The Constituency Projects Trap

31 Mar 2013

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National Assembly

Nigeria is a peculiar country and its citizens, very ingenious people.
We are very good at inventing,  copying and adopting ideas to suit our environment.
In politics, we are unbeatable because even the United States where we copied our presidential democracy is still conducting researches to enable them understand us.

One of the  inventions in our refurbished presidential system  is the phenomenon called constituency projects.
It is a system where members of parliament are  expected not to make laws but  to deliver the dividends of democracy. By dividends we mean the basic necessities of life -  water, light, food and house. The electorate in Nigeria consider it a bonus if electricity and employment are  added to the menu.

However, the rat race to deliver the dividends of democracy has remained a source of bitter quarrel between the executive and the legislature.   

The lawmakers  have of late  realised that it is not the way to go but they are not in a hurry to turn back.
On  Monday, the National Assembly  blamed the  practice of lawmakers  having  constituency projects in the national budget on the failure of the executive arm of government to deliver the dividends of democracy to the people.

The federal parliamentarians  admitted that  constituency projects  was an abnormality in a  democracy given  the fact that the legislature had lawmaking  as its core constitutional responsibility while it was the business of the executive to implement  these laws and ensure the  provision of basic social infrastructure to the people.

Chairman Senate Committee on Media, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe who  gave the explanation  at a capacity building workshop  organized by the  Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) for parliamentary reporters said  constituency projects were  meant to fill the gap left by the executive, especially  in the  development of infrastructure in  the country.

The tragedy is that huge funds are allocated to these projects but very little is achieved due to hanky panky games contractors play sometimes with the subtle connivance of civil servants and politicians.

Now the Presidency has dedicated its Ministry of Special Duties to take over constituency projects nationwide. But is this not still proceeding in error? Is it not better for lawmakers to forget about this aberration and face their core business of lawmaking and oversight? The race by lawmakers to have something other than good and enduring laws to show for their mandate has brought more confusion than development  to our politics. Let every arm of government man its traditional duty post and let the electorate be the judge.

Let the citizens know that their desperation to have these so called dividends has become a wild goose chase because neither the executive nor the legislature  would be  able to deliver. Everybody’s job is nobody’s job and the more we journey on this deceptive route, the more we deceive ourselves and reap under- development.

As the Gavel Become Hammer 
For the Securities and Exchange Commission, the gavel is fast turning to a hammer.  There seem to be no end to the war  between the legislature and  executive on the 2013 budget and the desire of the  House of Representatives to teach the Director General, Securities and Exchange Commission, Ms Arunma Oteh the  lesson of her life.

The House had all along shown it was not prepared to back down on their resolve  to get Oteh out of the system. Her sin? She dared their lordships in their hallowed chamber. She  unveiled  the big masquerade and it is a sacrilegious act! Unfortunately, the oracle found a fault on her sparkling  credentials.

On Thursday, the House took a decisive  step  to  enforce its zero budget resolution on the Securities and Exchange Commission. In what could be described as a foreclosure of President Goodluck Jonathan’s request for an amendment of the budget and review of some of its clauses, the lower chamber of the National Assembly said not even the President could save SEC from the gavel now turned  hammer.

The House Committee on Legislative Compliance, in a letter addressed to the Director, Finance and Administration of  SEC , warned that it would be “ultra vires for any authority or person(Mr President inclusive) to finance the operations of Securities and Exchange Commission from public coffers or even private sources.”

The letter which was also  sent to the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Board of SEC as well as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation,  advised the  Securities and Exchange Commission  to refrain from making any expenditure until a budget has been approved by the National Assembly.

The letter did not in any way show that the House was part of the series of engagements the leadership of the National Assembly had prior to the signing of the 2013 budget. Once we were told that both the legislature and executive had robust deliberations on all the contending issues surrounding the budget. As soon as the budget was signed, the leadership of the House announced that an amendment bill was to follow, an indication that there must have been  a gentleman’s agreement on  the contentious provisions of the earlier budget.

However, what has happened so far since the amendment bill got to the House does  not show that our lawmakers have been reading the mood of Nigerians on their incessant battles with the executive.
It does not appear as if they have been doing any critical analysis of this matter and   guaging  public opinion on this  war they declared with the executive over SEC several months ago.

Even within the hallowed chamber, the no retreat no surrender battalion is fast depleting as could be seen from the last repeat  motion on this issue.  Soon there might be more voices asking why the House must continue to pursue one matter ad infinitum. Soon, more lawmakers  will be  asking  why the House must continue on this ridiculous path as though it had no other business.
The leadership of the House must realise that in every battle there is a time to advance and a time to retreat. Sometimes, a  retreat could be  an act of wisdom and a display of true  mastery of the art of warfare.

Pipeline Security
On Wednesday, the House  mandated its committees  on Interior, National Security and Intelligence as well as  Petroleum Resources (Up Stream) to conduct an  investigation into a  N5.6 billion oil  pipeline protection contract awarded to some  private security companies.

Tags: Constituency Projects, Featured, Nigeria, Politics

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