Still on the ‘Wasted’ N1tn Constituency Projects by the National Assembly

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Mon-Charles Egbo views the recent outburst by President Muhammadu Buhari that N1 trillion has been spent in the last 10 years on constituency projects without much results as an open indictment of the executive

Public trust and respect represent the hallmark of the legislature globally. But cumulatively, certain past events have exposed the National Assembly to unconscionable and subjective vilification at any opportunity by some segments of the public. It has become such that anything with tendency to lower the public esteem of the lawmakers seems appealing to many, irrespective of consequences.

This unfortunate trend was further dramatized following President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent pronouncement that “in the past 10 years One Trillion Naira has been appropriated for constituency projects, yet the impact of such huge spending on the lives and welfare of ordinary Nigerians can hardly be seen”.

Varied interpretations mostly borne out of political expediency rather than national interest were imputed to the statement just to demean the National Assembly. Efforts were not made to determine the foundation and substance of the claim.

Cross-sections of the Nigerian public refuse to recognize that the business of legislature in developing nations is fundamentally interventionist and largely shaped by the peculiarities of various constituencies or other sociological dynamics. And also that it is the diverse cultural perspectives, magnitude of infrastructural deficiencies and varied social interests with spheres of other internal influences that determine the course of legislative attentions relative to law making, representation and of course deployment of funds in third world countries.

In Nigeria, for instance, and following the decades of military incursion in her politics, the country is still grappling with abject poverty and under-development of various kinds. The ultimate reflection is the prevalent massive distortion of democratic norms and tenets especially by the governed who mostly tend to exhibit hazy understanding of the principles of separation of powers and indeed, the workings of the legislature. They place a uniform burden of expectations upon all the public office-holders regardless of constitutional provisions. They mount over-bearing pressures on these officials particularly the legislators through incessant demands for attention by way of empowerment or poverty reduction, as unemployment, hunger, diseases and acute infrastructural deficit evidently combine to make life difficult for the rural dwellers. Majority of the people view politics and governance as ‘businesses’ where those in authority must return cash-coated dividends to the investor-electorates. Anything short of this generalized expectation translates to bad governance or poor representation. This is the leading opinion across the nation.

Again, given that the parliament by configuration is the closest organ to the people, the lawmakers feel the heat the more. Either out of compassion or fear for negative perception, they overstretch themselves yielding to the desires and aspirations of these electorates who of course are bestowed with enormous powers to influence the socio-political destinies of these parliamentarians. Justifiably though, endemic shortage of good governance across the length and breadth of the country manifesting mainly as lack of basic amenities is the root cause of this misplacement. If state governors and local council chairmen had made rural development a top priority, certainly there would not be perennial bases for these complexities of expectations from the legislature.

The daunting socio-economic challenges sequel to this absence of an integrated and broad-based development strategy on the part of the executive had progressed. It eventually got to the administration of Olusegun Obasanjo, when the urgent need to constantly advance this symbiotic relationship between legislators and constituents necessitated the concept of Constituency Projects, which to all intents and purposes is interventionist scheme empowering the legislature to complement the executive in grassroots development. Also it is a major proof of the reactionary nature of the legislature in the face of the myriads of peculiar limitations confronting third world countries. And arguably, this initiative became imperative at that era when governors and in some cases president, serially unleashed the state apparatuses to ambush and blackmail lawmakers. It was such that rather than assess the legislators statutorily, they were comparatively judged on the basis of projects executed or number of lives touched side-by-side the executive performances. After all as generally-concluded, both the legislature and the chief executives require electoral votes from the people to be in office.

Consequently, responsive legislators obviously as a sort of political survival mechanism became more constituency focused. They resort to honouring social invitations, organizing outreach activities and engaging in sundry philanthropic ventures with a view to perfectly-identifying with their ultimate sources of mandate for continued relevance, acceptance and cooperation.

