Constituency Projects: Succour Or Conduit Pipe?

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Constituency projects are meant to bring development to the home of the people’s representatives. but in many states across the country much projects are rare to come by, report Associate Editor, Sam Egburonu; Assistant Editor, Onyedi Ojiabor, Dele Anofi, Sunday Oguntola, Rosemary Nwisi, and Okungbowa Aiwerie.

ALTHOUGH the idea of constituency project for legislators in Nigeria is older than the current democratically elected government, the concept and how it should be implemented have remained a source of heated controversy.

While many observers said it will help to develop rural communities, others dismissed the concept as a means of further enriching the respective lawmakers. Critics of the concept allege that the lawmakers, whose primary responsibility should be law making, are today more interested in the award of contracts for their constituency projects.

In August this year, former President Olusegun Obasanjo described constituency projects being embarked upon by lawmakers in Nigeria as “corruption.”

Speaking at the opening of a two-day investment forum organised by the Niger State Government in Minna on Monday, with the theme, “Impact of Investing for Advancing Agricultural Economy and Innovation,” the former president however called for a more sustainable process or developing rural communities and enhancement of agriculture.

Reacting, Sen. Mohammed Hassan, Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Federal Capital Territory, says there is no element of corruption in the injection of constituency projects in the national budget. The Senator, who represents Yobe South, made the remark in an interview in Abuja.

He said the inclusion of the projects in the budget is done after following due process. The former president was reported to have said at a two-day investment forum organised by the Niger State Government in Minna, that constituency project was a form of corruption. But Hassan said, “It is very important to make this very clear to Nigerians that constituency project is just like any other Federal Government project. If it was corruption, maybe during his time; but for the constituency projects in the 8th Senate that I have witnessed, there is nothing like corruption attached to it. “For instance, in my senatorial district, last year, I embarked on youth and women empowerment and the records are there. “You domicile such project in relevant ministries, agencies or departments and it goes through the normal approval process. So what is the corruption there?

Even among lawmakers, there is sharp disagreement over the utilization of the fund made available for the development of their constituencies.

Controversy over sharing formula

At the House of Representatives for example, there is controversy over the sharing formula to be adopted in the utilization of constituency projects fund. Recently, lawmakers at the Green Chamber rejected the sharing formula of the N100b zonal intervention projects fund.

As a tradition, the leadership of the two houses takes 20 percent of the fund while 80 percent is shared between the six geo-political zones.

The lawmakers in the lower chamber of the National Assembly however agitated against the retention of 10 percent by the leadership, it was learnt.

According to a source, who pleaded not to be named, the lawmakers’ agitation followed revelations by a suspended lawmaker during the 2016 Budget padding controversy.

The leadership capitulated and has decided to share three percent of its 10 percent among the members.

The situation however remained the same at the Senate as the leadership is retaining its entire 10 percent of the N100b, although some senators are said to be opposed to such sharing arrangement.

Our source, a federal lawmaker said: “What I should make clear before going into this discussion is that no physical money is given to any lawmaker for the execution of constituency projects.

“What we have, as contribution to the fund, is to identify where the project would be located.

“Outside that, what we do is to monitor the progress of the project.

“Now, talking about the distribution of the fund or sharing formula, it is such that N100b is allocated to zonal intervention projects in national budgets.

“The convention, which I met on ground, has always been that 20 percent of the N100b goes to the principal officers of the two houses, with 10 percent each going to the leadership of the Senate and the House.

“That was the situation till last year in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

“It is the prerogative of the leadership to share the 10 percent among the principal officers as it deems fit and not with other lawmakers.

“The situation has however changed in the House.

“As a direct consequence of the budget padding controversy and the exposure made by suspended Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin, who gave a breakdown of how the House leadership’s 10 percent was disbursed, there was a protest within the House that the 10 percent cannot be entirely owned by the leadership.

“According to Jibrin, while a member is getting between N45m and N50m, no principal officer gets less than N900m. Now, how do you want members from their constituencies to feel?

“Even our constituents are bound to feel that something is not right when they see what a principal officer is doing in his constituency, compared to the others from the same state.

“As a result, the leadership decided to change the sharing formula whereby it retained seven percent of the 10 percent while the balance is now shared among the members.

“The story is different at the Senate though; the leadership is not bulging; it is retaining its entire 10 percent.

