Worried by hostile reactions from some Nigerians and the United States Government over state pardon granted former Bayelsa State Governor, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, among other VIPs, President Goodluck Jonathan has turned to European countries to seek for their understanding over the controversial decision.
Saturday Sun gathered that the meeting, where President Jonathan pleaded with European Union (EU) governments, was held at the Presidential Villa last Monday, with EU ambassadors in Nigeria in attendance.
Reliable sources told Saturday Sun: “The meeting was urgently called by the president to forestall possible negative reactions from EC (European countries), some of who are natural allies of the US on global issues, following the US public condemnations and threats of sanctions against the Nigerian government over the state pardon granted Alamieyeseigha and others.
There have been widespread local and international condemnations of the pardon granted Alamieyeseigha and former CEO of Bank of the North, Alhaji Shettima Bulama by President Jonathan through the National Council of States. While Nigerians cried blue murder, the U.S embassy in Nigeria, in a tweet on Friday last week, said it was “deeply disappointed” over the pardon.
Also, a second tweet from the embassy simply said: “We see this as a setback in the fight against corruption.”
This led to a diplomatic row, as the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying it was urgently calling James P. McAnulty, the U.S. deputy chief of mission, for a meeting while it called the U.S. remarks “undue interference and meddlesomeness,” since the president had followed the provision of the Nigerian constitution granting him the power to issue pardons.
“The ministry finally expressed the hope 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,” the statement said.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland said the “recent pardons of corrupt officials by the Nigerian government” are a setback for the U.S. support to strengthen the rule of law in Nigeria, “which is very important for the future of the country.”
She hinted that the pardons could have repercussions on U.S. assistance programmes. “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,” she said.
No sanctions or punitive measures have been taken, she said, “but we’re continuing to look at what’s appropriate.”
Sensing that some equally influential European countries, especially the United Kingdom, Germany, France and others, may toe the line of the US government on the issue, the president moved swiftly to hold the secret meeting with the ambassadors on Monday night, in a bid to keep the parley and its details away from public knowledge.
One of the diplomats at the meeting however, told Saturday Sun: “The meeting was called by the Nigerian president mainly to plead with the EU ambassadors to convince our home governments to show understanding over the pardon granted some convicted leaders. President Jonathan was humble enough to plead for understanding in case his decision has affected the relationship between Nigeria and the EC.
“We sought clarifications and his government’s commitment to the Nigerian anti-corruption war because the EU is the largest foreign donor to the work of the anti-graft agencies and the judiciary in Nigeria, and he gave assurances, citing some recent government actions to buttress his commitment. We only assured him that we would convey his message to our home governments where final decisions are taken on what may be our individual or collective response on such issues.
Meanwhile, it has also been revealed that former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Chief Olabode George, who was convicted and sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment in 2009 for contract fraud, was on the initial list prepared for state pardon by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke.
A presidential aide, who confirmed this, said it took the intervention of several persons within the president’s kitchen cabinet before George’s name was removed from the final list presented to the National Council of States for approval.
“We have to remind the AGF that Bode George has a pending case against his conviction at the Supreme Court and the court should be allowed to decide it before any help can be offered through state pardon.
That was the superior argument that removed his (George’s) name from the list otherwise the backlash effect would have been more than what we are trying to contend with at the moment,” the source explained.
When Saturday Sun sought reaction of the Federal Government on the meeting with EU ambassadors, Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr. Olugnenga Ashiru, said no such parley took place.
“There was nothing like that, no meeting. We have no problem diplomatically with any country or group,” he said.