Being the text of a paper presented by Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba OFR CON SAN, at the National Summit on political representation and constituency and zonal intervention service organized by the House of Representatives and Conference of Speakers. Facilitated by National Institute for Legislative Studies.
Section 47 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As amended) creates a National Assembly for the Federation consisting of a Senate and a House of Representatives with the Senate consisting of three Senators from each State of the Federation and one from the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja (s.48) and no senatorial constituency shall fall within more than one State, be as contiguous as possible and the number of inhabitants thereof as nearly equal to the population quota as is reasonably practicable (S.72).
The House of Representatives on the other hand, shall consist of three hundred and sixty members ” representing constituencies of nearly equal population as far as possible, provided that no constituency shall fall within more than one State” ( S.49). A constituency by definition is a body of voters in a specified area who elect a representative. It also connotes an area whose voters elect a representative. The Independent National Electoral Commission has powers to periodically review Senatorial and Federal constituencies (S.73).For purposes of this paper the term “Representative ” shall denote both members of the Senate and House of Representatives.
The economic objectives under the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy in Chapter 11 of the constitution provides in section 16 that:
‘The State shall within the context of the ideals and objectives for which provisions are made in this constitution
a) harness the resources of the nation and promote national prosperity and an efficient, a dynamic and self reliant economy;
b) control the economy in such manner as to secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen on the basis of social justice, equality of status and opportunity.
The State shall direct its policy towards ensuring:
a) the promotion of a planned and balanced economic development;
b) that the material resources of the Nation are harnessed and distribute as best as possible to serve the common good;
c) that the economic system is not operated in such a manner as to permit the concentration of wealth or the means of production and exchange in the hands of a few individuals or of a group; and
d) that suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions, and unemployment, sick benefits and welfare for the disabled are provided for all citizens.”
Fundamental objectives are the directive principles laid down by policies which are expected to be pursued in the nation’s efforts to actualize national ideals. The rationale for the provisions is that governments in developing countries have tended to be preoccupied with power and its material perquisites with scant regard for political ideals as to how society can be organized and ruled to the best advantage of all.
The rationale is of special significance and relevance to Nigeria whose cardinal features are heterogeneity of the society, the increasing gap between the rich and the poor, the growing cleavage between the social groupings, all of which combine to confuse the nation and bedevil our march to progress.
Fundamental objectives prescribe the fundamental obligations of the state to its citizens and the duties of the state to its citizens. They are moral obligations of all citizens to promote patriotism in the citizen and uphold national unity. The directive principles of state policy, on the other hand, are guidelines for the framing of laws by the government.
They are guidelines or directions given to the state for the establishment of an economic and social democracy. Though not justice-able and therefore not enforceable by the courts, welcome as they are, they remain the principles on which governance is based. In theory they act as a check on the state as they are the barometer for government’s performance or non performance.
The constitution therefore envisages the economic development of every constituency in the country. It is the intention or objective of the constitution that every constituency and its constituents benefit from the economic policies of government, that they benefit from the opportunities and resources of the nation fairly equally. Having established this constitutional expectation the question becomes how can the objective or ideal of the development of every constituency be achieved?
The constitution provides that the President shall cause to be prepared and laid before each house of the National Assembly at any time in the financial year estimates of the revenue and expenditure of the Federation for the next financial year.
The heads of expenditure contained in the estimates (other than expenditure charged to the consolidated revenue fund by the constitution) shall be included in a bill, to be known as the Appropriation Bill, providing for the issue from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the sums necessary to meet that expenditure and the appropriation of those sums for the purposes specified therein. (S.81).
All revenues or other monies raised or received by the Federation not being revenues or other moneys payable under the constitution or any Act of the National Assembly into any other public fund of the Federation established for a specific purpose shall be paid into and form one Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation.
No moneys shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation except to meet expenditure that is charged upon the Fund by the constitution or where the issue of those moneys has been authorized by an Appropriation Act, Supplementary Appropriation Act or an Act passed pursuant to S.81 of the constitution.
No moneys shall be withdrawn from any public fund of the Federation other than the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation unless the issue of those moneys has been authorized by an Act of the National Assembly.
No money shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund or any other public fund of the Federation, except in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly (S.80).
Whereas it has always been beyond controversy who has the power to make proposals, or ‘estimates of the revenue and expenditure, that is the President, the nature of the proposals has been the subject of eternal debate. It has been observed that a budget is a series of goals with price tags.
While some believe that the President’s proposals are etched in rock, are sacrosanct, immutable , or scripture in the nature of the Bible or Koran some others believe that the President’s proposals or estimates are just proposals or estimates; that the power of to appropriate resides with the National Assembly and that that power is at large.
