Human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN) on Friday took exception to the way and manner the prerogative of mercy power is being discharged by the Presidency, through the Council of State.
He said it had followed a set pattern for those in power to discriminate against the less-privileged, noting that a run through the list of 159 prisoners pardoned by the federal authorities, showed that there were no petty or minor offenders there.
On Thursday, the Council of State, at its meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari, granted pardon to the 159 prisoners, who included former Governors Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame of Plateau and Taraba States, respectively.
Falana gave the reaction at a lecture and book presentation marking the first memorial anniversary for the late former Afenifere spokesman, Yinka Odumakin, in Ikeja, Lagos.
He, during his speech, urged the federal government, for the purpose of equity and justice, to extend Thursday’s presidential pardon granted some top Nigerians, to people serving terms for petty offences.
He pardoning convicts without selectivity and irrespective of class, would go a long way to advance the cause of fairness and equality, for all before the law.
He particularly frowned on discrimination on the basis of belonging to the ruling class, saying Nigerian lawyers should not allow the current event to pass.
“All petty thieves in our prisons should be released. Under Section 17 of the 1999 Constitution, there shall be equality and equal rights for all citizens.
“Section 42 of the Constitution says there shall be no discrimination on the basis of class and gender, so you cannot take out a few people on the basis that they belong to a category or section of the society.
“I can assure you that if the government do not release others, I am going to call on lawyers whose clients are left in custody to come to court and challenge the discriminatory treatment on their clients.
“Just two weeks ago, a Nigerian was jailed for stealing N1,000 in Abuja; the accused pleaded with the judge that he had no food but the judge jailed him for six months.
“When we are talking of justice and fair play, if you want to pardon some set of people, then you must also extend presidential pardon to petty thieves in the prisons.
“This is because if the big thieves are being asked to go, then they must also extend the facility to other Nigerians,’’ the rights crusader averred.
Evoking fond memories of the late Odumakin after a year, however, Falana described his loss as a monumental tragedy.
“Yinka remained a symbol of justice and we are gathered to celebrate his legacy. He was a man of honour, hope and consistency; a man who gave hope to the masses,’’ he eulogised.
Speaking on the occasion too, a former governor of Ogun State, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, said the deceased was a friend who built bridges across ethnic and religious divides.
“His legacy will still remain and the memory of his demise still lingers. My heart goes to his widow, Joe, for staying strong after his demise,’’ Amosun empathised.
In the same vein, Pastor Tunde Bakare, the General Overseer of Citadel Global Community Church and a presidential aspirant, said the late Odumakin was a fearless person who did not labour in vain, noting that his memory would linger for ever.
In own contribution, President, African Development Bank, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, said Odumakin was a respected rights activist and a democrat.
Leader of Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), Chief Gani Adams, also on the occasion thanked Odumakin’s widow for erecting a legacy for the deceased.
He noted that the Foundation would give room for generations to learn about what the deceased fought for.
In her remarks, the widow, Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin, said her husband was devoted to true federalism.
She described him as an encyclopaedia of positive activism.
The late Odumakin, died in April 2, 2021, reportedly of respiratory problems arising from COVID-19 complications.
Other dignitaries on the occasion include Osun deputy governor, Mr Benedict Alabi, and the Lagos State Commissioner for Information, Mr Gbenga Omotosho.