Opposition to Senate’s Constituency Projects Bill Mounts

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The Senate in session

•ACF, Afenifere, IYC want legislators to drop 20% of federal budget allotment proposal

Deji Elumoye in Abuja, Segun James in Lagos and John Shiklam in Kaduna

The Senate has come under fire over its consideration of a bill to reserve 20 per cent of the federal government’s budget to fund constituency projects.

The bill, being sponsored by Senator Stella Oduah, from Anambra State, at the weekend drew flaks from notable soclo-cultural groups such as Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Afenifere and Ijaw Youth Congress (IYC).

The groups, in separate interviews with THISDAY, condemned the efforts and urged the senators to hands off the scheme, which President Muhammadu Buhari recently said the nation wasted about N1 trillion on without getting any commensurate benefits.

The Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, described the constituency projects being executed by federal government on behalf of National Assembly members as a drain on the nation’s economy.

Reacting to the proposal to allocate 20 per cent of annual budget for constituency projects, Afenifere’s spokesman, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, kicked against the plan, saying, “the so-called constituency projects have been drain pipes in service of our prebendal politics”.

According to him, “To now allocate 20 per cent of our budget to such squandering is total liquidation of the country as it seems everybody is grabbing what is ‘grabable’ in the last days of Nigeria as it is.

“There have been no real values for such projects as they are mostly self-serving projects. Some senators will collect billions of naira to ‘train fishermen” for instance. How do you audit those who were trained?
“Even those who engage in tangible projects do boreholes year-in and year-out, shanty schools and never-equipped hospitals.”

On its part, ACF said Nigerians did not feel the impact of the N1trillion budgeted for constituency projects in the last 10 years, and urged the legislators to limit themselves to their assigned roles of legislation and oversight functions instead of delving into executive functions of executing constituency projects.

Secretary General of the ACF, Mr. Anthony Sani, told THISDAY at the weekend that even Buhari recently said there was little to show from the N1 trillion spent in 10 years.
He said the reports of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) on constituency projects in some geopolitical zones had shown that despite the funds allocated to constituency projects, many of them were abandoned.

Sani added that to avoid past mistakes and make constituency projects relevant to the people, any amount allocated for constituency projects should be managed by the appropriated agencies instead of by the individual legislators representing the constituencies.

He said: “I believe the idea of constituency projects is informed by scarcity of resources at the disposal of the federal government. As a result, the constituency projects are aimed at ensuring equitable distribution of national resources among the constituent parts of the country.
“Therefore, there can be no cavil with the significance of the constituency projects, especially if they are well executed for the good of the public.

“And so in order to avoid past mistakes and make constituency projects relevant to the people, any amount allocated for constituency projects should be managed by the appropriated agencies instead of by the individual legislators representing the said constituencies.”

According to him, the legislators should limit themselves to their assigned roles of legislation and oversight functions instead of delving into executive functions of executing constituency projects.
Also speaking on the issue, the President of Ijaw Youth Congress (IYC), Mr. Eric Omare, accused the lawmakers of abusing the implementation of constituency projects.

“We have had situations where some legislators have converted constituency projects to their personal use and in some cases, some do not execute the projects at all,” he said, adding: “In my view, moving forward, mechanisms for implementation of constituency projects should be strengthened by the government at all levels to ensure implementation of constituency projects.”

A former Personal Assistant to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, and governorship aspirant in Adamawa State, Dr. Umar Ardo, said constitutional projects were unconstitutional, adding that the legislature should focus on law making.

He said: “The constitution of Nigeria created the legislature and vested upon it two major functions only – to make laws and perform oversights on the executive branch. None of these two functions involved constituency projects! Performance of projects is 100 per cent the function of the executive. It is therefore a legislative fraud.

“I think someone needs to go to court and challenge this misnomer. As it is now eating deep into the national purse without commensurate impact, and being a milking cow for legislators at the expense of the country, its legality needs to be established.”