The revelation last week by the Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, that Nigeria has spent about N2 trillion on constituency projects in the past 19 years without commensurate development at the grassroots calls for closer scrutiny.
The disclosure once again raises the debate as to the propriety or otherwise of the constituency projects, which many Nigerians including former President Olusegun Obasanjo have described as riddled with corruption.
In a statement issued recently, the Spokesperson of ICPC, Rashidat Okoduwa, quoted Owasanoye as speaking at the induction ceremony of newly qualified corporate members of the Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors (NIQS) in Abuja.
Delivering a lecture titled “The Role of Quantity Surveyors in the Fight Against Corruption, Especially in the Construction Industry,” Owasanoye said the on-going tracking of constituency projects by the commission in 12 states of the federation was not to witch-hunt anyone.
The ICPC chairman had in April inaugurated the Constituency Project Tracking Group, promising that the tracking team would ensure that the money budgeted for constituency projects were judiciously spent.
He, however, said that the commission would not hesitate to prosecute any contractor that has failed to deliver on the projects, including accomplices. Owasanoye disclosed that the initiative was already yielding positive results as some contractors had gone back to site to complete unfinished projects.
The states where the ICPC constituency projects tracking group is currently working are Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Kogi, Sokoto and Kano. Others are Imo, Enugu, Lagos, Osun, Akwa Ibom and Edo, with at least five projects awarded between 2016 and 2018 in each of the states.
An assessment visit to Bauchi state by the ICPC recently uncovered how political feud between former Bauchi state governor, Mohammed Abubakar, and former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, stalled the use of completed health centres in Dass, Tafawa Balewa and Bogoro, which formed the constituency Dogara represented at the House of Representatives.
At one of the health centres, located at Marti Bakin Kogi and Yaban Kufai community in Tafawa Balewa local government area, the people said the centre, which was completed since 2016, has remained under lock and key with grass taking over the compound. They blamed the closure on the political disagreement between the former governor and the former speaker.
The ICPC also said that it had recovered some equipment worth millions of Nigeria meant for a cottage hospital in Essien Udim local government of Akwa Ibom state, under the constituency project. Some of the recovered equipment included two 15 KVA generators, a dialysis machine and infant incubators.
The Akwa Ibom state ICPC Commissioner, Mr Shola Shodipo, who led journalists to evacuate the equipment from a private home and deliver them to the hospital, said the commission discovered that the items were meant to be delivered to the hospital in March last year.
Owasanoye had earlier in February while launching the “Constituency Projects Tracking Group” in Abuja, described many constituency projects as avenues for corruption in the country. He said that the constituency projects were intended for development projects such as provision of water, rural electrification and schools among other.
“Over the years, the projects had become enmeshed in controversy between non-state actors, the promoters of the projects and the communities that are supposed to benefit from the projects. The concern is that in Nigeria, rather than address the needs of constituents, many constituency projects have become avenues of corruption. Reports of internal bickering among legislators and revelations of haphazard allocation of projects reveal the underbelly of the entire process.”
He said that in the global context, a constituency project was a project conceived or earmarked by a legislator, a committee or group within a constituency acting in collaboration with their legislator to execute a community-based project. Owasanoye noted that legislative constituency projects was first in Nigeria between 1999 and 2001 during the Obasanjo administration.
The chairman said that the formation of the constituency projects tracking group was necessitated by the level of delivery of the projects. He said that the group would enhance the commission’s ability to proactively prevent and eradicate the diversion of public funds by any public officer or collaborator.
Blueprint views the tracking of constituency projects across the country by the ICPC as the right foot forward in the Buhari administration’s fight against corruption. It is indeed nauseating that supposed lawmakers who bear the appellations of “honourable” and “distinguished” should be tarred with the brush of corruption. This penchant for corruption tends to lend credence to Obasanjo’s description of the legislators as a “bunch of corrupt elements.”
We, therefore, advise that the constituency projects be holistically reviewed with a view making it more responsive and accountable. As a matter of fact, the legislature should be relieved of the burden of project execution, which is fundamentally an executive function. This will enable them to concentrate on their core mandate of law making and oversight of the executive; otherwise the N2 trillion that has gone down the drain in the guise of constituency projects may turn out to be child’s play.