Tuesday, 03 April 2012 12:17   
‘Italian Gift’: Company Builds 2,500-Capacity Church for President Jonathan

THE promise of a new beginning promised Nigerians by President Goodluck Jonathan may have finally gone with the winds corruption and misgovernance, as the Nigerian leader has now been exposed as one cut from the same cloth as some of his predecessors who divert state funds into the construction of religious shrines around the country.

In a country where an oil minister was once jailed for accepting a cup of tea and a wrist-watch gift in the process of transacting state business in Zurich, the president has now gone on record to confirm that an Italian construction firm made a gift of a church building to his village in Bayelsa State.

The church, a 2,500-capacity building constructed in the president’s home village of Otuoke by an Abuja-based Italian construction firm, Gitto Construzioni Generali Nigeria Limited, was built after the president mentioned to the managing director of the company that the old church in the community was hardly fitting, after which Gitto’s MD promised and erected a new edifice as a “gift” to the president.

That is according to President Jonathan himself, at a recent public event.

But critics believe that such “Italian,” if not “Greek,” gift signposts a strong derailment from the ethical and moral standard of the Nigerian presidency and the current helmsman.

Nigerians are also querying the efficacy of the prayers offered in a sanctuary built with filthy lucre, wondering if there can be any true answer to any prayer offered on an altar built with the proceeds of corruption. For them, Jonathan, it appears, has not learned any lesson from the past in which past Nigerian leaders stole public funds to build hypocritical mosques and private churches.

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, indeed frown at what the president did. The Act states: “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 thedischarge 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 (emphasis ours) with the Government shall be presumed to have been received in contravention…unless the contrary is proved.”

The case involving President Jonathan and the construction firm, Gitto, is even more distressing given that the Abuja-based firm has been noted for shoddy execution of projects awarded to it all over the country, some of which the company simply abandoned without completing the projects.

On Monday, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, (SERAP) petitioned Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) urging him to “urgently begin a thorough, transparent and effective investigation into allegations that the Abuja-based Italian construction company, Gitto Construzioni Generali Nigeria Limited (GCG) gave to President Goodluck Jonathan as ‘gift’ a 2,500-seat church building in Otuoke, his village in Bayelsa State.

In the petition dated 2 April 2012, and signed by SERAP executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni, the organization said that, “We are seriously concerned that given the huge sum of money involved and the timing of the church building ‘gift’, the acts may amount to a bribe to the government by a construction company that has sought and obtained huge 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,” the organization said.

According to the organization, “Both the acts of giving and accepting the disguised bribe undermine the institutions and values of democracy, ethical values and justice, and jeopardises sustainable development and the rule of law. The acts also hurt the government and ordinary Nigerians who may suffer as a result of bad execution of projects by GCG.”

The organization also asked the Commission to “exert its mandate, power, and resources to ensure that the allegations are fully and effectively investigated the findings of the investigation published and the company and other suspected perpetrators held liable.”

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