Onuoha-Bourdex: Constituency Projects Should Be Expunged from Budgets

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Chief David Onuoha-Bourdex, the senatorial candidate of All Progressives Grand Alliance in Abia North at the last general election, speaks on some political issues, in this interview with journalists, covered by Anayo Okolie. Excerpts

What was behind your loss of the Abia North senatorial seat?
Let me start by telling you that I did not lose the election into Abia North senatorial district. What happened was that after I successfully waged a legal battle against the barefaced rigging and stealing of my mandate through intimidation of electoral officers, falsification and mutilation of election result sheets, a rerun was ordered by the court. Then during the rerun, the same brazen acts of rigging and intimidation by the ruling party in Abia State were repeated, this time using even the armed forces and INEC. So, I declared that there should be an end to litigation seeing that the Peoples Democratic Party was more desperate for the seat than to serve the interest of the people.

I was not happy that during the consideration and debates on the 2016 appropriation bill, which was the first budget under the new APC federal government under President Muhammadu Buhari, Abia North senatorial zone did not have a representative in the senate. Although a lot of stakeholders came to me to reconsider my petition against the outcome of the senatorial election, I told them that since my mission in politics is to serve the people, I have to protect their choice during the election by proving that I was robbed of victory by those who believe in impunity and the breach of the electoral process. I am happy that at the end of the day it was clear as crystal that the result was manipulated against the expressed wish of the people as demonstrated by the votes.

Why did you call for the removal of constituency projects from the constitution?
Concerning the call for an end to the bogus provision for constituency projects, I had told my people that within the first six months in the senate, I will bring about fundamental changes in the way the senatorial zone was being represented. One of the fundamental changes was to move a motion for the abolition of constituency projects from the budget.

I knew I would face opposition from my colleagues in the senate. I also know very well that the provision for constituency projects was meant to assist in redressing the deficit in infrastructure and social amenities in various communities. But records show that that laudable innovation had been hijacked by lawmakers to corruptibly enrich themselves at the expense of their constituents. So those who say I am calling for the removal of the conduit out of pain or frustration for not being in the senate miss the point. I was prepared to make the change, because I was convinced that provision for constituency projects remained the major way previous administrations encouraged the culture of legislative corruption. In one of the interviews I granted before the Abia North senatorial re-run election last March, I said my job of introducing changes in the Senate would be made easy, because there was a new party in power that preached probity and accountability. I believe I was vindicated by the padding that surrounded the 2016 budget.

But the senator for Abia North said lawmakers only choose project sites while relevant ministries handle the award of contracts and execution of the projects?
Is that what he said? May be he was reacting to my call for the abolition of constituency projects. The truth is that even if they claim that money appropriated for constituency projects do not go to lawmakers on paper, we know that the legislators cleverly go underground to nominate emergency contractors and most times end up undertaking the projects. There is abundant evidence of how such jobs are usually poorly executed without proper supervision. By virtue of their constitutional responsibilities, lawmakers are to hold the executive accountable. Now when they nominate contractors, who oversights the project execution? It sounds odd that lawmakers should have anything to do with nomination of contractors or even the siting of projects. They should focus on law-making, holding the executive accountable and ensuring better distribution of amenities and execution of projects through oversight and vetting the budget.

The Arochukwu-Ohafia road has remained in a deplorable shape mainly because lawmakers see the project as a source of easy money during oversight. If not that their hands have been greased by constituency projects, the lawmakers should have been better placed to ensure that deep and innovative thinking were brought to bear on the damaged road. They would have forcefully insisted that the executive should fix the road using the best contractors, materials and equipment. Arochukwu-Ohafia road has passed the usual cement and reinforced concrete approach.

Marine engineers and contractors should have been pencilled to handle the erosion-prone project. Such suggestions would have come from the lawmakers during oversight. But with their attention divided between nominating contractors, choosing benefitting communities and ensuring the take-off of the project, the lawmakers lose quality time for law-making and scrutinising government expenditure, thereby confusing the system of checks and balances.

I challenge any lawmaker to show Nigerians constituency projects that outlived the tenures of those lawmakers that attracted them. I think that after 17 years of democracy, politicians should move away from tokenism for electoral purposes and concentrate on the real issues of policy formulation and implementation to make our nation and democracy better. As an entrepreneur and investor, I know how the corporate mind works. If a contractor sends some freebies or kickback to the supervising authority, there is no way he could go ahead to deliver according to project specifications. In the first place, the money he gave to you must have reduced his profit and because he depends on profit to survive, he reduces quality, knowing that you have become powerless to hold him to account.

Lawmakers do all those things in a number of ways and the practice could be traced to the culture of electoral corruption and impunity through money politics, negotiated elections and impunity. When you see them talking about constituency projects nobody cares about durability or how they have short-changed the system in other ways. We need to address the issue of true democracy before the call for true federalism.

I was also touched by the politics played around the Calabar-Lagos coastal rail line in the 2016 budget. That project was in line with my idea that a well-developed rail transport system would open our country up for economic diversification through the easy movement of agriculture produce across hinterlands and to the metropolis. The benefits of that rail line to the socio-economic development of Southeast, South/South, Southwest and the whole country would not be over-emphasised.

Apart from the attempts to remove the coastal rail line project from the budget, I was worried that the project may suffer a similar fate as the East-West road that remained uncompleted even under the Goodluck Jonathan administration. So, even if it is through supplementary appropriation, that project should be undertaken this fiscal year.