Constituency projects for National Assembly members has been a contentious issue in Nigeria since its advent in the early years of this Republic. It became doubly controversial last week following revelations by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Offences Commission [ICPC] that over one trillion naira has been appropriated for such projects over the last ten years with very little impact on the intended recipients in the various constituencies across the country.
ICPC revealed this at a two-day National Summit on Diminishing Corruption in the Public Service and presentation of public service integrity award at the State House conference centre, Abuja. As expected, members from both chambers of the National Assembly led by Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila and Senate Minority Leader Eyinnaya Abaribe strongly reacted to the allegations. They said the ICPC report was not supported by facts and that in any case, both the funding and implementation of constituency projects are the responsibility of the Executive arm of government.
The idea of constituency projects for National Assembly members first came into being during the first term of the Obasanjo administration. At the time no cogent reason or justification was given for this. However, it was obvious to Nigerians that the idea was designed to pacify members of the National Assembly who were perpetually at loggerheads with President Obasanjo over a number of issues, leading to threats to impeach him.
With the latest revelation by ICPC therefore, the time has now come to take a definitive stand on the issue. The buck passing between the legislative and executive arms of government does not obscure the fact that over the past decade huge monies have been expended in the name of constituency projects without proper account. In most constituencies around the country there is no physical evidence of the existence of any such projects. Where they exist at all, they are at best implemented shoddily by contractors despite huge amounts of money purportedly expended.
Rather than render service and amenities to the people and thus bringing the dividends of democracy to them, constituency projects have become a byword for dubious entitlement for our National Assembly members. Indeed, the truth must be told that constituency projects have now become a cosy nest for sweetheart deals between members of the National Assembly and civil servants in the various ministries and ministerial development agencies.
Revelations made over the years by newspaper reports, NGOs as well as confessions by former lawmakers and their disgruntled aides gave Nigerians an insight into how the system works. During budget preparation, figures are allocated to each MP, with the leaders getting bigger shares. Each member then cooks up a constituency project and arranges with an MDA to locate it in its budget. After the budget is passed, the project is either awarded to a contractor brought by the MP, with little or no supervision afterwards, or in some cases the money voted for the project is shovelled into the MP’s pocket.
President Buhari’s call for a Special Crimes Court to handle such issues is therefore unnecessary. From the Judiciary to agencies such as Economic and Financial Crimes Commission [EFCC], ICPC and other special units in the presidency, enough institutions already exist to deal with the matter under the extant laws of the country.
It is time for the nation to come terms with whether to continue to indulge our National Assembly members and civil servants in what has become for all practical purposes, an unrestrained binge on scarce national resources. The MPs say, perhaps rightly, that they need projects that they can show to their constituents in order to get re-elected. Plausible though that plea sounds, it is not being delivered through the constituency projects. It is a wasteful and deeply corrupt system in which most MPs partake. It is time to scrap it without further delay.