Hard talk with OGA: Before the president is persecuted on trivialities!

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Nigeria Union of Journalists

You will probably be wondering why I am writing so late after the news of this issue, but you see, I don’t move with the herd sometimes. It is, in most cases, with my experience, very prudent to back off and watch and be far from the madding crowd, to paraphrase Thomas Hardy.

I am not accusing everybody who has written on the issue of the church built at Etuoke (?), the President’s village by an Italian construction firm, with an unpronounceable name, but it’s just that when the news broke – and you can trust our Press and Media to make mountains out of mole hills, and for opposition parties to be hypocritical – I just felt Mr Goodluck Jonathan (certainly not my favourite President of Nigeria) was hardly getting a fair shake here.

It is quite possible that my star, Libra, has something to do with being fair on and with other people, but there we have it.

I am not a member of the ruling PDP (God forbid bad thing) and incidentally, I only recently decided to be sympathetic towards the main opposition political party, ACN, and to be frank, it is really because they seem to offer an alternative, and of course, there are certain of my respected friends and family who are members. Up till now, I am yet to see or fathom out their ideology as a political party (but we will get there sometime, I hope)

So what is this thing about a church in the little hamlet of Etuoke, which just happens to be the President’s hamlet in the creeks of Bayelsa State?

To underline the hypocrisy of the media and the opposition, I have seen several different spellings of the name of the village in the newspapers. Nobody even seems toknow how to spell the name of this Nigerian hamlet – Otuoke, Etuoke, Utuoke, Otukpe, etc.

I will confess I don’t know how the name of the village is spelt, probably because I have not been able to locate the name or the village itself on any Nigerian map, at least for now, until the hullaballoo has put the name on the lips of many Nigerians, if at all, who were until the furore, quite blissfully oblivious of such a hamlet in the creeks.

Well, that is the least of my problems for now. The hypocrisy and one-sidedness of the whole affair is further highlighted by the detail that we totally ignored the fact that the dubious culture, and corrupt too, of contractors building edifices and giving various gifts (for now, don’t let’s call them bribes) to government officials and politicians took root a very long time ago in this country.

In fact, the whole landscape is littered with such dubious gifts to presidents, heads of states, governors and even their lowly deputies and local government chairpersons, as well as military governors in their heydays, not to talk of influential federal and state legislators who head committees. And you want to see such gifts for senior civil servants?

So what are we talking about here? During a recent former president’s eight year tenure, the issue of free gifts from government contractors, individuals and political job seekers was quite rife and common. And nobody ever exposed it in the press, not to talk of castigating him.

It is said that if the former president wants to approve a contract, for example, he will subtly tell the contractors, in front of everybody, that he likes the product or service and he surely won’t mind one on his farm. His farm, not even his town!

Of course the contractors will take the hint and next thing you know, a sample, if I may refer to it that way, will soon be replicated on the man’s various farms. Of course, he has not even demanded a bribe.

Big God

I hate pettiness and hypocrisy in the same vein and intensity. How many structures – libraries, mosques, churches, villas and house – have been built for Nigerian leaders by construction firms and contractors over the decades? I have been all over the places in Abuja and Lagos and other cities, where the residents point out to me that Julius Berger (or any other construction company with contracts from the various governments) built this for so so and so.

From Minna, to Abuja, to Lagos, to Ibadan, toBenin, to Port Harcourt, to Ilorin, to Yola, to Makurdi, the Nigerian landscape is littered with such dubious donations, mostly testaments to corrupt (sometimes they call it gratifications) or underhand practices by our so-called leaders.

Yet for all these mansions and other structures built and donated to individuals, I have never read in the dailies, for the past 40 years of any exposure of such donationsor the individuals donated to.

And now, even a supposed national political party, regarded as the main opposition, feels very robustly that a donation of a Church building to a hamlet should constitute enough ground to impeach the President! It just smacks of hypocrisy and I feel very much let down that I support this same party. Such frivolity!

Mind you, I am not saying the practice of donating mansions and what not to serving politicians and other government officials is not corruption (it is corruption as we know it), my beef is that the media was used to hype it up (in their very own short sighted and lopsided manner), maybe innocuously just to sell their papers, or most probably, being spurred and eventually succumbing to mischief brought about by brown envelopes stuffed with high denomination Naira notes, or better still, in Ghana-Must-Go bags.

Whatever it is, it is poor, lazy and partisan journalism on their part. So I went to my parish church, and it was there I learnt that everybody got it wrong.

Even the people defending the President failed to point out – and probably they did not know – the crucial fact of the issue, thereby not justifying whatever they are being paid, to defend the president from slander and ridicule.

If the Nigerian Press had just put in some extra investigative efforts, and the opposition party had also done the same, and apply a little caution in their haste to impeach Mr Goodluck Jonathan, or at best, to embarrass him, they would have found out that under the Anglican Communion of Nigeria (and in fact, most of the other Christian denominations like the Catholics, Baptist Convention, the Methodists, etc) an individual cannot own a church.

All churches built, whether by the community or a rich individual in the community or, as in this case, by a construction company, belong to the Anglican Diocese  in that part of the country, and by association, to the Anglican Communion of the country.

No person can own a church under the Anglican and Catholic Dioceses in any part of the world. A church may be built and named after the donor, and that is by very rare approval by the Bishop, but that church reverts to the Communion or Diocese.

In the case of the beleaguered Mr Jonathan and the church built in his hamlet in the creeks of the Niger Delta, neither he nor the people of his hamlet own the church.(Sorry Sir, until you become St Goodluck of Etuoke, you probably cannot own a church, and this has saved your bacon).

Even the massive church built by an ex-Governor of Ogun State in Sagamu, in memory of his father, belongs to the Communion. If he insists it belongs to him, he will have to start his own Christian ministry, which is of course easy to do these days.

Having said this, I will not say that the intent of the Italian construction company is not suspect even in its attempt to satisfy some vague corporate social responsibility.

It could be, as they claim, but if this is so, the building of a church for a poor community is hardly what the people of that community need. If they had built or renovated a maternity centre or a block of classrooms in Etuoke (I still don’t know the correct spelling) I suppose the furore would never have reared its hypocritical head, and of course, they would have gained more positive publicity mileage than what they have got now.

Even the president would have been basking in some sort of glory and can even come out and thump his chest and shout from the rooftops of Aso Rock that he facilitated the building of a hospital or school for his community, and on the way, scoring political, social and civil points and shutting up the mouths of both his detractors in his own party and the opposition.

Oh, for us to have wise leaders, we as a nation need a responsible and non-partisan press and ideologically-well focused political parties!