“During his first stint as head of state, he was accused, repeatedly, of fighting a biased anti-corruption war, protecting those he loved and imposing maximum punishment on those he hated. …Buhari continued to praise the Abacha even when he didn’t have to, essentially absolving the despot of his crimes”.
President Muhammadu Buhari built his successful 2015 campaign on three major campaign themes- fighting corruption, ending insecurity and rebuilding the economy. Fighting corruption has always been important to the myth of Buhari. His nickname in the north is Mai Gaskiya, the trustworthy one. For someone who served his country at the highest level, Buhari was sold as another middle-class Nigerian retiree and farmer who had to take a loan to afford the N25million for his presidential nomination form.
Contesting at a time many Nigerians considered an era of state-sanctioned corruption, this portrayal of Buhari as an anti-corruption czar resonated with the voting public. And when he was trusted with the mandate, one of the first things he did as president was to set up the Presidential Advisory Committee on Corruption and appointed one of the most vocal good governance advocates, Professor Itse Sagay as its head. That was months before he even appointed his first cabinet. Seven years later, President Muhammadu Buhari has pardoned two former governors that were convicted and jailed for corruption under his watch. It’s been a 180-degree movement for what was supposed to be an anti-corruption mandate in 2015.
Regardless of what the president has said about these pardons, it’s impossible to justify pardoning the duo of Joshua Dariye of Plateau State and Jolly Nyame of Taraba State. These two governors committed unforgivable crimes against their impoverished states. Joshua Dariye’s case for example dates to 2004, even though the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was only able to file a proper case against him in 2007 at the end of his governorship tenure.
The UK government had arrested Dariye in September 2004 at a hotel in London and accused him of money laundering. While Dariye jumped bail and returned to Nigeria, his associate Joyce Oyebanjo was convicted and jailed, and the former governor’s properties worth millions of pounds were seized by the UK government as his earnings as a governor in Nigeria could not explain such stupendous wealth.
In Nigeria, Dariye faced and survived two different impeachments before the end of his tenure in 2007 and has continued to be a successful politician as a Senator. The 2007 EFCC against him would take 14 years of sweat and resources to resolve, with the governor appealing his 2018 conviction to the appeal court and then the supreme court. The governor has never shown remorse for his betrayal of his people and yet the president has pardoned him.
Jolly Nyame, a supposed man of God and three-times governor of Taraba State was convicted of diverting 1.64 Billion naira of his state’s money. N1.64 Billion might not seem like a lot of money now, but at the time Nyame was governor, it was the equivalent of two years of internally revenue generated by Taraba. The judge who heard his case, Justice Adebukola Banjoko said the evidence against the ex-governor was overwhelming and sentenced him to 14 years. He also appealed the judgement all the way to the Supreme Court. When his appeal to the Appellate court was dismissed, the court said that it would have imposed the death penalty on Mr Nyame if not that there were no such provisions in the law. At the time of his pardon, Nyame had not even spent four years in prison for embezzling two years of Taraba’s IGR.
Nigerians have rightfully continued to condemn the presidential pardons while the presidency has continued to defend itself. Sadly, Nigerians are to be partly blamed for believing this president would be different from his predecessors. During his first stint as head of state, he was accused, repeatedly, of fighting a biased anti-corruption war, protecting those he loved and imposing maximum punishment on those he hated. This same man served the Sani Abacha regime to the very end despite that regime being one of the most verifiably corrupt regimes in the history of Nigeria, and any country for that matter. Buhari continued to praise the Abacha even when he didn’t have to, essentially absolving the despot of his crimes. Pardoning Nyame and Dariye should not surprise us after all.