“Now the remaining 80 percent of the N100b is distributed among the six geo-political zones on equal basis.

“At the zonal level, the fund is now shared to the states with another formula with particular consideration to the number of the lawmakers in each state.

“On getting to the state, whatever is their share is now shared on the basis of 60 percent to House of Representatives members because of their larger number while 40 percent goes to the three Senators.

“In view of this, you discover that most House of Representatives members end up with paltry share for their projects.

“As a matter of fact, Rep members in states like Kano and Lagos may not have more than N45m for their constituency projects, while their colleagues in states like Bayelsa or Ekiti will have more than N80m.

“The aspect of the three Senators is also a curious one because they have refused to budge on their own share of 40 percent, which translates to more funds to them than their Representatives’ counterparts.

“I must however point it out that the sharing is not cast in stone; it may change next year depending on the situation on ground. It was 10 percent for the leadership till last year until it changed to seven percent while the rest three is shared for the members.

“Though the Senate did not experience the change, no one can be sure what will happen,” she said.

The lawmaker however emphasised that the misconception of lawmakers receiving physical cash for the execution of constituency project should be addressed.

Saying that the erroneous belief has not helped the situation of lawmakers, the source added, “We have come to a situation where members of the public have refused to believe that we don’t actually have anything to do with the money.

“Ours is to identify the project, which must fall within the allocation to the constituency and monitor the progress of its execution.

“Even the award of the contract is done by the ministry where the project is domiciled and we are all aware of the process of awarding contracts in government institutions.

“For instance, the project I identified for my constituency was solar powered street lights.

“I know nothing about the contractor handling it but I monitor it because I don’t want any stories later.

“How the contractor accesses his money, I don’t know and I don’t want to know.

“Although I’ve heard that some lawmakers actually suggest their own companies for the execution of their projects, it is certainly not all of us.

“I read in a newspaper a couple of months ago where the Minority Leader, Leo Ogor, was alleged of being investigated over constituency projects by one anti-corruption agency.

“I read his response that there was no crime if a company in which a lawmaker has an interest in is awarded a contract as long as due process was followed.

“What I’m trying to say is that, even at that, some lawmakers don’t go to that extent.

“As for me, the buck stops at identifying the project and monitoring it; we do not collect money for the execution of the projects,” she added.

Are the projects only on paper?

The Nation investigation and reports from other informed organisations and individual stakeholders across the country reveal a feeling of dissatisfaction both with the utilization of the huge funds associated with this project in areas where no project could be identified and the quality and level of completion of the few identifiable projects. While our efforts to track constituency projects of some lawmakers in some states proved abortive, a detailed report by BudgIT, a citizen advocacy organisation involved in tracking budgetary allocations, has disclosed that only 40.3 percent of constituency projects approved for lawmakers in 20 states for 2016 have been completed as at last July.

The report released last August indicated most of the projects are unexecuted at a staggering 41.1 percent with some ongoing.

The states tracked by BudgIT, in its Tracka report, are: Kogi, Ogun, Oyo, Kano, Edo, Delta, Sokoto, Kaduna, Niger and Gombe.

Others are: Lagos, Ondo, Imo, Cross River, Ekiti, Osun, Kwara, Akwa Ibom, Kebbi and Enugu.

The report covered projects monitored between June 2016 and June 2017.

Of the 852 projects tracked, only 350 were completed with 113 ongoing and 343 unexecuted.

It would be recalled that the Federal Government released N100billion for constituency projects in 2016 to appease the National Assembly after it refused to consider N180billion virement of President Muhammadu Buhari.

But the low execution rate implies that close to N60 billion of the released allocation have not been deployed or may have diverted by lawmakers.

It also means the communities for which these projects have been approved are left shortchanged and unable to benefit from the dividends of democracy.

Emeka Obi, a public analyst, said the figure could even be higher considering there is no mechanism to confirm the quality of executed projects.

“Most of these projects are certainly low in quality, you can be sure. Unfortunately, there is no agency or mechanism to find out.

“That is after the lawmakers would have overinflated the figures and underpaid contractors. So, if you consider the whole scenario, what ended up in the private pockets of lawmakers is more than N70billion of public funds.

“We cannot continue like that at all. Less than 2 percent of the population is superintending and pocketing our commonwealth. It is a shame and sad incident really,” Obi lamented.

