- MDAs, contractors should be queried, not lawmakers, says Ndume
By Deji Elumoye in Abuja and Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri
The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) has beamed its searchlight on some National Assembly members from the North-east for allegedly collecting funds for constituency projects for several years without executing them due to Boko Haram insurgency that ravaged the area, THISDAY’s investigation has revealed.
THISDAY gathered that the ICPC, during its probe of constituency projects, found out that North-east was the worst affected by the non-execution of the schemes due to the Boko Haram insurgency, which made it impossible for contractors to be mobilised to execute projects in many local government areas that were occupied by insurgents in the geopolitical zone.
Although the source could not give the exact amount involved, in the 2019 budget, North-east National Assembly members attracted constituency projects worth N16.06 billion to the area, according to data from an ICPC report titled: “Breakdown of 2019 Zonal Intervention Projects (ZIP) Allocations. “
But in a reaction on behalf of his colleagues from the zone, the senator representing Borno South Senatorial District and Chairman of Senate Committee on the Army, Senator Ali Ndume, told THISDAY that the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) should be blamed for whatever lapses discovered.
He stated that the MDAs were the ones that hired contractors that executed the projects, while the lawmakers only recommended projects to be executed.
He described the allegation that the lawmakers in the zone misappropriated the funds meant for the projects as spurious, adding that the MDAs and the contractors should be queried.
He, however, added that with the controversy generated by constituency projects in recent weeks, some contractors who had abandoned the projects, were already returning to the site.
On his part, the senator who represented Borno Central in the last Senate, Baba Kaka Garbai, also told THISDAY that though there were some areas in his constituency affected by Boko Haram and insecurity, the crisis did not stop constituency projects from being put in place.
Citing an ICPC report, President Muhammadu Buhari had alleged that there was little to show for the over N1 trillion budgeted for constituency projects of the National Assembly members in the last 10 years.
“It is on record that in the past 10 years N1 trillion 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. The first phase report of tracking these projects by the ICPC confirms our worst fears that people at the grassroots have not benefited in terms commensurate with the huge sums appropriated for constituency projects since inception,” Buhari had said.
But the House of Representatives had countered the ICPC and the president, saying that only about N500 billion or 50 per cent of the budgeted sum was actually released for the projects.
A source at the ICPC told THISDAY at the weekend that even if N500 billion was the actual release as claimed by the House of Representatives, lawmakers from the North-east benefited from this largesse without executing projects because a large part of the zone was occupied by the insurgents for many years.
“For several years, Boko Haram had occupied many local governments in the affected states. Government activities in some of these states were restricted to the state capitals and the National Assembly members from this zone could not even visit their constituencies for fear of Boko Haram attacks, yet they were collecting constituency allowances without executing projects. Lawmakers from other zones also committed infractions but the zone affected most is the North-east and we are beaming our searchlight on these National Assembly members. They must account for the funds earmarked for projects in their areas,” the source explained.
MDAs, Contractors Should be queried, Not Lawmakers, Says Ndume
Reacting to the allegation that the lawmakers from the North-east failed to execute constituency projects, a former Senate Leader, Ndume, described the claim as spurious.
Ndume while exonerating himself and his colleagues of any blame, stressed that such allegations were unwarranted and very painful to comprehend.
He told THISDAY that the projects were never executed by the lawmakers but by the MDAs.
He explained that the contractors who were engaged by the supervising agencies to execute the projects should be queried about what happened to the projects.
He said: “The constituency projects were only identified by the legislators who filled the form and told the officials where he wanted the projects to be sited and most times projects nominated by lawmakers were turned down and at the end of the day they want to blame us for the shoddy execution.
“Let me ask you: is it the senator that executes the project? The answer is no; you only suggest names of projects you want to be executed in your constituency and that is the end of your job as a lawmaker. How they execute the projects is not within your purview. So, the government officials that awarded and executed the projects have questions to answer. If you look at the list of constituency projects in the annual budget you will clearly see the names of contractors that are executing the projects and they are linked to the executing agencies and not senators or House members.”
According to him, even with the Boko Haram insurgency ravaging the North-east, constituency projects never suffered any setback, adding that “the projects are still ongoing while some had been completed.”
He said in the three senatorial districts of his home state, Borno, “many constituency projects had been executed in the past and some are on the verge of being completed.”
Ndume, however, stated that the recent constituency projects controversy had resulted in some contractors who had long before now abandoned the projects, “now going back to site to complete the projects.”
He added that rather than lose interest in the constituency project, he is making moves to get a legal backing for their execution.
“In this Ninth Senate, I have sponsored a bill, which has passed through first reading at plenary for the establishment of a commission to oversee the identification, funding and implementation of constituency projects in all the 109 senatorial districts and 360 federal constituencies across the country.
“Once, we get the bill passed and president assents to it, all these blame games will stop as the commission will take over the control and management of constituency projects nationwide”, Lawan explained.
Also, Garbai said though there were some areas in his constituency affected by Boko Haram and insecurity, that did not stop constituency projects from being put in place.
He said there was peace, especially in Maiduguri and Jere, which were part of his constituency with massive population, adding that projects were sited there.
He said among the projects he built were skill acquisition centres, classrooms in some schools, borehole and water projects.
He said even members of his constituency from areas highly affected by Boko Haram were made to benefit from such programme as skill acquisition and given equipment to work with.
“The beneficiaries are there to acknowledge what we did and the projects are still standing for everyone to see,” he stated.
Also speaking on the issue, a member of House of Representatives, representing Biu, Bayo, Shani, Kwaya Kusar, Hon. Muktar Aliyu Betara, said the insurgency did not and is not affecting his constituency that much.
“They can go to my constituency. My constituency is not affected by insurgency so much. I have projects littering the entire four local government areas I am representing. And this they can see if they go to my area. You (THISDAY) are one of the few journalists that I have taken round my constituency to see my work there and you should be able to attest to knowing the projects I have been doing there,” the lawmaker added.