The controversial pardon granted some ex-convicts by President Goodluck Jonathan has sparked a diplomatic standoff between Nigeria and the United States, with the Americans threatening to punish Nigeria over Mr. Jonathan’s action. Nigeria has in turn accused the United States of “meddlesomeness”.
The U.S. had through its official twitter handle @USEmbassyAbuja on Friday condemned Mr. Jonathan’s action, saying, “the #USG (United States Government) is deeply disappointed over the recent pardons of corrupt officials by GON (Government of Nigeria).” It added, “We see this as a setback in the fight against corruption.”
A State Department official has now said the American government is not taking the matter lightly and might apply sanction as appropriate. Speaking at the U.S. Department of State’s daily press briefing in Washington D.C. late Friday, Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the development in Nigeria might jeorpardize the governance projects America is executing in Nigeria. The U.S. is the world’s top donor. In 2012, it spent about $226 million on health and governance programmes in Nigeria. And about $600million has been requested for 2013, according to U.S. government data.
In response to a question on whether aid to Nigeria might be cut, Ms Nuland said, “We see this as a setback for the fight against corruption, and also for our ability to play the strong role we’ve played in supporting rule of law and legal institution-building in Nigeria, which is very important for the future of the country obviously.” She added, “We have made clear to the Nigerians that this puts a question mark on the kinds of work that we’ve been trying to do with them.
“We haven’t yet taken the kinds of steps that you’re suggesting Matt (the reporter who asked the question), but we’re continuing to look at what’s appropriate.” Meanwhile, Nigeria’s foreign ministry has summoned a top U.S. diplomat to explain why its embassy posted critical comments on Twitter over a presidential pardon given to the Nigerians convicted on corruption charges. The Nigerian officials filed an urgent request to speak to the U.S. deputy chief of mission over what it described as “meddlesomeness.”
In a statement Friday, the ministry claimed the pardon granted Messrs Alamieyeseigha and Bulama is entirely consistent with the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution. The ministry said it hoped “that the Embassy of the United States of America would henceforth desist from making unwarranted comments on Nigeria’s internal affairs which are capable of undermining the friendly relations that exist between them.”
President Jonathan and the National Council of State had granted ex- Bayelsa Governor, Mr. Alamieyeseigha and ex-boss of the defunct Bank of the North, Shettima Bulama pardon in a move condemned by civil society and other interest groups. Both men had been convicted for corruption by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. Mr. Alamieyeseigha, who chose Mr. Jonathan as his running mate for the Bayelsa Governorship election in 1999, pleaded guilty to financial misappropriation and was sentenced to two years in prison.
Some members of the Council of States had told PREMIUM TIMES that it was clear from the president’s mien and actions at the meeting that the pardon was targeted at Mr. Alamieyeseigha with the others only used as smokescreen. The ex-Bayelsa Governor’s name was the first on the list of the pardon beneficiaries read by the president to attendees at the meeting including three former Nigerian heads of state.
Mixed reactions Nigerians have, however, reacted differently to the U.S. reaction. While some say the U.S. has by its actions showed that it would not support the seemingly pro-corruption action of the government, others accused the American government of meddling in Nigerian affairs especially when its former presidents also pardoned similar ex-convicts. “Who condemned USA when they pardoned Oliver North and the then president over Iran contra,” a commentator by the name Ben Growp posted on PREMIUM TIMES website.
“Various American presidents have pardoned individuals, the most controversial being Marc Rich, whose wife Denise is a contributor to the Democratic Party. Clinton’s actions were done a few hours to leaving office in January of 2001,” another commentator by the username Lanre posted. Others like Odusanya Seye commended the U.S. statement. “As a patriotic citizen of Nigeria, I find this retarded move to pardon a convict shameful for a country whose inhabitant cry for justice,” he said.