At least N200 billion has been ‘injected’ into various Nigerian communities in the past three years to implement 6399 ‘constituency projects’ proposed by federal lawmakers, an investigation by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism [PTCIJ] under its UDEME project has revealed.
After three months of rigorous field reporting, budgetary analysis, and careful review of documents obtained through response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, the PTCIJ, through its UDEME project has determined that the federal government, since 2015 till date, released about N200 billion for implementation of the 6399 constituency projects in the country.
The UDEME project tracks implementation of developmental projects and how funds released for such projects are spent.
Constituency projects, otherwise known as the zonal intervention projects by lawmakers, have been widely criticised as a drain pipe employed to orchestrate fraud in the budgeting process, and surreptitiously funnel pubic funds into the pockets of legislators.
This investigation has now, for the first time, given the public insight into that closely guarded world of the balance between appropriation and actual releases.
Characterising the constituency project scheme as “grossly misunderstood and terribly maligned,’’ Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, in March 2018, offered its most spirited defence and assured his peers that the National Assembly will not abandon Zonal Intervention Projects regardless of the amount of criticism faced by the lawmakers.
Mr Dogara described the scheme which, for many, is a cesspool of some of the biggest cases of corruption in the land, as a tool through which the lawmakers help ensure equity in allocating projects nationwide.
Federal accountants at the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation in their response to the FOI request disclosed that no fewer than N50 billion was released for constituency projects in 2015 alone, and that these releases were done in three tranches: first was a release of N12.5 billion in the first quarter of 2015, another N12.5 billion was released in second quarter 2015 while N25 billion was released at once for third and fourth quarters 2015 for an estimated 1284 projects spread across various constituencies in the country.
In 2016, N80 billion was released for over 2515 constituency projects in Nigeria, it was learnt.
The breakdown of releases for 2016 zonal intervention projects has first release of N20 billion; N30 billion was cash backed as second release; another N20 billion was released for a third tranche and N10 billion was released the fourth time.
This brings total cash backing for constituency projects to N80 billion in 2016 out of total budget allocation of N100 billion for over 2000 projects in the 2016 appropriation.
In 2017, releases for constituency projects were made twice with first release of N50 billion and another release of about about N20 billion to make an estimated N70 billion for over 2600 constituency projects spread across the country in 2017.
President Muhammadu Buhari recently cried out when he was to sign the 2018 budget on how lawmakers had ‘inserted’ over 6000 projects in the 2018 budget, a development that was later investigated by PREMIUM TIMES which showed how about 391 projects were smuggled by federal lawmakers into the 2018 budget of two federal government agencies; Border Communities Development Agency (BCDA) and Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN).
Constituency Projects: Cesspool Of Corruption
Constituency projects are inserted by lawmakers in the federal budget to ensure, theoretically, that all constituencies across Nigeria have government presence via tangible projects.
Critics of the scheme point at the implementation that have been controversial and are sometimes characterised by corruption especially because lawmakers for each constituency need to work with a relevant government agency to execute the project, including nominating the contractor for it.
A lawmaker representing Kaduna Central at the upper chamber of the National Assembly, Shehu Sani, in February 2018 admitted that implementation of constituency projects is an avenue for theft and corruption employed by lawmakers.
He argued that constituency projects have no place in Nigeria’s democratic or constitutional development.
He noted that instead of exerting energy on execution of these projects, lawmakers should focus more on oversight functions. Mr Sani also said the execution of constituency projects is a distraction to lawmakers.
“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.
“We must reach that very point that 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.”
He described how corrupt lawmakers loot funds meant for execution of constituency projects.
“For example, if in my constituency project, I wrote that I want to share 200 tricycles and I invite project trackers to come and I will show you. I will also invite a rented crowd to come. Before you, I will share it and after you have left, they will return them. And I will return all those items to the person who gave it. There are always ways they use to circumvent the process.
“We should have a new agency of government where such agency can make budgets and execute projects on behalf of senators in their constituencies. Senators and members can now concentrate on the very important issue of why they are elected,” he said.
World Of Sleaze
Despite many defences by lawmakers to exonerate themselves from blame over failure of constituency projects’ implementation, PREMIUM TIMES in 2016, compiled a report of the many ways crooked lawmakers steal from the nation’s commonwealth.
It analysed how the execution of these projects are usually done on paper and how in reality, it is an arrangement to loot between the lawmakers and heads of MDAs.
