THE Presidency on Thursday said President Goodluck Jonathan’s closeness to some corrupt ex-convicts did not contradict any law of the land nor the administration’s anti-corruption war.
“There is no law in Nigeria that says that a politician that has been jailed should not be going to the Villa and the Peoples Democratic Party does not have it in its constitution that he (the ex-convict) cannot come back to his party.
“Maybe if they review the constitution and put it there, it will be wrong. But for now, it is not wrong,” Senior Special Adviser to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, stated this at a press briefing in Abuja.
Okupe organised the briefing to speak on the President’s commitment to the war against corruption, barely 24 hours after the global corruption watchdog, Transparency International, in its 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index put Nigeria as the 35th most corrupt nation in the world.
Okupe was asked if the President’s closeness to those who had been convicted for corruption was not an indication that the President was not serious about fighting the scourge.
He was asked to defend the frequent visits to the Presidential Villa by the likes of a former governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Diepreye Alamieseigha; a former governor of Edo State, Chief Lucky Igbinedion; and a former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Olabode George. All had served jailed terms for corruption charges.
Okupe answered, “There is no law that says if this man goes to jail, he cannot be a party member.
“Have you seen Bode George or any of these people and the President kissing or eating on the same table?
“If they meet at a political forum and Bode George is a leader of the party in Lagos and there is no law in Nigeria that says he should be isolated.
“Chief Obafemi Awolowo, did he not go to jail? People go to jail for different reasons.”
But when he was reminded that Awolowo did not go to jail because of corruption, Okupe sidestepped the observation.
Rather, he said, “There is no law in Nigeria that says that a politician that has been jailed should not be going to the Villa and the Peoples Democratic Party does not have it in its constitution, that he (the ex-convict) cannot come back to his party.
“Maybe if they (PDP leaders) review the constitution and put it there, it will be wrong. But for now, it is not wrong.”
Showing signs that he was upset by the questions, Okupe said he was astonished that Nigerians and journalists did not deem it fit to commend the President for having the political will to arraign the son of the National Chairman of the PDP, Dr. Bamanga Tukur, for alleged corruption.
Mahmud, the son of Tukur and Nasir, the son of a former National Chairman of the PDP, Dr. Ahmadu Ali, are currently facing charges at a Lagos High Court for allegedly stealing billions of naira through corrupt claims under the fuel subsidy regime.
Okupe said, “I’m surprised that you refused to acknowledge that the son of the serving National Chairman of the PDP has been arrested, has been arraigned and is undergoing prosecution.
“If President Jonathan does not have the political will, that is a suicidal move. President Jonathan is a politician by definition and by standing.
“If for instance, he intends to run in 2015 and Bamanga Tukur is the chairman, if he (Jonatha) does not have the political will he will not do what he has done.
“That is an unprecedented act and he deserves commendation.
“This is the man who will attend to the President if he needs something from the party. You are putting his son in the dock. You think that is not political will? Let us be fair to him.”
Okupe also defended the retention of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Godsday Orubebe and his counterpart in the Ministry of Labour, and Emeka Wogu, despite allegations of corruption levelled against the two.
While Orubebe was accused of receiving a house as a gift from a construction firm, Wogu was accused of using a company in which he had interest to benefit from the subsidy payment.
Okupe said it was wrong to expect the President to remove government officials over mere allegations, adding that those making the allegations must be courageous enough to show evidence.
“If the President fires every minister and every government official that people alleged, I doubt whether we will have 50 per cent remaining in government,” the presidential aide said.
He said there were documents that showed that “the (Labour) minister has no link with the issue of the company that has to do with the subsidy.”
Asked whether the reduction in the budget of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission was not an indication that the Federal Government was not serious about the war against corruption, Okupe said no.
He said there were so many competing needs and that it was the duty of the government to balance such competing needs and find the most comfortable balance to distribute its resources.