The controversy of a presidential gift


By Ahamefula Ogbu

The church building renovated by Italian construction company, Gitto Costruzioni Generali Nigeria Ltd, in Otueke, Bayelsa State, belongs to the Anglican Communion and not President Goodluck Jonathan or any member of his family, the Presidency said Wednesday.

Responding to public criticism over the “gift” said to have been given to Jonathan by Gitto, presidential spokesman, Dr. Rueben Abati, expressed surprise that the decision by a corporate body to execute the renovation of the church as part of its corporate social responsibility was being misconstrued.

Abati said: “For the avoidance of any doubt whatsoever, the renovated church in Otuoke does not belong to President Jonathan or his family. The church belongs to the Anglican Communion and the entire Otuoke Community. It has existed for generations and is not a new church ‘donated’ to President Jonathan by his ‘contractor friend’ as is being mischievously alleged.

“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.

“Those peddling allegations to the contrary know very well that their charges are baseless and unsustainable. If they must oppose for the sake of opposition, let them desist from peddling patent falsehoods and make a greater effort to be a responsible opposition by offering intelligent and constructive criticism.”

He said to insinuate that the renovation of a church which had existed for ages in that community as a bribe were being outright mischievous as he never solicited or received any church from the company.

“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 concluded.

Abati had, in a press statement issued on March 17, 2012, quoted the president as stressing that he did not spend his personal money in building this church in his village “and thanked all his friends who contributed towards the building”.

The Anglican Bishop of Ogbia Diocese, Rt. Rev. James Oruwori, according to Abati, also commended President Jonathan and his family “for building a house of prayer for the Lord”.

But Gitto, in a paid newspaper advert published today, maintained that what it did was corporate social responsibility to the community in a state where they had been operating since 2005 when Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha was governor of Bayelsa State.

The company said its act “of Corporate Social Responsibility is an established practice in our Mother country (Italy) and Italian firms in Nigeria have engaged in this practice rendering free construction, medical and advisory services as well as providing scholarships to various communities within Nigeria”.

Gitto said they were contacted by the Otuoke Community to renovate the church.

The company stated: “Furthermore it should be clear that Gitto Costruzioni Generali Nigeria Limited (GCG) has been operating in Bayelsa State since 2005 due to the award of the Bayelsa Tower Hotel Complex under the administration of the then Executive Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.

As such it is in view of the Company’s presence in the State and the relationship it had cultivated with the good People of the State that Gitto Costruzioni Generali Nigeria Limited (GCG) responded to the request by the Otuoke Community.

“Gitto Costruzioni Generali Nigeria Limited (GCG) was not induced to do this act neither where we compensated for it by the Federal Government.

“As a matter of fact, Gitto Costruzioni Generali Nigeria Limited (GCG) HAS NOT been awarded ANY major contracts under the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan rather nearly all the projects being executed by the Company are from the previous administrations which are ongoing.

“President Goodluck Jonathan DID NOT solicit any gifts from Gitto Costruzioni Generali Nigeria Limited (GCG) neither was any gift received by President Goodluck Jonathan or on behalf of President Goodluck Jonathan from Gitto Costruzioni Generali Nigeria Limited (GCG).

“Gitto Costruzioni Generali Nigeria Limited (GCG) DID NOT build a new church at Otuoke for President Jonathan or any other person. The fact of the matter is that the Company, as well as friends and well wishers of the community, were contacted during the burial of the late Pa Jonathan by the members of the community and parishioners of Otuoke to renovate the already existing church. To this end Gitto Costruzioni Generali Nigeria Limited (GCG) responded to this request based on its strong Corporate Social Responsibility culture.

“However due to the dilapidated state of the existing structure it became apparent that the risk of maintaining it was far too grave, hence Gitto Costruzioni Generali Nigeria Limited (GCG) was left with no choice but to reconstruct the church in its entirety.

“We should make it clear that the structure in question is a modest building of not more than 600m2 which can house a maximum of 350 persons. Work commenced in 2008 and was completed in 2012.”

Gitto said Nigerians with an eye on history would recall that during the building of the National Ecumenical Centre and the National Mosques, “several commercial concerns donated money, materials and services at events some of which had in attendance the then President or Head of State as the case maybe. Nobody raised an eyebrow then and rightly so because there is nothing wrong in rendering service to ecclesiastical causes”.


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