not only meant for the offender but also for the offended and in this case, the Nigerian masses. Actually, forgiveness as a virtue is supposed to heal both parties, while the offender is being offered healing and reconciliation the offended is benefitting from the forgiveness since it frees him from the enslavement to the hurt. In this instance, it is evidently clear that this pardon abysmally fails short of achieving this peace of soul for the Nigerian masses offended. In fact, it does the contrary by aggravating the bitterness in the hearts of so many Nigerians, which it was meant actually to assuage. The fact is that Nigerians know that the enunciated moral platitudes above are not the reason for this act but the selfishness of a few.
It may be interesting also to note the moral conundrums raised by this drama by the two protagonists given the likelihood that the President may run again for office in 2015 and stands to gain with a free Alamieyeseigha around him. World tabloids from BBC to the Associated Press invariably made reference to this. Of course, Nigerian politics has not evolved to the point that one would have expected the President to apply the principle of recusal in the said saga; but any president in a democracy is the moral icon and should always try to be so. As a public person, he should know that every one of his actions, whether intended or not, will always be subjected to the highest scrutiny. In this regard, the spin-doctor’s effort to browbeat the Nigerian citizens by asking them to adulate the President for his “never-seen humility” in his earlier admission of Alamieyeseigha as his political mentor a can never do the magic.
Again, the spokesperson was ingenious in quoting many American Presidents in the so called “forgiveness saga” obviously to attenuate the gravity of the callousness of the action of his boss and couching all in the name of responding to those who normally use that country as a “benchmark of good governance and democratic propriety”. Yet, he logically destroyed his argument when he said later “all Nations of the world have their own characteristics and will always do things that are socio-politically expedient at every point in time”. And this is the crux of the problem. Nigerians are crying out not because they are averse to forgiveness, a universal moral good, but because this particular one is loaded with so many negative implications given the present state of the fight against corruption which since inception of this government has been on life-support.
In his elaborate quotation of America, apparently to water down the genuine agitations of Nigeria over this issue, the spokesperson was smart to point out that American citizens sometimes reacted to a certain forgiveness granted by their past presidents. But unfortunately that comparison is a square peg in a round hole because of the diverse circumstances of the two nations. The citizens of America do not react over the presidential forgiveness because of fear they will induce corruption.
The state apparatus is always poised to check that. They react because of their zero tolerance for infractions of the law, which the recipients have done. In the case of Nigeria, the fear being expressed is the repercussion, which this will have in feathering corruption. So comparing and contrasting these societies begs the question. State pardon can never be independent of circumstances and situations and therefore forgiveness of Alamieyeseigha in Nigeria cannot logically or morally ever be compared with any forgiveness in America.
This issue of corruption brings us to the most laughable part of the Press Conference. The spokesperson accused Nigerians of bellyaching and growling instead of being grateful to Alamieyeseigha for the obvious blessings he has been to Nigeria. As he said, “…in truth Alamieyeisegha since he left prison has been working strenuously and silently to assist the President to stabilize the amnesty in the Niger Delta Region. Alamieyeisegha is a foremost leader of the Ijaw Nation, and his political and stabilizing influence have positively impacted the overall economy of the nation, bringing crude oil exports from the abysmally low level of 700,00 bpd, to over 2.4 million bpd!” This is again where the problem lies. Nigeria’s problem has never been about the paucity of funds but rather the management of the fund. I state this without any fear of contradiction, as the logic is clear. If our problem were lack of fund, Nigeria would have made giant leaps in those moments of abundance like the oil windfall of Babangida era and subsequent governments. And the reason for this lack of progress is not far-fetched, CORRUPTION.
It is here that spokesman’s quotation of Lord Denning that “the purpose of punishment is not to destroy the offender but rather to reform him and deter others” should be scrutinized. If I may ask, how will this action of the President deter others from corruption? Of course, if Doyin Okupe knows much about Lord Denning, which I hope he does, he will not be quoting him in Nigeria’s case as the learned English man will turn in his grave at such a betrayal. I want to draw Okupe’s attention at this point to another English man, Thomas Hobbes who wrote in his Leviathan “the value or worth of a man is, as of all other things, his price which is not absolute, but a thing dependent on the need of and judgment of another. An able conductor of soldiers is of great price in time of war present or imminent, but in peace not so. A learned and uncorrupt Judge is much worth in time of peace, but not so much in war. And as in other things, so in men, not the seller, but the buyer determines the prices.”
In analyzing Hobbe’s quotation above in the light of our ongoing debate, the person being priced is Alamieyeseigha and the buyer is the Nigerian citizenry. Just like material goods, human beings can also in certain sense be valued and this valuation is always relative to the need of a particular buyer. Just as Thomas Hobbes in his Leviathan wrote that a just judge may not be priced much in times of peace or a war veteran in time of war, so in this case. In the present state of Nigeria mired in corruption, a humbled ex-convict Alamieyeseigha is more valuable to the Nigerian buyers than a forgiven-proud Alamieyeseigha who would help boost Nigerian crude oil output.
The reason is because the former Alamieyeseigha would always be a sad reminder to the would-be thieves of Nigeria and through that figure help in keeping corruption in abeyance, the bane of Nigeria. But the later Alamieyeseigha will rather make corruption attractive, as you only need to embezzle so much and restitute so little with only a little spank from the government. Besides, the tenet of forgiveness goes with the resolve never to sin again but what good does it make in exposing the recipient to filthy lucre that caught him pants down before. Nigeria’s wealth cannot again be made available to Alamieyeseigha through his so-called help in boosting oil production. I would want to end this discussion by asking our President to help us come out of the corruptive woods where we are being driven into by many of his actions. God bless you all.
Rev. Fr. Azike Gerald Rome
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters