Senator Ehigie Uzamere represents Edo South senatorial district on the platform of Action Congress of Nigeria. In this interview with Omololu Ogunmade, Uzamere defended the state pardon granted former governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, amongst other issues. Excerpts:
What was your immediate reaction to the state pardon granted former governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, by President Jonathan?
The pardon of Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha is a welcome development. I have granted several interviews to journalists within and outside Abuja and I have no apology to say that the step that the president has taken is a right step in the right direction. Through the wisdom that God gave to him, he has put everything to rest from the day that Alamieyesegha was arrested.
Before we go further, let’s look at the foundation, how Alamieyeseigha was humiliated. By 2005, Alamieyeseigha was a sitting governor in this country. Now, Alamieyeseigha had gone to Germany for a procedure. He left Germany for London. As soon as he arrived into the airport, right from the aircraft, he was arrested, a sitting governor.
Irrespective of what Alamieyeseigha might have done, he was humiliated by British government in connivance with Nigerian government. Therefore, he was kept there. He left United Kingdom and came to Nigeria. Now, they said Alamieyeseigha escaped. How would Alamieyeseigha escape from the British Government? I believe that British government knows the truth and one day, they will tell us why they allowed Alamieyeseigha to leave.
You mean the British government aided his escape?
Yes. I believe so. I believe they knew the reason they allowed Alamieyeseigha to leave at that time because there is no how you can escape from Britain. And Alamieyeseigha at the appropriate time will tell us why the British government allowed him to leave.
Why do you think the British government must have aided his escape?
I wouldn’t know because at that time, I was also arrested by (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) EFCC in connection with Alamieyeseigha. So, I wouldn’t know what transpired between them. But from what we know about Britain in times of security, I believe that the British government knew the reason they allowed Alamieyeseigha to leave.
You said recently that you were arrested by EFCC. What did you do?
Yes, I was arrested by the Nuhu Ribadu-led EFCC in connection with Alamieyeseigha. He came back to Nigeria and was impeached by less than two-third of the majority of the members of the state House of Assembly. These crabs today, who are shouting in Nigeria that Alamieyeseigha does not deserve pardon, they don’t know the reason Alamieyeseigha was removed. He was removed by less than two-third of the membership as prescribed by the Nigerian constitution.
He was removed by the government of the time and the reason was simple. Alamieyeseigha was one of those who fought for 13 per cent derivation for oil producing states at the time. Alamieyeseigha at that time, took sides with the (former Vice President) Abubakar Atiku. These were the simple two reasons Alamieyeseigha was cut down.
Nigerians are not asking, why would less than two per cent remove a governor? Nigerians are not asking, why will a Nigerian be humiliated in foreign land all because of corruption? But these crabs are talking rubbish about Alamieyeseigha in the newspaper. They have not considered the real issues. Alamieyeseigha was sentenced. He opted for plea bargain. Alamieyeseigha has been remorseful. Alamieyeseigha has suffered for his people by defending 13 per cent derivation.
Are you now saying that the theft of several millions of dollars and pound sterling by DSP is a non-issue?
What did Alamieyeseigha do that governors of that time did not do? Why was Alamieyeseigha singled out? Another reason he was singled out was that he was the only one that did not have godfather among the governors? They used him as a guinea pig to teach other governors a lesson. So, we must learn to forgive. The president in his wisdom decided to forgive Alamieyeseigha in consultation with eminent Nigerians. He didn’t do it alone. The man went for plea bargain. His property was taken from him. His money was taken from him. He has nothing left. Why do you want the man to die in addition to all that?
Since the period that Alamieyeseigha was arrested, how many governors have been jailed? How many ministers have been invited by EFCC? So, you want to tell me that in the eight years within which Alamieyeseigha served and was arrested, all those in the federal government were all saints? Come on, Nigerians, let’s tell ourselves the truth. If we must fight corruption, it must start from our houses. We must search ourselves!