Bisade Obayemi, a community development analyst, believes the benefitting communities are worse off for most constituency projects.

“For most of these communities, that is the only governmental attention they receive. So, when some lawmakers get their allocations and refuse to execute the projects, the communities become dismayed.

“They are disillusioned and left to wait for another four years to even react. It is a terrible thing communities, especially the rural ones are going through,” he explained.

However Obayemi said the communities, especially their leaders are not exonerated from the shortchanging game.

“What most of these lawmakers do is to identify those who can give them troubles in the communities and buy them over with stipends.

“Once they offer peanuts, the identified leaders look away or refuse to report them. They keep quiet and allow the lawmakers to get away with the diversion or non-delivery.

“Once the communities cannot report, how will government agencies get to know? So, the lawmakers are the bigger looters while the community leaders are the conniving thieves,” he stated.

The development leaves the much-expected dividends of governance ever elusive to local communities and delivery of governmental goodies mere illusions.

Unfortunately, the situation might not change any soon going by the apathetic attitude of Nigerians to governance and inability to hold lawmakers accountable.

Near zero constituency projects in Delta North

The Nation investigation in Delta State shows that federal legislators in Delta North Senatorial District have not done much in terms of initiating constituency projects in their area.

Delta North Senatorial District has three federal constituencies; Aniocha/Oshimili Federal Constituency, Ika Federal Constituency and Ndokwa Federal Constituency and one senatorial district.

In all the constituencies visited in Delta North Senatorial District, no visible constituency project was embarked on.

Mrs. Onyemachi Mrakpor represents Aniocha/Oshimili Federal Constituency. Ndokwa Federal Constituency is represented by Mr. Ossai Nicholas Ossai, while Ika Federal Constituency has Victor Nwokolo as the representative.

It is Senator Peter Nwaboshi that represents Delta North Senatorial District in the Senate.

Our reporter, who toured the senatorial district for over two weeks in search of constituency projects carried out by federal lawmakers, could not track any. Some residents we spoke with in the area said “no constituency projects have been embarked upon by the current federal legislators except projects attracted through intervention agencies such as Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).”

Our reporter observed that for Aniocha/Oshimili Federal Constituency, no visible project is on ground, except a Skill Acquisition Centre located near Ogwashi-Uku, Aniocha South Local Government Area. We also gathered that the skills acquisition centre, attracted by Mrs. Onyemeachi Mrakpor, commenced about four months back and that no appreciable work has been done on the project site.

Sources close to the federal legislator however said the lawmaker has embarked on empowerment programmes in her constituency.

In a telephone chat with The Nation, the federal  lawmaker declined to identify any project embarked upon since she was elected, adding  that it was not convenient for her to direct the reporter  to any constituency project in her area and urged him to await her return from Abuja before she could accede to any request.

Her words, “You know I live in Abuja and it will not be convenient to assist you in the task of identifying constituency projects in my area.”

For Senator Peter Nwaboshi, not much has also been done in terms of initiating constituency projects except those he has influenced through his headship of the Senate Committee on NDDC, we learnt.

An aide, who does not want his name in print, told our reporter that “Many of the projects attracted by the distinguished senator are mainly road infrastructure projects influenced through the NDDC, including road projects scattered around Ibusa, Ogwashi-Uku and Okpanam communities.”

According to him, “Senator Nwaboshi has done empowerment programmes in December and another grand empowerment programme for over 700 beneficiaries worth over N35 million.

Also, the source said Senator Nwaboshi has donated two ambulances to the Central Hospitals in Ibusa and Agbor.

Efforts to reach the legislators representing Ika Federal Constituency and Ndokwa Federal Constituency in Delta State however proved abortive as repeated calls to their phones were not answered.

In River State, where our reporter also toured the various constituencies in search of constituency projects, most of the projects she identified were either executed by federal lawmaker before 2015 or by members of Rivers State House of Assembly.

Group to Abia legislators: Stop laying claims to FG projects

The situation is almost the same in Abia State, where some concerned groups have cried out that some federal lawmakers, who collected constituency projects allocations have been laying claims to projects provided by known federal government agencies as they could not account for the utilization of their constituency project’s funds. Buhari South-East Youth Movement (BUSEYM), for example, has frowned at the way the Abia State Government, Abia State Federal and State legislators are claiming that they were the ones that attracted federal government projects domiciled in the state and in their constituencies, when the movement knows that such projects were actually done by known government agencies. According to BUSEYM, “such claims are made in order to win the people’s support in a desperate bid to win the upcoming general elections. The group’s leadership told The Nation during the week that “if such lawmakers failed to desist from such deceitful action, the group would have no option than to drag them to court.

