Saturday 19 July 2008

Firing of Pardon Attorney hardly a victory for Nigerians

Pardon me

First the email and then the Nigerian blog-lines were awash with the story, amidst the euphoria, I took another look at the story and really, I saw we still had serious issues of objectivity to contend with.

Roger C. Adams [Source: Department of Justice - #302: 06-26-98 Adams Appointed United States Pardon Attorney] was a Pardon Attorney appointed just over 10 years ago on the 26th of June 1998 by the then Attorney General Janet Reno [Source: Janet Reno - Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia].

His job was to review all petitions for Executive Clemency [Source: Department of Justice – Rules Governing Petitions for Executive Clemency] and submit recommendations to the President.

At that appointment he had already served 25 years in the Department of Justice and definitely was deemed qualified, experienced and capable of dispatching his duties objectively, fairly and justly – I will accord him all due courtesies.

An immigrant in crime

The case [Source: Furore over Bush lawyer's racism in deportation case of Nigerian minister] of Chibueze Okorie, a Nigerian immigrant in the United States might sound like a fairy tale with its twists and turns.

Mr. Okorie having reached the United States had tried in 1989 to take the short-cut to ill-gotten wealth by being a driver for a heroin ring – he got caught and ended up serving an 18-month sentence. The love of money, the need to be oppressively ostentatious and the pursuit of illegal ways and means bedevils many but we can choose to live right.

A federal law stipulates that immigrants who have committed felonies once having served their sentence should be deported – Mr. Okorie had the dilemma of turning his life around enough to make a strong case for clemency that would also act in his favour against deportation.

His lawyers created the impression that Mr. Okorie if deported would be tortured and imprisoned in Nigeria – the veracity of those claims are suspect, but be that as it may, he filed for clemency in 2000.

Assessing the case for clemency

Mr. Adams reviewed his case and obviously had his doubts about the truthfulness of Mr. Okorie in his application and petition – however, the Standards for Consideration of Clemency Petitions [Source: Department of Justice – Standards for Consideration of Clemency Petitions] do indicate that after a background check by the FBI, the following considerations play in the recommendations of the Pardon Attorney.

Post-conviction conduct, character and reputation – on a personal level Mr. Okorie had turned his life around, he is a minister who counsels prisoners and ex-convicts – we can be satisfied that he is giving something back to his community and society.

Seriousness and relative recentness of the offense – as a driver for a heroin ring, he was inadvertently involved in drug trafficking which is a very serious offence – there are countries where Nigerians have been executed for trafficking the drug.

More so, studies [Source: Edward Jay Epstein - Chapter 22 - The Heroin-Crime Nexus] going as far back as 1971 show how serious crime in the cities is related to heroin addiction, he being part of the vicious circle that becomes a bane of society.

Acceptance of responsibility, remorse, and atonement – not once in all the writing about this case have I read that Mr. Okorie has genuinely taken responsibility or expressed remorse for his actions, his counselling work however, might well be atonement.

Need for relief – Mr. Okorie’s urgent and particular need for relief was to avoid being deported and that basically is the crux of this clemency case, it obviously would make the assessors of his petition wonder if his being returned to Nigeria would lead to him being persecuted.

Official recommendations and reports – having assessed his case, the Pardon Attorney seemed to have recognised his work in the community, Mr. Okorie also had the backing of churches, community leaders and Senator Hillary Clinton in support of his petition.

Just because one has renowned people in their camp does not however mean that the process should be short-circuited.

Stereotypes in recommendations

Mr. Adams duly made his recommendations and expressed his doubts in comments that were eventually deemed racist.

He erred in judgement by saying, “This might sound racist, but [the applicant] is about as honest as you could expect for a Nigerian. Unfortunately, that's not very honest”.

This was an unfortunate comment made about Nigerians on the one hand, but it also showed that Mr. Okorie an ex-convict, albeit a reformed man, had become the standard by which the honesty of Nigerians was assessed – I think I feel more offended by that.

This is more than one man’s opinion

That Mr. Adams was compelled to express these views in writing is instructive, but on closer scrutiny, he was probably expressing a generalisation borne from the depiction of Nigerians in all sorts of criminal activity and the press.

In other words, Mr. Adams simply put in words what others might have by commission or omission allowed to affect their judgement when dealing with Nigerians.

Invariably, Mr. Adams was fired as long ago as January on the grounds of his being racist and that not through any activism of Nigerians but evaluation and monitoring within the Department of Justice.

I would contend that the sacking does not begin to deal with the deep-seated stereotypes certain countries already have of Nigerians, it only means people who harbour such thoughts or prejudices need to be more circumspect or subtle in their expression without leaving traceable evidence on which they might be hung.

Mr. Adams recommended that Mr. Okorie not be granted clemency.

I could see why part of the objective assessments and merits of his case would include considering Mr. Okorie’s nationality; he was fighting deportation, a deportation order that would have had him sent back to Nigeria. I think it is disingenuous of the activists that commented on this case to think that insignificant to drawing up the recommendations.

We suffer because of our own people

The most critical part of this discourse really affects us a lot more that the euphoria of a sacking for tarring Nigerians with a black brush.

Many of us have had to try harder, do better, strain more and excel at excelling ourselves to meet the average observation of our capabilities because people have gone before us and fouled up the system with dishonesty and criminality, that the playing field is already levelled against us, at entry.

In our different walks of life, we make little footsteps as mini-ambassadors of our country only to find that our trails are marked out by mileposts sunk in by those other Nigerians who had forsaken virtue for deception, dishonesty and crime.

Those mileposts then become the beacons that leave one slightly more sympathetic to the new Nigerian Ambassador to the Netherlands in terms of the address she gave when she was presenting her credentials.

We are still the majority and we matter

Those bad Nigerians are however NOT in the majority and the work that we do in our little way would not be over-shadowed by the nefarious activities of the few – our duty still remains to project the best that can seen of Nigeria by example of word, deed and life.

I do not begrudge Mr. Okorie anything as he struggles to keep his relevance within the community that sees him as valuable and avoid deportation; the truth is that Mr. Okorie might have served his time and is forgiven, but his criminal act then has piled up into the accepted body of knowledge about Nigerians - he is part of the creative process of what he is now up against.

If you have in the past brought the name of your country into disrepute, it would catch up with you somewhere in the future; the self-same people of Mr. Okorie’s ilk - many living in opulence without auditable means - when he was a criminal have allowed Mr. Adams to err very seriously in judgement – in those circumstances, it would be unfair to continue to bang Mr. Adams anymore on the head and rejoice at the ruin of such a long and distinguished career.

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