PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan on Wednesday replied his critics over the multi-million naira church building donated to his Otuoke community by an Italian construction firm, saying he committed no crime.
The President, in a statement by his spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, said the donation of the 2,500-seater church by Gitto Construzioni Generali Nigeria Limited was not novel but that the nation’s landscape was littered with donations by companies in furtherance of their social responsibility.
Also, the President’s party, Peoples Democratic Party, on Wednesday defended Jonathan and accused the opposition of plotting to destabilise the country.
While a rights group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, has petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to probe the gift to the President’s village, the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria called for the impeachment of Jonathan.
But the President said they merely cried wolf where there was none.
The statement by Abati, in defence of his principal, said, “Yes, a contractor who has worked and continues to work in Bayelsa State and other parts of Nigeria thought it fit, in fulfilment of its corporate social responsibility, to facilitate the renovation of the small church in the President’s home town of Otuoke.
“It takes a lot of desperation to translate this act of social responsibility – for which there are innumerable precedents in our country – into a crime for which the usual suspects are now calling for the ‘impeachment’ of President Jonathan.
“It is indeed ironic that the groups and individuals now castigating the President because a company freely chose to fulfil its corporate social responsibility by helping to renovate a communal place of worship, are also amongst those who constantly berate companies doing business in the Niger Delta for not doing enough to support the development of their host communities.
“Examples of such corporate assistance to communities, cities and states abound across Nigeria. The President’s accusers are certainly not unaware of the fact that the famous Millennium Park in Abuja was donated to the city by a construction company, but we do not recall that anyone was ever accused of receiving the park or other similar communal projects as a bribe.”
He accused the opposition of having “little or no regard for the truth in the pursuit of their self-serving agenda,” adding that the President neither solicited for the donation to his community nor received it as a bribe.
According to the statement, the church building does not belong to the Jonathan family but to the Anglican Communion and the entire Otuoke community.
“President Jonathan has not committed any crime or violation of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers by being present at the dedication of the very humble community church building and publicly acknowledging the assistance of a corporate entity in its renovation,” the statement added.
Abati’s statement said those peddling allegations to the contrary knew very well that their charges were baseless and unsustainable.
The National Publicity Secretary of the Party, Chief Olisah Metuh, in a statement, described the call by the ACN for the National assembly to commence impeachment proceedings against Jonathan as “reckless and an indication of political immaturity.”
Metuh said that the Chairman of the PDP, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, was worried about the negative mode of opposition presented by the ACN which he said was pretending to be a flawless political party.
The statement reads, “The strength of any viable democracy lies in the mettle of a credible opposition. The PDP welcomes this.
“However, where the opposition is irresponsibly engrossed in making a mountain out of a mole hill and ceaselessly creating an imaginary tiger in the neighbourhood, it leaves no one in doubt that it is committed to a hidden agenda that neither benefits the nation nor ennobles the people.
“Let’s therefore ask the ACN; ‘quo agendum?’ – whither your agenda?” Is it to destabilise the Federal Government and hasten the quest for a divided country? Is it to gain what the opposition in their collective whole failed to achieve in April 2011 presidential election?
“Or still, is it a vengeance for the inability of the opposition to win successive five governorship elections, the nullification of some of which were achieved via judgements with questionable trends?”
The PDP said the donation of a church building to a community fell under corporate responsibility and did not benefit the President in any way. It challenged the ACN to prove otherwise.
The party also asked the National Assembly to ignore the call for impeachment of the President.
Apart from the ACN and the Congress for Progressive Change which said the donation was anti-transparency, two lawyers, Prof. Itse Sagay and Mr. Femi Falana, had also said the acceptance of the church building gift was immoral.
Sagay, a lawyer that specialises in constitutional law said “He should know better. I do not think he will expose himself to such a very devastating misconduct.
“If he has accepted it, I will be very 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.”
Falana said the project should be forfeited to the government.
Also on Wednesday, the Acting National Chairman of the African Renassance Party, Chief Omenazu Jackson, asked both the President and the Italian firm to speak out on the matter.
Jackson in an interview with one of our correspondents in Port Harcourt, said,“It is against the law of the nation for a President to be given such a gift. The construction company should begin to clarify their position on whether the gift was for Mr. President or part of its corporate social responsibilities to the community.
“Nigerians need to know the truth in this matter and that is why the manager of the construction company and Mr. President should speak out on this controversial issue.
“Again, if it is a gift directly for Mr. President, then he (President Jonathan) should be prepared to face the Code of Conduct Bureau. That is as simple as that and this is the position of the African Renaissance Party.”
SERAP, the organisation asking the EFCC to investigate the donation, 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.”
The group said in its petition that the donation violated 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.”