An inquest into funds dedicated to constituency projects is long overdue. Olawale Olaleye writes
The idea of constituency projects was initially novel. It was conceived and designed to confer both the political and development advantage on the legislators, whose primary responsibility is to make laws for the growth and the overall good of the country.
But over time, the Nigerian factor set in and the idea ran into multiple hitches, although not solely a fault of the lawmakers, whose priority it is to identify what projects to be sited where. The discontent was basically that funds released were either not commensurate with identified projects or that there was no proof at all that the monies were utilized at all.
Curiously, no one had really come out to openly query the unwholesome situation especially, that it concerns the people and their development. This is not to say there had not been some disapproval to the way and manner constituency projects were being handled particularly given insinuations about corruption, it never generated as much controversy.
But a few days ago, President Muhammadu Buhari championed the campaign against misappropriated funds for constituency project.
The president, who cited a report authored by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), alleged that there was little to show for the over N1 trillion budgeted for constituency projects by 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 was reported as saying.
The (ICPC) had while beaming its searchlight on the National Assembly members from the North-east, alleged that a majority of the lawmakers collected funds for constituency projects for many years without executing the projects following the insurgency that had ravaged the area.
A THISDAY report had noted that the ICPC, during its probe of constituency projects, found out that North-east was the worst affected by the non-execution of the scheme 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.
Although the source could not give the exact amount involved, however, in the 2019 budget, North-east National Assembly members attracted constituency projects worth N16.06 billion to the area, going by the data from an ICPC report titled: “Breakdown of 2019 Zonal Intervention Projects (ZIP) Allocations.”
The senator representing Borno South Senatorial District and Chairman of Senate Committee on the Army, Senator Ali Ndume, who reacted on behalf of his colleagues from the zone, told THISDAY that the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) should be blamed for whatever lapses discovered.
“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.”
Also, the senator, who represented Borno Central in the last Senate, Baba Kaka Garbai, 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.
But the House of Representatives countered the ICPC and the president, when it said only about N500 billion or 50 per cent of the budgeted sum was actually released for the projects, meaning the results expected was impossible when juxtaposed with the money available.
There’s no doubting the fact that the searchlight beamed on the Northwest senators by the ICPC with a view to checking money so far spent on constituency projects was a good development, it is also important that the agency looks beyond the Northwest zone by taking this to other parts of the country.
Although the Boko Haram excuse by the Northwest lawmakers is not entirely tenable, because the state government, in spite of the security challenge, has been making impacts, it would be nice to see what excuses other parts of the country come up with, the south especially.
That said, the anti-graft agency must also be mindful of the critical roles played in the delivery of constituency projects by the executive since all that the lawmakers do is to identify the nature of projects and where it would be sited, the reason the bulk of the projects had failed therefore lies with the executive.
Not being able to account for one trillion naira within the period of a decade is disturbing, because it is a lot of money that cannot be waved aside for whatever considerations, be it politics or other unintended possibilities. It is either the nation decides what it intends to do with itself or continues with the pretence.
The move to probe the monies sunk into constituency projects is therefore a welcome development that must not go the way of others. Indeed, the executive must take this seriously and make sure the investigation comes to a defining close, without fear or favour.