Why We Must All Track Our Legislative Constituency Projects BY AGBA JALINGO

In Breaking News, Opinion, Politics

A legislative constituency project is any project that is conceived, designed or executed within a legislative constituency with the collaboration, input or influence of the legislator(s) representing that particular constituency in the legislature. Such projects are however funded from public money.

At the dawn of the Fourth Republic in Nigeria, there was the quest by legislators to provide visible evidence of “dividends of democracy” to their constituencies. This quest resulted in the implementation of constituency projects in one form or the other. But the operation, implementation, constitutionality, legality and practicability of these projects has stirred a lot of controversy.

Although, the 1999 Constitution explicitly provides the framework for separation of powers, checks and balances amongst the organs of government, constituency projects continue to be executed with the active participation of the legislators. Is that implementation model not contrary to the principles of accountability and
transparency enshrined in the Constitution and some other statutes?

Legislative constituency projects represent an obvious departure from the traditional constitutional role of the legislature under the doctrine of separation of powers, and usurpation of the role of the executive by the
legislature.

Yet, constituency projects are not peculiar to Nigeria. In fact, they are now a growing trend in some developing nations, where such projects are generally referred to as “Constituency Development Funds” (“CDFs”). Although there are different models of the CDFs, there are some common features identifiable with most constituency projects.

The constituency project sought to be carried out or implemented is usually identified by the legislator representing the host constituency.

The project is designed, funded and executed, with some participation or collaboration of the legislator in the process.

The project is funded from public money.

The project is usually identified with the legislator as his/her constituency project.

And with all complaints, constituency projects are still generally modelled to carter for:

a. Provision of infrastructure, promptly, without prolonged bureaucratic red-tape formality;

b. Active involvement of constituents in the identification of developmental projects for implementation in their constituency;

c. Better articulation and utmost satisfaction of the pressing needs of the constituency;

d. Creation of opportunity for elected representatives to directly participate in the alleviation of the challenges or problems faced by their constituents.

It is on record that in the past 10 years, over N1trillion has been appropriated for constituency projects in Nigeria, yet the impact of such huge spending on the lives and welfare of ordinary Nigerians can hardly be seen. Peeved by the ugly development, the ICPC in May last year declared that it would prosecute recalcitrant legislators, who are gifted to diverting funds meant for constituency projects.

The Chairman of the Commission, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, said in an interview that the Commission, in its bid to look at the kind of corruption that affects ordinary people, would investigate the execution of constituency projects.

While informing Buhari of this ugly development during a visit in 2020, Prof. Owasanoye told the President that: “Sir, we discovered that some agencies of government are favourites for the embedding of constituency projects irrespective of their core mandate and capacity of these agencies to deliver or supervise projects. Most notorious in this regard are the Border Communities Development Agency, and Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria.

“Duplication of contracts with the same description, narrative, amount, location awarded by the same MDA to bring the amount allocated within approval threshold of the executing agency, or to expend allocation to sponsor of the constituency project.

“Many of the contracts were inflated yet poorly executed. Substandard items were used against specifications in the Bill of Engineering Measurements and Evaluation thus diminishing the value of the projects to the intended beneficiaries. Many projects were also not built to specification.”

He also pointed out that: “Empowerment and capacity building projects are very popular, but are highly prone to abuse and very difficult to track. We find that almost 50 percent of budgetary allocation to zonal intervention projects goes to these opaque activities. Empowerment items are sometimes stashed away by sponsors and not distributed till the next budget cycle while in some cases, the same items are re-budgeted and duplicated.

“Many community members believe that sponsors pay for projects from their funds, rather than from public treasury. Thus they are beholden to the sponsor rather than claim their rights.”

These and other alleged criminal activities involving the lawmakers, were contained in a recent report by the Constituency Projects Tracking Group (CPTG), a task force of the ICPC. The report pointedly accused some lawmakers of conniving with agencies to embezzle billions of naira meant for constituency projects.

Commenting on why lawmakers, who are conniving with agencies to embezzle billions of naira meant for these projects are not brought to book to serve as a deterrent, the Deputy Director, Socio-Economic Rights & Accountability Project (SERAP), Oluwadare A. Kolawole said: “There is little or no oversight over constituency project funds by the executive since it involves the legislature. There appears to be some sort of political trade-off here between the legislature and executive that allows members of the legislature to ‘manage’ constituency projects as they see fit. Unfortunately, this has continued to short-change the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people, who need access to these basic public services. The MDAs involved in this corrupt practice take advantage of the lax institutional and regulatory enforcement to connive with legislators in one of the most notorious corrupt schemes since the return of democracy in 1999.”

This is the humongous monster we are dealing with and my own MP cannot tell us that he is the only angel in the room; and when I raise a voice to ask questions about projects in my constituency, someone sitting on the comfort of the proceeds of this projects is insulting me by telling me I am been used, instead of providing answers.

I have become even more determined to follow this through. Even if every other Nigerian decides to keep quiet, I am now more poised to follow every penny that comes as legislative constituency budget to Obudu/Obanliku/Bekwara Federal constituency. Call it anything you like. What will cure this sore leg is facts and results and not emotional blackmail or intimidation or getting hirelings to haul abuses at those asking question. Obudu/Obanliku/Bekwara is my constituency. Exclude Jalingo the journalist from this matter and keep Jalingo the citizen from Obudu. It is my civic duty to ask questions. It is not wrong. And don’t tell me not to ask because others are not asking. I will not accept that. I will do everything within the limits of the law, including, advocacy, writing, talking, letter writing, telephoning, consultation, getting relevant information from MDAs via the FOI law, including petitioning ICPC if need be, including going to court if it is required. I am aware that every contract has its mark-up, take it and do the work. Never again will we keep our mouths shut when we are been wrecked.

Verbum Sapienti!!!

Yours sincerely.

Citizen Agba Jalingo is the publisher of CrossRiverWatch and writes from Lagos State.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in this article are strictly attributable to the author, Agba Jalingo and do not represent the opinion of CrossRiverWatch or any other organization the author works for/with.

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