Dr Hakeem Baba Ahmad has served as permanent secretary at different ministries of the federation and he was also a onetime INEC secretary. In this interview with Sunday Trust, Dr. Baba Ahmad described the double pardon granted to some Nigerians as an embarrassment to the nation, which signifies serious disconnect between the political institution and the public service. Excerpts:
As a former permanent secretary, how could you describe the action of the presidency to grant pardon or clemency to a set of people that were pardoned by a previous regime?
I think by now Nigerians have understood that there is terrible gab in how Nigerian government operates. Clearly, what they needed to do, despite their desperation to pardon DSP Alamieyeseigha, was to go through the records. A lot had happened from the incarceration of Yar’adua and Obasanjo for an attempted coup to the regime of Abdulsalam to Obasanjo as a convict, to a pardoned presidential candidate, then as a president. A lot had happened.
There is a mechanism in the public service that would have allowed them access to that information. It is obvious that something had gone wrong either with the public service entirely or with a presidency that does not even want to wait until it is advised by public officers that it is okay to grant pardon to these people. Something somewhere went wrong and it is tragic for the nation. It is also embarrassing for the government. Above all, what this tells you is that there is fundamental problem in how the public service is being run today.Are you saying that the problem may not be from the public service but the haste of the presidency to grant the pardon?
The public service is merely an instrument in the hands of the political institution. If somebody in the presidency has come out to say that the president wants to grant pardon to DSP Alamieyeseigha and about six or seven or eight people, then there is a method to verify all the people that the president had mentioned; whether they are entitled to the pardon, and have not been pardoned. In this type of situation, you check the facts and the law, and you are appropriately advised.
There is a unit in the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation called the Council Secretariat. The Council Secretariat processes and serves both the Federal Executive Council and the Council of State. Even an Assistant Director would have been able to lay his hand on the records. They are there, It is not that they are not there.
I think what might have happened is that nobody cared to check out. They were obviously in a hurry. Nobody cared to say that the whole purpose of a bureaucracy is to keep a record of what government does and keeps government on its toes to avoid this kind of very embarrassing mistake. Basically, they would have asked for verification and they would have been told that people like Shehu Yar’adua and the other Generals were pardoned before.
For Shehu Yar’adua, I think this costly mistake is a multiple tragedy.
This is a man died being an accused and had never confessed to the crime being accused of. He has served his country to the best of his ability. Accused of plotting a coup, incarcerated until death; it is really a travesty of justice to treat Shehu Yar’adua in the same category with Alamieyeseigha. It is really very sad, and if the man can turn in his grave, he would have really done so.Now, who do you think should be held responsible for this mistake: The presidency or the public service?
Well, you should know that President Jonathan is not the first president to grant pardon and he would not be the last but there is procedure for that. What would normally happen is that the president would say, I want to grant pardon to some persons; a search would be ordered. That search would involve collaboration between the office of the minister of justice and attorney general of the federation and the presidency, particularly the Council Secretariat. Between them, they would come up with facts and details relating to those persons’ conviction. If they need to go beyond that, they can do so. Within 24 hours, you can find out all such details.
Like I said, I think nobody bothered to ask the civil service, the presidency, the judiciary and the office of the SGF, otherwise you wouldn’t have this kind of terrible embarrassing situation where you grant pardon to some people and two or three days later somebody to come with a paper and say that those people have been pardoned before.
It is evidence of a massive disconnect between the political level and the civil service. This is a very serious issue, because this disconnect is not supposed to exist particularly for a government like this one that is having crisis of competence. It needs a very good civil service to serve it. When a political level is aware that its competence level is very low, what it does is to build a robust and efficient public service. Then whatever mistake you make can be mitigated at the public service level. That is what the public service is all about.
In the last few years, they have compromised the public service so badly that it is even difficult now to get the most basic service of the public service. If you are looking for evidence of the total collapse of the public service, you ask yourself where is Abdurasheed Maina. This is one civil servant that has defied the Senate, entire security agencies, the presidency, and has allegedly swindled billions of Naira from pension fund, and as I speak to you now nobody knows where he is. This is one civil servant and there are thousands like him. This is to tell you that something is seriously wrong. In the first place, how can civil servants have access to such huge fund? During my time, it is not like that because he is supervised by head of service. But Maina has now become more powerful than the entire Nigerian state. This shows the total collapse of the civil service and the political level.In specific terms, are there no penalties for an offence of giving double pardon to same set of people?
You have to first of all establish guilt before you penalise somebody. Are you going to say to the public service that I have embarrassed myself for granting double pardon, while nobody had cared to take the most elementary steps of verifying issues like that or getting the information required from the public service? If they had made inquiries from the public service, then there must be penalty because the laws are there and public service is a documented service.
And if you can’t establish guilt because you have a political level that was so much in hurry to grant pardon to Alamieyeseigha and they were not even willing to ask the people that have the information, then it would be a witchunt to penalise any public servant.
Whichever way it goes, if the presidency were given advice and they ignored it, the political level is responsible. If they didn’t ask for advice, they are also responsible. But if they asked for advice and were wrongly advised; they can then go and find out who misled them.Let’s look at the pardon to Alamieyeseigha itself, how moral is that especially for the fact that the presidency had argued that the man is doing a lot in restoring peace in the Niger Delta?
The 50, 60 or 70 elders that met in Borno with the president to tell him that he should grant amnesty to Boko Haram were also involved in calming the Borno and Yobe axis. These are 60 Nigerians that had all given their lives to the service of this country and they have virtually lost many things to the crisis. How can the president asked them to sign and take responsibility of any attack because even for the visit of the president; two states had to be locked, and look at the way he confronted elders that are sincere. These people have gone to him in the villa before he even visited Borno.
Therefore, if it is an issue of DSP Alamieyeseigha involved in calming the nerves in Niger Delta; in political terms what the president is doing is that it is okay to calm one part of the country but it is not the right thing to do for entire elders of a community to get involved in peace making and building. Niger Delta is part of Nigeria and Borno is also part of Nigeria.
It is really sad that the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria cannot find someone who can play a positive and constructive role in the Niger Delta unless he goes and finds a man who took money belonging to the people of the Niger Delta in tens of billions, ran away and brought back and was convicted and he is now the only man that can build peace in the Niger Delta. Then I think we are into serious trouble.