The report highlighted how being a friend/associate to either the leaders of the National Assembly is key to getting rich through the budget. Most lawmakers lobby heads of ministries to insert flimsy projects as constituency projects and also arrange with friends/cronies or even spouses to disguise as contractors to get contracts.
A former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, has consistently criticised the scheme and called “constituency projects” fraudulent. He described the projects being embarked upon by the lawmakers as “corruption”.
Aberration, Short-changing Nigerians – Activists, Lawyer
Constituency projects is an aberration, It has no basis under the law, The whole scheme is fraudulent says a human rights activist, Inihebe Effiong when asked for his comments.
“It’s not in the power of the legislature to determine or begin to execute projects, so this idea of constituency projects is an aberration, but what we’re seeing is that nothing has changed from the past.
“That the Buhari administration is still funding such projects with little or no evidence of accountability, with no evidence that funds appropriated for these projects are properly used in the past, you can see that this government isn’t committed to doing things differently.
“This report of billions disbursed for constituency projects in three years is coming after a former chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin, raised alarm against the fraudulent insertion of projects into the budget (budget padding); this has not been addressed, you can see clearly that this government is indulging members of the National Assembly on such issue. It’s high time the issue of constituency project is resolved.
“It’s not appropriate for funds to be expended in the name of constituency projects.
The role of the lawmaker is to make laws, or otherwise perform oversight on the executive on execution of projects, he adds.
“It’s also not tenable, when lawmakers give excuses that actually they’re not the ones who determine who the contractor is and all that, I don’t think we should be carried away by that excuse, constituency projects are recommended by lawmakers and they’re also responsible for nominating contractors. These are issues that need to be addressed, it doesn’t speak well for accountability,” he said.
Vivian Bellonwu, a programme officer at Social Development Integrated Centre, said lack of transparency and accountability in public finance is a fundamental problem in Nigeria. She also said and funding of constituency projects sponsored by lawmakers has ”ventilated a fertile ground for corrupt practices”.
“If you look at it, the federal government budget is there and largely takes care of capital projects and at such, all developmental aspirations should be contained in budgets of states, local and federal government. This new creation of constituency projects is just a means to settle certain political interests and it is not touching the life of any significant number of citizens even in those constituencies we are talking about.
”This funds to a very large extent end up in private pockets and even when these projects were executed, it is most times shabbily done and not up to 40 per cent (of funds) are actually utilised for these projects. Constituency funds is a way of short-changing the people, if we go around the country, funds are just released for ghost projects.
”I believe strongly that the scheme should be scrapped and government should thoroughly investigate past funds that has been released for implementation. The idea that contractors or lawmakers will just pocket funds for developmental projects and nothing happens two, three years down the line and everybody forgets is very wrong. If we begin to back track and investigate how past constituency funds are utilised, interrogate and question complicit parties and circumvented development in rural areas, (these) should be made to refund it,” she said.
A political analyst and public commentator, Liborous Oshoma, explains why the projects are so ‘important’ to the lawmakers.
“Constituency projects is a bit controversial in our society where you have a lot of illiterates that see every politician, political office holder as someone who should execute projects, so if you’re a lawmaker for example, and you go make laws in Abuja, the only way the constituency you’re representing can ‘feel’ your impact is if they physically see a project that you attracted to that area or that you’ve executed.
“They don’t feel it when you propose a bill, say Child Rights Act, the constituency doesn’t feel it and they just believe you went to Abuja to play or do something else apart from representing them.
“That’s why the so-called constituency projects is seen as a priority for these lawmakers. Ordinarily, it shouldn’t have been, project execution is the sole responsibility of the executives.”
He however believes the process is fraudulent.
“It’s no news that legislators use the constituency projects as a way of getting money, they nominate contractors and these contractors in most cases hardly complete the execution of these projects and we have cases of abandoned projects here and there and nobody is held accountable. So I think the first thing thing we have to do is to re-educate people on the functions of the lawmakers and responsibilities of a representative.
“There’s also the need for government at various levels to try as much as possible to reach nook and crannies of the country with developmental projects, so that people don’t have to rely solely on lawmakers to provide projects all in the name of constituency projects because truly, Zonal intervention funds is a way of siphoning money by some legislators, give it to some who have been able to do one or two things but if truly we have a functional local government, some of these constituency projects are the functions of local governance,” he explained.
UDEME is a social accountability platform that tracks the implementation of developmental projects and how funds released for such projects are spent. Coordinators of the platform can be reached on Twitter via @UdemeNG.