By Collins Ughalaa
“She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more’” John 8:11.
Anyone who is a regular church attendant must be familiar with the story of the woman caught committing adultery. She was brought to Jesus Christ by her accusers to be condemned to death by stoning. They thought they had weighty evidence against her and that Jesus Christ should, therefore, commit her to stoning, in keeping with the Law. The manner in which Jesus handled the matter has remained topical. He did not say the woman did not commit the crime for which she was brought before him. Apostle John reports thus: “When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Jesus’ instruction was in tandem with the provision of Deuteronomy 17:7: “The hands of the witnesses shall be the first in putting him to death, and after that, the hands of all the people. You must purge the evil from among you.” The Bible record adds that “Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with His finger,” and by the time he was done, all the accusers of the adulterous woman had gone. What followed was the admonition from Jesus: “Go and sin no more.”
This Biblical narrative could be likened to the prerogative of mercy exercised by presidents and governors. The prerogative of mercy is commonly accepted as the right and power of a sovereign, president, or other supreme authority to commute a death sentence, to change the mode of execution, or to pardon an offender. Speaking on the prerogative of mercy, otherwise called pardon, the Court of Appeal in the case of Falae vs Obasanjo noted that “A pardon is an act of grace by the appropriate authority which mitigates or obliterates the punishment the law demands for the offence and restores the rights and privileges forfeited on account of the offence…The effect of a pardon is to make the offender, a new man (novus homo), to acquit him of all corporal penalties and forfeitures annexed to the offence pardoned.”
In the United States, the foundation of the pardon, or the prerogative of mercy, is stronger. The US Supreme Court in the United States vs Wilson, otherwise called The Wilson Decision, considered the question of pardon for the first time. It defined pardon as “an act of grace, proceeding from the power entrusted with the execution of the laws which exempts the individual, on whom it is bestowed, from the punishment the law inflicts for a crime he committed.”
Nigeria has a long history of the prerogative of mercy, dating back to the independence era. With the exit of the colonial masters the prerogative of mercy became a regular and prominent feature of the country’s constitution down to the fourth republic. Section 101 of the 1963 Constitution provided for the prerogative of mercy, followed by Section 161 of the 1979 constitution. For the 1989 Constitution that did not see the light of day, it was believed that the prerogative of mercy was captured in Section 173. In the 1999 Constitution, the prerogative of mercy is well captured in Sections 175 and 212. These broad provisions allow the president and the governors to use their discretion, with the recommendation of a committee, in the exercise of state pardon.
President Buhari, in exercise of the powers conferred on him by Section 175 of the Constitution, on April 9, 2020, granted presidential pardon to 41 inmates across the correctional centres in the country. Reports in the media said that the 41 inmates were among 176 inmates earlier interviewed by the Presidential Advisory Committee on Prerogative of Mercy (PACPM). Nigerian Governors are not left out in the exercise of state pardon. In October 2014, former Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State granted state pardon to 16 inmates, including the 94 years old Mr. Canice Egbunnane, as part of activities marking Nigeria’s 54th Independence Anniversary. In December 2017, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State granted state pardon to some prison inmates serving various jail terms in Abia, Umuahia, Enugu and Lagos. According to media reports, the convicts were convicted by courts within Abia State for various offences ranging from murder, stealing and advanced fee fraud. On October 2, 2018, not less than 287 inmates serving various jail terms across the prisons in Niger State were granted state pardon by Governor Abubakar Sani Bello in the spirit of Nigeria’s 58th Independence Anniversary. The reports said that 6 out of the 287 pardoned inmates were on the death row.
For his part, Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State on Friday, May 1, 2020, in exercise of the powers conferred on him by Section 212 of the Constitution, granted state pardon to 36 inmates. Represented in a ceremony marking the release of the inmates by the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Barr. C.O.C. Akaolisa, the Governor said he was decongesting the Correctional Centres in the state. The Governor’s magnanimity has elicited applause across the political spectrum in the state. The state pardon is a window to the heart of the Governor. This claim is supported by the Governor’s disposition to peace and unity. It is known by even the opponents of the Governor that he is not driven by vendetta. Since his emergence as the Governor of Imo State on January 15, 2020, the Governor has preached peace to all. He has matched words with action. People are not being harassed for any perceived wrongdoing. Everyone is allowed ample space to go about his legitimate business. To forgive, they say, is divine, and the Governor has embodied this. You must have a godlike disposition to forgive people. This was what Jesus meant when he asked the Pharisees whether it was easier to heal the sick or to forgive sins.
One of the beauties of the Governor Uzodinma’s state pardon is that it is devoid of political colouration. Those who benefited from the magnanimity of the state pardon were not profiled along partisan identities. They were Imo people in need of mercy. That was all. Mercy is not discriminatory. Mercy, like love, counts no wrong. It flows from the heart. And of course, it makes no sense to argue that those who benefited from the state pardon were hardened criminals, or that the Governor pardoned them in order to unleash them on the people. Such gibberish is untoward, and certainly not a good way to appreciate a benevolent Governor.
Before his sacrificial death on the cross, the last person whose sins Jesus Christ forgave was a condemned criminal. He was already nailed to the cross. In fact, at the cross, Jesus was flanked by two criminals. One got pardon and a life in paradise. The other did not. State pardon is not meant for saints. It is meant for the condemned. If the Governor could say to any of those condemned or facing prosecution, “your sins are forgiven, go home and sin no more,” we should praise God, because it is not God’s wish that any man should perish.
If the Governor was so bitter for any reason and wished to unleash criminals on the people, he did not need to release just 36 inmates from prison when there are legions of willing tools roaming the streets. No sane Governor would unleash criminals on his people. Not Governor Hope Uzodinma. But here is what Jesus said about a sinner that repents: “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Let us rejoice with our brothers who have got a second chance and pray that they “go and sin no more.”