From your submission, it appears you are supporting corruption.
I don’t know what you mean by supporting corruption. I don’t award contracts.
But you are automatically saying that what the former governor should not have been queried by anyone at all.
Alamieyeseigha had entered into a plea bargain. And what that meant was that he committed the sins and he said ‘this is what I have’ and he gave it all out. What else do you want from the man? You must learn how to forgive.
As a member of the ACN, won’t your position contradict that of your party?
This is not a party issue as far as I’m concerned. This has to do with Nigerians. I’m not talking on behalf of my party. I don’t know the position of my party. My party has not called me to say that they don’t support the pardon of Alamieyeseigha. Maybe I will stand up to say what I’m saying. I stand up to be corrected and I have no apology to anybody. Whatever Alamieyeseigha might have done, the man has asked for mercy.
People criticise the pardon because they believe it would have adverse effect on the war against corruption?
Okay, since Alamieyeseigha was jailed and released, how many governors have been sent to prison? That is the question you have to ask yourself. You are saying that it will give room for corruption. Okay, since Alamieseigha has been convicted, how many governors have been convicted by the same EFCC?
But if you are saying many other corrupt people have gone scot-free and the only one that ought to serve as a deterrent should also be left off-the-hook; isn’t that contradictory?
What I’m saying is that a section of this country cannot hold us to ransom. We are all Nigerians and we are all equal stakeholders. Alamieyeseigha had been sentenced and the president in his wisdom granted him pardon after consultation with stakeholders. What I’m saying is since Alamieyeseigha’s conviction, how many former governors that do not enjoy immunity have been jailed? How many ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who award contracts have been jailed? So, why should it be only Alamieyeseigha?
But shouldn’t the same government that granted pardon be blamed for not prosecuting other corrupt officers?
That is at the discretion of the government. Let me tell you, when Alamieyeseigha came from Dubai, he went round the Creeks without guns and all the militants hailed him during the era of President Umaru Yar’Adua of blessed memory. Why will you wish away a man who asked for forgiveness? You can’t wish him away. He’s part of them and what will enjoy today, the 13 per cent derivation fund, Alamieyeseigha and some others assisted us to get it.
We must first of all recognise that we needed this 13 per cent fund at that time. And he said he would make the government of the time uncomfortable if it didn’t grant it and the president conceded. That was one of the reasons they punished the man. The man is alive. The man just came back from Germany and the man was arrested and Nigerians are shouting that the man should not be granted pardon.
Was it in the process of working with him that you were arrested?
No. I was arrested because I’m his friend. Most of his friends were arrested and so, I was arrested and that’s all. I was not prosecuted. I was not asked to go and testify. They just kept me inside the EFCC cell at that time and after sometime, they left us.
The fact that you are a not a member of the ruling party gives you a better platform to assess the war against corruption.
I cannot comment. I can only comment on my own state, Edo State. I can also comment on the development strides across the state. The Federal Government in its own wisdom has its different ways of fighting corruption, maybe the president has a better way and we pray that he succeeds.
What is your view on the merger of your party with some others with the intention of seizing power at the centre in 2015?
The question is not about seizing power. But the issue is let people of like-minds come together. You see, I’m not speaking on behalf of ACN. But as far as I’m concerned, I admire what my leaders are doing. People of like-minds in the political parties are coming together on a single platform to give good government to this country. It is not being formed to remove PDP. It is to give good government to this country.
But how can they provide good government if they don’t seize power?
Yes. But you see, we have seen what the PDP has done and we say let’s have a change. It is not a crime and the parties coming together will even make the party strong. The only way we can get to the next level in this country is to have two party structures. If we can’t do that, one party will rule you for 100 years. But if we have two parties, it will make the government to sit tight.
So, the coming together of the parties including my party is a welcome development and it is something that by the grace of God, will develop into a formidable party that will enable us to go into the poll and Nigerians will decide whether they want A or B. If you want A, it is okay. If you want B, it is fair enough.