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Nigeria pardons ex-governor who stole millions

Wednesday - 3/13/2013, 7:47am  ET

FILE- Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, governor of Bayelsa state, as he makes a speech in Kaiama, in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria in this file photo dated May, 16, 2005. Presidential adviser Doyin Okupe said Wednesday March 13, 2013, that Nigeria's Council of States headed by President Goodluck Jonathan has pardoned the former political benefactor of the nation's president, who was convicted of stealing millions of dollars while serving as a state governor. The decision to pardon Alamieyeseigha was greeted with derision by activists who highlight Nigeria as having one of the world's most corrupt governments. (AP Photo/George Osodi, File)

JON GAMBRELL
Associated Press

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) -- Nigeria has pardoned the former political benefactor of the nation's president, a presidential adviser said Wednesday, a politician convicted of stealing millions of dollars while serving as a state governor.

The decision from a closed-door meeting Tuesday of the Council of State to pardon former Bayelsa state Gov. Diepreye Alamieyeseigha drew immediate outrage across Nigeria, an oil-rich nation long considered by analysts and activists to have one of the world's most corrupt governments.

While the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan repeatedly says it is fighting the entrenched system of graft that strangles Nigeria, the leader has shared stages before with convicted politicians. Meanwhile, the country's largely opaque budgets and loose regulatory controls continue to allow for hundreds of millions of dollars more to be stolen annually.

"It is the final nail that tells the story of fighting corruption in Nigeria today," said Nuhu Ribadu, a former police officer and corruption fighter who led the Alamieyeseigha case. "I'm really sad. I'm sad for my country."

Alamieyeseigha served as governor of Bayelsa state, in the heart of Nigeria's oil-producing southern delta, from the nation becoming a democracy in 1999 through 2005. He was arrested in London after more than $1 million in cash was found in his home there.

Alamieyeseigha escaped British authorities -- Nigerian officials say he disguised himself as a woman -- and fled to Nigeria, where he had immunity from prosecution while in office. He was then impeached and charged in Nigeria with illegally operating foreign accounts in London, Cyprus, Denmark and the United States. Investigators said he acquired property in Britain and Nigeria worth more than $10 million.

The disgraced governor later pleaded guilty. Alamieyeseigha's impeachment brought Jonathan, a little-known marine biologist who served as his deputy, into power. Jonathan as recently as a few weeks ago referred to Alamieyeseigha as "my boss" during an event in Lagos.

On Tuesday, the Council of State, comprised of current and former leaders, as well as retired chief justices, approved Alamieyeseigha's pardon, Doyin Okupe, an adviser to Jonathan, confirmed on Wednesday.

Okupe described the pardon as a group decision, though ultimately under Nigeria's constitution, only Jonathan has the power to grant it as president. The decision allows Alamieyeseigha to again serve in public office.

"It is like a parent, it is not every decision a parent takes that is palatable or acceptable to the children. But in due course, we always find out the parents were right," Okupe told private broadcaster Channels Television. "The man has been displaced from his office as governor, he was hounded and tried and jailed. ... What is eminently wrong, you know, in giving a remorseful sinner pardon?"

Okupe did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday from The Associated Press. Others pardoned Tuesday included Maj. Gen. Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, a former deputy in a military government detained by late dictator Sani Abacha and who later died in prison under mysterious circumstances.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, likely lost more than $380 billion to graft between 1960 and 1999, Ribadu once estimated while head of the country's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Meanwhile, just more than 60 percent of Nigerians earn the equivalent of less than $1 a day, according to a study published by the country's National Bureau of Statistics.

Ribadu, who served as the anti-corruption chief under the ruling People's Democratic Party and later ran as an opposition presidential candidate, said the pardon will make the nation's police question whether pursuing such cases in the future is even worthwhile

"There's not anything people can do anything to bring the people who are corrupt to justice," Ribadu told the AP. "It's a terrible development. I can't understand how leaders will sit down and come up with an unbelievable action like this."

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Associated Press writer Bashir Adigun in Abuja, Nigeria, contributed to this report.

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Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP .


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