LAGOS Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan has pardoned a former state governor convicted in 2007 of stealing public funds and money laundering, the presidency said on Wednesday, a move which in principle allows him to re-enter politics.
Anti-corruption campaigners say sentences handed down to powerful politicians who steal tens of millions of dollars are too soft, and often compare favorably with those handed to petty thieves and robbers.
Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, ex-governor of Nigeria's oil producing Bayelsa state, was sentenced to two years jail in 2007 on charges of corruption and money laundering, but freed days later because he had already been in detention for that long.
He was originally arrested in London in 2005, but he skipped bail and escaped back to Nigeria dressed as a woman. He was later impeached on the charges at home and authorities made efforts to seize much of his property in Britain.
Bayelsa is the heart of the Ijaw ethnic group, to which President Jonathan and Alamieyeseigha both belong. The region accounts for a quarter of Nigeria's 2 million barrels a day plus of oil production.
Jonathan proposed the pardon on Tuesday and the council of state, which comprises former heads of state, a former chief justice, sitting governors and the national assembly, approved it on the same day.
"The council of state ... met yesterday and approved pardons for many Nigerians, including ... former Bayelsa governor DSP Alamieyeseigha and many others. I think about eight of them," presidential spokesman Doyin Okupe said on Channels TV.
Also on the pardon list was General Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, older brother of former President Umaru Yar'Adua. He was sentenced to life by military dictator Sani Abacha for calling on him to restore civilian rule. He died in jail.
Another governor of an oil producing state, James Ibori, was convicted in London of embezzling 50 million pounds ($79 million) last year and got a 13-year prison term.
He is expected to serve at least half of it.
(This story has been refiled to remove extraneous word "who" in penultimate sentence)
(Reporting by Oludare Mayowa; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Kevin Liffey)