Public records show that these constituency projects are taken care of through special Zonal Intervention Fund being provided in the federal budget contrary to the misconception that legislators receive the monies and directly finance the projects or in some cases out-rightly pocket same. This wrong notion has dominated the public perception about the National Assembly.

But what truly obtains is that law makers, through interface with the affected areas identify and nominate priority developmental needs for sponsorship and implementation by the executive. In other words, the executive awards the implementation of such projects to contractors who of course are independent of the legislators. Also, the nature of projects to be nominated is determined by the priorities of the executive and availability of funds which account for reasons certain items are procured and distributed while some infrastructural projects are abandoned or not implemented at all even after listing them in the budget.

Again sequel to abundant poverty and infrastructural deficit the burden of expectations that these representatives at all times contend with is multi-faceted, ranging from personal through social to infrastructural. But of all these, individual or family pressures far out-weigh the rest. They are such irresistible, even if not completely met. As an instance, compelling needs that border separately or cumulatively on school fees, hospital bills, house/shop rent/general accommodation, litigation, grants/tools/equipment, family up-keep, bereavements and terrorism cannot be ignored. They must be considered at least on compassionate ground especially in realization that these are the very persons that defied all odds to get these lawmakers elected. And also it should be noted that the legislators are erroneously judged on the basis of projects executed or number of lives touched in comparison with the executive. Hence, they are challenged to make desperate efforts and sacrifices in favour of these needy constituents whose population grow by day.

Another form of persistent demand as a result of those development gaps in the constituencies, involves rural electrification and water projects, church/mosque, schools, hospitals and markets renovation. As an open acknowledgement of the executive’s lack of capacity to independently and effectively take governance to the doorsteps of the masses especially the hinterlands, communities these days celebrate with ecstasies law makers who donate transformers, solar street lights, boreholes, teaching and learning as well as healthcare facilities and roads. It has become a tradition. And that is why today there are growing incidents of lawmakers getting re-elected against the wishes of the powerful chief executives who due to weak institutions equally control the parties’ machinery and state apparatuses. In such cases, the party faithful and electorates have their way because the people use elections as pay-back time to those who ‘represented them well’ by attracting government patronages and making sundry personal sacrifices; thus implying that the quality of leadership and representation a people get is society-generated or a function of their peculiar political disposition. And herein lies the greatest challenge of the moment.

But because of the inherited image and reputational crises bedeviling the National Assembly, that pronouncement by the president caught fire in several quartres. Nobody has bothered to critically think about it in order to unravel the reality.

Excluding the 2018 which is still operational, the budget figures in the last 10 years in trillions of naira are in this order: 2008 (2.8), 2009 (2.7), 2010 (4.4), 2011 (4.2), 2012 (4.7), 2013 (4.9), 2014 (5.0), 2015 (4.5), 2016 (6.1), 2017 (7.4); totaling 46.7 trillion naira. It means that out of 46.7 trillion naira, 1 trillion was for interventionist measures across the country by the executive on the request of the legislators. In other words, at an average of 4.7 trillion budget per year, constituency projects which incidentally were handled by the executive for the law makers, took only 100 billion naira. The implication is that even the cumulative 46.6 trillion naira admittedly expended by the executive also was not tangible. The level of poverty and infrastructural deficit in the country is a testimony.

So, that outburst by the President is an open indictment on the executive at all levels of governance because if they were alive to their constitutional responsibilities, there would not have been need for legislative interventions in such areas. Besides, the zonal intervention fund is solely being administered by the executive meaning that it should consequently account for the one trillion naira constituency projects.

Therefore any form of misgiving on the basis of constituency projects visited on the National Assembly is misplaced. The validity and value of the constituency projects are manifestations of executive lapses. Our political and particularly electoral processes have to be strengthened and straightened out where constitutional responsibilities of every arm of government are properly located for unity of purpose and shared vision. As such and in the interest of fair and objective assessment, the legislators should not be blamed for seeking to intervene for the people they are elected to represent and serve.

*Egbo, a public relations practitioner can be reached at moncharles@yahoo.com