By CHARLES OFOJI
It is only in a mad country that a sitting president will overtly admit taking bribe from a foreign construction company, in desecration of the constitution he swore to preserve, and still go about his business as president and commander-in-chief as if nothing happened.
To acutely grasp President Goodluck Jonathan’s misbehavior in accepting a 2,500 seat church ‘gift’ from the Abuja-based Italian construction company, Gitto Construzioni Generali Nigeria Limited, we need to peruse Sec 6 of the Code of Conduct for Public officers 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 Act stipulates: ‘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’. That is, there is a legal presumption that acceptance of gifts by public officers is prima-facie unlawful.
Apart from these express provisions, there are also ethics occupants of public offices, and the office of the president for that matter, ought to abide with, in the discharge of their duties. In view of these, one begins to wonder, if Jonathan’s thinking faculty took flight when he accepted the Greek gift and when he publicly declared that he took bribe? How could he openly and gleefully say, at the inauguration of the church at his Otuoke hometown, that ”the managing director of Gitto made him a promise to build and donate the church to Otuoke community after he (the president) had complained of the aging structure of his church, which apparently no longer befits the status of the president’s village.’ Did he naively expect an ovation? Even if his brains took leave, of what use are his numerous advisers? How come they did not tell him that he was embarking on a grievous illegality and depravity?
I can not stop amusing myself each time I cogitate how Jonathan could willingly choose to bring himself and his office, which is the highest in the land, to a ridiculous disrepute.
It is another unforced error committed freely by Jonathan since he took over as president. I have said once that one of Jonathan’s greatest enemies is himself. Since the modern history of Nigeria, there has been no leader who enjoyed so much goodwill as this president. Likewise there has been no president who eagerly squanders his goodwill and also put himself and this nation, through his gaffes, on the path to peril as him.
Even if he must take bribe, since corruption is norm in this country, must he publicly disclose it? To think he could do this (take bribe and publicly confess he took one) and get away with it in a country that has laws against corruption, and one that is pretending nationally and internationally to be seriously fighting corruption, makes him eligible for psychiatric test.
The damage-control efforts by his media man, Reuben Abati further point to the fact that all the men and women around the president could also be qualified for psychiatric scrutiny. They still see nothing wrong in the actions of their boss. For them it is “surprising and amusing”, and “patently laughable attempt by political opponents and their collaborators to “brew up a storm in a cup”. By their own estimation, Gitto was only fulfilling its corporate responsibility by facilitating the building of the church for the Otuoke community. But the question they ducked was, why must it be the president’s village that should benefit from such? And didn’t the president shoot himself at the foot when, he openly, without compulsion, conceded that he pushed for the church for his community and the managing director of Gitto fulfilled his promise to him?
Dr Abati, I disagree with you that those calling for the president to account for his misdeed are his political opponents and their collaborators who want “to denigrate President Jonathan, cast unjustifiable aspersions on his personal integrity and distract him from the serious business of governance” The truth of the matter remains that, by personally pushing for the Otuoke church bequest, your employer broke the law, abused and compromised the office of the president, side by side the national security implications of taking bribe from foreign nationals who may have an agenda they are pursuing in the country.
Having broken the law, it would only enrich our democracy if the president accounted for his action, so that our country would finally break away from the league of those where the high and mighty get away with flouting the law.
If no investigation is set in motion against this president for his transgression, then we can all hide our heads in shame that our country is a mockery of a state.