About 36 years after he was sentenced to 100 years in prison, late Ambrose Alli, a former governor of the defunct Bendel State has received a presidential pardon.
Towards the end of 1983, the military regime of Muhammadu Buhari took power, removed Mr Alli from office as a civilian governor and jailed him after a military tribunal found him guilty of allegedly misappropriating ₦983,000 funds for a road project.
Now a civilian president, Mr Buhari on Thursday granted a posthumous presidential amnesty to Mr Alli alongside a foremost nationalist, late Anthony Enahoro.
Mr Ehanoro who died in December 2010 at the age of 87 was released in 1966 after serving 15 years in detention for alleged treasonable felony. He held several political positions afterward and it was not clear if he carried the tag of ‘ex-convict’ all along.
The Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, who announced the pardon at a press conference in Abuja, said three other prominent ex-convicts who are still alive also benefited from the president’s prerogative of mercy.
They are: Moses Effiong, a former lieutenant colonel who was condemned to death in February 1986 by the Ibrahim Babangida administration over a coup plot; Major E.J. Olanrewaju and Ajayi Olusola Babalola.
The presidential gesture means that they were never convicted and therefore would no longer carry the ignoble toga of an ex-convict.
In a slew of pardons and commutations, 70 inmates, including 39 federal offenders were freed from incarceration as part of the Buhari administration’s plan of decongesting the Nigerian Correctional Centres amid the coronavirus crisis.
Mr Aregbesola explained that the president had also approved the release of 2,600 inmates across various custodial centers in the 36 states of the federation.
Only inmates that are 60 years old and above, those suffering from ill-health that is likely to terminate in death, convicts serving three years and above and have less than six months to serve, inmates with mental health issues, and inmates with options of fines not exceeding N50,000 and have no pending cases are eligible for the pardon.
Meanwhile, the minister spoke scantily of late Messrs Alli and Ehanoro. He also did not explain how President Buhari arrived at the decision to pardon them in death.
“Mr Ali was the governor of the old Bendel State in the Second Republic (1978-1983) and a progressive while Mr Enahoro was a foremost nationalist who moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence,” he said.
A professor of morbid anatomy, Mr Alli was the first civilian governor of the old Bendel state, now broken into Edo and Delta. He governed the state between 1979 and 1983.
Late Mr Alli was an example of the institutional challenges facing Nigerian correctional centres. He practically went blind while in prison.
While serving his jail term at Kirikiri prison, Lagos, the former civilian governor’s health deteriorated. He underwent a surgery after which he was transferred to Jos prison by road, a journey that took a took on his health and sight. From there, he was moved to Agodi prison, Ibadan.
Many traditional leaders, including in Ekpoma, Edo state honored Mr Alli by erecting his statues.
A renowned journalist and nationalist, Anthony Enahoro in 1953 became the first to move the motion for Nigeria’s independence which was eventually granted in 1960 after several political setbacks and defeats in parliament.
Mr Enahoro began his political career in 1950, when he, along with Arthur Prest founded the Mid-West Party. He later joined the Action Group, founded by Obafemi Awolowo.
When crisis broke out in 1962 in the Western region, Mr Enahoro was immersed fully in it. He was detained along with other Action Group leaders, accused of treason.
Mr Enahoro fled to Britain and became known as the ‘fugitive offender’.
He was however extradited to Nigeria and tried for treasonable felony and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment, reduced on appeal. In his autobiography, Fugitive Offender (1965), he claimed that the trial was based on slender and doubtful evidence, which in the long run would help in salvaging his political reputation.
After his release in 1966, he kicked off his political career once again, taking several key roles in government. It was not clear if he was still carrying the tag of an ex-convict when he was made commissioner for information and labor in the administration of General Yakubu Gowon in 1967.
Mr Enahoro, Wole Soyinka, Alani Akinrinade and eight others would later be charged with treason in 1997. The case was dropped by General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who succeeded Sani Abacha.
Mr Enahoro died aged 87 in December 2010.