In other words the National Assembly can tinker with the President’s proposals in any manner and to whatever extent it wishes. These arguments have been at the heart of the controversy concerning the budget process in Nigeria and the “constituency project” phenomenon. The arguments have defined and coloured constituency projects.
Though every project, no matter how it is initiated falls within a constituency or a number of constituencies, constituency projects have come to be cynically identified with projects initiated into the budget by a member of the National Assembly.
Until the Supreme Court pronounces on the nature and extent of the President’s proposals or estimates vis a vis the powers of the National Assembly to appropriate, the argument will endure to the certain detriment of timely passage of the budget.
In Nigeria, senatorial and federal constituency development is largely through the national budget. It is for this reason that the budget remains of considerable interest both to the executive and members of the National Assembly.
Constituency projects are initiated by members of the National Assembly but executed by the executive arm of government through the appropriate ministries, departments or agencies in the same way that the capital aspects of the budget are implemented.
President Umaru Yar Adua’s first budget (2008) was stalemated and he indeed contemplated approaching the Supreme Court for an interpretation of the nature and extent of his powers in respect of the budget in relation to the National Assembly’s but was constrained by time as realistically a judgment of the Supreme Court was unlikely before the end of June up to when he could constitutionally use the previous year’s budget in running government.
A constitutional meltdown was imminent. To avoid the threatening constitutional crisis a settlement was negotiated between him and the leadership of the National Assembly whereby a mutually agreed sum was allowed as threshold for the National Assembly to work with in introducing projects into the budget.
President Goodluck Jonathan who became President after President Yar Adua’s unfortunate demise not only upheld the agreement, he took it a notch higher. Constituency projects were domiciled in the Ministry of Special Duties for efficient implementation and monitoring.
In choosing projects for their constituencies my advice is that since their funding is to come from the federal budget the projects should as much as possible be projects that fall within the responsibility of the Federal government. In the choice of projects do not compete for projects with States and Local Governments.
ALTERNATIVE STRATEGIES FOR FUNDING COSTITUENCY DEVELOPMENT:
Through innovativeness of Representatives development can come to constituencies through other means and strategies, some of which will be highlighted shortly.
CONSTITUENCY DEVELOPMENT FUND:
In some developing jurisdictions, like India, Kenya, Pakistan, Uganda among others, where like Nigeria parliamentary involvement in grass-root and community development has been growing, the model of a constituency development fund has evolved.
The fund is designed to support constituency level, grass-root development projects and aimed to achieve equitable distribution of development resources across regions and to control imbalances in regional development brought about by partisan politics. It is targeted at poverty alleviating projects at the grass-roots.
In Kenya for example; the fund has a management board and is funded by an annual budgetary allocation by the central government to each of the parliamentary constituencies. While there are several rules that govern the utilization of the Fund to ensure transparency and accountability, decisions over the utilization of the funds are mainly taken by the constituents.
In Uganda the Clerk to Parliament releases the constituency development money to the personal accounts of the parliamentarians and holds the parliamentarians accountable for every sum released.
Members of the National Assembly could mobilize their constituents to raise resources for community promoted projects and take collective action and generate solutions to common problems with a view to building stronger and more resilient communities and constituencies. Development should seek to empower individuals and groups of people with skills they need to effect change within their communities.
Members could initiate personal social responsibility programmes and projects, funded from their personal resources as a way of giving back to their constituencies for the privilege given them by their constituents. The privilege to represent a people in an elective capacity is perhaps the highest honour a people can give to anyone; it is a position of perhaps the highest trust which entails full time service from the heart, and pockets, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, and fifty two weeks every year.
These initiatives could be scholarship schemes, medical outreaches, small and medium scale business initiatives, supporting students in public examinations, water and sanitation projects and programmes, transportation initiatives, providing farming and fishing inputs etc.
The list of possible programmes and projects is endless but they should target the happiness of the greatest number of people with multiplier effects and value chain potentials.
DONOR AGENCIES AND INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS:
These are veritable sources of funding for projects designed to meet strategic objectives.
RESOLVING THE ARGUMENT OVER POWERS OVER THE BUDGET:
Since funding for constituency projects in Nigeria is largely through the national budget innovativeness or creativity has to be around the budget process. For reasons of the arguments earlier mentioned regarding the nature and extent of the President’s powers vis a vis the National Assembly regarding the budget, innovativeness will have to be around:
a) How to resolve the argument
b) Conceptualizing constituency projects so that they are “federal “in nature and character and fit them into the national economic and development plan
c) The implementation, evaluation, monitoring, operating and maintenance of the projects.
