October 28, 2020

The gift next time

The Hungarian President, Pal Schmitt, on Monday resigned because of a charge of plagiarism. Some newspapers had alleged that portions of his Ph.D thesis, submitted 20 years ago, had been taken without attribution from some sources. He denied it vigorously but resigned all the same. He said he was going to court to clear his name, anyway.

In Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan is under the much clichéd fire over accepting a gift of church (of all things!) from a contractor. The main opposition party, the Action Congress of Nigeria, is asking the legislature to commence impeachment proceedings against him. Let’s be realistic here, Jonathan is not going to resign neither will he be impeached. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is not going to go after him either, so let those agitating for that save their breath. If five Senior Advocates of Nigeria could not pin down Erastus Akingbola, accused of a bank heist, forcing the presiding judge, Justice Charles Archibong, to tell these senior lawyers in strong language that they might as well go and become apprentice to local chiefs who use native intelligence to tease out confession from criminals without even having studied a single law book, then, nobody should expect the EFCC to make anything out of this either.

Nigeria is not Hungary and Jonathan’s idea of honour is probably not the same as Schmitt’s. He knows the noise will peter out pretty soon and Nigerians will find another scandal to caterwaul about so he will wait it out. Besides, he knows the ACN is merely going through its usual verbal pyrotechnics. For one, the party members themselves do not come to equity with clean hands. If they are serious, the party has enough lawmakers in the National Assembly who can start an impeachment process against the President for his alleged impropriety. But no one I know is expecting much from that corner either so we might as well focus on more pragmatic things.

According to reports, President Jonathan ‘hinted’ the Italian firm that the church in his village was ‘unbefitting of a president’ and the contractor, apparently used to the stylistics of the Nigerianspeak – the linguistics of executive alms — decided to do the needful. They gifted him a church and the president joyfully inaugurated same. And apparently unaware of the seeming indignity of his act, he mentioned how the ‘miracle’ of the church came to be during the inauguration. His confession fetched him some embarrassment, transient though that may turn out to be.

For me, even if the Nigerian constitution does not state it is wrong to solicit or accept gifts as a public officer, it is beneath the status of the president to hint towards a request at all. But, of course, I have concluded a while ago that there is very little that is presidential about our President. Anyone who has studied his body language in the pictures he has taken with other country leaders would have come to the conclusion that the man is a paradox of sorts. He reminds one of Mephibosheth in the Bible, a man of royal lineage but was painfully self-effacing to the point of self-debasement.

But on this church gift issue, I have decided to be uncritical but rather, work through a bad situation. Next time, that is if ever he would, if the President wants to solicit a gift or favour from his contractors, he should ask for generative gifts like an up-to-date science laboratory or a well-furnished library or a computer lab so that the youths in his village can have some good quality education. In a country where an unenviable figure of 0.0002 per cent passed the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination; where National Examination Council and West African School Certificate Examination results want to make you put your hands on your head and wail for a country that is losing her future, a church is the least of our problems. Why not ask for something truly empowering like a well-equipped school? Of course, that would not make the impropriety of his act more pardonable but at least it would serve a more practical purpose than a church building. Considering that our landscape is littered with so many worship centres that you can buy a dozen of them for ten kobo, who needs another church and what for? What does religion, overall, contribute to the Nigerian society other than intoxicating its adherents like an opium that its scope should be expanded with another building? Even if the contractor built it for the community out of a sense of undefined large-heartedness, should the President not have distanced himself from this curious gift that seems targeted at currying and retaining his favours?

And what infuriates one most is that this building is not even as architecturally outstanding as any church in the contractor’s home country, Italy. Why is it that the ‘less than the best’ is good enough for Nigeria? In any case, now that they have fulfilled his wish, does that third rate building now befit his status as the Nigerian president? That in itself is a commentary; it shows how much regard they have for Nigeria and her president.

This gift, again, brings up the persistent mix of religion and political power in Nigeria. The President solicits a church so as to dazzle his village people about how much he loves them and probably convince the rest of us that he loves God so badly and, like King Solomon of old, he has extracted one out of the people. Again, I see here a sense of superstition; people think building a house for God will bring fortunes or redeem them of their failings in the long run. That is why ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo would, with all the cloud hanging over him, build a church after leaving office and attribute it to obeying divine direction. That is also why former Independent National Electoral Commission boss, Prof. Maurice Iwu, would build a big church in his village, even bigger than the controversial Otuoke church, after leaving office even though the legacy of his tenure in that office still hangs over Nigeria till today like something out of a bad dream.

These men built churches because they know the god of Nigerians very well. They know he is a god that can be bribed with material things ranging from a building to money stolen from the sweat and blood of millions of poor people. Sadly, the Nigerian god never punishes offenders and that is why people who should be building maximum security prisons for themselves and their cronies, build churches.


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