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Otuoke row over house of God

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The Bisibee with Bisi Olawunmi

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So they want President Goodluck Jonathan impeached for allowing a company to renovate the church where he worships in his Otuoke village in Bayelsa state! Well, it would seem there is no end to President Jonathan getting into controversies. Of course, the high visibility of his office brings him into public scrutiny more than any Nigerian. Which must account for why the ‘donation’ or ‘gift’ to a church in his village, Otuoke in Bayelsa state, has attracted loud condemnations by the regular band of critics. I say regular because there is a sort of predictability in the medium that has been most strident in this latest issue, that is The NATION and the people it trotted out as opinion leaders. They constitute a stable.
The animated focus on the church renovation undertaken by a construction company, Gitto Construzioni Generalli Nigeria Ltd (GCG), that has been having business dealings with the Bayelsa state government is apparently a fallout of the domestic governorship in-fighting within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which pitted ex-governor Timipre Sylva against the federal might in the person of President Jonathan, a homeboy of Otuoke. It is the Bayelsa version of ‘If you Tarka me, I will Dabo you’. It reminds us that those who live in stone houses should be wary of throwing stones. I want to believe that even if Sylva is not remotely orchestrating the controversy, he would benefit immensely from it. Again, with his camp’s insinuations of more revelations to come, the Abuja big man may be forced into a negotiated settlement before getting further drenched in muddy waters. Dr. Reuben Abati, presidential spokesman who has been literally reduced to a whining dog, defensively barking at intruders into his master’s domain, must be pondering new attack phraseologies to tackle the sharks swirling in the political waters, sizing up their prey and bidding their time for a fatal bite, if not a mauling.
The critics allege the renovation of the president’s hometown church constitutes gross abuse of office on Jonathan’s part and thus an impeachable offence. One of the critics, Fred Agbaje, who pitched tent with the Action Congress of Nigeria’s demand for investigation of the ‘gift’ was emphatic in his demand: “I share the ACN’s anxiety and call for the impeachment of the President based on the violations of oath of office, Constitution as well as the provisions of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers”.
But away from legalism, given the multiplicity of serious problems afflicting this country and corruption revelations running into billions of naira, does the renovation of a small village church warrant all this saber-rattling? Of course, that the church belongs to the president’s Christian denomination- The Anglican Communion – and it is where he worships - might be construed as influence peddling. But even if so, does this particular influence peddling benefit the president materially? And is it not in line with conventional ethos that communities expect their highly placed sons and daughters to facilitate things – development projects, infrastructure, scholarships, jobs – for their hometowns? This is the reality. In the typical Nigerian setting if you are considered a big man and you cannot point to any facility you brought to your hometown, you are dismissed as Big-for-Nothing. It is a burden for many highly placed people whether in the public or private sector. For instance, many people in Ogun state dismiss Obasanjo’s eight-year presidency as locust years because they cannot see any tangible benefits he brought to his home state, even if few individuals benefitted materially and positions wise.
Another issue arising from the President’s pillory by critics is the pressure religious organizations, most particularly the Christian religion, bring to bear on their well placed parishioners. The churches are forever soliciting assistance for every conceivable project from such people and they are looked upon as being ungodly and miserly if they don’t respond ‘generously’. Among Christians there seems to be much more emphasis on structures than winning souls for Christ. The harvest celebration is another annual ritual of ‘extorting’ church members. When you are appointed harvest chairman, you not only make a hefty financial contribution, you are expected to bring your ‘loaded’ friends to make donations. It is therefore no surprise that the Anglican Church leadership came on hard on the critics, with the hyperbole of describing them as ‘satanic’. I won’t go to that extreme. It is democracy at work.
Apart from the church, the community is another demanding entity. There is an emerging trend of cities, towns and villages celebrating Days. The so-called Big people of such towns are generally corralled into the planning committee which in turns draws up a long list of who-is-who among the indigenes. Levies are imposed according to the estimation of your financial worth or the position you occupy either in government or the corporate world which may be at variance with your actual financial standing. You face the pressure not to disappoint ‘your people’ and often try by all means to meet the demand.
It is a sacrifice. I hold the view that if many strategically placed people facilitate projects in their home communities rather than embezzle public and corporate funds, this country will be a much better place to live in. It will also stem rural- urban drift.
Those versed in law may throw the book at President Jonathan but in this instance, I believe the Otuoke church renovation controversy is more of an idle hype by urban based critics most of whom have lost touch with their roots and are of no relevance to their indigenous communities. If they are home boys, they will understand the pressure. And there is an element of hypocrisy which is a past time in this country. For instance, what is the moral basis of the several millions of naira spent on advert placements in newspapers by some state and local governments celebrating the birthday of a party leader? Are they not engaged in influence peddling or gratification? Is it not an attempt to ingratiate themselves with the leader with public funds?
The Otuoke church controversy is an instance when legalism ‘jams’ communalism. Stretched to its logical conclusion, there will be an endless list of victims.
Well, this storm will pass. But it is hoped that every criticism will be taken as part of building a democratic culture of openness and not cause for vindictive retaliation.


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Last Updated ( Sunday, 08 April 2012 17:32 )  

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