The presidential pardon granted to DSP Alamieyeseigha effectively turned the international community against the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan, Bolaji Abdullahi has asserted in his upcoming book.
Alamieyeseigha, who was the governor of Bayelsa state from 1999-2005, was arrested in London in 2005 on suspicion of money laundering.
About £1 million cash was said to have been found in his London home, and later another £1.8 million in cash and bank accounts.
He jumped bail and escaped from the UK but was impeached on his return to Nigeria, with Jonathan, his deputy, replacing him.
Alamieyeseigha was then convicted and jailed on corruption charges in 2007 after a plea bargain deal — and subsequently released.
Jonathan granted him presidential pardon in March 2013 to obliterate the criminal record.
In his new book, ‘On a Platter of Gold: How Jonathan Won and Lost Nigeria’, Abdullahi — who served as a minister under Jonathan from 2011-2014 — said that particular gesture was the turning point for the international community.
In the advance copy, Abdullahi argued that Nigerians had more than enough basis to conclude that even if Jonathan himself “was not personally corrupt, he had demonstrated ample tolerance for corruption and corrupt officials”.
‘AMERICA WILL KNOW’
The author also referred to the case of the billions of dollars the NNPC was accused of failing to remit to the federation account by then-CBN governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi.
“In a Presidential Media Chat soon after Sanusi’s ouster, Jonathan denied that any money was missing and declared, quite memorably, that: ‘If anyone steals $50 billion or $20 billion anywhere, America will know. They will tell you where it is; it is their money.’ Quite possibly, the Americans had no evidence of $50 billion or $20 billion having gone missing, but Jonathan’s government gave no one the confidence that no money was being stolen,” Abdullahi wrote.
“Since the Transparency International started monitoring political corruption in countries across the world, perception has taken precedence over facts and figures in measuring where countries stood in corruption rating. The problem with perception however is that it does not need to be proved beyond reasonable doubts. On this basis alone, Nigerians, and whoever else was interested, had more than enough basis to conclude that even if Jonathan himself was not personally corrupt, he had demonstrated ample tolerance for corruption and corrupt officials – allegations of missing billions from government oil corporation, legislative inquiries into mind boggling subsidy scams, a cabinet minister and close confidant of the president embroiled in hundreds of million naira armoured cars scandal, another minister’s recruitment ‘racket’ leading to the death of hapless jobseekers, pension administrator disappearing with billions of naira, an ex-convict’s presidential pardon – the list seemed endless.
“Put together, these stories formed an ugly compendium that could make the Obama Administration to feel justified in supporting a ‘regime change’ in Nigeria, especially if the substitute was a Muhammadu Buhari, marketed as an ascetic, sandal-wearing old soldier, who had zero-tolerance for corruption.”
‘NOT HIS IDEA’
He said the Alamieyeseigha pardon was the tipping point.
“Of all the issues, the one that perhaps rankled the Americans more than any other was the March 2013 pardon for Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. The former Governor of Bayelsa State had, in July 2007, pleaded guilty to charges of corruption and money laundering brought against him by the EFCC; and was subsequently sentenced to two years in prison. However, because he had already spent two years in custody, he was deemed to have served his time and was allowed to go,” he wrote.
But he also said it was not originally Jonathan’s idea to pardon his former boss.
The credit, according to him, would have gone to former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
Abdullahi, who is now the national publicity secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), wrote: “While Jonathan is often credited or skewered for his former boss’ rehabilitation, the move was actually initiated by late President Yar’Adua who knew Alamieyeseigha from their time as governors and who also believed that the former governor’s release would help the amnesty deal that he was putting together in the Niger Delta. Despite his fall from grace, the former Bayelsa governor remained hugely popular with the militants.
“Shortly after becoming president, therefore, Yar’Adua sent word to his former colleague through Vice President Jonathan that he was worried about Alamieyeseigha’s state of health and would not like him to die in prison. The president offered a lifeline – if Alamieyeseigha would agree to plead guilty and forfeit the majority of his assets and monies to the Federal Government. On 25th July, Alamieyeseigha pleaded guilty before a Federal High Court Judge on the proposed terms; and was released from Ikoyi Prisons the following day.
“Jonathan and a number of other politicians began to push for a presidential pardon for Alamieyeseigha. Yar’Adua was initially receptive to the idea, until he received information that the former Bayelsa governor had teamed up with the president’s political rival, Atiku Abubakar, a behaviour Yar’Adua was disinclined to reward. Fate would however remove Yar’Adua from the equation and bring Jonathan in as president. From then on, Alamieyeseigha’s pardon became only a matter of time. Jonathan was hugely popular at home and abroad before the 2011 election. He was therefore, advised not to grant the pardon, so as not to damage his brand – especially in the eyes of the international community which regarded him as somewhat different from the traditional pack of Nigerian politicians. But the time would come.
“Jonathan did not have any real constituency or political structure of his own in Bayelsa. And so, with his eyes on the 2015 election, granting the pardon to a politician who remained very popular in the state would be a masterstroke, whether this was the intention or not. It would also be a good way to generate real support for himself in Bayelsa, where he faced serious political challenge from his successor, Timipre Sylva. When Jonathan raised the matter at the National Council of State, there was not a single dissenting voice. Even if there was, it was not likely to matter under the circumstance.
“One South-South governor who spoke strongly in support of the proposal argued that Alamieyeseigha had, more than anything else, been a victim of political persecution by former President Obasanjo. The announcement of the pardon was met with wide condemnation, with former Chairman of EFCC, Nuhu Ribadu, declaring it as the ‘final nail’ in the coffin of the fight against corruption under Jonathan. The president responded with an uncharacteristic bullheadedness, saying he owed no one any apology for his action. The Americans condemned the pardon and even threatened to cut aid to Nigeria. Rather than punish innocent Nigerians by cutting aid, perhaps America decided to bide its time – until the opportunity presented itself to hit Jonathan where it hurt.”
WHERE THE BUCK STOPS
The former minister of sport said nothing that happened under Jonathan’s watch as president could present a more difficult conundrum in defining his legacy than these allegations of corruption in the defence sector, “so massive they don’t bear thinking about”.
To argue that he was not aware that the stealing was going on, the author posited, is to give ammunition to those who have accused him of incompetence.
“To say he knew about it is to admit that he either condoned it, or lacked the will to stop it,” he wrote, offering the example of the war against Boko Haram.
“A senior member of the Turaki Amnesty Committee posited that, while President Jonathan may not have been aware of the scale of the looting that went on in the name of fighting Boko Haram, he could not be entirely ignorant of it. “He knew. But he was in a precarious situation. He was not sure of his own position. If he moved against them, they could sabotage the entire war against Boko Haram, or even overthrow his government. He just had to pretend that he did not know and hope that whatever they were doing would not be so bad as to compromise the entire operation,” Abdullahi wrote.
“The committee member told of one instance when bullet proof vests were procured, only for the soldiers to find that, instead of the usual ballistic plates, the vests were loaded only with sand. “You cannot blame Jonathan for this. After approving money for military equipment, was he to start going round again to ensure that they were actually bought or that the right caliber of equipment was bought?” Difficult as it may be to fault this argument, it is impossible to ignore those who insist that as the Commander-In-Chief, Jonathan must take the final responsibility for everything that happened under his command. The buck stopped with him.”
The book will go on sale nationwide from November 30, 2017 after the launch.