RESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan appears to have a fresh battle on his hands as civil rights groups and opposition parties on Monday blasted the President for accepting the donation of a multi-million naira church building by an Italian construction firm.
Jonathan was reported by a national newspaper (not THE PUNCH) to have said that the church building was donated to his home community of Otueke, Bayelsa State, by Gitto Construzioni Generali Nigeria Limited following his complaint that the old church building in the village was unbefitting of a president’s village.
Already, one of the rights groups questioning the propriety of the gift, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, has asked the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to probe the donation of the church building that has capacity to seat 2,500 at a time to Jonathan’s Otueke community.
The Executive Director of SERAP, Mr. Adetokunbo Mumuni, in a petition to the Chairman of EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Larmode, in Abuja on Monday said the President confirmed during the dedication of the church building that it was donated to him by the Italian construction firm.
The donation, according to SERAP, violates Section 6 of the Code of Conduct for public officers embodied in the First Schedule of the 1999 constitution and the Code of Conduct and Tribunal Act (CAP C15) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
The section provides that, “A public officer shall not ask for or accept any property or benefits of any kind for himself or any other person on account of anything done or omitted to be done by him in the discharge of his duties.
“For the purposes of subsection (1) of this subsection, the receipt by a public officer of any gifts or benefits from commercial firms, business enterprises or persons who have contracts with the Government shall be presumed to have been received in contravention…unless the contrary is proved.”
A lawyer in constitutional law, Prof. Itse Sagay, said it was morally wrong for the President to accept the building as a donation.
In a telephone interview with one of our correspondents on Monday, Sagay described the donation as “very devastating misconduct if Jonathan had accepted the offer.”
According to the lawyer, the donation has the propensity to compromise Jonathan and constitute a blow to transparency and anti-corruption fight.
Sagay said, “It is highly improper and absolutely improper. It is the last thing he should ever do. That is why I want to be sure that he accepted it. Maybe they want to embarrass him by building it and announcing that they have donated it to him without consulting him.
“He should know better. I do not think he will expose himself to such very devastating misconduct.
“If he has accepted it, I will be greatly disappointed and really, it is very sad because it would not augur well for the future of transparency and the fight against corruption.
“Obviously anybody doing that is trying to compromise him.”
Another activist and Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, said the church building should be forfeited to the government.
Falana said, “It is illegal under the Constitution and the Code of Conduct, which say no public officer can even take a national honour while in office.They must also not take or collect any gift, except gifts such as kola nuts.”
He added that the church should be forfeited to the government under different sections of the Code of Conduct Tribunal Act and Bureau.
He added that former President Olusegun Obasanjo was also guilty of the same offence by gathering public officers to donate for him while building his presidential library.
He said, “What Jonathan has done is an impeachable offence. The contractor’s aim was to bribe him, which the President has fallen into.
“The contractor has some contracts which it has failed to execute and now went to build a church for the President.
“It is a bribe to the President, who presides over the award of contracts at the Villa.”
The Congress for Progressive Change, the Campaign for Democracy and a former Governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, in separate reactions said the acceptance of the donation by Jonathan was a setback to the anti-graft war.
The CPC’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Rotimi Fashakin, said that it was an unfortunate thing that it was “the chief of state that is whittling down the fight against institutional corruption”
The opposition party stated, “Leadership comes with a price. The leaders must not just be above board, but must be seen to be above board.
“The acceptance of a gift of that magnitude is definitely a faux paux (whether a church or not is immaterial). In a saner clime, heads of government have been known to resign their appointments over matters as this.
“This is definitely not a thing to gloat about as regards our President’s demeanour. Would this not give an undue advantage to Gritto in matters of plum government contract?”
The president of the CD, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, said the President should not have accepted the gift because the company was “doing business with the Federal Government and has a record of poor performance.”
Musa described the donation as improper but noted that it was no longer strange in the country, submitting that most Nigerian leaders were guilty of corruption, which he said had soiled the image of the country.
SERAP, in its petition states, “Foreign bribery is a crime even if the briber would have been awarded a contract or business advantage. SERAP is seriously concerned that given the huge sums of money involved and the timing of the church gift, the alleged gift may amount to a bribe to the government by a construction company that has sought and obtained contracts from the Federal Government.
“Procurement and investment agreements corrupted by this kind of ‘gift’ invariably lead to increased costs not only in higher prices but also in needlessly expanded and ultimately inefficient projects.”
According to SERAP both the acts of giving and accepting the disguised bribe undermine the institutions and values of democracy, ethical values and justice, and jeopardise sustainable development and the rule of law.
The organisation said, “The acts also hurt the government and ordinary Nigerians who may suffer as a result of bad execution of projects by GCG.
“The allegations also constitute a breach of national anti-corruption legislation and the UN convention against corruption to which Nigeria is a party.
“It is very important that the commission sends a strong message that it is willing and able to step up its efforts to detect, investigate and prosecute cases of bribery in international business deals.
SERAP therefore urged the EFCC to ensure that the allegations were fully and effectively investigated.
It said that the findings of the investigation should be published, adding that suspected perpetrators should be brought to justice.
Efforts to reach the spokesman for Jonathan, Dr. Reuben Abati, on Monday failed as the Presidential Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, did not pick calls to his mobile phones.
Abati did not also respond to our correspondent’s text messages asking for his reaction on the subject matter.
When contacted, the spokesperson for the EFCC, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, refused to confirm the receipt of the petition submitted by SERAP.
THE PUNCH however learnt that the petition was duly submitted and received at the commission.
A source in the commission told one of our correspondents that the petition would be looked into and that proper investigation would be carried out on its merit.
“The petition is not going to be different from others. When we receive any petition we despatch our team of investigators and this one will not be different from others,” the source which craved anonymity said.
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