A Most Questionable Gift: The Italian Construction Company Gitto's Church Gift To Jonathan-ThisDay Editorial
At the recent dedication of a 2,500-seat church building in Otuoke, his village in Bayelsa State, President Goodluck Jonathan said the edifice was donated to him by the Abuja-based Italian construction company, Gitto Construzioni Generali Nigeria Limited (GCG). According to the president, 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.
Whatever the motivation for this benevolence on the part of Gitto, we find it very disturbing indeed that the president could openly justify this sort of gift from a private company, whose various activities in the country have been mired in controversies. Using the authority of a public position to secure gifts is unacceptable for a president anywhere in the world and the code of conduct for public officials in Nigeria expressly forbids such.
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 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 (emphasis ours) with the Government shall be presumed to have been received in contravention…unless the contrary is proved.”
Gitto is one of the major contractors to the federal government yet the manner in which the president spoke at the church thanksgiving service conveyed the impression that he actually solicited for the edifice since he openly voiced his concern to the hearing of the company’s managing director who apparently got the message. Of course there is the argument that it is only a church building but Gitto is not known to be a missionary outfit; it is a construction firm that bids for and wins contracts in Nigeria. Against the backdrop that the record of the company with regards to performance has left much to be desired, it becomes more obvious that the president goofed in accepting the questionable gift and worse still, that he would seek to justify it.
We note particularly that corruption thrives in Nigeria today because public officials do not know how and where to draw the line. It is therefore no surprise that some of these foreign construction companies do things they dare not try in their home countries. Gitto is surely no Santa Claus; it is a profit-seeking company accountable to its shareholders. When the company therefore spends millions of dollars on a “gift”, its management would expect returns so it is easy to understand why the costs of contracts in Nigeria are the highest in the world.
We particularly recall that the N58.6 billion contract for the construction of the second Niger Bridge was awarded to Gitto Group in a manner which recently prompted the South East Legislative Caucus in the National Assembly to petition President Jonathan, asking him to review it. There are also protests against Gitto from Akwa Ibom stakeholders on the way it is handling the Eket/Oron section of the East-West Road project while the Bodo-Bonny Road in Bayelsa State awarded the company in 2003 is today abandoned.
The foregoing controversies trailing the company that has just donated a church building to president’s village have been highlighted to buttress the fact that he is not in good company with Gitto. The Italian firm cannot whitewash its incompetence by building churches. And it is patently inappropriate for President Jonathan to have accepted the Greek Gift and proceeded to make a light show of it.