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Thursday, 30 November 2023 05:28

[OPINION] Constituency projects’ corruption - Jide Oluwajuyitan

Recent attempt by senators during a plenary session to persuade a people already suffering from persuasion fatigue with worn argument about the need to spread   development to their constituencies, as justification for appropriation of additional funds for Constituency Projects was an assault on sensibilities of Nigerians. Predictably, it has elicited angry reactions from different Nigerian stakes holders. Reacting angrily with a recent editorial where it likened our insensitive senators’ self-enrichment of members to “a state capture” amidst the poverty ravaging majority of Nigerians, The Punch called attention to the fact that “the constituency projects have always been embroiled in allegations of corruption and waste”, which makes  the intervention of President Bola Tinubu, the leadership of the National Assembly and civil society organizations imperative if we really want an end to the charade.

Unfortunately I am not sure Tinubu can perform a miracle where  Obasanjo, who once dismissed our lawmakers as ‘pen thieves’ and Buhari, who speaking in 2015 through Babachir Lawal, his secretary  to government said he was posed “to change the practice whereby “constituency projects had been the conduit pipe through which lawmakers embezzled money” failed.

Indeed, his VP, Professor Osinbajo while acting as president and Raji Fashola his minister for works were threatened with impeachment and sack respectively by Saraki-run 8th Senate for telling Nigerians that the delay in the reconstruction of collapsed all-important Lagos-Ibadan Express road was as a result of diversion of its budgetary allocation by lawmakers to their constituency projects.

 

 It is also of little consolation that successive leadership and membership of the National Assembly since 1999 have always in defiance of public opinion, needed for democracy to thrive, often behaved like an army of occupation with the sole aim of sharing spoils of war after victory.

But first, we must remind ourselves that budget preparation is strictly a function of the executive while the legislature’s role in the budgeting process clearly spelt out by the constitution include implementation, monitoring, evaluation and reporting before authorizing public spending.

To protect the interest of their constituencies, the legislature, like all other actors such as NGOs, pressure groups and international donors, are expected to lobby the executive at the budget preparatory stage. Trading their functions as stated in the constitution for award and execution of contracts as witnessed since 1999 is an aberration in a democracy.

 

In total disregard for constitutional provisions, budgeting has become a source of massive abuse by both the executive and the legislature since the birth of the fourth republic when budget padding in the name of constituency projects started with the appointment of Bukola Saraki, a medical doctor as budget adviser by President Obasanjo. 

For a period, everything was shrouded in secrecy. In 2012 however, the Street Journal told Nigerians that each of our 360 reps was receiving N160m per year as against N240m by each of our 109 senators for constituency projects. The journal further claimed that “instead of expending the money on projects that will better the life of the people in the lawmakers’ constituencies, the bulk of it goes into equipping the lawmakers’ political war chests with only loyalists as beneficiaries”.

In 2013, chairman, Senate Committee on Millennium Development Goals, Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume was also to confirm that “a total of N900 billion has so far been appropriated for constituency projects of members of the National Assembly since 2004”. It was also from the Minister of Special Duties and Inter-Governmental Affairs Kabiru Turaki that Nigerians got to know that “members of the National Assembly who are the originators of the constituency projects development programmes are the ones who determine, decide and choose who implement the projects”.

With the institutionalization of budget padding for constituency projects as a source of corruption, N350billion was appropriated by the National Assembly in respect of about 2,516 projects spread across the country between 2011-2016.  Those projects according to Civil Society Organisation-BudgIT never took off even after full payment had been made. In July 2016, in its survey of 436 projects across 16 states, 211 projects covering water bore-holes, rural electricity and roads projects and primary health centres designed to alleviate the suffering of the poor according to the body were abandoned.

In the ensuing war over sharing by the legislature, in July 2016, Abdul Mumin Jibrin while reacting to his removal as chairman of the appropriation committee of the lower house following a claim he ‘unilaterally padded the 2016 budget to the tune of N4.1 billion to his Kiru/Bebeji federal constituency in Kano State attributed his travails to his refusal to ‘admit into the budget almost N30 billion personal requests from Mr. Speaker and the three other principal officers”.

Four years after Buhari’s threat to rein in the lawmakers for their excesses, BudgIT’s Tracka Head, Ilevbaoje Uadamen told Nigerians that “constituency projects costing about N270 billion, nominated by federal lawmakers between 2015 and 2019 are lying uncompleted or poorly implemented across the country”. He also drew attention to “wasteful empowerment projects” in the 2019 Zonal Intervention Projects which according to him account for N58 billion of the N100 billion budgeted for constituency projects.

Except we returned to where the rain started beating us, Tinubu as indicated above cannot perform any miracle under the current structure where even in the because of absence of residual list, LGAs are funded from Abuja that performs no supervisory role over their activities; where the centre corners over  60% of the nation’s resources with states going cap in hand to Abuja every month for allocation  and where about 50% of what was on the concurrent list  were transferred to the exclusive list in 1979 by Obasanjo using late Rotimi Williams and Ben Nwabueze.

Remembering how we got here will be helpful. The pre-independence colonial administration was largely an army of occupation interested only in exploitation of our resources. This was best achieved through a unitary system.  Pa Ayo Adebanjo has repeatedly told young Nigerians the story of how our founding fathers through a battle of wits secured for us a federal system which guaranteed unity in diversity for our nation.  Unfortunately our ill-educated military frittered away the gains of 45 years’ of constitutional re-engineering struggle by our founding fathers. More tragic, the soldiers like their colonial creators seized the resources of the federating regions and declared “money is not Nigerian problem but how to spend it”.

When the soldiers were forced out of power in 1999 by combined efforts of the press, Civil Society Groups and NADECO, they foisted on the nation a unitary constitution and military created ‘new breed politicians’ with a mind-set of an army of occupation interested only in sharing loots of conquered territories. We find eloquent evidence in their self-serving policies including PPMC, privatization, monetization, unbundling of PHCN and of course the cornering of 25% of our budget as salaries.

The way forward is to go backwards, perhaps as far back as 1963 republican constitution or as recent as Jonathan CONFAB. The only option that is not available is continuing playing the ostrich as we have done since the collapse of the first republic.

I know of no multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society that has survived with 70% of items on the exclusive list. This is why federating nationalities have no faith in our country.  As Senator (Prof) ) Wande Abimbola , former vice chancellor of OAU, Ife gloomily observed with a dose of sarcasm, following an open threat by his Ibadan people not to vote for people like him that failed to steal what they saw as national cake in Abuja “the people make the politicians thieves” (The Punch September 16, 2017)

 
 
 
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