President Muhammadu Buhari, late last year, made a startling revelation when he said that in 10 years over N1 trillion was spent on constituency projects picked and supervised by National Assembly members. “N1trillion has been appropriated in the last 10 years for constituency projects, but the impact can hardly be seen,” he stated.
The President spoke during the National Summit on Diminishing Corruption in Public Sector, organised by the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation in collaboration with the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC). He directed the ICPC to go after the contractors who collected funds for such projects and their collaborators in government.
At the same time, Buhari called on the National Assembly to fast-track passage of the Special Crimes Court Bill and he urged the judiciary to support the creation of a Special Crimes Court. “The fight against corruption is, of course, not only for government and anti-corruption agencies alone. All arms and tiers of government must develop and implement the anti-corruption measures,” he said. “I invite the legislative and judicial arms of government to embrace and support the creation of a Special Crimes Court that Nigerians have been agitating for to handle corruption cases.’’ According to him, passage of the Bill is a ‘‘specific priority’’ of his administration’s Economic Recovery & Growth Plan 2017-2020.
It was former senator Shehu Sani who, in 2018, revealed how much federal lawmakers (senators and House members earned. Besides salaries and running costs, they were entitled to another N200 million tied to constituency projects. He said, however, “constituency projects have no place at all in any democratic or constitutional development. As far as I’m concerned, from my little experience in the National Assembly, it’s going to be a Herculean task for any NGO or group of NGOs to go through that very system of allocations that were tied to senators and members of House of Reps. We must reach that very point where we should be expecting from our senators and Reps nothing other than for them to perform oversight functions. This idea of allocating money for constituency project is one issue that I believe consistently distracts the attention of members of the National Assembly.”
It may not shock many Nigerians that N1 trillion had gone down the drain in the name of constituency projects over a 10-year period. This is because corruption in political high places is ingrained in our governance system. This said, N1tn is a huge sum to lose. It is 1 percent of the over N9 trn federal budget for year 2020.
Here, we must admit that the way the constituency projects allocation is structured makes it a funnel for fraudulent deals. Federal lawmakers are told they have a constituency project fund with a government agency. They are asked to submit projects the equivalent of the N200 million each is entitled. Theoretically, they receive no raw cash. However, in practice, it happens through collusion with officials of the government agency concerned.
Yes, we agree with Mr. President that the anti-corruption agencies “go after the contractors and their collaborators in government” who collected funds but failed to deliver. The lawmakers who should have monitored or over sighted the projects should be investigated for their role in this big heist. This is only a part of the solution. Ultimately, the constituency projects must be abolished and the funds allocated to them built into the federal budget. Why, if the lawmakers performed their oversight function satisfactorily, there would be no need for constituency projects.