The spat between Governors Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and Rochas Okorocha of Imo State over the amnesty granted by the latter to the murderous gang of Johnson Igwedibia, a.k.a Don Waney, domiciled in Omoku town in Ogba/Ndoni/Egbema Local Government Area (ONELGA) of the Rivers State was an avoidable one.
Following the cold-blooded killing of 23 innocent Christian worshippers in Omoku, who were returning from last year’s December 31 crossover night church service by the gang, Governor Wike, in a broadcast, declared members of the gang outlaws in the state. He put the number of members of the gang at 32 and pledged to offer N20 million for any useful information that could lead to the arrest of any of the gangsters.
Surprisingly, recently, Emenike Agamu, a.k.a “General Red Scorpion,” identified as the fourth in-command in the Don Waney’s terror empire, in a calculated move, surrendered his arms to security operatives in Owerri, the Imo State capital. Agamu surrendered in tow with other surviving residues of Don Waney boys.
Receiving the terrorists, Okorocha said it was shocking to him to note that most of operatives in the Niger Delta Avengers and those of Don Waney were sons and daughters of Imo State. He announced that the surrendering of their arms will end security challenges in the Ohaji/Egbema, Awara oil-bearing corridor of the state. The constitutional protection given to outlaws in Rivers by Governor Okorocha did not come as music in the ears of Governor Wike who expressed dismay at Okorocha’s action.
The position of the Rivers State governor resonates with moral force and logic that is difficult to impeach. Okorocha’s action, without doubt, creates a snafu and a sticky situation in which in the same country and under same constitution and other extant laws, citizens who are criminal suspects and on wanted list of law enforcement agents in one state are granted immunity from arrest and prosecution in another state on account of the same crime. How this would help the course of crime fighting is uncertain.
While Okorocha’s right to execute his power of prerogative of mercy as a state governor is in question, it doesn’t take rigorous thinking to understand that the “penitent” members of the Don Waney gang who ran to him were largely prospecting for options to evade justice, having been degraded by security agents and declared wanted.
Given the nationwide outrage the New Year Day Omoku massacre evoked and coupled with the fact that the Rivers State government had twice extended amnesty to members of the criminal gang, it would not have been out of place for Okorocha to put Wike in the know about the amnesty quest of the fleeing members of the gang. The security agencies had reportedly advised Okorocha against taking the amnesty path.
We recall that on January 7 this year, there was wild jubilation in ONELGA, the entire South-south and South-east regions as the news of the killing of Don Waney alongside his second-in-command Ikechukwu Adiele, Lucky Ode and two other gang members by a combined team of soldiers and operatives of the Department of State Security, DSS in their new Enugu hideout.
The synergy between the DSS and soldiers of the 82 Division proved effective against the gang leaders who were traced to Federal Capital Territory, FCT and smoked out in Mpape a suburb of FCT.
The practice of granting amnesty to criminals or presumed criminals in Nigeria is traceable to the constitutional right of the President or a state Governor to exercise prerogative of mercy. Amnesty as a legal procedure shuts out prosecution or cancels out punishment or mitigates it on an offender. For those standing criminal trial, it is granted through the process of nolle prosequi as provided for in Sections175 (1) (c) and 211 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in which the sovereign or state governor through the attorney-general automatically discontinues prosecution.
As can be gleaned from the constitution, a pardoned criminal is secure from prosecution in relation to the offence for which he received pardon. Section 36 (10) of the 1999 Constitution states that “No person who shows that he has been pardoned for a criminal offence shall again be tried for that offence.” He is characterised as a novus homo (new person) and cannot face prosecution for the offence for which he received prosecution. This is where Okorocha’s action pains Governor Wike and the people of ONELGA.