The All Progressives Congress and some lawyers have faulted President Goodluck Jonathan’s acquisition of 90.04 hectares of farmland at the Aviation Village in Abuja barely seven months after he was sworn into office.
They said his action was a clear breach of the provisions of section 138 and 5th Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, Parts 1 and 2.
The APC, in a statement on Monday by its National Publicity Secretary, Lai Mohammed, therefore asked Jonathan to apologise for abusing his office and engaging in corrupt practices by acquiring the farmland as a sitting President.
It said nothing could justify the indiscretion exhibited by the President in acquiring such a swath as contained in a newspaper advert which had yet to be refuted by him.
A group, the Purpose Driven Initiative, had in the advertorial claimed that Jonathan incorporated Ebele Integrated Farms Limited which he used to acquire the land.
The APC said the claim by the President’s apologists that their boss got the land because he wanted to engage in farming and that a former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, did the same while in office, missed the point.
According to the APC, the claim by the apologists that the 5th Schedule, Part 1 (Code of Conduct for Public Officers) of the constitution empowers a President to engage in farming, was also not tenable.
It stated that the issues involved went beyond the fact that a public officer was legally allowed to engage in farming .
‘The Fifth Schedule Part 1(Code of Conduct for Public Officers) of the 1999 Constitution, Section 1 states that, a public officer shall not put himself in a position where his personal interest conflicts with his duties and responsibilities.’
“Would President Jonathan have been given 90.04 hectares of such a prime land were he not a sitting President?,” the APC asked. It said the President leveraged on his office to “grab” the land.
The APC statement partly read, ‘‘What happened in that Abuja land grab is nothing but the height of indiscretion and abuse of office, and cannot be justified or explained away just like that. Without mincing words, it also amounts to corruption, which is defined in part as a perversion of integrity and a glaring instance of bad leadership.”
It said the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Bala Mohammed, was emboldened to also grab land in the area because the President had done so.
The APC said, “Those pushing this kind of argument are worsening the President’s case and insulting Nigerians. When did one bad act become a justification for another? Does a thief escape punishment by saying he stole because someone else had stolen? If indeed Chief Obasanjo did it, does that make it right? Is this not part of the reasons this President has been unable to fight corruption?
“It is also important to point out that the Aviation Village, under the Abuja Master plan, is meant only for Aviation-related activities and not farming.
“The President knew this, yet he went ahead to apply and was allocated land for farming in the Aviation Village.
“Perhaps his intention is to subsequently apply for a change of use. How many other people were allocated land for farming in the Aviation Village?’’
The APC asked Jonathan to immediately give back the land he has grabbed.
Some lawyers – Jiti Ogunye, Festus Keyamo and Monday Ubani – in separate interviews with The PUNCH in Abuja, also faulted the acquisition of the land by the President.
Ogunye argued that act of corruption was not limited to dipping hands into public treasury but also “includes all forms of illicit conduct in office in violation of the code of conduct and other laws of the land.”
Ogunye likened the President’s action to an attitude common with Nigerian leaders, who he said, “are involved in primitive acquisition of capital, including fixed assets, like land.”
He added, “Land belongs to the people, so says the Land Use Act. The Land Use Act says, the President, a governor or the Federal Capital Territory minister is a trustee of the land for the people.
“When that trustee then uses his position to acquire public resources, including fixed assets, which in this case is large expanse of land, which he ought not to have obtained while in office, it is condemnable.
“The critical question is that what kind of farming is he going to use that large size of land for? Is it for cocoa or groundnut?
“This act is condemnable regardless of who is in power – be it Obasanjo or Jonathan.”
Keyamo on his part said though the law allowed a President to be involved in farming while in office, Jonathan had no defence for acquiring the land since he had not started using it for the purpose for which he claimed to have acquired it.
Keyamo said, “Farming is an exception. Public officer can acquire land for farming. But the President has not started the farming. Since he has not started it, there is no evidence that he wants to use it for farming.
“The issue of farming is an exception for public officers, but the truth is that we don’t know what he wants to use it for. He can later build an estate there or use it for a big business. We don’t know what it is meant for. It is what you know that you can defend.”
Ubani, a former Chairman, Ikeja branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, said the President and many state governors were guilty of illicit acquisition of land.
He said, “They all abuse powers. Even in Lagos. It is something that happens across all the states of the federation. It is not limited to the federal level.
“The Land Use Act says land should be held in trust for the people. But the manner in which these public officials abuse their powers shows that they are not holding the land in trust for the people but in trust for themselves.
“They acquire land meant for public purposes and sometimes revoke the land of citizens and allot it to their friends, cronies and even to themselves.”
The Presidency had on Sunday said that Jonathan had not done anything against the laws of the land by owning a farmland in Abuja.
The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, said, ‘‘It is not against the constitution for either a civil servant or a public officer to engage in farming.
“One APC-funded, motivated and inspired NGO placed an advert in a newspaper, alleging that the President and the Minister of the FCT have farms somewhere in Abuja. They were alleging conflict of interest.”