Yesterday’s donation of over N6 billion in aid of St. Stephen’s Anglican Deanery and Youth Development Centre, Otuoke, Bayelsa State, hometown of President Goodluck Jonathan, has sparked outrage across the country, The Nation newspaper is reporting this morning.
The fundraiser, attended by Mr. Jonathan, and held at the Civic Centre in high brow Victoria Island, has angered not a few Nigerians who describe the event as another opportunity for the president to extort sycophants and beneficiaries of contracts from his administration.
Arthur Eze, a business tycoon, was the highest donor of the night. He donated N1.8 billion.
Extravagant Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State made a donation of N230 million on behalf of the newly-formed PDP Governors Forum.
He was recently made chairman of the forum which was created as a separate body from the Nigerian Governors Forum headed by Governor Rotimi Amaechi. Another N100million was donated by Governor Liyel Imoke of Cross River State on behalf of South- South state Governors.
Governor Seriake Dickson pledged to build the nursery school and cancer diagnostic centre components of the project at Otuoke as the contribution of Bayelsa.
The church came into national consciousness in April last year when Gitto Construzioni Generali Nigeria Limited, an Italian construction firm donated the multi-million dollar building to President Jonathan’s home church. The donation of the building provoked a hail of criticism against the president with many calling on the anti-graft agencies to step into it.
Several PDP governors were said to be unaware, last night, of the donation made on their behalf by Akpabio.
Their spokespersons said their bosses were not consulted on the donation.
Speaking at the fund raising, President Jonathan urged wealthy Nigerians to contribute meaningfully to the development of poor communities in the country.
This, according to him, will go a long way in empowering youths.
Mr. Jonathan noted that the only way to ensure that one’s memory is kept alive is to make positive impact in the lives of the people.
He said: “We are all mortal beings, we are all biological specimen so we will all die but when you die, what will you be remembered for, what will you leave behind? I used to tell people that even the house I was struggling to build in the village, these days in this global age, how am I sure that my children will even stay in my root.”
“They want to go to West Indies, they want to go to Latin America, so I was even joking with people that if I look at the behaviour of my children and if I don’t see any of them that will patronize the village, even my house I will donate it out before I die.”
Mr. Jonathan, said that the project for the St. Stephens Anglican Deanery and Youth Development Centre in his home town was so dear to him.
He spoke of his determination to ensure that the younger generation of Nigerians pass through a better system of education different from the one he experienced while growing up.
“I feel the only thing I can do is to make sure that from Nursery School to Primary and Secondary School, there should be a standard educational facility and youth programme, so that it gives opportunity for the younger ones to grow even if we die in the next 100 years, people will remember that those before them have something for them”
He said that the Youth Development Centre was put under the control of the church because of the long history of churches using funds effectively for development and that they had been able to ensure that such developmental projects endure.
Speaking earlier, Akwa Ibom State Governor and Chairman of the PDP Governors’ Forum, Godswill Akpabio said that the project was part of the vision of President Jonathan to ensure that the youths of Otuoke have better education and secured future.
Governors Emmanuel Uduaghan (Delta) and Peter Obi ( Anambra) and Liyel Imoke (Cross Rivers) lauded the initiative, saying that they would replicate such initiative in their states.
Present at the occasion were Chairman of Visafone, Jim Ovia; Chairman Capital oil, Chief Ifeanyi Uba; Chairman of A-Z Oil, Chika Okafor, Chairman Arik Air, Joseph Arumemi–Ikhide,Mr. Oba Otudeko and Tony Elumenu.
Others who attended the occasion included Deputy Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Tunde Lemo, some Ministers, Senators, members of the House of Representatives and prominent indigenes of Otuoke.
Critics said yesterday’s fundraising was reminiscent of the much-criticised launching by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to raise funds for his presidential library. The event held in Abeokuta on May 14, 2005 realised about N6 billion, but was widely condemned as public extortion.
Reacting to the donations, renowned constitutional lawyer, Professor Itse Sagay, said the development shows the abysmal level that ethical standards in governance had fallen in the country.
He said: “This is not the first time such a thing has happened. Remember former President Olusegun Obasanjo also did a similar thing to raise money for his library.”
Describing the president’s action as morally wrong, Mr. Sagay continued, “It amounts to extorting money from sycophants who are unjustly benefiting from government. As far as I am concerned, the development fell below ethical standard and was not supposed to happen.”
Former member of the House of Representatives, Dino Melaye also condemned the huge donation.
“The truth of the matter is that those who made the donation did so not because they love God, but rather President Jonathan. Ask these people if they have built any church in their localities and the answer will be no,” he said.
Mr. Melaye, who is also the Convener, Anti Corruption Network, added, “Not only is this action morally wrong, it is an open display of open corruption that has over the entire fabric of this country.”
A chieftain of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Usman Bugaje, also faulted the donations.
He castigated governors who donated at the event, saying it is criminal to embark on such frivolous spending when millions of their supposed voters are languishing for absence of basic necessities of life.
According to him: “Are the monies appropriated in the budget? If they are properly appropriated, is the donation in the best interest of the public?
“Are the monies from their private pockets? It is criminal to ignore the dire lack and infrastructural shortcomings in their states to donate such monies.
“There are people dying because they cannot afford N500 drugs in their states and the governors are busy spending public funds as they like”.
The former member of the House of Representatives added: “It is a height of irresponsibility and insensitivity to spend public funds on such frivolities just because the President is involved.
Human rights lawyer, Festus Keyamo, condemned the use of public funds for private enterprises.
He said the church is a private organisation that should never benefit from public funds.
Mr. Keyamo stated: “It is a gross mismanagement of the public funds. It is also against the anti-corruption laws, especially a public official like the President soliciting for donations from private individuals and government contractors like Chief Arthur Eze.”
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