The group wondered “why such lawmakers from the state, who daily feed the populace with false and negative news about the President Muhammadu Buhari- led APC Federal Government, will turn round to lay claims to projects done by the same  federal government and its agencies, mostly, but not limited to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing and the School Feeding Programme which today has increased the enrollment of pupils and students in the state’s education sector.”

BUSEYM, in its reaction to claims of some lawmakers, made specific reference to what happened “during the rehabilitation of the highly dilapidated Umuahia-Ikotekpene road, which has become a death trap due to the long neglect by the former PDP-led federal and state governments until recently, when the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing undertook its repairs. According to BUSEYM, “it is instructive that some members of the National Assembly from the state said they were the ones that attracted the project, describing it as part of their constituency projects.”

The movement recalled some interventionist projects embarked upon by the NDDC to alleviate the sufferings of the people in the state, warning that lawmakers claiming credit for such projects as their constituency projects are liars. Such projects, the group said, “include the internal road network of the densely populated World Bank Housing Estate in Umuahia Metropolis, repaired last under military rule which has now lessened traffic in the said area; erosion control at Isieke Umuahia, which if not for NDDC’s intervention would have cut off parts of the Abia North Senatorial Zone from the state capital and also the highly agrarian Uzuakoli-Ozuitem road, last done in 2000, which has now led to effective evacuation of food stuffs from the affected communities.

The Director-General of the group, Engr. Nwabueze Onwuneme and other members of the group, who reacted, commended the quality and expertise of the contractors of the projects and greatly thanked the NDDC management for such tremendous and people-oriented projects. They called on the contractors on all federal government and NDDC sites to duly erect their contract information boards stating the client for the jobs so that the public and host communities would to be properly informed. The group called on its members in the host communities to always see it as a point of duty to enlighten members of their communities on projects done by the federal government and its agencies as opposed to those, if any, done by serving lawmakers.

Onwuneme used the occasion to appeal to the NDDC to open up rural roads in the highly agrarian clan of Ohuhu in Umuahia North Local Government Area of the state which coincidentally houses the Ulonna North and South Farm Settlements established by the late Premier of Eastern Region, Rt. Hon Michael Okpara, in order to boost the evacuation of farm products.

Although most of the current federal lawmakers could actually claim to have done visible projects from the constituency allocation, our investigation shows that most of the active lawmakers have seen the need to impact on the lives of the needy in their constituencies. This explains why many of them insist they have been doing empowerment projects. Such events, according to some residents confirm to the people that they are part of a family called Nigeria. For example, on Saturday, 24th of June, 2017, when Hon. Babajimi Benson, who represents Ikorodu Federal Constituency in Lagos State, reached out to his constituents through his regular iCARE programme, held in Benson’s Constituency Office, one of the speakers at the event, Mayor Deen Sanwoola, said “the lawmaker’s iCARE Foundation, through it’s iCARE Foodbank, has been able to feed about 7,000 people in the last 9 months, by providing monthly food rations (Apo Anu) to 300 families every month.”

Another guest at the event, Princess Adenrele Ogunsanya, a former Secretary to Lagos State Government, said Benson “has good plans for the masses. She implored the constituents to key into what she described as “the liberation era,” which, according to her, “has begun.”

But because some critical stakeholders insist that empowerment programmes must be distinguished from constituency projects, there have been claims that most lawmakers may have pocketed their constituency allocations. Most lawmakers on their side said there has been misconception as they do not even see or get the said allocations. So, the debate continuous even as the lawmakers blame reporters for deliberately painting them in dark colours. Explaining the difficulties in reporting the actual situation, Co-Founder of BudgIT, an advocacy tracking Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), Oluseun Onigbinde, told The Nation: “We are aware that some people disagree with our findings, especially lawmakers and those connected to them but we are sure of what we see on ground and report them at the time of our visit.

“As we have explained, lack of project details and location accounts for most of the disputes with what our project tracking officers report. We are open to engage those willing to resolve the issues but we will remain focused on ensuring quality service delivery to citizens.”

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