I marked my 32nd birthday today with a discussion on: presidential pardon, amnesty and sustainable development in Nigeria. I share below the text of my brief introductory remark at the discussion.
Pardon and amnesty have been applied at various times throughout our chequered history. Most recently, Niger Delta ‘militants’ were granted in the presidential amnesty. Today, perhaps the most elaborately discussed national development issue is whether or not amnesty should be granted to northern insurgents.
Key guiding questions
There are few questions which should be taken into account:
- What is the position of the constitution (or other applicable national laws) regarding amnesty and presidential pardon?
- What are the implications of a presidential amnesty for law enforcement, social cohesion, stability and long-term development?
- What does the offer of another presidential amnesty, following the Niger Delta amnesty programme, mean for residents of the so-called post-conflict areas who are in fact the victims of the conflicts in the first place?
- If Amnesty is offered and accepted in the north, are there lessons that can be taken from the Niger Delta Amnesty programme?
The 1999 constitution empowers the president to grant conditional or unconditional, restricted (time bound) or indefinite pardon to convicted individuals in consultation with the council of state. So in principle, the president is within his rights to grant pardons and by extension amnesty. However there are further questions that need to be asked: when there is an aggressor who has declared ‘war’ against the state; who threatens the sovereignty of the state and the safety of its citizens, what options does the constitution afford the president? In the context of an ideologically driven insurgency, is the best option amnesty? If amnesty is granted only to ‘combatants,’ does this not increase the risk of further insurgency or even implosion in the affected areas as a result of retributive attacks and other such acts? Does it not pose risks of further insurgencies in other parts of the country? What lessons can be learned from the Niger Delta Amnesty programme?
Resolving the crisis
I argued in my 2009 memoir Service My Country that an effective long-term solution to the challenge of the Niger Delta was to enforce the law. Ensure that the rule of law is upheld and effective in the affected areas (as the state must demonstrate sufficient capacity to enforce the law). Secondly, the relevant institutional capacity needs to be developed and strengthened to ensure the effective delivery of services. Thirdly, the necessary investments in the development of needed human capital to increase local content and improve the quality of life in the region needs to be developed. In relation to the challenge in the north, my position remains the same. The principles have not changed.
Let me conclude by asking: what will happen when the current amnesty in the Niger Delta elapses? What will happen when the stipend stops flowing?