The allocations of constituency projects have been the fulcrum of Nigeria’s intergovernmental relations, and a major source of conflict between the federal executive and the legislative branches of the government. Tracking the aim of this constitutional provision, NIGERIAN DIARY outlines how it has served as an avenue for corruption.
In Nigeria, upon the country’s return to democracy in 1999, constituency projects were created to extend federal funded amenities to local communities. The concept is designed to justify federal representation by member of the House of Representatives and the senate.
Under the concept, legislators are required to identify projects they want sited in their their respective constituencies for inclusion in the budget, with a financial ceiling as allowed by budgetary provisions.
The concept is backed by the fact that the constitution gives the National Assembly the power to appropriate funds for government spending as captured in section 80 (2, 3 and 4).
No one can argue that it is a concept that is wrong in view of the fact that it is designed to engender even development of Nigeria’s various constituencies. But year-in-and-year-out, a preponderance of Nigerians continues to view it as another conduit pipe through which the nation’s treasury is being drained.
Legislative Corruption Via Constituency Projects
Instead of enhancing development in their respective constituencies through the constituency projects, lawmaker rather deploy various schemes to fritter the funds for personal gains.
This is not shocking, otherwise President Muhammadu Buhari would not have lamented that about N1 trillion had been spent on constituency projects in 10 years with no direct bearing on the lives of the ordinary Nigerians.
Buhari made the revelation in 2019 at the National summit on ‘’Diminishing Corruption in the Public Service’’ organised by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission (ICPC) in collaboration with the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
“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,” he stated.
In the same vein, the Independent Corruption Practices Commission (ICPC) revealed the ‘tears-inducing’ corruption perpetrated by the federal lawmakers through constituency projects.
Between 2015 and 2018, ICPC tracked 424 constituency projects across 12 states and found out that lawmakers duplicated contracts using the same description, same narrative, same amount, same location and awarded by the same agency. The projects were tracked in Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Benue, Edo, Enugu, Imo, Kano, Kogi, Lagos, Osun and Sokoto as well as the FCT.
The ICPC, in the report signed by its chairman, Bolaji Owasanoye, alleged that the lawmakers did this to bring the amounts allocated to them within certain approval threshold of executing agencies to avoid ministerial tenders. It also alleged insertion into budgets of constituency projects under the guise of “capacity building and empowerment projects”.
“These Capacity Building and Empowerment projects have become a convenient conduit for embezzling public funds by the sponsoring legislators and the executing agency as they are difficult to track and verify due to their “soft” nature,” the report, President Muhammadu Buhari had in November said there has been very little benefits to the grassroots from the ₦1 trillion that had been earmarked for constituency projects in the last 10 years.
“This is so in spite of the wide disproportionality between appropriations for constituency projects and statutory projects of some implementing agencies, especially those of Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency and Border Community Development Agency.
“For instance, in 2015, while the total mandate allocation for SMEDAN was N1,592,323,599, constituency projects allocation was N5,814,369,579,” the report said. “95 per cent of these constituency projects allocations were for empowerment and capacity building projects. This appropriation jumped up in 2016 to N11,120,099,958; 741 per cent of mandate budget with empowerment and capacity building projects taking 99% of the amount.
“The size, number and types of zonal Intervention projects domiciled in SMEDAN and BCDA, for instance, have turned them into conduits for, and means of abuse of constituency projects and therefore vulnerable to corruption.”
Also in 2019, ICPC reported recovering diverted funds and properties meant for constituency projects from three senators. The senators were Chukwuka Utazi, Isa Misau and Godwin Akpabio.
According to ICPC, it recovered hospital equipment meant to serve as a constituency project at Mma Obot Foundation, allegedly owned by Akpabio, a former Akwa Ibom State governor and senator in the 8th National Assembly.
Equipment recovered are dialysis machine, ECG monitor, oxygen regulator, anaesthetic machines, generators and other hospital equipment meant for a cottage hospital in Ukana, Essien Udim Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State.
Also, the ICPC said it recovered six tractors from a farm owned by Misau, a former senator who represented Bauchi Central in the Senate.
The tractors were meant for the use of farmers in six local government areas of Bauchi Central Senatorial District. The items were recovered during the ICPC’s ongoing tracking of constituency projects around the country.
Utazi, who was former Chairman of Senate Committee on Anti-corruption carted away N117 million, tricycles and motorcycles meant for constituency project.
Implications to Development
Diversion of constituency projects have a lot of adverse effect on the communities or people they were designed to impact upon. For a non-governmental organization, Socio-Economic Right and Accountability Project, (SERAP), which has been on the forefront of curbing corruption in constituency projects, “the corruption is denying the grassroots dividends of democracy which they were designed to deliver.”
According to SERAP, “The huge allocations in figures have not positively impacted on infrastructural development at the grassroots. Nigerians have for many years not been able to access basic and affordable and efficient healthcare, education, clean water and sanitation in their communities, and they are also witnesses to the huge pay and affluent lifestyles of the members of the National Assembly. Basically, Nigerians have seen no real value for money because of corruotion.”
Commenting on corruption in constituency project in Nigeria and how it could be curbed, a senior lecturer at the Department of Political Science, IBB University, Lapai said it is not peculiar to Nigeria, “only the Anti-corruption agencies need to increase the strength of their fights.
He said, ” National Assembly members have been feeding fat on the Constituency project funds. The Constituency project is not peculiar to Nigeria. There are similar mechanisms in other developing Countries. In
Kenya, for instance the constituency development fund has been institutionalized in Kenya, Uganda, India and Tanzania.
“Instead of vilifying the National Assembly on the Constituency project, people should advocate for an institutional framework for the implementation of the Constituency projects as it is the case in Kenya. Also, there is need for Constituency needs assessment prior to awarding contracts. Constituency ought to get what they need and not what the representative wants or what a few influential constituents request. Since these projects are intended to alleviate poverty, provide and/ or improve on already existing infrastructure, therefore, provision of these facilities and relief packages should sincerely serve its purpose unselfishly.”
For SERAP, the concept should outrightly be scrapped because “it is unconstitutional.” Director of SERAP, Oluwadare A. Kolawole, believes, “Constituency Projects should be scrapped, for being unlawful and an avenue for corruption. In the alternative, appropriate legal framework, backed by constitutional provisions (amendment) may be formulated to regulate funding and implementation of constituency projects.
“In the meantime, existing agencies of government (Office of the Auditor General of the Federation, CAC) should be strengthened to regulate, monitor and apply regulations (like the Public Procurement Act) to bidding, disbursement and implementation of constituency projects. MDAs should promptly and regularly submit audited reports to the Auditor General’s office for review.
“Civil society collaborative involvement, like ICPC’s CPTG should be fully and effectively utilised to drive active citizen participation in monitoring project implementation across the federation.”