Agreeing on a threshold and honouring the agreement is critical to resolving, for the time being, the argument as to the nature and extent of power over the budget, until the courts make a legally binding pronouncement on the issue.
Giving a specific ministry, department or agency responsibility for coordinating the implementation of constituency projects will facilitate implementation.
OPERATING AND MANAGING CONSTITUENCY PROJECTS:
Identifying constituency projects ,imputing them into the budget, financing and executing them to completion are only one challenge.
Managing, operating and maintaining them are another challenge altogether. The later challenge stems essentially from how constituency projects originate and their ownership.
Usually, the Representative identifies and chooses the constituency project and he or she does this independently without recourse to the relevant MDAs on how the project fits into the national plan, and almost always without consultation with the constituents.
Constituency projects are identified, not conceptualized, without “follow through plans .Because neither the MDAs nor the constituency was involved in the identification or selection of the project there is no owner of the project. The Representatives stay in the National Assembly is like life itself finite, it will necessarily end one day.
When his or her sojourn ends the project becomes completely orphaned. Because there are no handing over notes in the legislature Representatives who succeed them do not feel obliged to continue with uncompleted constituency projects or formulate a strategy for operating or maintaining completed ones. That is why we have uncompleted and derelict constituency projects littering the landscape.
THE WAY FORWARD:
To ensure functionality and maintainability projects must have ownership. For constituency projects the ownership has to be twofold. The projects must fit into the national plan of the MDAs and it must have the buy in of the constituency so that both can take responsibility for the operations and maintenance of the projects. The need for Representatives to have the MDAs and the constituency engaged in constituency projects has become evident for their sustainability.
To minimize abandonment and dereliction of constituency projects continuity (of the projects) is critical. A strategy for synergy and cooperation between outgoing and incoming Representatives is critical. They must see beyond the immediacy of politics to enduring legacies for the constituencies.
Until a court makes a pronouncement on the nature and extent of the President’s powers in relation to the budget vis a vis the powers of the National Assembly over the same (and I pray that that day never comes as the budget is as much an economic tool as it is a political tool) dialogue and cooperation between the Executive and Legislative arms will be the most effective means of dealing with the argument as compromise will be the only key to the budget process.
Identifying, choosing or determining a constituency project and imputing same into the national budget is just one challenge. Getting the project operational and maintained in a sustainable and enduring manner is perhaps even a greater challenge. To overcome, this ownership of and a sense of responsibility over the projects is key.
The MDAs and the constituency the project seeks to serve should be part of every process, from the conceptualization to its final execution. The operation, maintenance and ownership of the project should be part of the conceptualization. The sustainability of the project is what defines a constituency project that is when the project is put to effective use for the benefit of the community. To achieve sustainability egos must be shed and every person useful to the success of the project engaged.
Victor Ndoma-Egba holds two National honours, Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR) and Commander of the Niger (CON). He was born in Ikom, Cross River State on 8th March 1956. He was briefly at the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus before proceeding to the University of Lagos where he obtained the LL.B (Honours) degree in 1977, and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1978 making him a member of the famous “1978 set’’ the set with highest number of Supreme Court Justices and Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
He subsequently obtained the LL.M from the University of Calabar and various certificates from the Irish Development Institute, Shannon Ireland, Standford and Havard Universities in the United States of America. He had extensively practiced law in all the Superior Courts of record for several years. He was appointed Commissioner for Works and Transport in Old Cross River State (Cross River and Akwa Ibom States) at the age of 27, had served as Director of Cross River Basin Development Authority in the 3rd Republic and has chaired the Boards of Companies in the private sector with interest ranging from banking, construction and manufacturing.
He was elected into the Senate in 2003 to represent Cross River Central Senatorial District, was elevated to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 2004, the only one so far from the National Assembly and outside legal practice and academics. He was re-elected to Senate in 2007 and 2011. He had served as the first Chairman of Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, (5th Senate) Deputy Senate Leader (6th Senate) and (7th Senate) Senate Leader and is credited with over 38 bills including the Freedom of Information bill which is now an Act.
He is very widely travelled and was leader of the Nigerian Delegation and member of the Association of Senates, Shooras and Equivalent Councils in Africa (ASSECAA). He was leader of the Nigerian Delegation to and member of the Pan African Parliament, Midrand, South Africa and was a delegate to the 50th General Assembly of the United Nations.
He reads, writes and plays lawn tennis avidly in his spare time. He is married to Amaka and has 3 children.
He holds several honours (including several Chieftaincy titles), awards and prizes including the Kwame Nkrumah Leadership Prize.
He is currently Senior Partner in the Abuja based Law firm of Ndoma-Egba, Ebri & Co and also heads Legum Consult, a legislative public affairs consultancy.
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