If there’s one thing about President Buhari, it’s that he hates corruption. Or, at least, he says he hates corruption — it’s all he ever talks about. He rode to power on the back of a firm promise to make corruption disappear, as if Nigeria is a circus and he’s a skillful magician.
Seven years down the line and corruption is still taking bites out of Nigeria’s national cake like it’s agege bread. The Buhari administration has failed to convince Nigerians of its capacity to effectively fight corruption. The statistics also show he’s not been doing a great job.
Buhari’s most common defence for his terrible performance is that corruption is fighting back — whatever that means. And to prove that he’s trying his best, he regularly points to the fact that two former state governors were jailed for corruption under his administration. That used to be a reasonable defence until very recently.
Who are these former governors?
NOT the former governors
Jolly Nyame was the governor of Taraba State between 1999 and 2007. The High Court in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) found him guilty of stealing over N1.6 billion and sentenced him to 14 years in prison in 2018. The Court of Appeal and Supreme Court later reduced the sentence to 12 years.
Like his brother-in-crime, Joshua Dariye was the governor of Plateau State between 1999 and 2007. He also represented Plateau Central senatorial district in the Senate between 2011 and 2019. In 2018, the FCT High Court found him guilty of stealing over N2 billion and sentenced him to 14 years in prison. The Supreme Court later reduced the sentence to 10 years.
Jolly Nyame to the left and Joshua Dariye to the right
Fun fact: Nyame and Dariye were jailed by the same person.
Her name is Justice Adebukola Banjoko.
Buhari’s Easter gift
As Nigerians prepared for Easter on April 14th 2022, the Buhari administration announced the pardon of Nyame and Dariye. They were among 159 prison inmates and ex-convicts who received a presidential pardon
What’s a presidential pardon?
Section 175 of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution (as amended) grants a Nigerian president the power to pardon convicts and ex-convicts in the country. This pardon may come in the form of total freedom, replacing a death sentence with a prison sentence, or reduction of a prison sentence. This is called a prerogative of mercy.
The president exercises this power in consultation with the National Council of State (NCS).
What council is that?
The NCS is an organ of the government given life by Section 153 (1)(b) of the constitution. The council is empowered to advise the president on at least six specific subjects. One of such subjects is the prerogative of mercy.
The president is the chairman of this council and the vice president is the deputy chairman. Members of the council include all former presidents and heads of government, all former Chief Justices of Nigeria, the Senate President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, all current state governors and the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF).
The council is crowded and very male.
How did Nyame and Dariye get pardoned?
Buhari reconvened the Presidential Advisory Committee on Prerogative of Mercy and Clemency in September 2021. The objective of this committee was to visit prisons across Nigeria and make recommendations to the president on who deserves mercy.
Members of the committee were drawn from the Federal Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs, Christian Association of Nigeria, Islamic Society of Nigeria, National Human Rights Commission, Nigeria Police Force and Nigerian Correctional Service.
By the end of September 2021, the committee already had 320 applications to sort through to determine who deserved a presidential pardon. The committee presented its report to the president who then presented a memo of that report to the NCS where a final decision was made.
Nyame and Dariye managed to make this list somehow, for unclear reasons.
What does the pardon mean for Buhari’s anti-corruption stance?
The cases against Dariye and Nyame each took 11 years to conclude in court. And Buhari’s decision to pardon them after three years in prison washed all that hard work away. It’s unsurprising that the pardon hasn’t enjoyed public support.
More than anything, the pardon of Dariye and Nyame ridicules Buhari’s anti-corruption stance as one big lie. Especially since critics believe releasing the two former governors is a barter arrangement for them to provide political assistance for the 2023 general elections.
The next time Buhari laments that corruption is fighting back, he should look in the mirror where he’ll find the man responsible.